It’s the start of tournament season for the Sudbury Rockhounds delegation and expectations are positive, yet tempered. Such is a way of life for a sport that is still looking to build a comfortably sustainable niche within the spectrum of athletic activities in the Nickel City.
In the words of so many that are battling to overcome a challenge, simply putting one foot ahead of the other constitutes an awfully good starting point.
“The first year, we didn’t win a game all season,” noted Novice Rockhounds’ head coach Dan Mead, who takes on the primary role on the bench after serving as an assistant coach with B.J. Adair for the past two summers. “When we scored a goal, it was like we had won the NLL (National Lacrosse League) championship.”
“Last year, it was a bit of a deeper team, with a few more talented players, and a lot of returning players,” continued Mead. “The big thing this year is that we have a full roster. The interest seems to be growing in provincial caliber competition.”
The Novice Rockhounds are one of three GSLA (Greater Sudbury Lacrosse Association) teams that will be competing at the Six Nations tournament from May 24th to the 26th. They enter the event having drawn on some of the tough lessons of 2017 and 2018, understanding a little more how best to prepare for the leap that is required when local squads test themselves against opponents who benefit from regular rep league play in their particular pocket of the province.
“I think we understand that we need to teach the game earlier in the season,” opined Mead. “Tonight, for instance, we worked on a lot of defensive principles, basic game plan principles that we maybe would have waited until midway through the season to introduce the last couple of years.”
A ten year-old grade four student at Walden Public Elementary School, Hunter Currie returns for his second season with this team, acknowledging that the priorities that have been emphasized by the coaching staff are extremely relevant to him and his mates.
“Defensive is harder, you don’t know where the guy is going, whether he is going this way or that way,” said Currie. “When they’re in the house, you can steer them out, and once they are out, you have to get back to your spot.”
Still, as fellow Rockhound Joshua Bell points out, it’s no walk in the park executing to perfection at the offensive end of the floor, either. “The passes here are way faster than a hockey puck, so you have to keep your head on a swivel,” noted the grade four student at Hélène Gravel, making the jump to his summer sport right on the heels of completing his latest winter with the Copper Cliff Redmen, and utilizing lacrosse to prepare for the next.
“You have to be moving all the time, to give yourself room to make the pass. When you’re shooting, you’re putting way more power behind it. When you’re passing it, you don’t want to shoot it, because the person will lose track of it.”
B.J. Adair can take comfort in the knowledge that has not only been shared with the likes of Currie and Bell, in prior seasons, but the fact that those teachings have been taken to heart. As he now moves up one level, guiding the Peewee Rockhounds through to provincials in August, he is prepared for the layered approach that will be added to the foundation he and Mead and others have built.
“The game gets a lot quicker at this level,” said Adair. “Some of the things that we look to introduce are pick and rolls, being able to defend pick and rolls, man on man defense, instead of just zone, fast breaks – all of those critical pieces of lacrosse that keep the game moving quickly. They need to be introduced now in order to be able to compete at this level.”
A ten year-old grade five student at Walden Public, Alex Rietze is most at home when defending the house, the lacrosse terminology that outlines a semi-circular zone that extends out from the net, very roughly at the same distance that a three-point line might be located in basketball. “I’m mostly a good defender,” suggested Rietze.
“Usually I’m a little bigger than some of the other kids and I like hitting people. I’m only a bit aggressive, by nature, but I am more aggressive playing in rep lacrosse. This year, I’m looking to have a lot of fun and trying to score a couple of goals.”
While Adair has worked with Rietze and most of the first year peewees before, he will need to connect quickly with the likes of Matti Jouppi, a second year peewee who is suiting up with the rep lacrosse team for the first time this year. “I’m playing AAA hockey and I wanted something to keep me in shape in the summer, so I decided to play rep lacrosse,” said Jouppi.
“It also helps your hand-eye co-ordination, for sure, just catching the ball. I like that there are a lot of my friends playing this year. I’ve asked before, and a lot of them did not play before.” When all is said and done, both coaches are only partly concerned with goal setting that is specific to the on-floor performance.
“We want the kids to get to know each other, we want the kids to show up with a level of compete, a level of enthusiasm,” said Mead. “If we’re getting a lot of passes, if we’re backing each other up, and we’re in games, we’ll be happy.” It’s a message that appears to be sinking in.
“I don’t know if I will keep playing rep, every year, but I will keep playing lacrosse,” stated Jouppi. And for a sport just making in-roads in Sudbury, that’s a good first step.
The rosters for the Sudbury Rockhound novice and peewee teams are, as follows:
Novice Rockhounds: Joely Angus, Owen Angus, Zeebin Ashawasegai, Joshua Bell, Hunter Currie, Damien Dell, Liam Hagen, Etienne Hutchings, Malik Jakubo, Max Jouppi, Declan McGonegal, Jackson Mead, Koda Peltier, Lincoln Rancourt, Andrew Roney and Brady Toulouse.
Peewee Rockhounds: Keegan Adair, Daniel Crossthwaite, Kai D’Amour, Xavier Osawamick, Joseph Johnson, Matti Jouppi, Luca Mallozzi, Caleb Mead, Braeden Paradis, Allaura Peltier-Restoule, Berkley Pitura, Jeremy Rhéaume, Alex Rietze, Nolan Schiewek, Cameron Seguin and Mitchell Vendette.