For the second field lacrosse game of his life, Friday afternoon, Cariboo-Northeast goalie Breton MacPherson left his thigh and shin pads in his equipment bag.
He might have looked vulnerable in the crease with bare legs peeking out of his shorts but the 15-year old from Fort St. John was not showing his fear, despite being under near-constant attack from the guys in green, otherwise known as Vancouver Island-Central Coast,.
MacPherson figured it was better to be bruised and battered than overheat on a sweltering day at the BC Summer Games at Glen Thompson Field. He was fighting a losing battle trying to stay cool in sun that raised the thermometer well over 30 C and his opponents bombarded him with shot after shot. The besieged netminder did what he could to stop all those rubber-ball howitzers but the visitors found the net frequently and walked off with a 23-0 victory.
“I got a lot of shots but I’m used to that in box, getting 40 or 50 shots a game back in Fort St. John,” said MacPherson. “But it’s weird playing field because I’ve only had four practices and one game before this, so I’m pretty proud of myself.
“It’s scary, especially with the (bare) arms. I can wear elbow pads and shin pads but I’m not going to, it’s too hot. I wore sweat pants the first game and was dying because of it, it was so hot. Those guys are phenomenal. We’ve never played field lacrosse before and some of those guys are on the provincial team. It was crazy, but it was fun. Maybe we’ll score a goal next game, that’s what we’re working on.”
Earlier in the day Friday Cariboo-Northeast made sports history when they became the first local team ever to play field lacrosse on Prince George turf, a 20-0 loss to Fraser River.
The Island boys had several multiple goalscorers and Jax Heavenor led the way with four, while Ethan Gordon had a three-goal game. Goalie Ryland Thompson had just one save to make, which came midway through the second-half off the stick of Kobe Kidd.
“It was rough game for them, second time playing, it’s not going to be close,” said midfielder Oscar Scott of Victoria, 15, one of three provincial team players on the Vancouver Island squad. “We’re two years older and there’s a size difference and more experience.
“It’s just good they have a team to get out here and play and hopefully they’ll progress in the future.”
Cohen Bloom, 12, played defence for Cariboo-Northeast and this weekend’s tournament is his first chance to play using a six-foot longstick.
“It was just fun,” said Bloom. “It’s just funner outside.
“We won a couple faceoffs and we did better on defence than we did in the first game. It’s way harder than box lacrosse defence. You can reach with the longsticks and it makes it a bit easier.”
Vancouver Island-Central coach head coach Kaleb Toth, who played 13 seasons in the National Lacrosse League for the Toronto Rock and Calgary Roughnecks, knew his team of predominantly 2007-born players was going to light it up against a team of mostly 2009-born athletes, none of whom, with the exception of Oliver Da Silveira of Quesnel, had played field lacrosse. Vancouver Island is one of the favourites to make it to the medal round playoffs, which start with semifinals Saturday at 1 and 2:30 p.m.
While most box lacrosse kids in the north play hockey or basketball in the fall and winter, field lacrosse season in the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island runs from September to February. Toth’s BC Games team grew up playing the game outdoors and they have their choice of playing for their school and/or community teams. If they’re good enough as older teenagers they can keep playing beyond high school.
“There’s more of a chance for Canadians to get a field lacrosse scholarship (in the NCAA) than there is to get a hockey scholarship,” said Toth, whose son Deo plays on the BC Games team. “There are a lot of American players out there but they like the Canadian players because they’re not afraid to go to the middle to get hit. That’s the box lacrosse in us.”
At least two Prince George players, Cole Paciejewski and Leif Paulson, went on to play field lacrosse in the NCAA.
Cariboo-Northeast includes four players from Fort St. John, four from Quesnel and seven from Prince George. The age range for BC Games in field lacrosse is 14-15 but just two players of that age group signed up for the team initially and head coach Tony De Gans had to open it up to younger players just to have enough for the tournament. They saw their first field lacrosse game Friday morning when Fraser Valley faced Vancouver-Coastal in the BC Game tournament opener.
“We almost played (that first) game without watching a game first, and you have to see a game to know how it’s played,” said De Gans. “We had one of our first team practices (on Thursday), where all these guys (playing Vancouver Island) have been playing together for eight or 10 years. We show up early and stay late to watch the teams.
“We’re here to learn and get the experience, and have fun. It’s a much bigger field (compared to box lacrosse). It’s a possession and strategy game rather than run-and-gun reaction. One of our talents is we are a fast team and we play hard. We just don’t have the experience yet of how to decipher defences.”
It wasn’t until he went to the University of Alberta in Edmonton that De Gans discovered club--level field lacrosse. Northern B.C. has never had a minor field lacrosse program and he is hoping that having it showcased this weekend in Prince George as one of the 18 BC Summer Games sports will get the ball rolling on a fall outdoor league for kids.
Cariboo-Northeast will play its final game of the six-team tournament Saturday at 4 p.m. against the other third-place pool finisher, Thompson-Okanagan. In the championship round, the two semifinal losers meet for bronze Sunday at 8 a.m., followed by the gold-medal game at 9:30 a.m.