Team Canada, Haudenosaunee Youth Players Shine at WILC U17 Box Exhibition

(Photo: Casey Vock, 3d Rising)
(Photo: Casey Vock, 3d Rising)

The World Indoor Lacrosse Championships came to a close last weekend, wrapping up a weeklong celebration that took place on Onondaga Nation just south of Syracuse, New York.

The favorite, Team Canada, took home the gold with a physical, fast-paced 12-8 win over the Iroquois Nationals. The win represents the red and white squad’s fourth title in as many tries at the world box lacrosse championships.

But it also represented nearly two decades worth of development that has taken place in the Canadian box lacrosse community, some of that natural, some of that orchestrated. And Canadians with influence on the game are determined to keep Canadian box lacrosse on its upward trajectory.

That was the purpose of the sanctioned U-17 games played on Saturday and Sunday at the freshly built Onondaga Nation Pavilion, a gorgeous 6-million-dollar facility created just for lacrosse. Canada and the Iroquois both brought teams to Onondaga Nation, competing against one another Saturday night and then Sunday morning, with brief scrimmages against the Czech Republic U19 squad late Saturday night

“The Iroquois games versus Team Canada are sanctioned by the (FIL),” said Dean French, Canada’s national team chairman. “This is the first time ever we’ve had a sanctioned under-17 box indoor game.”

With the FIL World Lacrosse gold medal victory just over a year gone by and just a day before Canada would celebrate its second world lacrosse title in as many years, team organizers said the goal is to keep momentum going.

“Just because we won a gold medal in Denver in 2014 doesn’t mean Team Canada is going to settle,” French said. “That was then; this is now. We’re hungry. To win the next championship, this is part of our strategy.

“This tournament will pay dividends for both teams because that will cross into the field lacrosse,” French continued. “These guys are now playing on the big floor in a big game playing for some amazing coaches. This will help our development on the field lacrosse side.”

The U17 Team Canada squad, lead by a handful of Division I recruits but plenty of under-the-radar players, downed the U17 Team Haudenosaunee 13-8 and then 12-7 the second day. The Canadian squad, coached by the likes of Josh Sanderson, Bruce Codd, Bill Greer and Sean Allen, featured players from non-traditional lacrosse provinces, including New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Quebec.

“It’s really exciting for us, because like in America, you’re trying to develop lacrosse all over the country outside of hotbeds, and we’re doing the same,” French said. “We have to develop our player pool. We’re a lot smaller than America in terms of number of players. We’ve got to build the sport outside of places like BC and Ontario.”

By getting players acclimated to international play and familiar with other top players from around the country, French said the development effort wouldn’t just help the team come together, but will also provide earlier exposure for some of the players who wish to attend an American college.

“Early recruiting doesn’t work to the Canadian advantage. While a lot of American kids are doing showcases and trying to get recruited in grade eight, these kids are learning lacrosse skill and playing for their box championships in British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario. A lot of these kids don’t think about going to recruiting showcases until they get to an older age.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that the 15 uncommitted players on this floor for Team Canada could play anywhere. We’re proud of these kids. But it’s interesting how the recruiting game works.”

The Iroquois have traditionally faced similar challenges, but thanks to the success of recent star college lacrosse players from Native American reserves, namely the Thompson brothers at Albany, Randy Staats at Syracuse and Zach Miller at Denver, many college coaches are looking for the next star to follow in those footsteps.

“If you look back in modern history (of college lacrosse), you’ll see most of the top ten scorers are indoor lacrosse players, either from Canada or from different nations where they play box lacrosse,” said Freeman “Boss” Bucktooth, an Iroquois Nationals board member and longtime coach.

The father of former Syracuse star and current Iroquois Nationals member Brett Bucktooth, the elder Bucktooth said events like the U17 scrimmages have become important for recruiting, even if coaches cannot be there in person due to NCAA recruiting rules and blackout periods.

“Coach (Bill) Tierney said all kids should be playing box lacrosse until at least age 12. That speaks volumes, especially after him winning the championship with numerous box players.”

Bucktooth said the Iroquois U17 team brought several players from each of the reserves, but given the timing, no practices were held. Despite the two losses to Canada, Bucktooth considered the exhibitions a success even though his team wasn’t able to squeeze a practice in beforehand.

“Our guys enjoyed it. They had fun, they didn’t like losing, but that’s part of the territory.”

Here’s a look at some of the players from the Canada and Iroquois U17 rosters who stood out Saturday and Sunday.

Editor's Note: Please see the scoresheet images above for rosters. These teams are both full of Division I-potential players. These are just the players 3d Rising captured the most notes on while watching from the glass. 

