Friday, September 11, 2015

The Stamplax Mann Cup Blog, Post 2: Lagoons and Geckos and Woodies, oh my

By Stephen Stamp

Hatley Castle on the campus of Royal Roads University. 
 It's always a pleasure to get back to Victoria, where I lived a good portion of my adult life. I moved here when I was 22 to go to school at UVic and prepare for Olympic trials for rowing. Within a matter of weeks I'd decided I wasn't going back to Ontario right away. That decision led to a decade spent in the city, with an interlude to attend grad school in New Hampshire.

Moving back to Peterborough has been fantastic—you really appreciate what a great city it is when you return after an extended absence. Getting to be close to my family as well as the chance to be immersed in lacrosse the way I have been adds wonderful richness to my life. But there's no question that walking along Dallas Road rekindles fond memories of Victoria and my life here.

It's been great catching up with old friends—with more gatherings planned for the final few days of the trip—but best of all, of course, is the chance to watch the Mann Cup at the Q Centre. The 2013 Mann Cup was my first experience with lacrosse at the arena; when I was a Shamrocks fan back in the day the team played out of the Memorial Arena downtown. It's a great venue for the game, with a passionate fan base that is just thrilled about the team's return to prominence after a period in the shadows of the New Westminster Salmonbellies and Langley Thunder.

The view from the press box is excellent, but as with two years ago I've enjoyed the chance to sit in the stands for some games and experience the atmosphere of the rink full-on. With apologies to New West, which is probably next, there's no question that Victoria and Peterborough are the two best places in Canada to watch a senior lacrosse game. Packed houses, great lacrosse and excellent venues make it highly enjoyable. If only, as Victoria coach Bob Heyes suggested to the Peterborough Examiner, the series could be played in both cities.


Speaking of Heyes, he's an absolute pleasure to deal with as a member of the media. He may not want to come and speak to us after a loss, but he always shows up and is always forthcoming with interesting and insightful comments. It's hard to imagine a bigger booster of the Mann Cup and senior Canadian lacrosse in general.

Heyes makes for great copy, giving interesting quotes in post-game interviews that tend to stretch toward the five-minute mark. For those not aware of media practices, that's a very long post-game talk. Most interviews with players and coaches will be two minutes or less. That can be a single answer for Heyes. No complaints here—it can lead to extra time transcribing but it's worth the effort.

Mike Hasen is a bit different. The Lakers' head man is also a great coach—one of the best in the game—and a good guy, but you get the sense he'd be happy if doing interviews weren't part of his job description. He's always accommodating but not inclined towards loquaciousness the way Heyes is.

Dallas Road

Dallas Road at the south end of Victoria. A little slice of heaven on earth. 
When my girlfriend Kerry was a teenager, she and her mother moved from Vancouver to Toronto. A few years later, they drove back across the country planning to return to Vancouver. They made a visit to her brother in Victoria, though, and one stroll along Dallas Road had Kerry convinced they shouldn't get back on the ferry. Her mother didn't take much convincing to abandon the plan to head back to the big city.

There are many beautiful things to see in Victoria, but Dallas Road may just be the piece de resistance. The sweeping sky looking across the Strait of Juan de Fuca towards the mountains of Washington is truly spectacular. We couldn't miss the chance to take that walk while we're here and I have to admit that while I love living back in Peterborough, it did feel good to be back by the ocean and the mountains. If you get a chance to come out to Victoria, you should take it; you won't be disappointed, especially if you can pair the visit with some Mann Cup lacrosse.


Officiating is always a hot topic in sports and lacrosse is no different. This year's Mann Cup has certainly had its share of discussion of how the referees have performed. Heyes summed up his thoughts on the matter succinctly after some discussion of a pair of disallowed goals in overtime of Game 5. “I used to be a referee for one year,” Heyes said with a wry grin. “Hated it. Referring is tough. For a referee to be from the east and have to make those tough calls, you're going to look at it the wrong way for sure. It's a tough game to call, especially when you've got such dynamic players.”

