Wednesday, July 29, 2015

"Water under the bridge," Stewart says as Excelsiors take on Redmen with playoffs on the line

Paul Stewart coaching the New York Titans.
One year ago, Paul Stewart was an assistant coach with the Brookin Redmen as they finished first in the Major Series Lacrosse regular season and was the heir apparent to veteran Head Coach and GM Wayne Colley. With Colley having retired from his job and having been saying for several years that he was going to be retiring from coaching soon, as well, it appeared that Stewart's time to be a head man was coming soon. Well, it turned out that it was, but not in Brooklin.

During the off-season, before the MSL draft in January, Stewart received a text from Colley saying that the team was going in a different direction and his services as a coach would no longer be required. Stewart, as you could have guessed, was not very pleased either with being let go or with being informed via text message.

So, now how does he feel as his Brampton Excelsiors head into town with the chance to eliminate the Redmen from playoff contention Wednesday night? “If you had told me then that it would come down to their last game of the season and I had the opportunity to eliminate them from the playoffs I would have thought that was a storybook but right now it is water under the bridge and my main focus is securing third-place and nothing else,” Stewart asserts.

Brooklin has to win Wednesday or they won't be in the postseason. While Brampton has already clinched a berth in the playoffs, the game isn't meaningless to them; a win would ensure them of third place.

So there's a lot on the line for Brampton and Stewart. While he's excited about the game, one of the main reasons doesn't have anything to do with what will be happening on the floor. “It will be fun for me because it will be the first time this year that all three of my kids will be able to come to the game and I am hoping we put together a great game for them,” he says.

Stewart will admit that he wasn't pleased when he first received Colley's text. “Obviously when I was initially let go I was pretty angry and disappointed but a lot has changed since then,” he says. It didn't take long for Brampton to scoop Stewart up as their head coach and they have to be pleased with the results. The team wasn't generally considered to be a contender for the playoffs this year with their young roster and lack of star power.

The Excelsiors have ridden their strong group of defensive leaders and a team-wide commitment to hard work and a team approach, though, to the verge of third place including a big win over the second-place Peterborough Lakers and a couple of tight losses to the first-place Six Nations Chiefs.

Stewart doesn't want to lord his new team's spot ahead of his old team in the standings over them. The Redmen have had trouble fielding a full roster this year and definitely haven't been the same club they were last year—they're missing their two leading scorers from last summer and several of their top defenders. But they've rallied of late, taking advantage of great goaltending from Mike Poulin to win their last two games, including a huge upset of the Chiefs.

The Redmen would like nothing better than to pull out another win Wednesday to give themselves a chance at the playoffs, regardless of who is coaching which team. As Stewart says, “There have been a lot of changes but I know they will give us their best effort and leave it all on the floor trying to give themselves at least a chance to get in. If I allowed myself to focus on anything other than preparing for a team with their backs against the wall that is led by Shawn Williams then I probably should not be a head coach in this league.”

We'll see what happens on the main pad of the Iroquois Park Sports Centre starting at 8pm Wednesday.