In 1993, the NAFTA agreement provided for the easier exchange of goods between North American nations. Of course, if you ask the average American what the USA imports from Canada they may offer a tongue-in-cheek response like “hockey players” or “maple syrup” (in reality the top Canadian export to the States in 2013 was “Vehicles.” Go figure). The point here is that trade does not just go one way. Canada sends good the States and vice versa. So why then has the export of Canadian box lacrosse players to the States been so lopsided? The simple answer is that the number and quality of true box lacrosse programs in the United States has been virtually non-existent in the US, whereas in Canada box lacrosse has a long and rich tradition. For the dedicated lacrosse fan, none of this comes as a major surprise.
The coaching staff of the Denver Elite box lacrosse teams are not satisfied with the status quo. For years, Denver Elite has been chipping away at the stone and slowly but surely making progress in the box lacrosse world. The summer of 2014 proved to be a banner year for Denver Elite’s box lacrosse teams. The summer box tournament centered around three major tournaments: the Elite Cup, Battle In The Box held in Denver, June 6–8; the Calgary Canada Day Tournament, June 28–30; and the USBOXLA Nationals in Los Angeles, CA, August 1–3. Glancing through the results of these events one thing is clear: Denver Elite teams are on the rise.
In total, Denver Elite fields seven box lacrosse teams, although not every team played in every tournament. The Novice team consisted of players born in 2004/2005, and in addition there are two PeeWee teams (b. 2002/2003), two Bantam teams (b. 2000/2001), a Midget team (b. 1998/1999), and an Intermediate squad (b. 1996/1997).
A core group of coaches led the 2014 Denver Elite box campaign, headed by standout Canadian box players Jamie Shewchuk, John Gallant, and Jamie Lincoln, as well as Denver Pioneers Walter Rooney, Colin Woolford, and Mike Riis.
So what is the secret to Denver Elite’s success? No one tell Allen Iverson, but it’s practice. Over the course of the summer the Denver Elite squads managed twenty practice sessions, a number almost unheard of for box teams. These extra reps made a considerable difference for the teams, as evidenced by their tournament results.
When asked to explain the success of the 2014 box lacrosse teams, Director Matt Brown chalked it up to the players’ work ethic, competitiveness, and toughness. All of the teams greatly improved their understanding of box lacrosse concepts. On the field this translated into the ability to manage the shot clock, understanding transition offense and defense, and defensive awareness where players are able to support the ball while covering an opponent.
Kicking off the summer, the Elite Cup: Battle In The Box took place right here in Denver, from June 6-8. This tournament functioned as a primer for the Canada Day tournament at the end of the month and brought teams from California, Washington/BC, and Texas to the Front Range. All of Denver Elite teams competed hard and several earned medals for their efforts. Both the Novice and older Bantam squads claimed gold in their divisions, while the Midget team grabbed silver, and one of the PeeWee teams took home bronze for their efforts.
Perhaps the best measuring stick for Denver Elite’s progress came in the waning days of June, as the teams made their sojourn to Calgary for the annual Canada Day Tournament. This is the biggest box lacrosse tournament in the world and consisted of ninety-two teams across all divisions, comprising the best youth box lacrosse talent the sport has to offer. This summer marked the fifth appearance by Denver Elite teams in the tournament. Director Matt Brown says that the program has come a long way since showing up in Calgary in 2010 with a mere two teams. When asked what others in Calgary thought of the Denver Elite teams, Brown says the Canadians were “awed with our development” and that their successes were “not as surprising as five years ago.” A festival-like atmosphere surrounds the tournament, featuring fun for the entire family and phenomenal box lacrosse. While the Canadians are very proud and passionate about their national sport, Denver Elite players and families enjoy the welcoming Canadian hospitality. A few trips to Tim Horton’s didn’t hurt matters either! There must have been something in those donuts as the Novice team (which was actually a combination of Denver Elite and Cali*Lax players) won gold in their division. The title was actually the second for the Novice team, who won the gold in 2013 as well. The PeeWee teams played very hard against great competition and gained invaluable box lacrosse experience. The older Bantam squad missed the Division A playoffs by a mere half point in the standings. The younger Bantam team went undefeated, but missed an opportunity to play in the championship game due to tiebreaker rules. The team won the third place game to preserve their unbeaten streak at the tournament and take the bronze. Top performers for Denver Elite were the Midget team, which finished with a silver medal. Undoubtedly the Timmy’s tasted better on the way home with all that hardware.
Back in the States, the final tournament of the summer came with the USBOXLA Nationals in Los Angeles, CA. According to Brown, Denver Elite played the role of bridesmaid in past years at the USBOXLA nationals. However, in 2014, the sands shifted in their favor and Denver Elite emerged from runner-ups to dominant champions. Of the six teams that competed in the tournament, five walked off the field with hardware. In the PeeWee division the two Denver Elite teams faced each other for the bronze, where the Blue team came out with an 11–10 victory. In the Bantam division, the Denver Elite White team won a consolation gold, while the Blue team won outright Gold in the division with a convincing 10–2 victory over the Cali*Lax All-Stars Red team. Both the Midget and Intermediate teams claimed 6–4 victories in their corresponding divisions for Gold medals, over Junior Stealth and Cali*Lax All-Stars respectively.
Finally, several Denver Elite players were selected to play for Team USBOXLA Intermediate A, which conducted a whirlwind tour of British Columbia, playing five games in seven days against BC Junior A teams. While the USBOXLA team finished their tour with a 0-4-1 record, the results were encouraging. Considering the schedule and competition, which is some of the best in Canada, the team fared very well; all of the contests were close and competitive. Denver Elite player Carter Jensen said of the experience: “I was constantly challenged and pushed to my limits. Being able to play against these Canadians at their own game, and being able to compete was a great feeling. I am very grateful that I had this opportunity and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.” The sentiments of Jensen’s comments are not unique, and in fact most youth players hold similar feelings about the box game. Winning is wonderful, but at the end of the day box lacrosse is just a lot of fun.