An undefeated start to the season is a dream come true for the St. Albert Miners after last year’s nightmare.
“We were pretty disappointed how we did last year losing out in the first round of the playoffs. This year the team is refocused and kind of revitalized,” said scoring star Graedon Cornfield of the 6-0 Miners in the Rocky Mountain Lacrosse League.
The Miners are pouring all their energies into representing Alberta at nationals after a two-year absence.
“We’re working hard and we’re trying to stay focused to get back to the Presidents’ Cup. That’s the ultimate goal obviously for any senior B team in our league,” Cornfield said of the Aug. 25 to 31 nationals in Coquitlam, B.C.
After back-to-back provincial titles a shallow talent pool was unable to plug holes in lineups decimated by injuries and ill-timed personal commitments when the Miners bowed out to the Rockyford Knights in game four of the best-of-five final in 2012 and last year’s early exit to the Calgary Mountaineers.
“This year is a bit different. We picked up some really good players in the offseason in John Lintz and Jarrett Toll of the Edmonton Rush. We also made some good trades,” Cornfield said. “The team is playing really well together. We’re gelling together as a team.”
With 10 games left in the season the Miners are five wins away from matching last year’s total after slaughtering the Spruce Grove Slash 25-6 Wednesday at Northstar Hyundai Arena. Two weeks earlier they shredded the winless Slash 24-6 in Spruce Grove.
“Our offence is very talented. Everyone can put the ball in the net,” said Cornfield, the RMLL’s top gun with 21 goals after Wednesday’s hat-trick.
All but four of the Miners’ goals were scored at even strength. Captain Nate Schmidt struck four times, Toll, Sean Reid and Nick Petz netted three apiece, Ryan Davis and Darren Kinnear both potted a pair and Tom Buckley, Marshall Just, Jason Riley, Aaron Duff and Steve Tessarola fired singles.
Cornfield was credited with six assists, Davis chipped in with five helpers, Toll and Reid added four apiece and Schmidt had three.
Period scores were 6-2 and 17-5. In net was Matt Hiebert.
“With the new additions our offence has a lot more depth. We have some big studs on offence,” Cornfield said. “Everyone that goes out on the floor is a threat at all times. They can’t really focus on one player this year, as opposed to focusing on a Nate Schmidt like last year.”
The Miners switched their systems around this year to generate more offence and so far it’s worked to perfection.
“It’s really helped our offence click,” Cornfield said. “Our biggest focus is moving the ball a lot. We’re getting everyone a couple of touches on the ball.”
Cornfield, the RMLL points leader with 37, six more than the underrated Reid, the league’s most prolific playmaker with 25 assists, has already surpassed last year’s goal total of 18 in 12 games.
“The ball is going in for me. I can’t really explain it. I’ve been playing similar like in years before,” said the 2011 Harris Toth Award winner as the RMLL’s regular season point’s leader with 66, including a league-high 31 goals, in 18 games.
“I think the biggest thing is our systems. It gets a lot more guys open and it freezes up a lot more space for everybody so with that space I guess I’m getting the ball at the net and they’re going in for me so far,” the Miners’ assistant captain.
Cornfield’s biggest goal of the season was Sunday’s sudden-death winner against the Knights (2-3) in Airdrie. His second of the game capped off a dramatic 6-5 victory.
“I think Nate Schmidt took a shot and the goalie stopped it and it went into the corner so we got a reset on the 30 second shot clock. Nate picked up the ball and kind of ran around the top (of the net), kind of like he was going to shoot, and when he has the ball the goalie comes out to respect his shot because he’s got such a good shot. I kind of popped out and he threw it to me and I quick-sticked it into the open net.”
Schmidt’s goal with 51 seconds remaining, with netminder Dave Marrese on the bench for the extra attack, forced overtime.
“We set up a play and it worked,” Cornfield said of Schmidt’s equalizer. “In the overtime period we were really putting the pressure on. We were getting a lot of shots. They have a very, very good goalie (Geoff Rainsford) and things just kind of worked out and it went in.”
The Miners proved they’re the real deal this year beating the Knights.
“It was a big character win. The Knights are very talented and a very good team. They wanted to play us and they were ready. In the past couple of years we’ve always had tough games with that team for sure,” Cornfield said. “It’s always hard to go to Calgary and beat a Calgary team after coming off a three hour drive so it was a huge win for the team.”
Cornfield, 27, stressed the Miners have to avoid complacency in order to punch their tickets to nationals.
“Every team is getting better and now they’re almost gunning for us because we’re playing so well, so for us our biggest focus is to keep trying to improve, and that comes through practice and hard work. If everyone comes to practice and works and really focuses on the systems that we’re trying to employ this year we should be OK hopefully,” said the younger and faster of the highly-skilled, Edmonton-produced Cornfield brothers (Jordan, a noted scorer with National Lacrosse League experience, is currently injured) on the Miners who attended NLL camps with the Colorado Mammoth, Calgary Roughnecks and the now-defunct Boston Blazers as an undrafted free agent before joining the senior B ranks.
The Miners are back on the floor June 7 against the Raiders in Okotoks and June 8 against the Mountaineers, the defending RMLL champions, in Calgary.