If your team is going to compete in Division "E" of the provincial championships, then best to try and emerge as the cream of the crop of Division "E". Such is the mindset of the Sudbury Peewee Rockhounds, as they leave this weekend for Whitby, site of the Ontario Lacrosse Festival.
With numbers making it difficult to field a Rockhounds' team at each and every age group, the Peewees represent a fairly typical cross-section of what the local coaches are challenged with.
Bench boss Steve Gouchie sees his 2018 entry as effectively three pockets of players. "We have five core players who have come up with me from tyke until now," he stated at practice earlier this week at the Toe Blake Arena in Coniston.
"We have our first year peewees who, unfortunately, did not always have a rep team, coming up. And we have some new players that are second year (peewee) players, but are new to rep."
As such, Gouchie has no issue whatsoever with the placing of his local squad. "I think we are an "E" team," he said. "In "D", I think we would do OK, we might pull off some upsets if everything clicked. But in "E", we have the strength to carry us through. In my opinion, it's our tournament to lose."
Despite their relative youth, the players seem to understand their lot in life. "If we're an "E" team, we're an "E" team," said 11 year old Joe Gouchie. "It's not that we're bad or anything. It's just that this is the team we have this year."
If their is an achilles heel with these Rockhounds, it lies in their ability to finish, translating territorial advantage into wins on the scoreboard. "We've had a hard time scoring," said coach Gouchie. "In the last tournament, in games that we lost, we outshot them, we outplayed them."
"Our outlook on the team has always been defense first, but we do work on some offensive plays." For the lacrosse uninitiated, it is sometimes perplexing to understand offensive configurations, since unlike hockey and many other sports, athletes are not assigned to a specific position in lacrosse.
That said, it's easier to understand than one might expect when the strategy is explained by a veteran of rep lacrosse. "The first guy down the floor usually goes to the top of the house, and then it depends on which hand you shoot for the rest," outlined Joe Gouchie.
"If a right-hand comes second, he will take the left-hand side, because you always want your stick facing the middle of the floor. If a left-hand comes third, he will take the right top. And then you fill the bottom left and bottom right."
Once they are set, offensively speaking, constant movement becomes key for the Peewee Rockhounds. "When we're on offense, some of us just stay planted where we are and we pass the ball around," noted the grade 7 student at St Charles College.
"That's why we have trouble scoring, sometimes, because we're just outside the whole time. That's one of our troubles." One of the bright spots, this summer, has been the progress that has been demonstrated by players on the team who have never competed at OLA tournaments before, "getting better with every game that we've played", in the eyes of coach Gouchie.
"Last year, I originally tried out (for the rep team)," said 12 year old Noah Larcher. "I went to one practice and knew I couldn't keep up with the other kids, so I decided to get better and tryout again this year. I did that, made the team, and it's been a really nice year, so far."
In complete agreement with the assessment of this coach, Larcher can feel his increased level of comfort as he readies himself for the final tournament of the year. "I thought I needed to work on my passing, my catching, learning how to play my position," he said.
"Our first game, I was just a wreck. Now, I look at their stick and aim at their stick (when making a pass). If we play good defense, pass the ball a lot, protect the house - if we can do all of that - it should make us win."
Of course, any offensive production from their less experienced rep players would be a lovely added bonus, just as Larcher supplied at the team's second tournament of the summer in Stayner.
"It was probably my best game of the year," he said proudly. "I scored two goals, I thought they were both really good goals. We were playing the Stouffville Thunder and a kid tried to pass it across the house. I came running in, stole the ball with a one-handed catch, ran in and scored."
And if things go as expected this weekend, it's a scene that Steve Gouchie will see re-enacted, over and over again, by his young Sudbury troops.
The 2018 edition of the Sudbury Peewee Rockhounds includes Ethan Mourre, Aleksander Duguay, Maxwell Vendette, Mitchell Vendette, Noah Larcher, Caden McDonald, Matteo Guerin, Xavier Esquimaux-Osawamick, Tyler Thompson, Jacob Barney, Joe Gouchie, Caleb Giroux, Kai D'Amour, Carter Roney, Daniel Crosswaite, Brodie Nebonaionoquet, coaches Steve Gouchie, Tim McDonald, Brendan Adair and Mathew Barney.
Sudbury will face the Guelph Regals, Lincoln Crush and Owen Sound North Stars in round robin play. The Bantam Rockhounds are also in action at provincials this weekend, grouped in with the Whitby Warriors, Cornwall Celtics and Centre Wellington Mohawks.