The Caughnawaga Indians went 5-0 at the President’s Cup before resting a bunch of players and dropping their last two round robin games. Eric “Dirt” McComber’s team is looking to be the first team from Kahnawake to win the national championship. Elimination rounds start today (Saturday), with the Indians playing the St. Albert Miners, a team they beat in the round robin. (Daniel J. Rowe The Eastern Door)
“It’s a marathon, not a sprint,” said Jeff Shattler, forward for the Nanaimo Timbermen, describing the President’s Cup Senior B National Championship.
If the tournament is a marathon, the Caughnawaga Indians were running at a solid pace ahead of the pack at the 20-kilometre midway point of the race, only to drop the last two games, resting several players to prepare for today’s semi-finals.
The Indians put in the performance of the season Wednesday, rattling the two-time national champions St. Albert Miners 10-7, matching the well-oiled Rocky Mountain Lacrosse League team with intensity, speed and defensive solidity.
“We just played smart, did our roles and came out on top,” said Indian captain Brandon Francis after the game.
Indian coach Eric “Dirt” McComber saw the Miners’ roster before the game, and noticed the Miners, 4-0 to that point, did not hold back, as the team could have opted to rest star players.
“They dressed, as far as I’m concerned, a number-one team because they wanted to go 5-0 into tomorrow (Thursday),” said McComber. “I wanted just to make sure that if we fall behind, which we never did, that when we looked at the roster we could make adjustments to it.”
Games started Sunday morning with the QSLL Capital Region Axemen, who arrived at 3 a.m. the same day on a three-hour time difference, losing 13-6 to BC’s Ladner Pioneers.
The Axemen had probably the least forgiving schedule, getting the Miners the next morning, which Ottawa fought well, but ultimately lost 7-5.
The Miners, up until Wednesday, looked like the best team at the tournament, humiliating the Ontario Senior B Lacrosse League champs the Oakville Titans 15-8 after opening the game with a 9-1 run in the first period, led by deadly snipers Richard Lachlan (11 goals, 11 assists) and points leader Keegan Bal (nine goals, 17 assists).
Wednesday, Bal and Lachlan met Caughnawaga’s brick wall defence led by Francis, Kahnawake Junior B Hunters coach Garrett Cree, Sose Regis, Tylon Jacobs-Thompson, Brett Bucktooth and Kahnawiio Dione, who injured his knee in the game.
Oops. Did I say wall?
“I thought they’d be able to get through the forest,” said McComber. “They couldn’t get through the forest… Our forest is a little bit more sturdy. ”
After one period, the score was 2-0 Indians.
The Miners’ Graedon Cornfield and Bal tied the game in the second, but Caughnawaga’s offence answered with goals from the tireless Oran Horn and Vaughn Harris.
Miner Mike Triolo got one back before Harris and beast on the wing Blaze Riorden scored to end the period with the Indians up by three.
Riorden was deadly all game, scoring four and adding an assist, using his imposing size and deceiving speed to torture Miner goalie Aaron Bold’s defence.
The two teams matched each other in the third, and a few chirps and chips aside, ended the game in style with a quality Indian win.
The Indians didn’t look perfect out of the gates in the team’s Sunday opener against the Nanaimo Timbermen, or in game two against Ladner Monday, but the team did enough to walk away with two wins.
Down by one in the dying seconds, Pioneer Nathan Clare snapped a shot fractions of a second after the buzzer that beat Caughnawaga goalie Brandon Miller.
The almost-tying goal was one that came with a lesson for Caughnawaga’s coach.
“Don’t give up until the buzzer goes,” said McComber, who was not happy the game got as close as it did, needing a late goal from Riorden to take the lead.
“That last three goals shouldn’t have happened,” said McComber, who added a half-dozen players to his roster before the tournament, as all QSLL and TNSLL teams do before the big dance.
Miller spoke about the first days of the tournament, and his new-look team’s uneven performances.
“It’s a little helter skelter, and you get that when you put a team together,” he said. “There are a lot of new faces trying to play together. There’s no doubt that we have skill and talent, and that’s great to have.
“We have to find a way quickly in this week tournament to come together as a team. In both of our wins so far, we didn’t finish strong and that’s maybe a sign that our heads aren’t in it as a team.”
Speaking of dramatic ends to games.
The Axemen again got a spoonful of bad luck, and learned just how quickly fortunes can change Tuesday morning when Onondaga Redhawk Josh Becker picked goalie Axemen Brett Perras’ pocket and scored to tie the game with seconds left in the third.
Chris Laurita scored for Onondaga in overtime to give the Can-Am team its first win, and handed the Axemen a deadly near-knockout blow, as the QSLL team dropped to 0-3.
The Redhawks’ momentum ended quickly, as their next game of the day was against the Indians, who won comfortably 15-8.
Redhawk Bill O’Brien spoke about Onondaga’s disappointing tournament that after an 8-5 loss to Ladner Wednesday saw the 2014 champions fall to 1-4.
“I never want to blame it on luck,” said O’Brien. “The competition here is really high. It’s the best teams in Canada coming to compete for the President’s Cup and a lot of these teams from top to bottom are systematically sound, where we’ve been traditionally a go out and play, not necessarily a system-based team, so that creative style kind of hurts us.”
The Indians played the Saskatoon Brewers Wednesday morning and won 15-5, then played the Axemen Thursday night and lost a close one 8-7. The Indians’ final round robin game was an 8-4 loss to the Titans. The final two games several key players were rested to prepare for the elimination round.
Today’s schedule, all times PST:
9 a.m.: 6- Axemen vs 7- Redhawks
Noon: 5- Pioneers vs 8- Brewers
3 p.m.: 2- Titans vs 3- Timbermen
6 p.m.: 1- Miners vs 4-Indians