Editor’s note: Lax All Stars is a proud sponsor of the World Indoor Lacrosse Championships in Prague this year, and we’ve asked sports broadcaster Andy McNamara to help us cover the event. Andy is onsite commentating during the live webcasts, and he’ll be providing updates to LAS Readers over the next several days. Welcome Andy!
The 3rd FIL World Indoor Lacrosse Championships (WILC) is upon us with the eight day, eight team tournament beginning Saturday at 10am CEST, 4am EST in Prague, Czech Republic and running from May 21-28. Team USA is coming off of consecutive bronze medal finishes as Canada and Iroquois have taken home gold and silver, respectively, in the previous two events, held once every four years.
However, plenty can change over 1460 days and the United States has continued to improve on their indoor lacrosse game, which certainly makes them strong contenders for one of the top two spots. President and general manager of Team USA, Graham D’Alvia, highlighted Casey Powell and Paul Rabil from the National Lacrosse League as a pair of elites that the rest of the world need to watch out for. “A couple of players that could surprise everybody are Kevin Buchanan and Bill McGlone,” discussed D’Alvia. Chris Schiller will be the captain, while Casey Powell and Matt Alrich will wear the ‘A’ on their jerseys.
The U.S. certainly looks to be in good shape on the coaching front as former NLL and college bench boss, Tom Ryan, takes the reins with Randy Fraser, Blane Harrison, and Kevin Galbraith being his assistant coaches. Comparing themselves to the past two WILC clubs, D’Alvia mentioned, “We are much stronger – arguably one of the best teams ever assembled in the USA.”
The Unites States’ greatest challenges in this tournament are naturally Canada and Iroquois who placed ahead of them in 2003 and 2007. Fans need to keep an eye on an upstart England squad that finished fourth in ’07 and have been gelling well as a unit through extensive practices. D’Alvia had some final thoughts for those following the red, white, and blue in Prague, “We are very excited, humbled, and honoured to represent the USA. We are 100% ready to go – GO USA!”
Below are brief previews on the other seven teams participating in the world championships.
The team hailing from the great white north has never lost a game in the previous two WILC tournaments, which includes an exhibition game 15-8 thrashing of the Czech Republic Thursday evening.
The back-to-back gold medalists bring another all-star cast to the world stage, which will be led by the NLL’s Toronto Rock captain, Colin Doyle. “Colin has been a captain on NLL teams and has developed into one of the premier leaders in the sport,” commented Canada head coach Ed Comeau. He continued, “in a short tournament a team has to come together and be on the same page. We needed extremely strong leadership from within and we all agreed as a staff that Colin was our guy.” Backing up the relentless offensive attack will be Boston Blazers 33 year old goaltender Anthony Cosmo who will get the start in Canada’s first round robin match-up Sunday against Slovakia.
The Irish bring a diverse group into Prague featuring players of dual citizenship from England, USA, and Canada as well as natives who primarily participate in the Ireland Lacrosse League. Although Ireland has not won a game in the two previous events they have several returning competitors that have prior WILC experience. Defensive specialist, Connor Walsh, was only 19 back in the ’07 tournament and said of this year’s club, “our greatest strength is our ability to keep playing hard for 60 minutes. In 2007 Canada and US put up some big scores on us, but we never gave up, we kept fighting the whole way.”
The Irish team remains inexperienced as a whole with key injuries to Chris Brennan and Kris Prior being unwanted surprises. National Team Director, John Cavanaugh mentioned that clubs should keep an eye on Ireland’s two improved goaltenders, Mike Cregan and Geoff Rainsford, that both possess four more years of competitive lacrosse under their belts since they last appeared to the world in ’07. Former NLL coach Jeff Dowling brings his wealth of knowledge to Ireland as head coach, while Dan Leidl, Tom Howe, and Geoff ‘Abe’ Conn will serve as assistants.
Slovakia is definitely the biggest underdog in this tournament having never played against the calibre of players from the National Lacrosse League or Major League Lacrosse. However, team goalie and President of the Slovak Lacrosse Federation, Stanislav Mraz stated, “Although we are not as experienced as our opponents we want to play from beginning to end with passionate hearts and do this beautiful sport proud.”
