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Random Thoughts: WILC Recaps — Days 3 & 4

I finally made it to WILC 2019, a few days late because my work schedule wouldn’t allow me to leave earlier.  Let’s get to day three, with the good, the bad and the ugly.

World Indoor Lacrosse Championship 2019 – Day 3

The Good

It was a fantastic day of lacrosse in the Blue Division with Israel squeaking out an 8-7 win over England and a surprising result in the Iroquois having to fight hard to beat the US 11-10.  I say surprising because I was expecting a lopsided result after the Americans’ performance against Canada. The Americans took it to the Nationals early, and just fell short of the comeback in the end.

Of course, everyone was going crazy over Tehoka Nanticoke’s goal, a one-handed sub shot between the legs.  It was a goal I needed to see the replay on just to make sure I saw what I thought I just saw. Definitely the goal of the tournament and I doubt we’re going to see a nicer one.

The Israeli-English game wasn’t an overly great game as a whole.  Israel flew out of the gates, and then went nearly 45 minutes just scoring once, and until the very end, Israel didn’t have much for chances, but Zach Higgins was seeing the ball very well which was the main difference in the end.  Watching big Tyson Roe just walk over guys was a sight to be seen. The overtime was great. Israel hit the crossbar on the opening possession, England was stymied by Higgins and then Israel scored on their second possession. But the main reason this game wasn’t great, the officiating.  We’ll get to that later.

Another thing that was good was the Langley Events Centre itself.  I haven’t had the chance to go to the arena yet, but it’s a beautiful facility, well suited for a WHL team, and the fact that the field house is only about 100 meters away enables teams to be involved with one another, at some championships, where there is some distance between playing facilities, there is a disconnect between the haves and have nots, simply because they don’t see one another much.

Then there was the surprise proposal at the end of the Mexico – Slovakia game, where one Mexican player proposed to his girlfriend out on the floor, surrounded by his teammates.  I have to admit, it was a gutsy move. I would have been in big trouble if I ever proposed that way. But she immediately said yes and was surrounded by a big group huddle of jumping teammates.

The other good thing, the lineup just to purchase merchandise from the Iroquois Nationals.  It was a hot ticket item to have for certain. A lot of teams have really stepped up their merchandise for this tournament, and I’ll be sure to pick up whatever I can to take home.

The Bad

First up was Lyle Thompson being unavailable for the Nationals.  I have heard a lot of speculation about Thompson’s ankle and whether or not he will be back in the lineup.  His absence was felt by the Nationals and their odds of winning gold diminish significantly if Lyle is unable to play the rest of this tournament.

The health of the Serbian team also is of concern.  Ilija Gajic looked like he needed a wheelchair to keep playing by the end of their game against Ireland.  Nik Bilic was dead tired at the end of the game. Serbia doesn’t have much depth and so they rely on some players running both ends of the floor and racking up a lot of minutes.  In the dying minutes of the game, they had almost no energy left to give to get the equalizer. It’s only Day 3 of the tournament. There is still a full week to go and some really hurting bodies in that locker room.  But just as bad may have been two disallowed goals on the Serbs, the second of which I think was an incorrect call and cost the Serbs a shot at overtime in this game in a 10-9 loss to Ireland.

The Ugly

Let’s start with the obvious, the officiating at this tournament for the most part has been horrendous.  The Iroquois – USA game was actually pretty well officiated. That, however, was the exception of the day.  In the Sweden – Austria game, the officials were a joke. One ref seemed to be insistent on over signaling everything.  There was zero game management going on. For example, the Austrians score a late goal to go up 10,  a borderline late hit on the goal scorer occurs — borderline because the player began his checking motion as his opponent was still in the act of shooting —  and the refs called the penalty. The key here is that the game was over, and even then, the refs were calling all kinds of penalties that were unnecessary to call when a player’s safety was never in question and you simply want the clock to expire and get out of there.

An even worse example in that game was a situation where a Swede was headed down the far side boards, breaking towards the net.  An Austrian from the near side boards comes off the bench, across the floor, and delivers a hard hit that sends the Swede to the floor, but perfectly legal.  Two refs get their arms up, and after deliberation, call the Austrian for holding the stick. These two refs seemed so intent on calling something, just because of a payer going down because of a hit, they totally made up a penalty just to call something.  Its 100% impossible for the Austrian to hold the stick of the Swede when the only contact made was the shoulder to the chest.

