Heritage Cup: Canada remains dominant over USA in fall classic

The Heritage Cup will remain in Canada after a dominant 19-6 win by the Canadians over Team USA on Saturday night at FirstOntario Centre in Hamilton.

It was a fun game to watch, and even more fun to play in, according to the players.

Established in 2002, the Heritage Cup was meant to serve as an annual competition for the Canadian, American and Iroquois teams in between world championships, which are held every four years. The first World Indoor Lacrosse Championship (WILC) was held in 2003, so the very first Heritage Cup served as a preview for the favoured teams. However, the Cup was awarded in 2002 and 2004, but not again until 2013.

Canada lost that first Heritage Cup in 2002 – the only time the U.S. has defeated Canada in international box play – but has won all three since (’04 against the U.S., ’13 against the Iroquois and ’17) as a strong core of players have come of age together to shine not just on the NLL stage, but on the international stage too.

Dan Dawson played in his first Heritage Cup in 2004 at age 23. Thirteen years later, he’s now the captain of a perennial all-star squad.

“I never thought I would be able to play at the national level. I never thought I’d be on team Canada,” Dawson said. “Any chance I have to do this is truly the greatest honour I’ve ever had as a lacrosse player and a person.”

Dawson recognizes that he may be nearing the end of his international career but as a proud Canadian he can’t wait to see what’s next for the sport.

“There’s a plethora of talent and young guys coming up,” he said. “There are so many players to draw from. Canada could send three teams to a world championship and be competitive. It’s going to be exciting to see these young kids grow up. The game’s in a good spot.”

One of those young players is Curtis Dickson, who led Canada with four goals and three assists. Dickson previously won gold medals with Canada at the 2015 WILC and the field championships in 2014. Fresh off a recent Mann Cup win with his Peterborough Lakers, Dickson has barely had time to breathe as he now prepares for the upcoming NLL season with the Calgary Roughnecks.

“Any time you get a chance to wear the maple leaf and play for your country is a huge honour. When you’re playing with talent like this it makes the game a whole lot easier and a lot more fun to play,” he said. “It was nice to get back out there again. We have training camp starting up in a couple weeks so it was nice to get my feet back under me. I’ve had some time off to rest my legs and heal some wounds.”

Unfortunately for the U.S., it doesn’t appear they’ve developed as well as the Canadians at the box game. Brandon Miller held them to just six goals over 60 minutes. Granted, the U.S. boasted some superstars, like Paul Rabil, who suited up for his first box game in a long time, and Tom Schreiber, the NLL’s rookie of the year, who led the U.S. with a hat-trick. But they lack the intricacies of the game that are taught to young Canadian athletes, and Dawson said that’s what helped the Canadians take advantage.

“We said we wanted to play the Canadian way and that was getting on and off the floor,” he explained. “That’s how you win at the international level. It’s getting on and off, getting the loose balls, everything like that… They got out to a 1-0 lead and it was just like ‘okay let’s just stay the course and do the right things.’”

Joe Resetarits opened the scoring at 1:09 but that was the only lead the U.S. would have. Brodie Merrill tied the game on transition and Canada went up 4-1 on the strength of two goals from Mark Matthews and a single tally from Dhane Smith. Blaze Riordan got one back for the U.S. but a goal from Kyle Matisz, a late addition to the roster, put Canada up 5-2 after the first.

Dawson and Dickson had two goals each in the second quarter. Dawson used his height on both goals to reach above U.S. goaltender David Mather and deposit the ball behind him. Dickson’s second was scored on a behind-the-net crease dive that brought fans in FirstOntario Centre to their feet and showed them why he is called Superman.

“Mark (Matthews) made a nice pass. He dragged the goalie to the other side of the net and fed me behind and I knew the short side would be there for a split second so I wrapped it in and was lucky enough it went in the net,” Dickson described.

Jordan Hall and Joey Cupido scored transition goals. Resetarits had one and Schreiber two for the U.S. in their most productive quarter. Canada led 11-4 at the half and was clearly dominant in all aspects of the game.

“We’ve played together before and that group hasn’t really, so they’re going to have rust and kinks to work out,” said Dickson of the Americans.

Paul Rabil said the game was a good test for the U.S. before the world championships in 2018 and the next WILC in 2019.

“It was a challenge for me and a lot of us Americans,” Rabil said. “They’re great guys. They’re tough and there’s a lot of things we can learn from [the Canadians].”

Every member of Team Canada is a regular on an NLL team, compared to just 12 members of Team USA, who also featured 13 recent college graduates (2014 or later).

Dawson’s looking forward to seeing the U.S. grow the game of lacrosse as Canadians have. Savvy lacrosse people recognize that with NLL expansion looming, there are more opportunities to showcase the sport internationally and the U.S. has a large pool of players to draw from.

“There are so many people in America that could do what [Tom Schreiber] did,” Dawson said of the 2017 NLL rookie. “The only way we’re going to grow this game is to get the Americans playing the game.”

Canada outscored the U.S. 6-0 in the third quarter. Shawn Evans’ stick came alive and he scored two in a row including one behind-the-back. Dickson added two more while Dhane Smith and Ryan Benesch also scored.

Schreiber and Matthews completed hat-tricks in the fourth. Benesch’s second capped the game as the U.S. rotated their goalies in the second half of the game with both Joe Evans and Brandon Miller seeing some time (yes – there was a Brandon Miller in goal for each team!).

After the game, Dickson said the future of team Canada looks bright – and he wants to be a part of it.

“We had a lot of fun out there tonight,” he expressed. “[The 2019 WILC] is in B.C. with all my family out there so hopefully I’ll be fortunate to be selected to play on that team in front of my family and friends. It would be pretty cool but that time will come when it comes.”

In the U17 showcase game, Team Canada defeated Team Haudenosaunee 25-7. Canada led 9-1 after the first quarter and 14-1 at the half.