|Iroquois target bronze medal|
|Friday, 21 July 2006 09:53|
The Iroquois Nation lacrosse team may have been thoroughly beaten by Team Canada, but on a night of torrential rain at the World Lacrosse Championships, the players’ spirits have not been dampened because their dream of winning a medal is still alive.
After losing 16-6 to the Canadians, the Iroquois — the only indigenous people to play as a nation in international sport — will be competing Saturday for bronze, facing Australia, the team that beat them for the bronze by one goal when the tournament was held four years ago in Perth, Australia.
"It’s still a medal and that means a lot," said 45-year-old Iroquois veteran Mark Burnham. "And it’s a chance for us to get some redemption. We were up three goals with three minutes left and they came back and beat us. That’s in the back of our minds as well as theirs.
"So I’m looking forward to a good game. It’s two pretty evenly matched teams. At this level it’s the team that’s hot that day is the team that wins."
In the semifinal game against Canada, the home side took control early, taking a 4-1 lead before the game was 10 minutes old. By the middle of the second quarter, it was 9-2 for the Cana dians.
"We started off really slow," said Burnham, one of a core group of Iroquois players from Syracuse and Upstate New York. "It seemed like we couldn’t get it going in the beginning. You get down four or five goals and it’s tough to come back against a good team like that."
Despite the fact that the Canadians controlled the game, the Iroquois fans among the 3,000 people in attendance provided lots of boisterous cheering and flag waving that never let up.
Burnham said: "It’s great to have so much amazing support. But the Canadian fans as well as the Iroquois have really been behind us a lot."
Gary Gait, the former Syracuse mega-star who has been the heart and soul of Team Canada for many years, said he can hardly wait to take the field in Saturday’s gold-medal game against the United States. He explained that the team will have plenty of motivation after two one-goal losses to the Americans in previous gold-medal games and another defeat by just a goal in the round robin of this tournament.
"It’s been a long couple of weeks so it’s nice to have that game finally be the next one. It’s a game that we’ve been focusing on and preparing for a very long time. Canada hasn’t beaten the U.S. since 1978. We’re going to be ready for the challenge."
He added that this Canadian team is better equipped than any other to pull out the victory.
"We feel pretty good, pretty comfortable," he said. "I think our confidence is up. Guys feel we have the right players in the right roles and we believe we can do it. More than any other time, the belief is there. It’s just a matter of execution. If we all play well, we have a great shot."
As for the home-field advantage, Gait said it’ll be nice, but it won’t be much of a factor.
"The fans are great. They’re going to be supportive. They’re going to be behind us. But we have to do it on the field."
When asked if Saturday will be his last game of field lacrosse, Gait said he wasn’t sure.
"There’s an opportunity to play some pro next summer again in the NLL and that’s looking pretty good so we’ll see about that. But right now the real focus is just on having this opportunity. I’ve been thinking about this for about eight years. To have the opportunity to get back and go for the gold again is really exciting."