Another amazing example was with about 4 minutes to go in the Israel-England game.  The high side official is no more than 5 feet away from a tangle up between two players battling for a loose ball.  He blows down a loose ball push by England, only for the ref down by GLE and a good 70 feet away from the play, calls a holding penalty against Israel.  This is simple situational awareness. Your partner is right on top of the play, and you call what in my opinion and those around me was a non-call to begin with.  This total lack of consistency is mind boggling.  

Then came the game between Australia and Finland.  I was busy as were most watching the game between Iroquois and the USA when I receive a message from a follower that they are watching the worst officiated game they have ever seen.  One look at the scoresheet online and the list of penalties was insane. The three officials on the floor were from Canada, Switzerland and England. As soon as the Iroquois-USA game was over, which was a well officiated game, I headed over to see what was going on.  When I arrived, there were two RCMP officers at the front doors, possibly as a precaution. Both teams had massive contingents of fans, which is great to see. To explain the Fieldhouse to those that have never been there, it’s a full-size arena, but with just three rows of bleachers on the penalty box side of the arena.  You enter from right behind the penalty box and go left or right. Two of the dressing rooms are right behind the bleachers and the other two are out in the entrance hallway, as is the officials’ dressing room. It might no sound like much, but it’s a well-built facility for amateur lacrosse where there wouldn’t be thousands in attendance.

From the last 10 minutes of the game that I did see (and at the time of publishing this LSN did not have the replay available so I am unable to comment on anything before that), the game was totally out of control.  The officials had clearly lost control of this game long before I ever arrived. Now the full blame here isn’t on the officials. The players were also forcing the issue as well. One major handed out with 5:07 remaining to Australia was one that everyone in the building saw.  The Australian minor for holding with 1:07 to go was a literal tackle from behind that everyone in the building saw, which caused the third penalty shot of the game.

Yes, third penalty shot of the game.  The FIL rulebook for indoor lacrosse is almost identical to the NLL rulebook, and the NLL rulebook has a rule that I rather like and wish the CLA, the Canadian Hockey Association and the Canadian Ball Hockey Association would start to use.  If you are short more than two players (in most cases you only have 3+goaltender on the floor and you take another penalty), the minor penalty with the least amount of time remaining comes off the board and is replaced by a penalty shot. It’s a good rule because if you’ve ever officiated a game and tried to explain how the three-penalty situation works to a volunteer scorekeeper, I have yet to see any scorekeeper get it right.

This rule doesn’t get applied much during the course of the NLL season, maybe three time per year, so I wouldn’t expect most fans to know it.  Because the NLL uses co-incidental penalties, rarely is a team ever down three men, you don’t see it that often. Needless to say, Australia had so many penalties handed to them, the three penalty rule was applied three different times in the game, and at three completely different stages of the game (13:15 remaining in the 2nd, 11:07 remaining in the 4th and 1:07 remaining in the 4th).  According to the scoresheet, Australia was issued 19 minors and three majors in the game for a total of 53 penalty minutes.  Finland was issued 17 minor penalties for 34 minutes.

Now I have officiated many games where players decided to act like idiots and the parade to the penalty box was necessary just to keep the game safe.  However, one common theme in those types of games was that not only was there a parade to the penalty box, but there was an exit parade that happened as well.  That’s not the case here. Not one single player was ejected. When you issue 36 minor penalties in a single game, while some of them are certainly warranted, you are calling the game way too tight when you have to issue that many penalties.

Another prime example of the loss of game management here was a late minor issued to Finland for delay of game with 1:53 remaining.  Now yes, Finland rook some liberties here. Australia had just taken a slashing minor, it was a 5 on 3 situation and Finland was looking to figure out what it was going to do.  As the official stood at centre, looking for someone from Finland to hand the ball off to and nobody came for a good 5 seconds, the delay of game penalty was issued, but only after 2 seconds was allowed to lapse in the game.  Two problems here. First, the official did nothing to get the Finns to centre to get the game started again. A quick warning whistle or yelling at the bench to get going would have prevented this penalty, but that didn’t happen.  Secondly, if the penalty was issued immediately, because it was issued on the same stoppage, the two penalties become co-incidentals, Finland is on a 5 on 4 man advantage, not a 4 on 3, which then also avoids the penalty shot 45 seconds later because Australia isn’t down 3 men.