Heyes suggested that going to the video would likely verify the two crease calls made by Ontario referee Blair Ferguson and he was correct. The first one, on Jesse King, was very close as to whether King's legs touched down in the crease before the ball went in the net. Ferguson was in perfect position to make the call. The second one wasn't even close. Scott Ranger's foot was a good two feet past the crease line when the ball left his stick. In Canadian summer lacrosse, the ball has to enter the net before your foot crosses the cylinder of the crease to count. Anyone complaining about that call just didn't know the rule.

The King call could have been a tough one for Shamrocks fans to take had they not won the game because Mark Steenhuis had scored earlier on a similar play that was also close but stood. From my seat, I had a good view of the Steenhuis marker and thought it was almost too close to call. The King non-goal was at the far end of the arena from me, so I had to judge on the video and even watching it several times it's too hard to say with certainty. When it's that close, you have to give the benefit of the doubt to the ref who is in position on the floor and making the call at full speed with only one chance to see it.

That being said, the referees didn't do themselves any favours by letting the series get out of hand early. As my IL Indoor colleague Marty O'Neill noted, Victoria came into this Mann Cup clearly trying to intimidate the Lakers with excessively physical play. It probably came as a bit of a surprise to Peterborough that the Shamrocks brought a more aggressive style of play than the Six Nations Chiefs had in the Major Series Lacrosse finals, given that the Chiefs are known for being big and rough and tough.

The Lakers, no shrinking violets themselves, responded to the tone the Shamrocks set and voila, you have a series that degenerates to what we saw in Games 2 and 3. The teams have, for the most part, reverted to the kind of tough, physical but not over-the-line lacrosse you'd expect from a Mann Cup.

Most of the games seem to have been called fairly evenly, an observation reinforced by how upset both teams have at times been with the refs. The problem for the most part has been, as is usually the case when teams are complaining, that the calls haven't been consistent. Something will be called at one end then not the other or vice versa. Players and coaches want to know what to expect, how they're going to be able to play. In this series they haven't always known that.

A good example of the vagaries of the refereeing occurred in Game 3, when Curtis Dickson received a cross-checking minor then a pair of misconducts and a game misconduct when he continued to complain vociferously to the ref. His frustration had been mounting and in that particular instance he appeared to be upset at getting a cross-checking penalty when he was just trying to wrest his stick away from Greg Harnett, who was holding on to it. Dickson did slam Harnett into the boards in his efforts to free his stick, but a cross-checking call was a big stretch. Now, if you roll the tape back a bit, you'll see why Harnett was holding on to Dickson's stick. It was because Dickson had levelled a nasty two-handed chop on Harnett's hip/leg area that crumpled the Victoria defender momentarily. Seeing that, you can hardly blame him for grabbing Dickson's stick to avoid further whacks and for being upset that Dickson wasn't penalized. The slash should have earned a penalty, perhaps even a 5-minute major, but the cross-check never really happened.

The inconsistency problem may be almost unavoidable when you have officials from two different leagues trying to work together to call a game in the most important series of the year. WLA and MSL refs call games differently; not just in terms of how they call penalties but also in the mechanics of how they follow games. WLA refs generally have one man follow the ball and the other watch off-ball until play moves right down in front of the net. In MSL, they employ more of a zone approach. No matter how much experience the refs have or how hard they try to work together, it will take a while for a crew to get comfortable with each other and some calls will be missed.

That said, you'd expect the game reffed by a pair of WLA officials might be the best-called of the series. That was far from the case in Game 4 when two western refs were on the whistles. While in the other games calls seemed to balance out, the Shamrocks definitely appeared to get the better of the calls in Game 4, both in terms of penalties and possessions awarded. The Lakers didn't complain too much since they managed to win the game, but you can bet there would have been howls of protest had they lost.


Kerry and I have enjoyed some encounters with animals during the trip. Of course there was the Wawa goose, under which I recorded Kerry playing for her upcoming music video, but we've seen plenty of real live animals, too. There was a friendly cat in Sintaluta, Saskatchewan who got me started on filming critters for the video.

