Canada's faceoff man could turn final's tide

RYAN PYETTE -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 12:10 PM ET

The way he has performed this week, it's shocking to discover Canada's Geoff Snider is the second-string faceoff taker on the Denver Outlaws, his Major Lacrosse League team.

There's certainly no backup quality to Snider's clamp-or-rake success rate at these world lacrosse championships in London. The quick-handed 25-year-old from Calgary has taken 90 per cent of the Canadian faceoffs this tournament, winning possession of the ball three out of every four times.

"Faceoffs are hugely important in field lacrosse. You get the ball, you control the play -- and my job is to win as many as I can to get the ball to our forwards," Snider said.

"Everyone has their own tricks and approach. You always go in with your own strategy, but I like to watch to see what the other guy's going to do.

"I watch film, I study tendencies, footwork and body position. (American) Kevin Cassese likes to put his knee down. Some guys like to go low. Everyone has something and you have to react to it."

It's hard to believe Snider first picked up the specialty skill just four years ago under the tutelage of a drawmaster at the University of Denver.

In this week's preliminary round, he won 21 of 27 faceoffs against the United States and the Americans spent the final part of yesterday's walk-through working on strategies to beat him.

"He's had a good tournament so far, but our advantage is we're going to throw three guys in there against him," Cassese said. "It's harder to get a read on a three-man unit than facing the same guy all the time."

The United States is the dominant force in world field lacrosse, but knows that hold could be tenuous if Snider owns the faceoff 'X' again. A big reason Canada is so confident it can upset the Americans is Snider's ability to beat them to the ball.

"You score, then win the faceoff, it's like winner's outs (in half-court basketball)," U.S. faceoff man Doug Shanahan said. "You can put together a scoring run and put a team on its heels. It's a big part of the game and it dictates everything that follows."

Snider's run here should put the MLL first-rounder in high demand when the National Lacrosse League holds its next draft, although he is hardly thinking about that now.

"It's all about getting the gold around Canada's neck," the five-foot-11, 195-pounder said. "Of course, everyone hopes that success follows success, but all I'm focused on is winning this game against the U.S.

"This is the closest group of guys I've ever played -- it's hard to believe how it's gone in such a short time and it's going to be a little bit sad when we have to part ways after (today's) game."

This is a guy who knows what it's like to play in a big game. As a teen, Snider suited up for a tight-knit Calgary Flames midget hockey club that lost the 1999 Air Canada Cup final in double overtime at Prince Albert, Sask.

If he does his job like he can, there shouldn't be any second-place finish this time.

Here are four other reasons why Canada has a chance:

- Discipline: Learning to adapt to the officiating at the worlds has been a chore, but the Canadians only gave the Iroquois Nationals two powerplay opportunities in Thursday night's semifinal game. During the preliminary round, Canada surrendered three goals on 13 power-play attempts to the Americans. Winning the special teams battle would go a long way to beating the U.S.

- Goaltending: Canada goes with three-time worlds participant Chris Sanderson, who boasts the experience and reflexes, while the U.S. has split each game between the duo of Trevor Tierney and Chris Garrity. Sanderson's advantage is he gets a feel for an 80-minute game, while Tierney and Garrity have yet to experience a full contest.

- Gary Gait: Canada boasts arguably the best player the game's ever seen in 39-year-old Gary Gait, who is as big an 'X' factor as there is here in London. He has lived up to the hype with 17 goals and 22 points in seven games. This may be his last big lacrosse game and his teammates would love to send him out a winner.

- Home field: There's no way the Canadians want to let the U.S. win a third world title on their own soil. They also don't want to be embarrassed on national TV.


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