The Canada Day Tournament celebrated its 36th year, and has developed into one of the largest box lacrosse events in the world with 80 teams from North America competing. It was an alphabet soup of teams from the lacrosse community, including royalty ranging from Six Nations to Division I lacrosse Denver University’s Denver Elite run by Bill Tierney and Matt Brown. Several teams, including the Junior Stealth, were coached by National Lacrosse League professional athletes and coaches, which enhanced the charged atmosphere of the tournament.
New entrants to the tournament, the Junior Stealth were represented in three categories of the “B” bracket; Pee Wee (10 and 11 year olds), Bantam (12 and 13 year olds), and Midget (14 and 15 year olds). Ten points were available in each game; two for each of three periods and four for a win. Each team played two games on Saturday and Sunday, but the Junior Stealth teams played an exhibition game on Friday night to add to the exhausting weekend for the young athletes.
Several families drove the 700 miles to Calgary, while others took to the air over the snow-capped Cascades. After a quick meet-up at the team hotel, the teams took to the rink for their exhibition games. The Pee Wee team kicked it off in a one-sided 14-1 victory over the Calgary Hornets “B” team. The victory was short lived, as the Bantams played the Manitoba “A” team, and were picked apart in a 4-15 loss, while the Midgets played the Calgary Hornets “A” team in a 2-7 defeat.
Tired from the travel and play, the boys retired for the evening, but the Pee Wee team woke early to find the bus waiting at 7:00am on Saturday. Confident from their strong showing the night before, the team performed similarly in the morning, besting their opponent 11-2 and taking the full 10 points. The Junior Stealth teams continued winning through the day and at the end of the evening, had captured 56 out of 60 possible points and stood at the atop their respective brackets. The Junior Stealth generated attention from coaches and parents, as the who’s who of youth box lacrosse visited with the Stealth coaching staff; Lewis Ratcliff, Chris Hall, Brett Hickey and Justin Salt.
At times it seemed like the kids were living the lives of rock stars as they rolled up to the arena in a bus with a full entourage of coaches and fans tending to them. The pampered life stopped at the curb and there would be no green M&Ms in the dressing rooms, as the heavy stench of heavily utilized gear and uniforms wafting through the corridors reminded the young athletes that they were there to do work. Indeed, work was done as the three teams continued to dispatch competitors with alacrity.
Call it Soreness Sunday as stiff muscles made waking difficult, but the bus was waiting again at 7:00am and the Midget team was first up. The first game of the day was a 2-2 draw, but it picked up from there. Mid-Sunday it was clear that each of the teams would play in winners’ brackets, but nobody was prepared to take their foot off the gas yet. By 10:00pm the results were in; the three teams would each play for either gold or silver medals, a remarkable achievement for the newcomers to Calgary.
A dilemma for the Midget team was presented, as the championship game schedule would have the team and its parents missing the return flight or having the team forfeit. A flurry of phone calls by Stealth GM Doug Locker and Junior Stealth Director Lewis Ratcliff ensued and by midnight, the organizers and opposing team had a solution.
Entering the playoffs the Bantams were first up, facing former Stealth player Shaydon Santos’ team from Northern California. Two periods had the Junior Stealth in the lead with some gritty play by both teams, but a second wind and two short-handed goals by Cali Lax were too much to overcome and the Junior Stealth walked away with a silver medal.
The Midget and Bantam teams played concurrently. After three periods, the Midget game was stuck at a 2-2 stalemate and the team was again in danger of missing its flight. A four minute goalless overtime meant the Regina team would take the gold honors based on total points in the tournament. The Pee Wee team was likewise in a battle through the second period, but found its strength and powered past the Denver Elite to take the Junior Stealth’s first Canada Day championships back to Washington.
In the end, the Junior Stealth took home the gold or silver in each age category; a rare result that felt more special as new entrants to the tournament. Just as important, the Stealth coaches and staff, kids and parents had a great time bonding and sharing in an experience to remember. From the bus rides with the Scottish driver Tom doing his best Shrek imitations to the rare opportunity of seeing the legendary Chris Hall on the bench with the kids, Calgary was a blast!