We saw plenty of animals at the Beacon Hill Park farm, including some frolicking with the goats in the petting area. Truth be told, at this time of year there aren't any baby goats and there isn't a lot of frolicking; there's much more chewing and moseying.

Wildlife was an integral part of Elements and Insights in Colwood, where we rented a suite for four nights. There was a slug on the stairway railing (I like slugs, although I recognize they aren't popular with everyone). Upstairs, the household cats like to come and visit the guests. A walk over to the grounds of nearby Royal Roads University introduced us to the wild peafowl that wander about the campus. And I caught a hip caterpillar on camera as he was crawling around outside the Coast Collective Art Centre, which is a really cool place with galleries and classes that is just a few hundred metres from where we stayed.

On our last day, as we were moving out of the suite, we were greeted near the hot tub by a little amphibian. He (or she—I didn't check and I'm not sure I'd know how to) was just hanging out in the sun while we were carrying things to the car. I went and got the camera, worried that he (or she) would be gone when I got back. Not to worry...the critter was in no hurry to go anywhere. In fact, he (or she) quickly proved not to be much good in front of the camera, unlike our caterpillar friend who practically crawled into the lens.

I checked with the proprietors, Frank and Angela, to see whether it was a gecko or a newt. Angela seemed fairly convinced it was actually a salamander. I'd need to check with a taxonomist to be sure; here's a page that may help figure out the difference if you're interested.

Wooden sticks

Much has been made of the use of wooden sticks in the series. The primary focus, of course, has been on Rory Smith. He used a woody for the last two years with the Six Nations Chiefs because they are allowed in the Ontario Lacrosse Association. Smith couldn't use one in the regular season with Victoria because they are banned in the WLA, but CLA rules govern the Mann Cup so he is free to use his stick.

It's quite a club that Smith wields. Many wooden sticks are beautiful works of craftsmanship, if not art. They are graceful and elegant and lovely to behold. Smith's is not. It is thick and heavy and it hurts like hell when you get hit with it. That's not to say that Smith is using it only for intimidation and to inflict maximum punishment, but there's no question that's part of the equation.

There was quite an uproar among Victoria fans when Shawn Evans fired the ball at Smith's head. I don't mean to condone Evans' action, but it needs to be viewed in context. With Dickson bent over going after the ball, Smith brought his stick down full force the back of Dickson's neck. It was easily the most vicious single action of a series that has seen plenty of hacking back and forth. The ball rolled to Evans as Smith was chopping Dickson, so the Lakers' forward picked it up and fired it at Smith in retaliation; I think many players would have done the same thing.

After Smith was ejected for going after Evans and his cousin Turner (though not penalized for the attack on Dickson), three Victoria players emerged with woodies: Steve Priolo, Ben McCullough and Tyler Hass, the latter of whom went down the tunnel and got Smith's stick to play with the rest of the game. The Lakers were lucky enough to have a big lead in the game, so they were able to avoid the woodies to a large degree, but pulling them out wasn't a classy move on the Shamrocks' part.

To his credit, Heyes said after the game that he didn't realize they players had grabbed the wooden sticks and it wouldn't happen again because that's not how they want to play the game. Since then, only Smith and Peterborough's Wenster Green have used woodies and Green hasn't wielded his like a weapon, so things haven't escalated. Hopefully the woodies won't become a story again in the final two games.

Wading in the ocean just outside Esquimalt Lagoon. It was chilly. 

One final note: I didn't know what a lagoon was until I looked it up today. I knew of lagoons, of course, but I'd never thought about what exactly one was. Then our hostess Angela mentioned the Equimalt Lagoon—located right behind us—being a mix of salt and fresh water and I started thinking about that. It turns out she is partly right; a lagoon is a shallow body of water separated from a larger body of water by a shoal or reef. It generally does mark a mixing of salt and fresh water with the former coming in from the sea and the latter coming down from the land. Here endeth the lesson.