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October 13, 2013

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King, Billings Among Impressive for Canada

by Will Cleveland | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter

Jesse King had a solid showing on Sunday in Buffalo, playing with Team Canada against Robert Morris.
© Rich Barnes

BUFFALO – As two of the younger players at the Team Canada training camp in Buffalo, both Jesse King and Steve Priolo are looking to impress the coaching staff in any way they can.

That could mean covering more of the field as a midfielder or moving down to the attack for King or shifting between roles as a short-stick defensive midfielder to taking up a long pole as a close defender for Priolo. Like many of the 52 players at Team Canada trials, King and Priolo each went a long way toward demonstrating that adaptability in a pair of scrimmages against Robert Morris on Sunday at St. Joseph's Collegiate Institute.

Following an appearance at midfield against Denver on Saturday, King, an Ohio State standout, shifted to attack on Sunday and sparked Team Canada White with three goals as it earned 16-10 win over Robert Morris in the early scrimmage.

Following a 13-minute scoreless drought to open the second half in the late scrimmage, Team Canada Red demonstrated its explosive with an 18-8 win over Robert Morris.

Among this pool of 52 players, 23 will be selected to represent Canada at the 2014 FIL World Championships in Denver.

"Obviously, I want to show them that I can play to the best of my ability and that I am versatile, because I know that's what they are looking for," said King, who played for Canada in last year's U-19 World Championships. "I am just going to come out and I'm just gonna give it my all. I know that I am younger than a lot of guys here and don't have as much experience, but I am trying to run as much as I can and show them that I can be athletic."

King looked especially strong in the first half of the early scrimmage when he was paired on the attack with John Grant Jr. Grant Jr. netted three goals in the first half for the Canadians. Canada White led 8-7 at halftime after trailing by two earlier in the half.

"It's pretty easy to play with him," King said with a big smile on his face. "He makes it pretty simple. You just listen to him and do what he wants to do. I just work off him, he works off me, and he makes it really simple, because he's just so talented and it's really unbelievable."

For Priolo, a 6-foot-5 defenseman, that means handling a long or a short pole. He showed an ability to do both on Saturday against Denver University, scoring an awesome goal in transition.

"Coming into this weekend, I wasn't really sure where I'd been playing or where they would want me," Priolo said. "I had the short stick for a bit. I was running LSM and then close D. On that play (his lone goal on Saturday), I was running LSM and I saw the guy there. He left his stick out a little too much and I flipped it up and took the ball from him. I went down and some guys hacked me on my back, but I have a little bit of strength over those guys. As the guy hit me, I just put it in the net."

Priolo said that he has gotten in better shape and adapted his game a bit to suit the field game in hopes of making this team. Regardless, he is beyond excited to suit up with guys like Grant Jr. and defenseman Kyle Rubisch.

In the early scrimmage, the Colonials provided a strong test for Canada White. Sophomore midfielder Eric Rankel, a Northeast Conference First-Team selection in 2013, scored four goals and finished with six over the two scrimmages. Sophomore Nicholas Beaudoin was effective at the faceoff 'X' before Canada's Geoff Snider took over in the third quarter.

Freshman Cody Nass and junior Jacob Ruest added two goals in the opener. Redshirt senior Taylor Graves scored four total goals for the Colonials, including a hat trick in the late scrimmage.

"It was our first day of outside competition," Robert Morris coach Andrew McMinn said. "We have 19 new guys on our roster this year. For those guys to get this experience, obviously we couldn't ask for much more than being able to come out here and play against this competition."

The Colonials only suited up 32 players for the dual scrimmages, including four goalies. Despite being under-manned, McMinn said his team will take a lot of positives from the experience.

"Conditioning was certainly a factor," McMinn said. "The guys worked through it and pushed hard. We've been trying to get up to game speed with everything throughout the fall. ...We talked to the guys about not worrying about what they're up against or who their opponent is. We said it before we came in here that regardless of how far we go this year, we can make it to the national championship, and we're not going to see the talent we saw lined up across from us today."

Mark Cockerton, currently a senior attackman for the University of Virginia, added three goals for Canada White. Stephen Keogh and Jordan MacIntosh each had two goals.

In the late scrimmage, Adam Jones shifted from midfield to the attack and led Canada Red with three goals. Garrett Billings, Jordan McBride, and Kiel Matisz each chipped in two goals.

As a veteran of the 2010 World Championships and previous training camps, Billings said he knew what to expect during this selection weekend.

"I know what the grind is like," Billings said. "I went through it for the last two tryouts, so I was looking forward to it. It's fun to play a lot of lacrosse. It's nice when you show up and there's 49 other faces that you know and you are buddies with three quarters of them. It's actually just like a big reunion. It's such a good time."

The former Virginia standout said he can rely on his previous experience to aid him.

"I think it's a huge advantage to have been through this process before," Billings said. "I think in 2010 when I was luck enough to make the team, a lot of it was because I had the experience from the 2006 tryouts. I think a lot of it has to do with, you just have to be aggressive and you've got to play your game. You can't just sit back and look who you are playing with."

Garrett Billings showed his veteran experience against Robert Morris.
© Rich Barnes

After his training camp in experience in 2005 where he got to line up with players like Gary Gait and Grant Jr., Billings said he told them about how star-struck he was at first over a couple of beers. "It's pretty funny in hindsight."

Defenseman Brodie Merrill has maintained a similar approach to Billings during this training camp, noting that it was somewhat surreal for him to be squaring off against so many of his former players from the Hill Academy in Ontario. Merrill currently serves as head coach there. Robert Morris featured five grads of the Hill.

"You just don't take anything for granted," Merrill said. "You approach it regardless of how long you've been doing it. You approach it like everybody else. You just want to make sure that you're coming out here and showing well and playing the right way and being a good teammate."

Team Canada head coach Randy Mearns saw progress, as the two Canadian squads were flip-flopped after Saturday. Canada Red, after playing in the late scrimmage against a tired Denver crew, played in the early scrimmage against Robert Morris.

"We didn't force the ball as much as I thought we did yesterday in the first game," Mearns said. "We started sharing the ball a little bit. But we had some different guys in different spots, playing attack because we are trying to figure out those little matchups and where guys should be. I think it was progression, so now we will see how athletic our guys are, because now they are going to play in another three or four hours."

Mearns and Team Canada are providing a true test of the stamina of the 52 players in camp as they played in three scrimmages against college squads and participated in many drills during a four-day training camp.

"I think it's a real big test, honestly," Mearns said. "It's kind of like playing pee wee lacrosse back in Ontario. You are at the tournament and you have to play three or four games over a weekend. I think that with our guys, it's a test. I know some of our guys are a little bit nicked up, but hey, do you still have a little bit more in tank? I am interested to see what that's going to look like."


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