By Ted Montour

It was the helmets. Team Canada took the floor wearing shiny new team color-coordinated STRYKE lacrosse helmets --- field lacrosse helmets. Team USA showed up with ITECH hockey helmets.

What do helmets have to do with the outcome of a lacrosse game? Well, they are about as plausible an explanation as any other, for what transpired Saturday afternoon at the Hershey Centre in Mississauga, Ontario. Team USA did to Team Canada what the Philadelphia Wings did to the Toronto Rock two years ago in the National Lacrosse League Champion's Cup final --- they beat the Canadians at box lacrosse, but this time without Dallas Eliuk and Tom Marachek.

Not surprisingly, it was Tony Resch versus Les Bartley both times. Saturday afternoon, Resch once again out-Rocked Bartley with a packed-in, helping and double-teaming defence, and a front-running offence. Team USA held Canada off the score-sheet until the middle of the second quarter, while building a 12 - 2 half-time lead. Watching the live national broadcast on Rogers Sportsnet, it was surprising to hear how seldom the commentators mentioned names like Gait, Grant, and Tavares in the first thirty minutes.

The Heritage Cup

Although it took the U.S. squad over nine minutes to get on the scoreboard, it took the Canadians almost twenty-two-and-a-half minutes to get their first goal. By that time, it was 8 - 0, and Bob "Whipper" Watson had been pulled for treatment of a temporary case of snow-blindness. The only Canadian highlight of the opening half was a "hidden ball" play worked by Tavares and Grant --- dual citizen Dwight Maetche moved out and to his left to cut the angle down on a possible Grant shot, and JT tossed it in behind him from beyond the opposite face-off circle.

Team Canada looked tentative, tight and disconnected virtually from the opening draw, and their disarray on offence was only made worse by the frustration of hitting a lot of iron instead of net. Maetche's play was inspired, as he calmly faced what shots the Canadians did manage to put on goal (SOG's were 28 - 14 USA at the break).

USA Coach Tony Resch

Canada scored the first 4 goals of the third quarter, to raise home fans' hopes for a comeback, but Team USA replied with 3 more, and the remainder of the game was essentially even. Canada scored 5 in the last three minutes, but the outcome had already been determined in the first half. The final tally was 21 - 16 USA.

With only four true defenders dressed, it seemed that Canada's game plan was oriented toward transition and offence, probably with the idea that defence would take care of itself. The US roster was more balanced, and, with control of more face-offs, that aspect of transition was taken away from the Canadians. The US side dictated the tempo and pace of the game, and resisted the attempts by Canada's offence to spread the floor and open up the inside, especially in the second half.

The difference in the cohesion of the two sides was readily apparent. Although neither squad had advance practice time together, the US players seemed more relaxed and comfortable with each other, and with Resch's game plan. The Canadians didn't 'gel', in spite of the preponderance of Rock players, as evidenced by the dropped and misdirected passes and other less-than-slick play. They appeared to be feeling some of the not-so-subtle pressure of the "pre-ordained" outcome Canadian fans were expecting.

USA Keeper and dual citizen Dwight Meatche

This contest more than served its purpose as a taste of what is to come next spring, at least from the top four teams. As a box lacrosse showdown, this exhibition was disappointing, for Canadian and American fans alike. As a Tony Resch comeback, it was outstanding. Team Canada will have to revamp its starting line-up to include more younger, athletic players. If there is to be a more offensive strategy, and less emphasis on defence-first-and-foremost, then both the Canadian coaching staff and the players will need to make more of a commitment. The Iroquois Nationals should be able to learn some valuable lessons from this contest as well, especially with Marshall Abrams providing a scouting report. The kind of box lacrosse recently on display at the Iroquois Nations Cup bodes well for the Nationals' chances.

Gordon Purdie should already have a game tape on its way back home to Aus', and the Scots may want to look to Zac Aitken and Kyle Arbuckle to scare up another few eligible Canadian-born laddies. And where the hell was Darris? The "Great Lakes" style lacrosse sticks presented to team MVP's Jake Bergey and John Grant were cool. What is even cooler, is that there will be virtually year-round, top-flight box lacrosse to be seen in 2003.

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