No one has knocked off the United States at the world field lacrosse championships since Canada did it in 1978 -- an impressive string of 35 straight victories for the Stars and Stripes squad.
Yesterday, Canada came agonizingly close once again, falling within an errant elbow's edge of snapping the 28-year-old streak in a controversial, last-second 13-12 defeat to the U.S. in a tug-of-war tussle before an announced crowd of 6,321 yesterday afternoon at TD Waterhouse Stadium.
Tied at 12 with overtime looming, Canadian scoring star John Grant, Jr. was denied his fifth goal with 12 seconds left in the game when, lying flat on his stomach, he beat U.S. goalie Chris Garrity but was whistled down for a crease violation.
While Canada argued the call, the cool-headed Americans sprinted down the field and hard-shooting Jay Jalbert bagged the game-winner by beating former University of Virginia teammate Chris Sanderson with just three seconds left on the scoreboard.
"(Canadian attacker) Gary Gait is as honest as the day is long and he was right there and told me there's no way Grant was in the crease," Canadian head coach Frank Nielsen said. "The Japanese official (Manabu Minamoto) was signalling it a goal and another ref at a worse angle was saying it wasn't. It would be nice to have some consistency, to have the best refs in the world for a game like this."
Not surprisingly, the U.S. took a different view.
The Americans said Grant's elbow was in the crease and that television cameras have already vindicated the call.
"Absolutely, he was in the crease," U.S. goalie Chris Garrity said. "There's no question about it. It was a tight game and it's tough to have it come down to that but our guys stayed cool and went down the field and scored."
Grant, Jr. disagreed with the call, claiming he kept a close eye on where his body was when he shot the ball. It's hard not to give the gifted goal-scorer the benefit of the doubt -- dating back to the 2002 worlds, he has scored 29 goals in his last nine international games.
"It's where you release it, not where you land, and I got checked into the crease (by U.S. defender John Gagliardi) so it should have counted," he said.
Sanderson gave a wistful look when asked about Jalbert's game-winner. The 32-year-old ball-stopper from Orangeville figured he should've stopped it and forced overtime.
"I'd like to see it again because I was right there," he said. "I went down low and the shot came in high and I had it in my stick -- I know I did -- and it must've just bent the stick back. It's a tough loss but when there's still time on the clock, we have to get back and defend instead of worrying about a missed call."
Jalbert, who had three goals yesterday and now boasts seven in his first world tournament, felt the U.S. didn't get rattled in a tight struggle that came down to a one-possession game. There's a reason -- and it's not just talent -- why the Americans are the six-time defending world field champs.
"Maybe Chris got a piece of that shot, I don't know," the Long Island, N.Y., native said. "It was close and it'll probably be just like that if we play again on Saturday (in the final). It's been hit and miss here (with the officiating) so it was nice that the game-deciding call was a right one."
Waterloo's Colin Doyle, Canada's lone member of the National Lacrosse League's Toronto Rock pro box franchise, tied the game at 12 with 1:37 left in the fourth quarter to set up the fireworks. Canada led 4-3 after 20 minutes and 7-6 at halftime but the U.S. took a 9-8 edge into the final quarter.
"The U.S. are the best in the world but we knew coming into the tournament we could compete with them," Grant, Jr. said. "This doesn't change anything. We know we're right there but we have to find a way to get back in the final and get a chance to play them again."
Canada's road to the championship game gets tougher with the loss. Barring a miracle (two straight U.S. losses), Canada will face a play-in game Wednesday against a lower-division opponent while the Americans sit back and relax -- but there's still dangerous business before the playoffs start.
"Whatever happens, we have to bounce back right away because we play Australia (today) and they historically play us tough," said Sanderson, a three-time world participant.
For the third straight game, the U.S. split their goaltending duties between equally excellent Trevor Tierney and Garrity.
"That's been the plan so far and we'll see what happens the rest of the way," Garrity said.