Austin Staats, Forward, Haudenosaunee

The youngest member of the Iroquois Nationals men’s silver medal team, Staats was an absolute force when he took the floor with the U17 Haudenosaunee squad. The first thing you notice about Staats when he’s competing in his peer group is his ability to lean into his defender and operate comfortably as he works to the middle of the floor. But when he backs off to get separation and dodge straight up, he showed surprising quickness, able to juke and then toe-drag to get inside of defenders repeatedly. He is powerful in the way he goes to the cage, using his size to barrel through defenders and showing incredible hands to fake and finish while he is getting smashed or falling to the floor. He can move the ball across the floor through traffic and really shoots hard when he sets his feet. He will hesitate with his shot, and keep the stick back as he bangs in to get closer or uses a sort of hitch and contact to get more room. But most of all, Austin is just tough as a player. He goes after every loose ball like a warrior. One of his best plays of the weekend wasn’t a goal but rather a loose ball that he ragged out of the corner away from two defenders to quickly pull up and hit a cutter for an assist. For the latter half of the games, Staats’ handle was bent at a 45-degree angle (to the side, no less), and he just kept playing and producing points. His somewhat thicker build at his age makes him a different player than his older brother Randy, who was a midfielder in the field game before injuries resulted in him developing into more of a Canadian-style attackman. A strong, sometimes nasty forward, Austin has no lack of explosiveness as a dodger, able to get to good shooting spots while covered by the most physically imposing defenders on the Canada squad time and time again. In the first go against Canada, Staats scored three times. One of those goals saw him smash into his defender, stunning him, then quickly stutter-stepping, deking inside and then faking and finishing with no room. He scored another goal just falling through the middle of the defense, showing no fear of contact and showing off his magic hands.

Ryan Lanchbury, Forward, Team Canada

Lanchbury, who attends Avon Old Farms in Connecticut and plays for Edge Lacrosse and 3d New England, was without question Canada’s most impressive performer and, from where we stand, has a stock that is soaring right now. Lanchbury torched the Iroquois in their two meetings, scoring five times in the first game and then collecting another batch of points on Sunday morning. He showed incredible accuracy on his shots and an array of release points, augmented by his really quick feet, hands and decision making. He hides the stick well and uses his quickness to his advantage as he moves and keeps his head up looking for openings. Though the squad moved the ball rapidly, no player on Team Canada was able to create his own shot like Lanchbury. Several of his goals were unassisted. His reflexes allow him to pump fakes moving at full speed to the cage, evidenced on one of his goals as he literally got the goalie to shift completely to his left and open up the far side. He also used screens, seemingly eyeing his spot for placement and then waiting until his body was shielded by own defender – he put a shot right under the crossbar on a blast from way out using a screen. On an extra-man series, Lanchbury was left with enough room to shoot and he simply pulled back and sliced the net from way up top. He showed his toughness by battling through the middle to score after a few tricky movements of the stick. One thing I noticed was his jawing with Iroquois defenders on the floor (one time before and after he scored an authoritative goal), something I hadn’t seen in him before – a sign of his growing confidence. Lanchbury is committed to Richmond, and he looks more and more like he could be coach Dan Chemotti’s first star player. Being immersed in both field and box, Lanchbury’s ceiling continues to rise.

Skylar Thomas, Forward, Haudenosaunee

Thomas, who attends Salmon River and is the best senior in New York’s Northern Tier/Section 10, was fantastic throughout the weekend for the Iroquois as a quarterback and consistent point man. The smaller statured Thomas, who stands at something like 5-foot-4, is a high IQ lefty who became a nightmare for opposing defenders to track. His style of play wasn’t all that dissimilar to the style of one of Team Canada’s notable coaches: Josh Sanderson. Keeping the stick up by his ear and ready to pump a shot or pass, Thomas was instrumental in the Haudenosaunee’s quick ball movement. He was also tough as nails when fighting inside, not letting anyone overpower him physically. He uses deception and is really sneaky and hard to monitor on the floor. Thomas was quick to snag the ball off the floor, too. He notched a goal and an assist in the first game against Canada and, even though others had higher stat lines, Thomas was a player the fans on the boards were talking about the whole time. He played unselfishly, always looking to move the ball, but also smart enough to see when he had a lane. He scored one goal on a sweep, getting under his man and moving to the middle top of the floor and rifling an overhand shot. He was efficient with the ball and was all business, but showed some flashes of high-level skill with the stick. One of the moments of the weekend came at the end of Sunday’s Canada-Iroquois U17 matchup: as Team Canada and the Haudenosaunee were taking photos and mingling after the game, an older Canadian gentlemen approached Thomas, shook his hand and said “You’re one of the best lacrosse players I’ve ever seen.” Thomas brushed the comment aside as he thanked the man.