The Slovaks do have some weapons that could sting any club taking them too lightly, “Our top attack man is Bradley Vrecko from Canada as well as talented forwards Martin Kramar, our captain Martin Culman, and young Ivan Cernak,” explained Mraz. Canadian Travis Taylor takes on head coaching functions along with fellow Canuck Brad Doig in an assistant capacity as will be Slovak lacrosse veteran Tomas Lichtner.
The English squad is the darkhorse of the WILC and don’t be at all surprised if they squeak out a bronze medal. England finished fourth in 2007, narrowly falling to the U.S., and Lewis Ratcliff of the NLL’s Washington Stealth was the leading scorer for the tournament. “All of our coaches have returned, including Chris Hall, head coach of the 2010 NLL Champion’s Cup winners in Washington,” said England general manager Jamie Tasko. “I am confident that this team will surprise many people with its performance here in Prague,” he concluded. Assistant coaches for the Brits are Jim Meredith and Dave Elwood.
Since a sixth place finish four years ago Team Australia have invested quite a bit of time and money into their lacrosse program. “As a team we don’t want to spend $300,000 to go there (Prague) to finish fifth or sixth,” chuckled Aussie head coach Ric Benedierks. The biggest challenge for the boys down under is that in all of Australia there is not one suitable indoor lacrosse facility meaning that they must practice in the limited appropriate outdoor facilities.
Any legitimate lacrosse player has been forced to leave their homeland to play in North America, the most prominent being 13 year NLL veteran Gordon Purdie. He captained the club in ’07 and returns in 2011, however, Purdie is 45 years old! Only six players on the team are under 25 and the average age is 32.
TEAM CZECH REPUBLIC
The host club has seen a surge in interest for both men’s and women’s lacrosse in recent years and will be full of adrenaline to impress the home crowd. As far as leadership goes they will be in excellent hands as legendary North American lacrosse player, Jim Veltman, is signed up as head coach. Veltman was an assistant for the 2007 WILC Czech team in Halifax, Nova Scotia and said, “I had an impactful experience last time and what impressed me most was the tremendous amount of passion the Czechs have for the indoor game, which is a natural match for my own passion.”
Assistant coach and scout of Team Czech Republic, Pavel Semerak, glowingly remarked, “It is a tremendous honor that Jim has accepted this offer.” He went on with, “Unfortunately we were not able to achieve a better result than seventh last time. This year on our turf, we have an ambitious plan to reach the semi-finals.” The Czech’s have been working extremely hard and bring in some excellent talent, the likes of transition Chet Koneczny and the Toronto Rock’s Kyle Ross.
It is a success that the Iroquois Nationals were even able to participate in this tournament to begin with. Having been denied access to the last World Cup field lacrosse championship in England, the team is relieved to have the opportunity to avenge their last two WILC gold medal game defeats to Canada. Since this Iroquois club represents six Native American nations across North America they refuse to use a Canadian or United States passport, but prefer their own Iroquois Confederation passports instead. This makes international travel extremely difficult Luckily everything was worked out with Czech Immigration in large part due to the Czech team’s assistant coach Pavel Semerak.
The consecutive silver medalists have become even more dangerous this time around with the addition of NLL rookie sensation Cody Jamieson, as well as remaining solid in goal with NLL experienced Mike Thompson and Angus Goodleaf as options. Iroquois kick off the tournament versus Ireland on Saturday.
To watch all the World Indoor Lacrosse Championships live or on demand, along with the schedule and all news stories stay tuned to the WILC website. The tournament organizers also thank Lacrosse All-Stars for being an official WILC partner sponsor.
Andy McNamara is a Toronto area sports broadcaster and writer. He is the Play-by-Play voice for the Toronto Rock on the National Lacrosse League Network and for the 2011 World Indoor Lacrosse Championships. Contact at [email protected], or follow on Twitter @AndyMc8.