STEENHUIS, CANADA PREPARE FOR WORLD CHAMPS
News | 7/14/2010 4:16:43 PM | Bandits.com

The stars of the National Lacrosse League are ready to play for their home countries in a tournament of the top field lacrosse talent. The Federation of International Lacrosse (FIL) opens it's World Championship tournament on Friday, July 16 in Manchester, England. The nine-day tournament concludes with the World Championship Final on July 24.

Similar to the soccer's World Cup, this tournament is only held once every four years. At the last tournament in 2006, Team Canada stunned their US rivals, defeating Team USA 15-10 in the World Championship Game to win their first title since 1978, and snapped the US streak of six consecutive championships (last losing to Canada in '78).

With a star-studded roster of NLL talent, the players of Team Canada are looking to once again show how their indoor lacrosse skills also translate to success in the field game. The 23-man Team Canada roster has a look that is reminiscent of the "Dream Team" that USA Basketball would send to the Olympics.

Dan Dawson, Mark Steenhuis, Brodie Merrill and John Grant are among the starters. Orlando Titans goaltender Matt Vinc is also on the squad, but he will actually play as a defenseman in the tournament. The goaltender for this team is Chris Sanderson, a former Philadelphia Wings player and assistant coach, who has overcome a lot to be in this position. Neil Stevens, media relations director for Team Canada and a recognized member of the media by the NLL Hall of Fame, files this report from Manchester, England.

Chris Sanderson played as if he'd never been away. It was remarkable. Sanderson, who underwent brain surgery in December 2008 and who hadn't tended goal in a field lacrosse game since helping Canada win the world title in 2006, was outstanding during a Tuesday scrimmage against Scotland that served as a warmup for Canada's 2010 tournament opener Friday against Japan.

"Awesome,'' replied the 36-year-old native of Ontario, when asked how he felt working in a crease again. "It was great to be back on the field. Even though it was an exhibition game, taking to the field felt great and then once
the ball dropped I went back to four years ago. I felt comfortable in there and comfortable with the guys and I think it went pretty well.''

Sanderson didn't face a lot of shots but excellent positioning, good angle reads and quick reflexes allowed him to stop all but one shot he faced in his three quarters of action.

Head coach David Huntley was impressed. "I think he's gotten better,'' said Huntley. "Like wine, he's done well in the cellar ageing. Chris is like a coach on the field and our defense will play better each game with him out there. We're blessed to have him back.''

Assistant coach Jeff Gombar, a former goalie, was quick to commend Sanderson for preparing so well for his long-awaited return. "A lot of that is keeping mentally sharp,'' he said. "You play the game in your head
and you watch shooters' tendencies and react. When you get back in that crease it's like riding a horse. You get back on it. He's going to be fine. He's a little rusty but he's feeling good, and he looks good.''

Sanderson has undergone aggressive chemotherapy since having a brain tumor removed 18 months ago.

Huntley was enthused by his team's overall performance.
"I thought we were terrific,'' he said. "The whole purpose of this was to see if we're getting better every day and we were better this morning in practice than we were
yesterday and in this scrimmage we got better in each quarter. That's the goal the guys have set for themselves and I think as long as we do that we'll be alright.''

Zack Greer, an NLL rookie in 2010 with the Minnesota Swarm, scored four goals. "It was a good start,'' he said of Canada's effort. "We worked hard and got some kinks out. Scotland played a good game. They work hard, too. It looks like it's going to be a fun tournament.''

Toronto Rock rookie Garrett Billings scored three goals. "It felt good,'' said Billings. "It was the first time I've ever pulled on this jersey so it was a great experience.''

John Grant Jr. played only the first half and scored two goals while setting up several others. "We started out strong,'' he said. "At times we looked a little apprehensive but once we got into the flow of things we started to gel. Some of the goals were the result of as many as six consecutive passes and their goalie was spinning around like a top. We've got some things to work on but we've got a few days before we play our first game. I think we're on track.''

Scotland coach John Kenney said he was happy with his team's play and lauded Canada's offense. "The Canadians worked the pick and roll to perfection,'' he said. "They shoot quick and hard. They're going to have a good tournament.'' Huntley described Kenney's team as being "plucky and enthusiastic.''

Scotland goalkeeper Tim Higgins said he and his teammates relished the unexpected opportunity to play the reigning world champions. Scotland was originally to have faced the Iroquois Nationals in the warmup game but that team hadn't arrived so Canada offered to fill in.

"It was the experience of a lifetime for all our guys,'' said Higgins. "They're the best team in the world right now and if you're going to measure yourself you might as well measure yourself against the best.''

Most of Greer's goals came from underhand rockets that planted balls just under the crossbar. "I was worried at first that I was going to have a bunch of bruises but they're such good shooters that I didn't get hit,'' said Higgins.

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A total of 30 countries will compete for the World Championship, divided into seven divisions. Team Canada is in the Blue Division, which includes the top six teams from the 2006 tournament. The division consists of the US, Canada, Iroquois Nation, England, Australia and Japan. Canada begins play on Friday, July 16th with a match against Japan at 11:30am Eastern. The highly anticipated US vs. Canada game in round-robin play takes place on Saturday, July 17th at 2:30pm ET.

Four teams from this elite division will advance to the playoff rounds. The other 24 teams will play in one of six four-team divisions. The top finisher in each division will have a chance to compete for the championship with the blue division teams.

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