Jack Kelly, Forward/Transition, Team Canada

Kelly, who committed to Penn State last year around the time I first saw him in Canada playing for the Edge program, has become a beast on the floor. A member of the Toronto Beaches last season, Kelly looks like a different player indoors than out on the field. On the field, his athleticism makes him a dynamic middie who can be used on offense, defense, on the wing and other scenarios. Indoors, he is a dangerous right-handed threat, using his size and powerful shot to make defenses stretch out a bit to honor him. But he plays with a chip and was another spark for Team Canada. Working alongside Lanchbury, Kelly showed some smarts with his stick, face-dodging inside off the catch and placing his hard shots well. He is hard-nosed, competing and mixing it up when the ball went to the floor. His impact was felt in more than goals and assists, as his big presence helped him make plays all over the place. He is more athletic than the typical box lacrosse players from Canada, and that was the big takeaway from his play last weekend. He scored a field-like goal, cutting through the middle, catching and burying it on the run in tight space. Working with Lanchbury, Kelly fed him a perfect pass off the pick-and-roll for a goal to kick off Sunday versus the Haudenosaunee. Kelly was fierce on both sides of the floor when playing back on defense. He was one of the most physically impressive players in the U17 pool.

Dre Martin, Defense, Haudenosaunee

This Six Nations product was a workhorse for the Iroquois throughout the weekend. Taking draws for the Haudenosaunee team, he was nearly automatic and lost only a handful of takes all weekend. Playing out the back door, he was tough and physical, but in control and showed good smarts and stick handling coming up the floor. He has a thinner build and stands at about six feet tall, but he can move quickly (which is why you will likely see him make contributions next spring at Onondaga Community College). His coaches believed he was the best overall defender on the floor this past weekend, and he carried himself like a more experienced player, flying in for looseballs and not thinking twice about the guys looking to crash him to the boards. He’s been brought up in the Six Nations program and most certainly embodies elements of older players like Tom Montour and Sid Smith, which one of his coaches pointed out after the weekend. While some of the Haudenosaunee players are more skilled with the stick than they are athletically gifted, Martin was one of the best athletes of all three competing squads. The Six Nations factory continues to manufacturer high IQ, hard-nosed, blue-collar box players, some of whom can make a transition to the field game. Martin has the tools to make that leap. Regardless, he could be a fixture among the young box Iroquois teams for years to come.

Ron John, Defense/Transition, Haudenosaunee

John is a fundamentally sound player who can manage himself well on both ends of the floor, but was used primarily on defense for the U17 contests at the WILC. Another good sized, athletic body, John can chug his legs and get up the floor fast. He’s got reach thanks to his longer arms and came up with a couple of picked-off passes in the series of games. He played clean, fast defense and was routinely coming up the floor to pass the ball off and head right to the bench, though he can play the other end. His coaches complimented him by saying that he plays a mistake-free breed of lacrosse on defense and in transition and they praised him for being one of the more reliable defenders last weekend.

Patrick Kaschalk, Defense/Transition, Team Canada

Kaschalk was a nasty presence on the back half for Team Canada. A member of the Windsor Clippers Junior B program where he is a transition player, the 5-foot-11, 180-pound Kaschalk slid into a more defensive role and proved to be a nasty, physical and athletic presence for Team Canada. He made hard contact with his cross checks and played with a berserk manner throughout Saturday and Sunday, finding himself in the box a couple of times following some enforcement activities. But he also showed skill and speed handling the ball up the floor, even adding goal in transition.

Adam Kromer, Defense, Team Canada

Kromer was a warlord on the back half for Team Canada at the WILC event. He is a stock, powerful defender who laid big checks on the ball carrier every time he approached. His cross checks were heavy duty and he was aggressive in pressing out and put a lot of guys into the boards when chasing out on the perimeter. He is very strong and it showed whenever he got into a physical matchup with the Iroquois or Czech players. The Whitby product found himself in the penalty box a few times, but you got the sense the opposition wanted to keep him off the ball if at all possible.

Liam Ham, Forward, Team Canada

A lesser-known player entering the weekend, Ham impressed as a sturdy, skilled lefty who was tough handling the ball and pretty slick too. An OHL draft pick, Ham’s athleticism was evident when he was carrying, as he was comfortable keeping his head up with defenders on his hands and body. He kept control of the ball and showed himself to be pretty savvy with the ball in the way he set up teammates and created shots for himself. He scored twice against the Iroquois, once unassisted. This is another player with that gritty Canadian way on the floor. Ham is well known on the hockey scene. This past weekend helped him make a name for himself in lacrosse.