It was a crazy finish to the night.  The officials were escorted to their dressing room by a female RCMP officer to avoid any potential altercation with the spectators, organizers cleared the two sides of the stands out separately as a precaution, so good on the organizers for being prepared.

The final 10 minutes of this game took around a half hour to complete.  That shouldn’t happen in hockey, let alone lacrosse, and there were no major injuries that slowed the game at any point.  This is the indoor lacrosse world championships. I understand that World Lacrosse has a vested interest in trying to develop officials from around the world.  However, you need to bring the best officials you can from around the world, wherever they might come from. These players have paid way too much of their own money to get to the indoor lacrosse world championships to have games ruined by improper officiating because the official lacks the proper experience of officiating at this level.

The standard of the calls being made is what I would expect in my son’s novice division, not at a world championship.  Every little bump seems to be called in some of these games. The standard of the call that is being made by far too many of the officials does not match the caliber of play they are officiating.  

Looking Forward to Day 4

As I stated previously on the Lacrosse Classified podcast, if you are going to watch the indoor lacrosse world championships and get the full experience, take the time to watch some of the developing nations.  Today might be a great day to do just that because in the Blue Division, the US has the day off, Canada plays Israel and Iroquois play England. One matchup that might be intriguing are Germany vs. Czech Republic.

I have heard people say that the tournament can be boring at times because of the number of blow-out games.  The truth is that early on, these games are going to happen until they sort out amongst the developing nations who is better than whom, and you can’t blame World Lacrosse for not knowing when there are so many nations participating for the first time.

The way you should view this, is to be excited that there are now 20 teams at this tournament, up from just six in 2003, eight in 2007 and 2011, and 13 in 2015.  There will be some growing pains and some lopsided results, but for many of these nations, it’s not about winning a championship, its about developing a better program for the future by getting their players experience.  And it’s the growth of the game that we should be celebrating the most.

World Indoor Lacrosse Championship 2019 – Day 4

Today was truly movement day for a lot of teams in the lower divisions.  The two games in the blue division, Canada versus Israel and Iroquois versus England were as expected, lopsided affairs.  The lower divisions, not always so much. Here’s another good, bad and the ugly.

Amazing

This was too good to be simply listed as good, but the game between Serbia and Hong Kong was simply amazing.  The score line might not indicate just how good this game was, but easily the game of the tournament. For those that have never been to the Vancouver area, you have a city with multiple cultures all melding together, and people stay true to where they, or their ancestors, originated from.  

To describe the atmosphere of this game, it was played in the Fieldhouse, which for this game was perfect.  Both sides had contingents about 400-500 strong. There was almost nowhere to sit and the fans are almost on top of the play.  Had this game happened in the main arena which sits 5,000, the noise these fans were making would have been lost. With a smaller but packed facility, this building was on fire.  Large contingents of Serbians and Hong Kong nationals were waiving flags, blowing horns or do whatever else they could to support their team. The other crazy thing though was the runs that each team went on, including a 11-1 run the Serbians put on at the end of the game to close it out 22-16.  This is the second time the Serbians have made a massive comeback in the 4th quarter after going on a 8-1 run against the Netherlands two days ago in the 4th to beat the Dutch by two.

What makes these runs even more impressive is that the Serbian roster is razor thin.  They only had 16 players dressed today, including their backup goalie. Nik Bilic was playing both sides of the floor.  When Hong Kong scored early in the 4th to go up 15-11, and the Serbians totally gassed, you could have easily expected the game to be over.  That’s when Iliya Gajic, the former Colorado Mammoth forward, kicked things into high gear and took over.

Hong Kong has nothing to hang their heads over though.  They’re a fast, exciting team and the money and time Joe Tsai has invested in this team, getting them great coaching and having NLL players fly over to teach them is slowly paying off.

As for the Serbians’ fate, we will get to that later.

