Rhys Duch has a unique perspective on this year’s Mann Cup. The Victoria Shamrocks’ forward spent last season with the Six Nations Chiefs, making him the only player to have been with one of the championship series teams last year and the other this summer. But while he enjoyed the experience of playing in Ontario, Duch says his history with the Chiefs is just that: history. “It’s a bit of a different situation, but I don’t think it means a whole lot,” Duch said. “I made some good friendships on that team and it’s a summer I’ll never forget but all that’s out the door. It’s friends off when you’re on the floor. It’s going to be a great, competitive series and I’m looking forward to it.”
Now Duch is focused on getting a Mann Cup title with the Shamrocks, who last won the trophy in 2005 when they downed the Peterborough Lakers in six games. Winning a Mann is a lifelong dream for many players and no one needs something like playing against his former team to get psyched up for the games. “The NLL is the elite league,” Duch said, “but this is what everybody grows up watching and as a Canadian lacrosse player you envision winning, so having a chance at it is enough motivation in itself.”
For a lot of observers, the Shamrocks even being in the series is a surprise. The Langley Thunder loaded up with star players to try to win a title after losing in the Mann Cup finals the last two years, and they were widely viewed as the favourites to take the Western Lacrosse Association. Beating Langley in the WLA finals, Duch said, “was icing on the cake. I think everybody in the WLA was a big Langley fan, from officials down to obviously their team. And they did obviously have a great group of guys.
“But in Victoria we spent the whole year getting to know each other. Yeah, I was a bit of a part time player but I’ve been here in years past so it wasn’t too hard to fit in. I think we won that series on heart and cohesiveness as a team. It was great to silence the critics a little bit.”
Now they face another big challenge in the Chiefs, Duch acknowledged. Part of the challenge for both clubs, when east meets west in this national championship series, is playing a team that you haven’t met before and generally haven’t even had much chance to watch. But there is lots of familiarity amongst the players, Duch says, so winning and losing comes down to the little things that always play such a big role in results. “When it gets to this level, when you get to the Mann Cup series, it’s usually a bunch of guys that play with or against each other all year in some way, shape or form, so I don’t think there are going to be too many surprises on either side of the ball,” Duch said. “There’s going to be a few little things like special teams, goaltending, effort that are going to win these series.”
We’ll finally start to find out tonight which way those little things will go and who will get the jump when Game 1 kicks off at 7 pm PT/10 pm ET at the Bear Mountain Arena. The teams are chomping at the bit to get going, and judging from the lines of people at the box office this morning for the few remaining available tickets, so are the fans.Stamp is a TV sports announcer and lacrosse lover whose skill set made him a defender but who always dreamed of being a goal-scorer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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