By Jim Hynes
Tim Murdoch has his heart set on spending the weekend of Nov. 8-9 in Hamilton, Ontario. The coach of the McGill men’s lacrosse team isn’t planning a jaunt to take in the late autumn charms of Steel City though. He’s determined to lead his Redmen back to the Baggataway Cup Final Four, the national championship of the Canadian University Field Lacrosse Association (CUFLA).
The Redmen, who had a losing record every year from 2002-2005, were the CUFLA’s biggest surprise in 2007, posting a 7-2 record on their way to the second East Division title in team history. The team made it all the way to the Baggataway Cup before dropping a 10-6 semi-final decision to the Guelph Gryphons.
The team has proven that last year’s successes were no fluke. With one regular season game still to be played and a tougher schedule than last year, the Redmen boast a 6-3 record and sit in second place. Two of their losses were one-goal defeats at the hands of powerhouse Trent, who moved into the East Division this year. The other loss (11-9) was delivered by division archrival Bishop’s.
“The calibre of lacrosse is very good and improving each year,” Murdoch said. “Most CUFLA teams have Canadian box lacrosse players from the hotbeds of Ontario or B.C., while our team has a large number of U.S. players.”
Indeed, this year’s McGill squad features players from 13 different U.S. states and four Canadian provinces, which just might make it the most geographically diverse team in North America. And while the teams they expect to face in the championships all have professional box lacrosse players on their rosters, many of Murdoch’s players have earned their stripes in field lacrosse, the version of the game popular in U.S. high schools and colleges.
“And that’s one of our strengths,” said Tim Murdoch. “We have players from both backgrounds, a mix I like. But I’m hoping that our extensive field lacrosse experience can be an advantage for us.”
A pair of one-goal wins at home last week, including a crucial 7-6 defeat of Bishop’s on Oct. 16, have put McGill in excellent position to finish in second place in the East, a ranking that assures home field advantage in the playoffs. The Redmen can secure that spot with a win in their Oct. 25 game against Carleton, a team they handled 21-3 the last time they met. That would set up a do-or-die playoff quarterfinal against Bishop’s, with the winner earning a ticket to Hamilton and the Baggataway Cup, hosted by McMaster University this year.
Murdoch, like every good coach, knows that you play games one at a time. But he can’t help but look ahead to that weekend in November and a possible date with two of the three CUFLA teams the Redmen have never beaten: Trent, Guelph and the Brock Badgers, the most successful team in Canadian university lacrosse history.
“I think we can compete with the best teams in Canada and that would be our chance to show it,” he said. “And once you make it that far, anything can happen.”