Canada looking to stop U.S. run

RYAN PYETTE -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 12:10 PM ET

The 10th world lacrosse championships were brought to London this week in an effort to celebrate the game, sell it to new fans and attract a national TV audience.

How interesting that, in the minds of several U.S. players, Canada's best chance of beating them in the championship final today at 3:30 p.m. at TD Waterhouse Stadium is for the hosts to play an indigestible style of stop-and-start lacrosse that won't be entertaining to anyone.

"There are no secrets here. The Canadians are going to try to let the air out of the ball," said U.S. midfielder Doug Shanahan. "They're going to try to win the faceoff and have their forwards throw it around until we fall asleep.

"We have middies who can run all day up and down the field and they (Canada) are going to want to gain possession and hold it.

"The lower the score, the better it is for them. The more water breaks, ref timeouts and TV timeouts there are, that all works to their advantage."

Canada's anticipated ponderous approach may set the field game back 30 years, but that's exactly where the Canadians want to go -- to 1978, the only time in nine previous world tournaments the U.S. has lost a gold-medal game (a 17-16 overtime defeat at the hands of Canada in Stockport, England).

The U.S. is the undisputed superpower of the sport, capturing the previous six world titles and putting its 28-year unbeaten string and 38-game winning streak on the line this afternoon in the all-North American gold-medal matchup that had been predicted -- and expected long before the tournament draw was constructed.

"It'll be a chess match -- they have things they do well and we have certain things that we do well," said Canadian midfielder Geoff Snider, who will take the bulk of his team's crucial faceoffs today. "We want to start well and that's big against the U.S. We felt like we had been getting off to slow starts this tournament and letting teams hang with us, but we got to the playoffs and we took control early against Finland early and then played our game against Iroquois.

"We're different than the Americans. We have a different mentality to the game. We have guys who have never played field lacrosse before. Look at Billy Dee Smith, who's only played box (indoor) before and he's out there playing like he's been doing this his whole life."

The Americans have grown up in the field game, studied it in college and carved out careers in the pros. They have the most to lose but are much too polished to show anxiety.

"There's pressure on us, but we feel like there's pressure on the Canadians, too," U.S. midfielder Kevin Cassese said. "There's pressure on all the teams here. This is the pinnacle of lacrosse and there's only a couple of guys back from the 2002 team and a handful from the '98 team that have won the gold. We definitely feel this is the biggest game we'll ever play."

For Cassese, who until yesterday's hiring of John Danowski was the interim coach for the reinstated Duke Blue Devils lacrosse program that had been suspended during a high-profile rape investigation, a win would help brighten a long year of darkness.

"It would mean a lot to go back to Durham (North Carolina) with a gold medal around my neck," Cassese said. "This week, just to be able to play lacrosse and focus on that, it has been a good outlet."

The Americans are motivated to keep their streak intact while the Canadians are keen to reclaim their national summer sport. The home side wants to win for outgoing veteran Gary Gait, the 39-year-old considered the best player in the game.

But beating the U.S. isn't easy, as Canada found out in a controversial, last-second 13-12 loss in the preliminary round.

The Americans boast a trio of talented brothers -- Casey, Ryan and Michael Powell of West Carthage, N.Y. -- but the Canadians may have superior power in goal-machine John Grant Jr., the crafty Gait and blossoming Jeff Zywicki, who has 23 goals in seven games.

"If the U.S. focuses on one of us, there's going to be others open," Zywicki said. "If we score, we're in good shape because our defence has done a tremendous job all tournament."

To win, the Canadians will have to control the game.

"It's going to be a battle on their turf," Shanahan said, "but they're going to have to come take this away from us."

FINALS HISTORY

2002: U.S. beats Canada 18-15 at Perth, Australia

1998: U.S. beats Canada 15-14 in overtime at Baltimore

1994: U.S. beats Australia 21-7 at Manchester, England

1990: U.S. beats Canada 19-15 at Perth, Australia

1986: U.S. beats Canada 18-9 at Toronto

1982: U.S. beats Australia 22-14 at Baltimore

1978: Canada beats U.S. 17-16 in overtime at Stockport, England

1974: U.S. finishes first at Melbourne, Australia. Three-way tie for second. No final.

1967: U.S. finishes first at Toronto. Australia is second.


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