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Team Canada: Regenerating Excellence 

By Casey Ryan Vock 

As Lacrosse Canada assembles its men’s box roster this month, the process will aim not to build on the historic success of a squad that has yet to lose a game and won all five World Lacrosse Box Championships, but to reformulate it. 

“You have a natural amount of turnover, so you look at the changeover and you’re trying to attain excellence each time,” said head coach Glenn Clark. 

Clark and the Canadian staff put together a roster for the ages in 2019, yielding a 42-goal differential on home soil in British Columbia, where the Canadians cruised to a 4-0 record and their fifth title. 

But with the customary four-year interlude between the previous championship and this year’s event being extended due to the pandemic, a couple veterans from the 2019 squad have since set down the stick and others are closer to retirement after logging a few more seasons in the gritty National Lacrosse League.  

“Every four years, you get those guys that are in their prime, and this one’s five years later. It’s an interesting puzzle every time,” Clark said.  

“The fortunate thing for our group is you’re going to have that generation of guys stepping in and taking over for the previous generation. So, it’s kind of cool to build it and look at the transition of the players and the athletes and the regeneration of talent.” 

Last week saw 43 prospects invited to the first ever Canada box training camp, held July 2-3 at Canada Games Park in St. Catharines, Ontario. It marked the kickoff of a competitive and fast-paced tryout process that will ultimately produce a final roster of 23 athletes. 

Portending a significant changing of the guard, some of the most accomplished Canadians of all time were absent from the list: notably, it excluded past offensive leaders such as Curtis Dickson, Dane Dobbie and Mark Matthews, and defensive stalwarts Chris Corbeil and Kyle Rubisch.  

The pool does, however, include a bevy of rising talent and players who would bring invaluable experience gained from competing for Canada last time around. 

In particular, forwards Dhane Smith and Robert Church just completed exemplary NLL campaigns and are two potential returnees, as is Graeme Hossack, a 2019 All-World defender who could certainly help the Canadians as they look to sustain their dominance this September in Utica, New York. 

Some of the most promising players in the league – including forwards Jeff Teat, Ryan Smith and Alex Simmons, and defenders Reid Bowering and Latrell Harris – could be leaned on to augment the roster. It’s one being devised to counter the slick skills of the Haudenosaunee and the athleticism of the Americans, the respective silver and bronze medal recipients at each of the previous five championships. 

In the past, the staff has purposefully sought an equal mix of veteran leadership, players at the peak of their game and burgeoning athletes who could possibly be part of the squad again four years out.  

“Getting the right people is important,” Clark said. “You’re going to have some guys that are obviously stars on their teams that are now in a diminished role with Team Canada. And so how do they handle it? How does the leadership help to handle it? How does the coaching staff help handle it? If possible, you’d like to have somebody that’s going to potentially be there at the next go around, too.”  

Overall, the invite list represents the staff’s plan to construct a unit with the necessary righty-lefty differentiation to keep Canada’s balance on both sides and both ends of the floor.  

“That’s the message people have to understand, that we are building this team, so we have to have pieces that we think will fit together,” Clark said.  

“For example, if we’re looking at offensive players, they can’t all be ball-handlers, they can’t all be going through the seam. So, we’ve got to have guys that play off-ball, play without the ball, set good picks, create activity in your offense. You’re really putting pieces together. We can’t have all transition guys on the defensive end – you’ve got to have some guys down low who are physical and moving guys off lines.” 

Prior to the tryout, Clark and his staff carefully split the group into two squads – Red and White – designed to reveal the most complementary combinations of players. A series of exhibition games scheduled across the two days provided ample opportunity for coaches to assess the candidates, many of whom they know well as players. 

“It’s putting what you think are the right puzzle pieces together and then, in the evaluation process, putting the players in a position to showcase their skills,” Clark said.  

Inevitably, the Canadian staff will face tough choices. And with some of the invitees also competing in the Premier Lacrosse League or in one of Canada’s senior box leagues, time for team building and bonding will be limited as the engagement will see the staff laser focused on narrowing down the pool to the select few.  

“It’s pretty intense and time sensitive because we’ve got guys who are playing in the PLL, guys in Major Series Lacrosse, guys coming from the west and the Western Lacrosse Association, and we have guys working, so it’s not like we can do a two-week training camp. It’s a three-day window and we’re going to use that and what we know about guys and then we’ll build out our roster.”  

Clark and his staff will also lean on their own vast experience. The Ontario native himself has been involved with Canada since the inception of the World Lacrosse Box Championships (previously known as the World Indoor Lacrosse Championship).  

A defender in his heyday and then an all-star for the NLL’s Toronto Rock, Clark was on the 2003 Canada roster and returned to be on staff in 2011 and 2015, before being named head coach of the 2019 squad.  

He’s prolific today. After leading the franchise’s previous iteration, the New England Black Wolves, Clark’s spent the past three seasons as the head coach of the NLL’s Albany FireWolves.  

He’s coming off an incredible go in the professional ranks: after an 11-7 regular season finish, he guided the FireWolves to the league’s championship series and was named the NLL Coach of the Year – the Les Bartley Award – as well as General Manager of the Year.  

This summer, he’s tasked with piloting Canada to what would be an unprecedented sixth world title, maintaining rights to the Cockerton Cup, named after Canadian box and field lacrosse legend Stan Cockerton.  

Expecting this edition of the team to differ inherently from its makeup in 2019, Clark’s determined to employ the same approach that has garnered success in his previous stints on the Canada bench, as an NLL coach and at the helm of Junior A teams.  

“I’ve got a sort of way of doing things and I don’t change it for Team Canada,” Clark said.  

“I’ve been able to enjoy success with the national team and somewhat at the pro level as well, and you have to be organic in what you do, you have to be who you are. The good thing about what I get to do is that it’s not a stagnant career. Every year we challenge ourselves to do things different, we assess what we did, what can we do better.” 

Working alongside former head coach and current general manager Eddie Comeau, assistant coaches Curt Malawsky and Pat Coyle, and team coordinator Sean Ferris, Clark said the individual and collective knowledge of these men – each lifelong devotees of the game – helps them to support and push one another and to bring out the best in the athletes. 

“It’s a real education for all of us,” he said. “We get to learn from each other and, for lack of a better term, steal some ideas and some verbiage and all that kind of stuff, so it’s a pretty cool process for the coaches as well because you’re dealing with some of the best people in the world.” 

The World Lacrosse Box Championships will feature 28 men’s and 10 women’s teams, and takes place September 20 to 29, with games to be played at the Adirondack Bank Center at the Utica Memorial Auditorium and at the Utica University Nexus Center. 

Fans can track the status of each team leading up to the event via World Lacrosse’s Roster Tracker. 

Tickets for the World Lacrosse Box Championships can be purchased at WorldLacrosse.sport. 

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