Whitby put on powerhouse display at Minto, put your cell phone away, why Jeff Shattler is top dog, and other lacrosse thoughts
For the vast majority of Canadian box laxers, the hangover of another season coming and going has been completed. For others like the Six Nations Chiefs and the Victoria Shamrocks, the chance to play in September and win Canada’s holy grail of lacrosse will be the ultimate antidote. The summer of 2013 revealed some new points of interest to me. I’ll take a stab at five things that have really caught my attention over the last few months of watching west coast lax and paying attention to the obvious out East.
1. The Whitby Warriors’ Minto Cup win was awe inspiring to me because they overcame all odds in the East and pulled their game tight when it mattered the most. Down two games to the powerhouse Six Nations Arrows in the Ontario Jr. A final and then again 3-2, this team acted anything but young in its composure and focus to grind out a Game 6 win and then slap it into 5th gear for the seventh and deciding game.
Next up they took the Minto Cup tournament by storm almost as an afterthought. Although New Westminister provided some competition and drama, we have once again been reminded why the Junior A system in Ontario reigns supreme.
Whitby has the largest minor lacrosse association in Canada with neighboring communities supplying extra help. The Junior B Clarington Green Gaels are a force themselves and a nice feeder system to the powerful Warriors machine.
It’s time for the West to do away with intermediate lacrosse and adopt the same structure as the east with the formation of a strong Jr.B league to support the numbers needed in B.C. Lacrosse. This alone will keep our 16-21 year olds engaged a little longer than what is taking place now.
While Clarington didn’t win the Jr. B title this year the Six Nations Rebels did for the 3rd straight year. Six Nations and Whitby-ish in the finals for Ontario Jr A and B. Strong Junior B teams supporting their Junior A teams making strong lacrosse communities and a point for the rest to follow.
2. The Senior A Brooklin Redmen made a statement in 2013. Did this team win anything more than confidence this summer? No.
Still, we saw a team with upstart players without NLL winter homes making a name for themselves consistently from May to August. Shawn Williams did his John Tavares imitation, posting 103 points and playing all 20 regular season games as he nears 40. Zach Higgins led the charge otherwise with his clutch performances in the Redmen net and when he watched from the bench Steve Fryer was in relief doing more of the same. There were others.
Mike Melnychenko, Kyle Aquin, Jordan Houtby and Sheldon Burns provided some depth, scoring and legs to a team already deep with younger established talent. While Six Nations disposed of Brooklin in the MSL finals in short order, the series was closer than your regular 4-0 game sweep.
The biggest factor in the 2013 season was that this was the year that youth in Whitby accumulated from drafting and trading amounted to a playoff series win and a changing of the guard. The Redmen bypassed the Peterborough Lakers on the way to the dance, marking the official notice of Peterborough’s need to follow suit and get younger. Times, they are a changing.
3. Whenever I hear about the next big thing I get pessimistic that what I’m hearing is more hype than substance.
In late June I showed up late at a Victoria Junior A Shamrocks game, my first in quite some time. I walked through the door just in time to watch Jesse King weave through a couple of defenders to score his 4th goal of the contest. King went on to net 8 goals for the night against a strong Langley junior team.
I’m here to tell you all that Jesse King is the real deal.
Catching King’s act again vs. Coquitlam in the playoffs and then a few more times as a Senior A playoff call up confirmed my notion that King is the hottest junior to come out of Victoria since the Gaits and Marechek.
Inside, outside, footwork, size, speed, touch, brains … check!
All the weapons are in this kid’s arsenal. While watching him at both levels of A ball available to him this summer, King got to the net and kept going. It’ll be a couple of years before Jesse King gets to the NLL from Ohio State but when he does look for him to join Buckeye teammate Logan Schuss as a No. 1 NLL pick at the draft barring unforeseen injury.
4. Lacrosse is mimicking real life at every turn and this era is robbing itself of the joys of sports participation and working on a team.