Andrew Neilson, Forward, Team Canada

One of the players making the team from lesser known regions of Canada, Neilson immediately stood out just for his size alone. Coming out of the Fundy Lacrosse Association in New Brunswick, the big righty forward stands something like 6-foot-2 or more, with a big body to go with it. He warmed up working with some of the fast-moving Canadian forwards and eventually showed what he could do, basically walking through the defense and using his height and reach to score with ease. Still a little raw, Neilson is one to watch as he develops and a good example of the diamonds in the rough Canada could have hidden off in the rhubarb.

Owen Friesen, Transition, Team Canada

Friesen was one of several rugged, two-way types that emerged as players for the Team Canada squad. The stocky, powerful Friesen was physical on the back half of the floor and showed his athleticism after coming up with the ball and sprinting north. He scored in transition to close out the contest against the Iroquois, bursting up the floor and pump faking to move the goalie and score all alone. He is a bull and built like a brick outhouse, but can move and it makes him a force in the field game. Indoors, he can help on both ends of the floor thanks to his good mix of quickness and toughness. He’s so hard to stop when he gets a head of steam and then complicating matters is his quick change of direction and good stick. He’ll get defeneders back on their heels and then just make one easy move to get by them or get his hands back to shoot. The St. Catherine’s product plays his club lacrosse for 3d Tri-State.

Troy Lauder, Transition, Haudenosaunee

Lauder, who hails from the Kahnawake reserve, was one of the Iroquois’ most important two-way players. Able to play physical defense and use his athleticism, Lauder was tasked with marking some of the better Canadian offensive threats when he was on the floor and showed his Division I potential with excellent speed up the floor, awareness playing defense and in transition and showing the flare for the big play on the offensive end. Lauder scored one of the most impressive goals of the weekend, corralling a loose ball below the crease and then extending his body for a completely horizontal dive from behind to stuff the ball into the net near the end of Sunday’s game against Canada. Lauder, while also logging a lot of tough minutes on defense, was a major contributor for the Iroquois on the opposite end of the floor, putting up two goals and two assists in the first go against Canada. Lauder attends Salisbury at a 2017 and is committed to play at Syracuse.

Percy Booth, Forward, Haundenosaunee 

Booth is a big-bodied forward who is a challenging matchup on the box floor in the same way he’s tough cover in the field game. The hulking lefty took a while to warm up and get into a rhythm, but when he did, he showed his ability to score in close range thanks to his quick hands and big frame that allows him to shed checks and get to where he wants to be. He scored on a nice one-timer for one of a handful of goals against Canada on Sunday, adding several helpers to go with it. A lot of the players we were watching on the Haudenosaunee team are box-first kids. Booth is one of the few who plays for a known, successful high school program – LaFayette – and so his experience indoors is going to only make him better there. The top returning scorer in Section III heading into next spring (105 points last season), Booth has taken his game up considerably in the last couple of years. His performance Sunday showed he’s still getting better.

Devon Buckshot, Forward/Transition, Haudenosaunee

A big righty attackman in the field game, I’d yet to see Buckshot play in the box. What impressed the most was the way that his size and athleticism – he is much more nimble than you think at first glance – translated to the box game. He’s a load to deal with, with a big upper body but massive calves and just looks like a tank. When he gets his momentum going, he is very hard to stop. He can absolutely crank the ball, and though the accuracy on his heavy windups indoors isn’t quite what it is in the field yet, he was a threat with the ball from up top because of his ability to run right through defenders – and if he gets close to the crease, he will likely score. Like a few of the big forwards on the Iroquois U17 roster, Buckshot has a unique combination of size and incredible hands close to the cage and in traffic. But he moved the fastest of all of them, almost feeling like a midfielder from the field game when you watched him inside. He seemed to have football-like athleticism and was a scary presence just carrying the ball. He attends LaFayette south of Syracuse and was a standout last January at 3d Blue Chip in Florida.

Hailing from Upstate New York, Casey Vock is the manager of 3d Rising. Before joining 3d Rising, he spent three years at Inside Lacrosse, where he was a full-time writer for Inside Lacrosse Magazine, InsideLacrosse.com, ILIndoor.com and ILGear.com covering all facets of the game. He was named the editor of ILGear.com in November 2012 after helping launch the site a year earlier. Prior to joining Inside Lacrosse in Baltimore, Casey was a freelance writer in Upstate New York covering professional, college and high school lacrosse for Inside Lacrosse, as well as writing for the Press-Republican newspaper in Plattsburgh and other media outlets. Casey played lacrosse in high school at Indian River and went on to play at Jefferson Community College. He earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism and business from SUNY Plattsburgh, an MBA from Syracuse University’s Martin J. Whitman School of Management and an MS in media management from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse. Reach him by email at cvock@3dRising.com and follow him on Twitter @cvock.