Miners drill towards nationals
Senior B lacrosse team is undefeated in 19 games entering provincial final
Saturday, Jul 26, 2014 06:00 am
The undefeated St. Albert Miners are three wins way from lighting the lamp at the Presidents’ Cup national championship after burying the Edmonton Outlaws in the Rocky Mountain Lacrosse League senior B playoffs.
The Miners will have home-floor advantage in the best-of-five provincial final against the Rockyview Knights of Airdrie or the Calgary Mountaineers after outscoring the Outlaws 33-12 in three victories to sweep the semifinal series.
The Alberta champion advances to the Aug. 25 to 29 national tournament, hosted by the Tri-City Bandits in Coquitlam, B.C.
“All of us are pretty excited. If there is any year to win it it’s this year,” said assistant captain Chris Schmidt of the 19-0 Miners. “We have a good shot this year. We’ve got a really good group of guys here with lots of talent. The main thing is we’re all pretty close friends. Not only do we play lacrosse together but we hang out on weekends so we have that team camaraderie and that goes a long way on the lacrosse floor.”
The series between the Knights and Mountaineers was knotted at one win apiece going into game three Thursday in Calgary. The score was unavailable at press time.
The final starts next weekend at Go Auto Arena.
“I don’t think we really care who we play. We can beat either team at this point,” Schmidt said. “Everything is going pretty much as planned for us. We’re playing pretty good lacrosse right now.”
The Knights and Mountaineers finished league play with identical second-place 8-6-2 records.
“Both teams have exceptional goaltending and their offences are fairly potent,” said netminder Dave Marrese. “It’s going to be a defensive battle in the final series but we have the offence that’s got supremacy over this league. We’ve got some firepower up front (Miners averaged 12.8 goals in 16 league games) that is uncontested if you look at the other lineups.”
The last two years the Miners were eliminated in game four of the best-of-five playoffs by the Knights (2012 final) and Mountaineers (2013 semifinal) after representing Alberta at the 2010 and 2011 nationals.
“I do believe that this is the team to get back there again. It’s probably the best group of guys that I’ve ever played with at any given time. We have amazing chemistry and we’ve got a plethora of knowledge and experience with our coaching staff,” Marrese said.
At nationals the Miners were 2-4 both years.
“The calibre of play there is elevated to a point that you would see in the final series of the Alberta final, which is the best two teams in Alberta. It’s very similar competition to what you’re going to be seeing at the Presidents’ Cup,” Marrese said.
“However, the Presidents’ Cup is not so much about the competition, it’s seven games in seven days, potentially eight games in seven days if you’re in the championship, so there are no beer breaks. It’s a very long week of lacrosse but the depth of our team is what’s going to make us successful there because in years previous we haven’t had that depth.
“We’re trying not to get a little bit too far ahead of ourselves but we’re using our playoffs as a prep for the Presidents’ Cup.”
In league play against the Knights, bronze medallists at the 2012 nationals in Spruce Grove, the Miners posted wins of 9-6 in St. Albert and 6-5 in a come-from-behind sudden-death conquest in Airdrie.
“The Knights are one of our oldest rivals. We’ve played them in the playoffs a lot. They’re a lot like our team; they’ve got a lot of veterans and they’re a good team. We match up quite well with them but we can beat them quite handily,” Schmidt said.
The Miners also toppled the Mountaineers, last year’s provincial champions and fourth-place finishers at nationals, 13-7 in Calgary and 8-4 in St. Albert.
“The Mounties are a younger group. They’re quite a bit faster,” Schmidt said. “I think that series (between the Mountaineers and Knights) is going to go five games, which is good for us. The winner might be a little more tired and beat up coming into our series.”
Wednesday’s 10-1 series clincher against the fourth-place Outlaws (7-9) at Coronation Arena extended the Miners’ season-long winning streak to a remarkable 19 games.
“We can chalk that up to some of the work we did over the winter with our lineup. It’s so deep and no matter who is in and who is out we have a team that can go out and beat any team in the RMLL. We’ve got guys who didn’t play all the games this season and we had other guys who filled in and played the roles that they were expected to and it really helped us,” Marrese said.
The pressure to perform is greater than the fear of failure for the Miners.
“We thought about our winning streak a bit in the regular season because we wanted to keep it going, but now that it’s playoffs we just want to win and that’s the bottom line. We want to get on to our next series,” Schmidt said. “It’s nice to keep winning every game but our main goal is the Presidents’ Cup at the end of the year and that starts by winning Alberta first.”
Marrese agreed the winning streak is secondary to the team’s ultimate goal.
“What we’re trying to focus on is playing one shift at a time and one period at a time and one game at a time and make sure that we win all the little battles because if we do that we’re going to get the result we want at the end,” said the former Edmonton Rush third-string netminder.
The recently minted 27-year-old backstopped the Miners to the semifinal sweep after splitting the regular season with the young and talented Matty Hiebert. Six of the Outlaws’ 12 goals were scored at even strength.
“We’ve only been down once and that was for three minutes in the second period (in game two, a 9-6 win in St. Albert). It was 3-2 but we quickly tied it up,” said Marrese.
He noted the team’s success was based on “staying out of the penalty box, letting the referees do their job and not focusing in on the calls and making sure that we’re staying positive.”
Offensively, the Miners were led by Jarrett Toll’s three goals and one assist in game three. The Edmonton Rush player was the top scorer in the series with seven goals and 13 points.
The Cornfield brothers, Graedon and Jordan, both notched one goal and four assists. Graedon racked up a league-high 50 goals and 86 points in only 15 games in league play.
Also sniping singles were captain Nate Schmidt, Josh Sullivan, Owen Williams, Sean Reid and Schmidt, the older of the two Schmidt bothers at age 29. Chris, an offensive runner, totaled three goals and seven assists in the playoffs.
Reid also set up three goals after racking up a league-high 60 assists in the regular season.