If you read my column regularly, firstly…thank you. Secondly, you probably know that I love to play what if with rosters. Can’t resist it, in fact. So the other day, for no particular reason, I decided to put together a lineup for a second Team Canada. I’ve done it in parts before, looking at the offence and defence separately, but I hadn’t put a full roster together.
Then I spoke with Team Canada GM Johnny Mouradian about Ryan Cousins having to bow out and Chris Corbeil taking his spot. We wound up talking about some of the players who could have been on this team, which is at least a co-favourite to take its third straight gold medal at the World Indoor Lacrosse Championships in Prague May 21-28. It was a demanding chore that Mouradian and his coaching and management group took on, and as he succinctly put it, “If you win you’re a genius, if you lose you’re an idiot, and I’ve been both.”
Then it occurred to me: what could be more fun for lacrosse fans than a seven-game series between the two teams? So, I’ll lay out my team, list the final official Team Canada squad (barring injuries), pick the arenas for the games, then let you decide who turns out to be a genius and who turns out to be an idiot. But regardless of what the results would be, Johnny and I agreed that most of all we’d just love to watch the games. You can jump to the bottom of the page for full rosters.
Let’s start with the Offence. Team Canada’s is really good. They have four of the top ten scorers in the NLL this year (Duch, Grant, Dawson, Leblanc). Team Stamp isn’t bad either. We have five, and they’re all lefties, which gives you a pretty good idea why some of these guys couldn’t fit on the official squad. Wow, Canada has a lot of good left-hand shots.
Ryan Benesch and Lewis Ratcliff lead the way for our gang; they finished one-two atop the scoring chart. Then we’ll add the best player of all time. John Tavares is 42 and actually got better as the season went on. He was the most valuable runner on the East Division champion Bandits and scored 7 points in the first-round playoff win over Boston, including the winner on a balky calf.
Pop quiz: who led Calgary in scoring this year. That’s right, Jeff Shattler. He got a lot of ink and deserved it. He got my vote for NLL MVP, though it wasn’t an easy choice. He’s also not eligible for Team Stamp because he’s playing for the Iroquois. What didn’t receive as much attention, though, is that Dane Dobbie tied Shattler with 75 points and was fifth in the league in goals. Not really surprising given that he led the WLA in scoring last summer. Pretty good, quiet season, eh?
We’re going to take one more lefty. You might worry that there’s only one ball to go around, so is it really going to work to add Shawn Williams, too? That may have been a reasonable concern when he Brampton acquired him from Brooklin in 2009. That turned out okay, though. He scored 30 points in 7 regular-season games with the Excelsiors star-studded lineup and meshed with his teammates so smoothly that they were thrilled when he was named MVP of the Mann Cup.
That leaves room for four righties on O. Now, none of these guys are top-10 scorers. Of course that would be pretty tricky given that nine of those ten have already been named to one of these teams and the other is an American (Casey Powell). But we do have number 11: Garrett Billings. He scored 3 goals and 3 assists in the Rock’s first-round win over Rochester. He also has nights where he does the little things while others are starring. Perfect for us. Welcome to Team Stamp,Garrett.
Speaking of blending a veteran star into an already-talented cast, Tracey Kelusky pulled a Shawn Williams this year when he joined Buffalo and seamlessly became one of their leaders and helped key an offence that always seems to find a way to score just enough goals to win.
You may not like him. In fact, judging by the reception he gets in many arenas, you may hate him. But I guarantee that if Scott Evans was on your team you’d love him. He plays with passion, he’s immensely talented and, if you absolutely have to have a goal, you can just give him the ball on the wing and he’ll will his way to the net and finish.
For our final righty I have to thank Jeff Dowling. I get the feeling the Irish coach and my IL Indoor colleague enjoys this What If game about as much as I do, and he gave me some input on my roster, which originally had one particularly glaring omission. Athan Ianucci holds the NLL’s single-season goal-scoring record. He’s an absolute beast to try to contain on the lacrosse floor. And as a St. Regis Indian he once drove several hours to play an MSL game in Peterborough even though he’d dropped his motorbike the previous day and was pretty banged up. What a gamer. Sorry for not including you right off the hop, Athan, and welcome aboard.