The Good

There were some games, such as the Iroquois – England and Serbia – Hong Kong game that were well officiated today.  It appears that slowly the Referee-In-Chief is figuring out not only who his top officials are, but also which games are the big games and matching them up.  We won’t let the officials completely off the hook though. There were some lesser games that were terribly officiated. I had to leave the Scotland – Mexico game before I totally lost it as to how bad the officiating went there in the opening quarter.  Thank goodness I did as that’s when I saw the game of the tournament.

Also good, the Czech Republic – Germany game.  This was going to decide first place in the Green Division and it didn’t disappoint.  It went back and forth until the Czechs simply got too many quality chances late in the game for Craig Wende to continue to hold the fort.

Speaking of Wende, he came up with the save of the tournament in the second quarter of that game.  On a delayed penalty, a Czech player was wide open far side, top of the crease and only needed to flick it in, and somehow with a virtual empty net to hit, Wende got his stick in the way.

The final good thing for the day, the team merchandise that is out there to buy.  Not every team has it, but most teams have tables selling their merchandise, and most of it is quite nice.  Some people look funny at me when they find out that I bought gear rather than asked players for it. I’m not a beggar, plus, having been involved in a national program before, these merchandise sales play a small part in the teams’ fundraising efforts.  So far it has been an Iroquois golf shirt, a Hong Kong t-shirt, a German jersey and a pair of shorts from the Serbians. It’s bad for my wallet, but good for my soul. If any of the teams are reading this, make sure to track me down.

The Bad

Well to start, the refs that are bad, are still really bad and the inconsistency they bring to the tournament is the number one complaint I have heard from both players and fans alike.  Hopefully, if World Lacrosse has to continue to use these officials, they work games that are likely to be blowouts the rest of the way.

The blowouts are also the bad part so far.  Outside the Blue Group, which are the top 5 teams in the world, the rest is a mix of the remainder of the teams and there have been too many lopsided results.  My suggestion for the future, form a group with the teams ranked 6-10, 11-15, 16-20 and so on. Teams would far rather play another team their calibre than be involved in either side of a blowout.

A prime example that was thrown my way today was Costa Rica, who were blown out by Finland.  I heard questions as to why were the Costa Ricans there, or how did they qualify? Well, let’s put it this way, there is no qualification.  Any World Lacrosse member is permitted to enter any World Lacrosse tournament, other than they will now have qualifiers for the men’s field championship.  While they were blown out, what I have a lot of respect for in that team is that they brought a team where all but two of their players are from Costa Rica, and they’re here to develop, and I highly commend that.  Hopefully as the tournament will soon turn to placement games, Costa Rica will start to play teams more along their ability.

The Ugly

We addressed this issue on Lacrosse Classified with an F letter grade earlier this year, and it might rear it ugly head a second time, and that is associate nations.  You might recall that at the recent Women’s U-19 Championships, Puerto Rico won a Round of 16 playoff game, but were denied a chance to play in the quarterfinals because they were an associate member.  We might see this a second time. Three teams that were associate members, Costa Rica, Mexico and Serbia, along with two full members with dispensations, Slovakia and Sweden, were ineligible to play in the championship bracket.  Serbia, who is an associate member, cannot play for the title should they win their group.

Oddly enough the team manager wasn’t too disappointed speaking with him after the game.  Serbia now doesn’t play until Wednesday, giving them two days to recover, plus, they get to play in the Fieldhouse most of the rest of the way, which is a huge advantage for them given the size of their fan support.

That being said, this World Lacrosse rule that associate members can’t play for the title has to go.  If you’re at the indoor lacrosse world championships, you should have the ability to play for a medal. Do I think Serbia would win a medal, no, but they should enter the worlds with a chance to finish in the top 8, and not come to the worlds knowing they can’t do any better than 9th place.

Coming Up on Monday

While most of the Blue Division, the Green Division and Orange Division have been decided, the Yellow Division still has a three-way (well two-way once you eliminate Serbia) race for top spot and a place in the play-in games.  Ireland and the Netherlands are both 2-1, but with Serbia at 3-1, a 3-way tie is possible and goal differential likely needed to decide who is first.

The big game however is Canada versus Iroquois.  It was THE one game everyone circled on their calendar when the schedule was released, and first place in the Blue Division is on the line.  While both teams are in the semi-finals, finishing first means you avoid the USA in the semi-final, which is an advantage. The game takes place at 7:30 p.m. Pacific time.

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