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    Categories: Local Sports

Miners return to nationals

The St. Albert Miners dug deep despite a near perfect record for a return trip to nationals.

The Presidents’ Cup repeat starts Sunday at Six Nations of the Grand River in Ontario for the senior B Miners after going 24-1 as the Rocky Mountain Lacrosse League provincial champions.

“With the injuries we had and the retirement of (all-star netminder) Dave Marrese it sure made it tougher to get there this year even with our record,” said head coach Vay Diep. “It’s such a great group of guys.”

Last year the host team at nationals in Leduc rattled off 25 consecutive victories to finish 25-0-1 as the first Presidents’ Cup champions from Alberta since the Sherwood Park Outlaws in 2007.

The Miners continued their winning ways with 22 in a row this season before losing game two in the best-of-five final to the Rockyview Knights of Airdrie and the 11-6 result Aug. 12 at Strathcona Olympiette Centre ended the successful stretch of 47 straight.

The first of 47 wins was the second game of the 2016 regular season after the Miners and Knights battled to a 7-7 draw on April 30 in St. Albert.

The Knights also handed the Miners their last loss before the run of greatness and the 11-6 decision at Max Bell Centre in game four of the 2015 final clinched the provincial championship.

“That winning streak was really not something that we would talk about. It’s something you would write or somebody else would talk about,” Diep said. “At the end of the day our goal is to win a national championship. We want to be lifting that trophy and it doesn’t matter what our record is to get us there.”

The Miners will run the floor at nationals for the third time 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 finish 5-0 in the eight-team tournament.

Three years ago, the Miners knocked off Kahnawake 7-5 for bronze to complete an overall 27-3 record and all three losses were at nationals in Coquitlam, B.C.

“Last year hosting it and having that pressure was great experience but even going as far back as the Presidents’ Cup experiences in 2010, 2011 and 2014 there is still a good core amount of guys that have been to those three prior Presidents’ Cups and those experiences are going to be huge,” Diep said.

The Miners also picked up Tyler Melnyk of the Calgary Mountaineers to give an already potent offence a bigger boost as well as a pair of Knights with previous stints in the National Lacrosse League: netminder Ryan Avery and Patrick O’Meara, a big body in the back end.

“We’ve got the right roster to go down there and try and win another one,” Diep said.

The last repeat winner was the St. Regis Braves of the Three Nations Senior Lacrosse League in 2011-12.

“We’re not going in with the mindset we want to repeat but we’re looking at it as one game at a time, play our game and play within our systems. You play everybody once and at the end of the day it’s one versus two on Sunday. You’ve got to go a full 60 minutes. You can’t look ahead, you’ve got to pile up your wins here and there,” Diep said. “It’s going to be a tough tournament. To win it all you’ve got to play nine games in eight days and Thursday is our two games in one day.”

At Iroquois Lacrosse Arena, the Miners play the host Six Nations Slash on Sunday, Saskatoon Brewers on Monday, Nova Scotia Privateers on Tuesday, Six Nations Rivermen of Ontario on Wednesday, Ladner Pioneers of the West Coast Senior Lacrosse Association and the Native Sons of the Can/Am Lacrosse league on Thursday, St. Regis on Friday and Kahnawake on Saturday.

The medal finals for bronze and gold are Sunday, Sept. 3.

“I sat down with (assistant coach) Todd Lorenz and we went through the whole schedule. We played it out what lineups we’ve got to go with. We’ve got to manage the roster carefully to make sure that everybody is healthy at the end stretch of that schedule,” Diep said.

Visit www.pointstreaksites.com/view/presidentscup/home for the tournament schedule and results.

Live updates will be also posted at @StAlbertMiners.

The Miners wrapped up their fourth consecutive provincial final and seventh in eight years with victories of 9-5 Friday and 13-7 Saturday in Calgary after the Knights evened the series at one win apiece the weekend before by outscoring the Miners 6-1 in the third period.

The series opener was 10-5 Miners.

“We regrouped after game two. We had a really good talk and our good old captain, Jordan Cornfield, got the boys really up together to get ready for games three and four to close the series out,” Diep said. “No disrespect to our opponent but at the end of the day when you look at it the game two loss was all on us. We made mistakes that we rarely make. We didn’t stay focused for a full 60 minutes and the end result was we beat ourselves.”

Game three was scoreless before Keegan Bal and Ryan Dilks potted goals 48 seconds apart halfway through the opening period.

Graedon Cornfield with two and one by Ryan Davis made it 5-1 in the second before the Knights replied before the period ended.

Darren Kinnear tallied twice and assisted on goals by Bal and Ethan Forgrave in the third for five points on the night in support of netminder Matt Hiebert.

The scoring stats from game four were not available at press time.

“You knew they were all going to be tough games. The Knights are a good team and well rounded as well,” Diep said of the Knights, 17-8 overall and three losses to the Miners in league play were 14-8, 12-5 and 14-7.

“The first period in game three we got the road travel legs this time. It was only 2-1 and if someone says that was a feeling out period it was defined just like that and once we got relaxed we opened it up in the second period.

“And good for Matty Hiebert too. He’s been waiting a long time to get a starting role and he’s finally got it and he’s shown us that he was capable of closing out a fairly tight game in game three.

“In game four it was pretty much all on the table; do we want to drive back and play game five (Sunday at the Strathcona Olympiette Centre) or do we finish it off here now.”

As good as the Miners are, the best of the best is Bal, last year’s MVP at nationals with a tournament-high 24 assists and 36 points.

This year the second-year Miner tore it up with 49 goals and 74 assists in 16 games as the repeat winner of the Harris Toth Award as the league’s top scorer.

The Coquitlam, B.C. product also lead all scorers in the 2016 regular season with 70 points, including 26 goals in 13 games.

After four playoff games, Bal had compiled 15 goals and 31 points.

“Gretzky had Kurri and Keegan has got Richard Lachlan (league-high 62 goals in 14 games and 90 points for second overall in scoring) and then on the other side of the floor you’ve got the Cornfields and Kinnear,” Diep said. “Keegan leads by example. He sees the floor. He is a pure goal sniper. You don’t leave Keegan alone with the ball.”

MINERS SCOOP: The Miners’ annual golf tournament is Sept. 23 at the Cardiff Golf & Country Club. Shotgun start is 12:30 p.m.

Registration is $130 per person and the deadline to enter is Sept. 15.

Visit www.rockymountainlax.com to register.

For more information, contact Jordan Cornfield at 587-988-0872.

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