I had to remove Chris Corbeil from my D when Team Canada called on him, but I still feel awfully good about our group. As Mouradian pointed out to me when Canada released their initial list of defenders, there isn’t much time to practice as a team and put a defensive system in place, so it’s important to select players who are familiar with each other. We have that with 4 current Peterborough Lakers and several others who have played with those guys.
Chris White, Scott Self, Mac Allen and Kyle Sorensen have a handful of Defender of the Year and all-star nods amongst them, and they make for a stifling crew with the Lakers. Geoff Snider fit in nicely with that group two summers ago, he’s a great teammate, and his presence means we should win just about every faceoff in the series. That’s very good, because I want to limit the possessions we give Team Canada’s awesome O as much as possible.
We want to have a great transition game, because in what’s sure to be a tight series a breakaway goal here and there can make a huge difference. Ilia Gajic played a major tranny role for Colorado out the back door this year, and he’s at least equally comfortable in the offensive zone. We expect him to get some support from Mike Grimes, who led NLL defenders in scoring this season and Billy Dee Smith, who would have been on the big club had he been healthy before now. We’re happy to give him a chance to make his comeback with Team Stamp. Sticking with the theme of familiarity, Grimes played his junior ball in Peterborough and Smith has been White’s running mate in Buffalo for years.
Andrew McBride may not be as familiar with our gang as most of the others, but I don’t think he’ll have much trouble fitting in. He’s pretty good. We’ll round out the group with a couple of rock solid D-men in Derek Suddons and Scott Campbell. They add some grit to an already tough group and provide even more veteran presence.
Finally, our goalies. Everyone will play a couple of games, which is only fitting with such a stellar group. First, this series can serve as a farewell tour for all-timer Bob Watson, who’s retiring this year and in the minds of many observers is the best ever. We’ll start Whipper in game 1, then give our “backups” a chance to play.
I will take a moment to pat myself on the back as I recall my prediction before the season, when I said about the Wings, “What I see is a team that wasn’t competitive last year, didn’t keep up with the improvements of the other teams in its conference and isn’t getting Merrick Thompson back after all. They’d better hope Brandon Miller has another strong year if they want to match 2010’s five wins.”
He did and they did.
You might think it’s cheating a bit to pick Mike Poulin as the third goalie, since he can’t go to the worlds because of work commitments, and if he did he’d be playing for the Czech Republic, but we’ll manage the schedule so he only has to fly in when he’s starting so he doesn’t have to miss too much time. Even though I agree with Team Canada’s choices of Anthony Cosmo, Matt Vinc and Tyler Richards, I like our goaltending a lot. Really, would anyone want to vote against Whipper in a big game?
So where will these games be played? Let’s start out west on a couple of the most beautiful floors you’ll see in the sport. Game 1 is in New Westminster’s Queen’s Park Arena. For Game 2 we’ll visit the new floor in Burnaby. Then we’ll take a quick trip over to Vancouver Island and the lacrosse hotbed of Victoria for Game 3 in the Bear Mountain Arena.
Games 4 and 5 will be in Alberta, at Calgary’s Scotiabank Saddledome and Rexall Place in Edmonton. Then we make our way back east for Game 6 at Toronto’s Air Canada Centre. Since this is my imaginary series, the hopefully-deciding Game 7 will be a few minutes from my house in the raucous lacrosse barn known as the Peterborough Memorial Centre. We’ll play all 7 games regardless of the early outcomes, but it will be a best-of-seven series. We’ll consider any games after someone wins four to be exhibition games, just for fun. After all, that’s what this whole What If series is all about.
Feel free to hold the games for your imaginary series wherever you’d like. There are lots of other great arenas where I’d love to come and watch your games with your teams. In fact, I encourage everyone to go to the forums, let me know who would be on their alternate Team Canada and where you’d play the games. Right after you vote on how my series would turn out.
What would be the results of the best-of-seven series?
- Team Stamp wins in six (19%, 27 Votes)
- Team Canada wins in six (19%, 27 Votes)
- Team Canada wins in five (15%, 21 Votes)
- Team Canada wins in seven (11%, 16 Votes)
- Team Stamp wins in seven (11%, 15 Votes)
- Team Canada wins in four (11%, 15 Votes)
- Team Stamp wins in five (9%, 12 Votes)
- Team Stamp wins in four (5%, 8 Votes)
Total Voters: 141
Billy Dee Smith
John Grant, Jr.
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