The distraction of cell phones, texting, tweeting, email and the lot has put the ability to focus at a premium when teams show up to the rink no matter what the age. In a past year of my NLL management career we started having the guys turn in their cell phones when they showed up for the games to keep and maintain their attention.
This plague knows no boundaries and is it any wonder teams have to resort to symbolic old school dressing room tactics of “getting in the boat” together to get the full attention and buy in of its players. For all you young guys, I feel sorry for you and your generation for these reasons. The pureness of the game and its experiences are lost in a sea of self indulgence, self importance and the “new cool” of directing your own Hollywood movie about yourself. Self above team is not what team sports are about.
This is the information age and these are your tools but what you are missing is the full integration of yourself in the moments you are sharing as a team which you will reflect back on when your older for a lifetime. The intimacy of a team is at stake when 20 cell phones are turned on right after an earned win or tough loss.
That time is needed to work out post-game thoughts and issues even if they are only in your own head. The rest can wait. If you don’t communicate as a team your robbing yourself of your own best sports experience kid,s so don’t be in a hurry to get to that phone after a game and try living in the moment. Old school.
5. Up for argument today — who is the best player in indoor lacrosse?
If you’re from Peterborough it’s Shawn Evans or John Grant.
If it’s an all-time thing my vote has to be Johnny T.
Lately, and not because I’m a homer, I’ll argue with anyone on the planet that it has to be Jeff Shattler. The things I have watched Shattler do live over the last 4 summers here in Victoria and winters in Calgary have been breathtaking at times.
His dominance at the NLL level and the record of his Calgary team speaks volumes about his contributions to them over time. For the last 5 years I’ll put Shattler up against anyone you got as the best in the business.
Consistency. Shattler rarely takes a night off, winter or summer, and always makes an impact in the playoffs.
Offense, this guy is pure magic. He cuts off ball, he picks off ball and on ball, he gets so many lose balls, he WORKS! With the ball in his stick he gets his own shot, he beats guys underneath with speed, his mesmerizes defenders with stick work and he rolls and shoots around screens as good as anyone.
In the physical department, Shattler regularly takes a man on his back to the net while sizing up everything else going on around him. Jeff also gets targeted for a beat down by oppositions and accepts this is his place in the game rarely retaliating.
Shattler’s best attribute is his quarterback mentality.
Passing is his No. 1 skill and he puts touch passes on the money and then laser beam assists into sticks one right after the other, no problem. Last summer I watched down low in the corner one game as he pulled up short in transition just past center and across the arena from where I was sitting. Shattler looked across the floor at his own bench and then ripped a pass to the far crease to the area where I was sitting. The pass was to Mike Pires who was still 5-6 steps away on the run coming from the bench. Sure enough, by the time the ball had traveled 60 feet across the floor it found the head of Pires stick right on time for a quick re-direct right off the post while the goalie was recovering. In that moment I thought to myself … Tavares.
Last Friday night at Bear Mountain Arena, I again witnessed Jeff making yet another WOW play when he caught a ball over his head like nothing I’ve ever seen before. He does things like this and it’s the shift after shift excitement this guy generates that has me speaking up.
We haven’t covered his special teams play either. Best pure ragger in Canada and there is NO ONE I would want out on the draw more than him.
Either spot will have teams on their heels knowing he is able to break them down with space and scoring short handed is a regular occurrence for Shattler.
Power play is where his sound outside shooting ability comes into play. Shattler is a heady player and it comes across in his shooting as he mixes up shots and loves to fake and delay to let goalies play themselves out. Shattler is no stranger to the man-down unit either.
Short of playing goal and taking draws Shattler could be found near the top of every other category in the game. Like Gretzky or Tavares he is a game breaker, unlike those two he plays defense and excels at both ends of the floor.
It makes no sense to me that Jeff Shattler is not getting his due in this sport.O'Neill is a three-time Mann Cup winner and former general manager of the Philadelphia Wings (2001-2004) and Minnesota Swarm (2004-2010), where he was twice named NLL GM of the Year (2007, 2008).
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