Look out lacrosse fans, the Europeans are coming.
It wasn’t quite as devastating to Haudenosaunee lacrosse fans and it was to Canadian hockey fans when Team Russia very nearly defeated Team Canada in 1972, but there was a similar cloud of disbelief among local lacrosse fans on Sunday at the ILA when the best any of the three Iroquois U-19 teams could manage was a Bronze Medal.
Like the ’72 Summit Series of hockey, it was believed by most local fans, me included, that the Iroquois U-19’s would dominate along with Team USA and two teams from Canada against the fledgling international lacrosse programs of Team Nordic (Poland, Sweden, Denmark, Finland), Germany, the Czech Republic, and Israel.
Everyone knows that the Creator’s Game originated with the Iroquois people long before European contact, but in recent years, it has been quietly blossoming elsewhere as well, and sometimes in the most unlikely of places.
The first ever U-19 World Box Lacrosse Challenge hosted on an Iroquois reserve proved to be a wake-up call to Onkwehonwe keepers of the Creators Game that the rest of the world is catching up.
Two teams in particular surprised many of the fans that attended the three-day celebration of lacrosse. The Czech Republic team, who finished fifth in the tournament, just missing out on a medal, and Team Israel, who have suddenly stepped onto the world lacrosse stage with teams entered into not only this U-19 challenge but also with a men’s team entered in the World Men’s Box Lacrosse Championships to be hosted at Onondaga, New York.
Some of the lacrosse programs from countries not known for their prowess in lacrosse came to Six Nations, the home of lacrosse for generations, and defeated some of Six Nations’ best U-19 players.
Most had expected it to be a tournament for developing lacrosse programs abroad by showing them where they need be to improve and be competitive on the world stage. Not so. Instead, it was a reality check on the state of indoor lacrosse, where the Creator’s Game is going and how it is growing worldwide.
As for the visitors who came from afar to spend the weekend at Six Nations it was a cultural experience as well.
Several international fans were seen taking pictures of the wall plaques telling the history of lacrosse, which line the walls of the ILA. ILA Sports was doing brisk business as well, with visitors buying anything with a Hiawatha wampum image of the Five Nations on it.
After the tournament awarded its winners, players were seen swapping jerseys and equipment in the lobby to remember the visit.
Just like in 1972, when Canadian hockey had to take a harder look at itself, perhaps the Haudenosaunee lacrosse system needs to take that same hard look. Not to be critical, but Haudenosaunee players can’t just pull on a jersey and win any more.
One thing I noticed this past weekend, which reminded me of 1972, was the skill of the Europeans in using their feet in controlling loose ground balls. Maybe it’s the soccer influence. After the Russian scare of ’72, North American hockey players began using their skates more often to move the puck, which has sped up hockey considerably. Who knows what positive influences having more countries embracing the game will bring? Learning is a two way street after all.
Congratulations to Gewash and Kevin and the army of volunteers who did Six Nations proud … again.
Canada West (Gold) 5 CLAX All Starts (Silver) 4
Iroquois West (Bronze) 13 USA 7 (4th Place)
Czech Republic 5 (5th) Atlantic/Quebec 1 (6th)
Iroquois East 8 (7th) Team Nordic 7 (8th)
Seneca 8 (9th) Deutschland Adler 7 (10th)
Squamish 7 (11th) Israel 5 (12th)