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    Categories: Local Sports

Miners dig deep for nationals

SLICK SCORER – Top gun Graedon Cornfield of the St. Albert Miners fires a shot while pressured in the 2015 best-of-five senior B final against the Rockyview Knights of Airdrie in the Rocky Mountain Lacrosse League. The Miners are hosting the 2016 Presidents' Cup national championship Aug. 29 to Sept. 4 at the Leduc Recreation Centre. The team's season opener is tonight against Rockyview

The St. Albert Miners are hosting the 2016 nationals, albeit in Leduc for the Presidents’ Cup in senior B box lacrosse.

The home floor for the Miners is unavailable for the Aug. 29 to Sept. 4 tournament at the Leduc Recreation Centre because the ice at Go Auto Arena will be in place.

“It’s unfortunate that we could not host this event in the arena that we have called home for the past six seasons,” said head coach Vay Diep. “It’s no different than previous seasons, where we had our playoff games away from our home rink due to the ice being installed. We view it no different than going to nationals out of province: just tell us where to play and we will show up.”

Eight teams, including the Miners and another Rocky Mountain Lacrosse league rep, will compete for the Presidents’ Cup, which was first awarded in 1964.

“Our organization is very honoured and excited about the opportunity to put on a first-class event,” Diep said. “As the host team, we have the luxury of an automatic spot into nationals. Our approach will be no different than prior, with our goal of being the best team in Alberta to represent our province. With that said, our approach will be to make sure that we’re firing on all cylinders for nationals and we’re healthy. Players’ floor time will be managed accordingly.”

Visit www.facebook.com/PresidentsCup2016 or www.twitter.com/PresCupLax16 for updates on nationals.

The 2010, 2011 and 2014 provincial champions fell short in their fifth provincial final in six years for a return trip to nationals. In the best-of-five playoff, the Rockyview Knights of Airdrie won three in a row by scores of 18-6 at Coronation Arena and 12-11 and 11-6 at Max Bell Arena after the Miners opened the series with a 9-6 decision at Coronation.

The Miners finished 17-7 overall after placing second at 13-3 behind the 14-2 Knights in league play. Two of the losses in the regular season were identical 9-8 scores against the Knights.

“To sum up last season would be ‘proud,’” Diep said. “With the loss of key veterans (from 2014) we initially didn’t think that we would be in the provincial finals. The young men and rookies stepped up and worked very hard. The future of our organization is very promising.”

The Miners and Knights, fifth-place finishers at nationals in St. Catharines, Ont., hook up tonight in the league lid-lifter at 8 p.m. at Go Auto Arena.

“It’s always exciting when the lacrosse season starts, no matter who the opponent is. We have been on the floor for two months now and the players and coaching staff are very anxious to get going,” Diep said. “As for the Knights, they are the depending Alberta champs and it will be a great test.”

Tryouts will continue before the roster is finalized July 1.

“As the season progresses, we will have numerous players in and out of the line-up playing to earn a spot on our final roster,” Diep said. “Nothing has changed in the style of play we will put on the floor. The fans will see a hard-nosed, fast-paced lacrosse game.”

The Miners were offensive driven last year by three players among the top six in league scoring: Graedon Cornfield (34 goals, 58 points in 11 games) and his older brother, Jordan Cornfield (20 goals, 58 points in 14 games) shared third place and Darren Kinnear (21 goals, 51 points in 15 games) tied for fifth.

Pearce Just (17 goals, 31 points in 16 games), Brett Reynar (14 goals, 30 points in 13 games) and playmaker Sean Reid (18 assists, 24 points in seven games) also contributed offensively.

Matt Hiebert was a workhorse in net.

The Miners have also received commitments from National Lacrosse League players’ John Lintz (defence) of the Saskatchewan Rush, Josh Sullivan (defence) of the Colorado Mammoth and Jarrett Toll (transition) of the Vancouver Stealth. All three are former Miners.

A pair of free agents – Richard Lachlan (offence) of the New Westminster Salmonbellies and Ben Snider (defence) of the Nanaimo Timbermen – are senior A players from the Western Lacrosse Association the Miners have signed.

Scoring threat Chris Schmidt and netminder Dave Marrese are Miners back in the fold on a full-time basis.

“There are a few other names that are in the works,” Diep said. “To the lacrosse fans, the team we finalized will be very entertaining.”

Jeff Hansen: Jeff Hansen joined the St. Albert Gazette in 1991. He writes about sports, athletes and teams from St. Albert and area.