The St. Albert Miners set the standard for greatness in senior B lacrosse as the repeat winners of the Presidents’ Cup.
The first Alberta team to pull off consecutive national championships while amassing an amazing 57-2-1 mark of distinction during the span of success completed the historic achievement in Sunday’s 7-6 glorious conquest of the Six Nations Rivermen.
“It took essentially everybody that was involved that made this possible to essentially put us in the history books in Canadian lacrosse,” said a happy but tired-sounding head coach Vay Diep in a phone interview Monday morning.
“We couldn’t have done it without the commitment from the players, their families, their wives, their girlfriends, our volunteers and our executive board, everybody that supported us throughout this year,” Diep continued. “I’m very proud and honoured to be a member of the St. Albert Miners Lacrosse Association.”
The eighth victory in nine games at the Iroquois Lacrosse Arena, located on the outskirts of Hagersville on the Six Nations of the Grand River in Ontario, finished off a 32-2 superlative season for the Miners that rivalled last year’s spellbinding 25-0-1 national triumph in Leduc as the tournament hosts, which was also the first Presidents’ Cup for an Alberta team since the 2007 Sherwood Park Outlaws were victorious in Owen Sound, Ont.
“This one is different. It’s sweet to win it out east, to win it at Six Nations and to win it in a round robin kind of format where essentially we had to play nine games in eight days and no days off and one day it was a doubleheader,” said Diep, who also coached the 2014 bronze-medal winning Miners (27-3) and all three losses were at nationals in Coquitlam, B.C.
“We also lost a key player on game one with Marshall Just. It was like a nothing/nothing play. He injures his knee and is done for the tournament and he’s a big part of the defence,” Diep added. “It took all 26 guys that we brought out here to make this happen and we brought a full training staff and they were working I would have to say anywhere from 12 to 14 hour days just working out those muscles, aches and pains and just making sure everybody was close to 100 per cent as possible.”
The last team to repeat at nationals was the St. Regis Braves of the Three Nations Senior Lacrosse League in 2011 at Akwesasne, Ont. and 2012 at Spruce Grove.
“It’s great to win it in front of our family like we did (last year) but to come back and win it, to be the only Alberta team to ever repeat as champions and to come on to the Six Nations reserve and basically take the trophy off their land and away from them – it was definitely hostile territory, it was a bit of an aggressive building – so it was definitely sweet,” said captain Jordan Cornfield. “The odds were stacked against us going out there and just the format of the tournament was an absolute grind. Nine games in eight days is something that grown men shouldn’t have to put their bodies through but that was the format of the tournament and we came out on top.
“It was a big deal for us to do that.”
The perennial Rocky Mountain Lacrosse League provincial champions competed at their third nationals in four years and the fifth since 2010.
Last year the Miners defeated the Kahnawake Mohawks of the Quebec Senior League 12-7 in the final to go 5-0 in the eight-team tournament.
“We have a real strong program. We have a lot of good players and we can’t say enough about our support staff, our team massage therapists and our trainer and equipment manager is second to none in George Turner,” Cornfield said. “From top to bottom our organization is great and we want to keep going in that direction.”
The Miners fed off the pressure as the defending champions in a rancorous environment to capture the coveted championship trophy that was first awarded in 1964.
“We were not the home team at all,” Diep stressed. “But the boys were like, yeah, we’re going to do this and they did.”
The Miners were destined to repeat after a thrilling 19-16 come-from-behind verdict against the Native Sons of the Can/Am Lacrosse League in the second game of Thursday’s doubleheader to go 5-1.
“The key moment in this tournament was that Native Sons’ game being down 11-5. When those boys came back and won that game they knew that this tournament was theirs,” Diep said of the nine-goal explosion, all at even strength, during a 9:39-minute scoring spree to lead 14-11 after two periods. “Essentially that game was our tournament. We lose that game we’re either out of the tournament or we fall in to a tiebreaker (to determine the two finalists) and you don’t want to put a tiebreaker situation into anybody else’s hands.”
The Miners trailed 6-4 after 20 minutes and it was 8-4 when the Miners scored at 2:49 of the second.
Teetering on the brink at 11-5, the first of three goals by pickup Patrick O’Meara cued the comeback at 10:21. Richard Lachlan with a pair and singles by Cornfield, Keegan Bal, Jarrett Toll and Tom Buckley pushed the Miners ahead to stay for good.
“We were down 11-5 and it was kind of one of those points we needed to take it to the next level and we took off as a team collectively. We started scoring and scoring and scoring and after that we never looked back,” Cornfield said of the barnburner. “We went on to beat St. Regis (12-7) the next night and then beat Kahnawake (11-8) the next night and then won the final.
“I would definitely say maybe the tournament wasn’t won in that 10 minutes of that game but definitely it was our TSN turning point of the tournament for sure.”
The final featured two teams with only one loss apiece – the Miners fell 12-9 to the Rivermen on Wednesday and the Six Nations team dropped a 15-7 decision to Kahnawake (5-4) on Friday – and in the rematch the Miners capitalized three times on the power play for their first three goals in the opening period to lead 4-2.
The Rivermen were 0-for-2 with the man advantage in the final and were whistled for seven minors.
Shots were 36-26 for the Miners and in net was pickup Ryan Avery.
“When you come out to a national tournament with teams with all that skilled talent you don’t want to give those opportunities away and making sure everybody was disciplined was key,” Diep said. “We have such a great group of individuals. They’re unselfish. They would take the hacks, high sticks, the beatings and the missed calls and they would just brush it off and only worry about the task at hand.”
Bal, the team’s top gun, pumped in four goals in the first and his 30th of the tournament and 62nd point in nine games made it 7-5 with 1:37 to play.
Lachlan’s tournament-high 34th goal for his 51st point was the only score in the middle frame.
Tyler Melnyk, another pickup for nationals, struck in the third at 14:43 to break a 5-5 tie.
Sean Reid collected three assists and Melynk and Darren Kinnear had a pair of helpers.
“We were composed on the bench. When we got up 4-1 we weren’t high on ourselves, like now we can shut it down,” Diep said of the defensive battle. “Ryan Avery was a stud back there, our defence held their own and with the hostile crowd we just ignored all the small distractions that was totally against us there and what can you say about Keegan Bal? It was a combination of everything and again it took all 26 guys to win that thing.”
Cornfield, 34, who was sidelined for the big game with an injury, watched the final unfold while chewing his fingertips to the bone.
“There were games where our offence won for our defence, there were games that our defence won for our offence and that definitely was one of the games our defence won for our offence for sure,” Cornfield said.
Overall, the Miners were too good to be true as back-to-back Presidents’ Cup champions.
“It was our hard work, dedication and our whole team bought into the system that we were playing on the defensive end and the offensive end but more importantly our big time players stepped up when they needed to step up which was a huge asset to our team,” Cornfield said. “We have guys on our team that can’t be rivalled. When they step up their game they play the way they can play and take over games and do what they need to do to win.”