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Team Canada is Coming to Israel, Which Canada in the Balance

Canada will be at the 2018 FIL Men’s World Lacrosse Championships in Israel in July, said Doug Luey, the Director of High Performance and International Relations at the Canadian Lacrosse Association (CLA).

“Canada will be sending 23 athletes to represent our country,” Luey said. “I am cautiously optimistic that the best athletes will be representing our country in Israel.”

The roster of the team is still unknown with disagreements over player insurance, management and more ongoing. However, Luey said the CLA has enough commitments from athletes that it can guarantee some form of Canadian representation will compete in Netanya.

“We have a depth chart of players who have committed to the Canadian Lacrosse Association that they’re willing to participate in Israel,” he said.

Luey said the CLA has planned a new tryout, but the date and location have not been selected. He added that Canada would draw from all registered Canadian players in leagues such as the NCAA, Canadian University Field Lacrosse Association (CUFLA), Maritime University Field Lacrosse League (MUFLL) and others.

Pros Versus Joes

With the possibility of some, or none, of the players currently on Canada’s roster crossing the Atlantic this summer, some have questioned the potential competitiveness of a new team. In 2002, Team USA faced a similar situation with brand-new Major League Lacrosse not allowing players to play in its league and the 2002 World Championships. Team USA went on to win gold with all amateurs, including only one player with previous World Championships experience and otherwise many college-aged players, and could serve as inspiration for 2018’s Team Canada if necessary.

Canada vs United States 2014 World Lacrosse Championship Gold Medal Game

Darren Lowe, who was the Americans’ leading scorer and only returning player in 2002, said Team Canada could use the mindset his team took 16 years ago if needed.

“Uncertainty brings the potential excitement of what could possibly happen,” he said. “That doesn’t go away in a one-game championship, and that’s how we looked at it. We looked at it as, we need to get there, and when we get there, we’re going to give them our best.”

Darren’s brother, Kevin Lowe, also played on Team USA in 2002. He said he remembers those outside the American program expecting Team USA to finish no better than third, but that never bothered him.

“I think you make the outside noise irrelevant,” Kevin Lowe explained. “We didn’t have a huge bandwagon. We welcomed the people who were on it and the rest of them, who cares?”

It isn’t unheard of for contending national teams to send amateurs to world events and still compete. The most famous example came at the 1980 Winter Olympics, when a team of American unknowns took down the vaunted Soviets in the Miracle on Ice, later defeating Finland to secure gold.

In the 2008 Summer Olympics, Japan bested USA in the softball gold-medal game after initially losing to the Americans 7-0 in group play. The upset ended the Americans’ 22-game winning streak and stopped them from winning a fourth-straight gold.

At the 2000 Summer Games in Sydney, American Rulon Gardner shocked Russian Aleksandr Karelin for the gold in the super heavyweight class of Greco-Roman wrestling. Gardner had never won an NCAA championship or world medal before defeating Karelin, who had won three-straight golds in the event and had gone 13-straight years undefeated in all competitions.

All these upsets came at the pinnacle for each sport. Kevin Lowe emphasized how much playing for your nation can galvanize you, something he isn’t sure everyone realizes.

“A lot of people underestimate the passion that people play with when they play for their country,” he said. “It brings everything out of you. Carrying that responsibility brings that little extra focus, energy, preparation, desire and will.”

New Set of Circumstances

It would be a large challenge to repeat the gold Team Canada won in 2014 with a vastly different roster. However, if the American amateurs could climb the mountain in 2002, the right group of Canadians could, too.

“It made the group that was selected laser focused about doing everything it needed to be prepared for the moment, which I think was a little different from other teams from the past,” Darren Lowe said. “People felt like we could just get out there and win. Other USA teams had done that in the past. This team really needed to be special to accomplish the same thing.”

Head coach of the Iroquois Nationals Mark “Red” Burnam said his team would never take a Team Canada lightly no matter who wore the jersey, and although it would be difficult, an amateur squad would still be a candidate for gold.

Iroquois v Canada 6.17 World Lacrosse Championship

“I feel they have plenty enough quality players to fill in the spots, and although it would not be their very best, it would still be a very, very competitive team and one that could still be a very real gold medal contender,” Burnam said if the roster were to change. “Please understand this: you should never, ever take any lacrosse team from Canada lightly. No matter who they bring, they are still going to be a very athletic and talented team just like all their teams in the past have been.”

