YORKTON - It was a golden event for five young lacrosse players from Saskatchewan.
Bauer Swystun from Prince Albert, Jordan Scott, Jeremy Wudrick and Sam Marshall all of Saskatoon, and Shane Friesen from Swift Current were members of the Canadian squad which captured the 2022 IIJL World Junior Lacrosse Championship which took place Aug. 8-14 in Winnipeg.
International Indoor Junior Lacrosse (IIJL) was founded in 2016 by Member Nations Canada (Canadian Lacrosse League), Haudenosaunee (formerly known as Iroquois), and United States (US Indoor Lacrosse). As an independent international association, the IIJL established and administers the only international box (indoor) lacrosse championships for players twenty (20) years of age and younger.
Wudrick said the experience was great from the day he was told he was on the team, after trying out in the past and not being selected.
“It was very exciting once I got the email that I was selected to play,” he said.
“I was super excited I finally got a call,” echoed Friesen who had had tried out in the past. “Going to the world juniors, it was a great experience . . . Winning the world juniors, there was nothing better than that.”
“It was absolutely one of the biggest accomplishments in my life. It proved all my hard work worked out.”
“It was amazing in every way,” said Marshall, adding the biggest thing may have been the education in the game. “. . . The biggest thing is what I was able to learn from it. We had an amazing group of coaches . . . The sheer amount I learned was just incredible, I want to bring that back to Saskatchewan.”
Swystun said the entire experience was outstanding.
“It put a smile on my face walking into the dressing room,” he said, adding getting to wear the red and white jersey of Canada is a dream for athletes in any sport. “. . . I was proud to represent my country, but it was also the smile it put on my Dad’s face.”
Marshall said putting on the red and white jersey “was very special,” adding it was big to play against other countries, recalling the first game in pool play against the rival U.S. He said he realized then “this is real. We’re playing the U.S. team right now. This is pretty great – a lot of fun.”
For Scott, the win was huge after a year with the Junior program in Saskatoon where wins were rare.
“Just going there after a pretty tough season in Junior ‘A’ was pretty unreal,” he said. “It was a lot of hard work, but the experience . . . it was lots of fun . . .
“Not coming from a place where we were winning very often – I loved it. It was awesome. There’s really no other way to put it.”
When it comes to indoor lacrosse Canada has been a perennial powerhouse and with that there is some added pressure to continue to dominate.
“Obviously we were pretty confident in our athletic capabilities,” offered Swystun.
But, that did not mean things came easy.
Swystun noted the Haudenosaunee (formerly known as Iroquois), “had some very talented players,” and they gave a great effort in the gold medal game which ended with Canada winning 16-9.
“We wanted it. Right from the start it was kind of a ‘no mercy’ thing. We wanted that gold,” said Swystun.
And the game was closer than the score might indicate.
“It was pretty tight the first couple of quarters – very exciting,” said Wudrick, adding it was great as a player to be in a pressure game that meant something – “to play for something on the world stage. It felt unreal.”
“You always go into a game with the mindset anything can happen,” added Scott.
Marshall echoed the sentiment they knew they were favoured, but nothing was assured. He said in box lacrosse a team that works hard can overcome more talented teams at times, so they had to be ready.
“We knew what we could do,” he said, adding that still meant they had to execute.
Scott said it helped the team was well-prepared.
“We all had the goal of winning the gold,” he said.
Canada had earned their berth in the final defeating Israel 20-9 in one semi final while Haudenosaunee edged the United States 14-12 in the other.
Having five players from a province not noted for its lacrosse was a big step for the game here. The players suggested once someone tries the game they are likely to be hooked.
“I did play everything,” said Friesen, pointing to hockey and football in his early years. “It’s not that I didn’t like them, but lacrosse sat with me different.”
Friesen said he felt lacrosse challenged him more, adding “and, I liked the intensity of the sport.”
Marshall was sort of pushed into lacrosse, his parents suggesting strongly he find a spring sport to occupy that season. He tried lacrosse.
“That was before the Rush came around, I didn’t really know much about the game,” he said, adding it didn’t go that well initially, but he stayed with it, first as a goaltender and about five years ago moving to defender, after which he noted, “I never looked back. I just fell in love with it.”
Scott said he was a late-comer to lacrosse, not starting until Bantam age. He said having the Saskatchewan Rush arrive in Saskatoon certainly kick-started the growth of the sport.
“Having the Rush here helped get more exposure for the game,” he said.
Wudrick said it was the NLL that first drew his attention to the sport.
“I played hockey and then I saw it (lacrosse) on TV,” he said, recalling a Toronto Rock game from about a dozen years ago. “I just needed to play it. I tried it the next spring and loved it.”
And now Wudrick is at Lander University in Greenwood, S.C. playing lacrosse.
Marshall is now at the Franciscan University of Steubenville playing lacrosse although he admitted field is merely a way to further hone skills he can use in box lacrosse. He said after a final junior season in 2023 in Saskatoon he’s likely to declare for the NLL draft.
Friesen said he too looks toward a shot at the NLL one day.
“I do want to enter the (NLL) draft. I really hope to take lacrosse a step farther,” he said. “I don’t care where I go in the league. I just want to play the sport I love most in the highest caliber league in the world.”
“It’s kind of a head-turner,” said Swystun in terms of becoming a lacrosse player in Saskatchewan, especially given he has the name Bauer, which is a huge one in the hockey world. “It’s kind of a shock to people.”
Swystun said it was a case of growing up in the right community.
“I found living in P.A. lacrosse was a growing sport. As soon as spring came it was time to start playing lacrosse,” he said.
In time Swystun ended up playing in Saskatoon for better competition.
“That enhanced my performance,” he said, adding he also came to the realization “hockey is not my best career path in life.”
Realizing he had “a bigger passion” for lacrosse Swystun concentrated on the sport, an effort which took him to an international gold medal, and now on the play college lacrosse at Tusculum University in Greeneville, Tenn., which is an NCAA Div. II lacrosse program.
Scott is at Dominican University New York, another NCAA Div. II program.
While the college game will be field lacrosse Scott said it’s not as big a change as one might think.
“Playing box definitely makes you a better field player,” he said, adding in box you get used to playing in “tight places” which transfers to the field game in getting to the net.”
“It’s a pretty common thing, box players moving to field lacrosse,” he said, adding there of course will be a learning curve. “. . . Obviously I have a lot to learn.”
The world event was part of the general education in lacrosse.
“Having that world championship title on the resume doesn’t hurt,” offered Swystun. “It was absolutely a learning experience for me.”
Swystun said he feels that experience “will help me progress . . . help me to the next level.”
Ultimately, Swystun hopes the final level in the National Lacrosse League.
“Wherever the ball takes me, I’d love to play pro,” he said, adding he knows that will only come with lots of hard work, which starts with the upcoming college season.
Scott to has an eye on the NLL.
“I think most players’ dream is to play in the NLL,” he said.