Canada will begin its defence of its world lacrosse title with precious little preparation time on the field. But players say team unity is already ironclad after joining together in a labour standoff with the Canadian Lacrosse Association. Canada midfielder Kevin Crowley (21) shoots behind his back to score in first half FIL World Lacrosse Championship action against the United States, in Commerce City, Colo. (Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Defending champion Canadians say they were united by labour dispute ahead of worlds

NETANYA, Israel — Canada will begin its defence of its world lacrosse title with precious little preparation time on the field. But players say team unity is already ironclad after joining together in a labour standoff with the Canadian Lacrosse Association.

The Canadians didn’t have a full roster playing together until last week’s training camp, but just a couple of months ago it looked like they wouldn’t be at the 2018 world championship at all. Fighting for better health insurance and organizational restructuring, players were set to skip the tournament before a deal was struck in mid-June.

“We’ve already went to war with one another,” said veteran faceoff specialist Geoff Snider, a two-time world champion. “We weren’t in the same room, but we’ve been working our butts off on conference calls to get across the finish line. We stood up for what we needed. At the end of the day our country, sport and program is in a better spot.”

With the labour dispute behind them, the Canadians are among the favourites for gold at the 2018 championship when the tournament gets underway Wednesday in the coastal Israeli city of Netanya. They will get a stiff challenge from the rival United States, which has won nine titles since the tournament was introduced in 1967. Canada has won the other three.

“Our model is right in line with Canadian identity, we’re tough, we compete hard and we respect each other,” Snider said.

The Canadian and American rosters boast the top world’s top players with an abundance of collegiate and professional experience in both box and field versions of the game.

“The best way to describe it is our guys have jam — intensity, skill, aggressiveness and tenacity,” said Canada head coach Randy Mearns.

The Americans’ field lacrosse supremacy first faltered in 2006, when Canada ended a streak of six straight U.S. championships with a 15-10 win over their rivals in London, Ont. After a close 12-10 loss to the U.S. at the 2010 final in Manchester, England, Canada won its second title in three tournaments with a 8-5 win over the Americans in Denver in 2014.

Snider credits a burgeoning minor system for Canada’s rise in field lacrosse.

“No longer does hockey come before lacrosse for a lot of these kids,” Snider said. “This is their priority.”

The two North American giants are in an elite division including Scotland, England, Australia and the Iroquois Nationals, who earned their first medal in 2014. Their emergence, along with the year-round development programs of the Commonwealth nations, pose challenges for Canada’s all stars.

Mearns said he emphasized versatility in his roster selection to make the Canadians adaptable.

“We picked the right guys as opposed to all the best players,” he said. “Everyone is a piece of the puzzle. Guys are committed to filling a variety of roles.”

Canada will again compete with heavy hearts this year. In 2014, they rallied for national team stalwarts Kyle Miller and Chris Sanderson, whom died of cancer.

This time they will play for Dave Huntley, an ambassador for lacrosse who excelled as a player, coach and executive. Huntley, 61, died of a heart attack last year.

“Dave was the architect of our national program. Where it’s come and gone was his vision,” Snider said. “He embodied what it meant to play for the country. All Dave cared about was us competing at the highest level, and that’s what we’re going to do.”

Canada starts its title defence Friday in a match against England at the Wingate Institute.

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