For Canada’s 2018 team, it might need to find the same kind of resolve its southern cousins created 16 years ago in Australia. No matter what those on the outside may say or predict, Darren Lowe said there’s too much talent out there to count anyone out.

“The amount of players playing lacrosse these days could field many different teams that could make this a competitive and exciting event,” he explained. “When someone puts on the jersey of their country, anything can happen.”

The latest edition of Olympic men’s ice hockey is the most recent example of the unexpected nature a tournament without some of the world’s best can bring. After the NHL and IOC couldn’t come to an agreement, NHL players were not allowed to participate in the 2018 Winter Olympics. This opened an opportunity for a team like Germany to make a run to the gold-medal game, defeating giants Sweden in the quarterfinals and Canada in the semifinals en route to a silver medal, its first medal since 1976 and best-ever finish.

“Nothing is going to change how exciting this can be,” Darren Lowe said.

Focus Stays the Same

Luey echoed the sentiment that Canada will be competitive and looking to repeat 2014’s gold medal. While the uncertainty of that roster still exists, the resources and focus of a world class program still exist and should never be underestimated. He said right now, the most important thing is keeping Canada involved in international lacrosse.

“Obviously the higher skilled the athletes are, the more competitive we are on the international scene,” Luey said. “But at this point in time, our continuance in international competition for the long term outweighs the short term.”

The players know the world is watching this situation develop, and recognize the stakes as they fight for their cause.

Iroquois v Canada 6.17 World Lacrosse Championship

“I’m focused on two gold medals,” an emotional Geoff Snider said in an interview with Canadian Global News. Snider has won gold as a player for Canada in both 2006 and 2014. “I want to win a gold medal for our country, and I want to leave the sport in a better place and the national team in a better place than we found it.”

The assurance that a team will be coming might sound like a small achievement, but this simple guarantee is big news with reaching importance.

Inside Lacrosse reported Thursday Canada would be disallowed from the U-19 Women’s Field Championship, which is to be held in Peterborough, Ontario, if the country did not send a team to Israel this summer. By FIL rule, if a team withdraws within a certain window of a commitment to a championship, they will be barred from the following FIL Championship event.

Canada’s assurance that a team will be competing in Netanya puts an end to the fear that 2018 would see a championships without Canada, and thus that rule won’t be applicable.

Something Lost or Nothing Gained?

Will the Canada send the team we’ve all been expecting? Or who will that roster consist of? In a press release Friday, Canada affirmed its desire to send the current roster to Israel but are working to ensure Team Canada is in Netanya regardless.

“Based on recent communications with the NLTPA (National Lacrosse Team Players Association), it is our understanding that there is a desire on both parties to work towards a mutually agreeable solution,” the statement said. “ … we need to be conscious of timelines, deadlines and be prepared for all other scenarios. To ensure that we are meeting the needs of our membership, we will explore other options to field a team at Worlds this year while continuing to understand and work through the proposals being put forward by the NLTPA.”

The CLA says it has proposed improved accident insurance, given detailed information on travel insurance and “agreed to cover all costs associated with national team athletes attending the World Championship in Israel this year.” With just 60 days until the World Championships, the national governing body has reached out to players individually, while also advising the NLTPA to become formalized under member status which can be achieved in November.

Team Canada head coach Randy Mearns, who also led the team to its gold medal four years ago, told Inside Lacrosse that while he can see both sides of the issue and does not want to get involved in the specifics, he couldn’t see himself coaching in Israel if the current 34-man training roster weren’t used.

“I don’t feel I can just because they’re not the guys,” Mearns told Inside Lacrosse. “I’ve been thinking about this for three years, nine months and 18 days since we had the opportunity with phenomenal support staff, phenomenal coaches, phenomenal players and living a dream in Denver.”

Bridging the Gap

Luey said this situation can be solved through “common sense and good communication,” which requires work from both sides to achieve.

“I’m optimistic that we’re going to get this resolved,” added Snider to Global News. “The guys are united. We’re all fighting for a common theme and a common ideaology and that’s the betterment of the Canadian National Team program.”

These games, these championships, they have signature moments. Denver saw the debut of African lacrosse, and a brilliant Canadian team took gold after a round-robin defeat. Then 2010 had negative connotations follow it unfortunately – known as the year the U.K. denied the Iroquois passport.

While this tumultuous story is unnerving and stunning coming from the defending champions, we do now have confirmation that we will see Team Canada take the field in Israel this July. The 23 men in uniform might not be the names and faces we expected, but 23 men will be defending Canada’s gold medal in the 2018 FIL Men’s World Championships.