Keep­ing an even keel

First place nice, but play­off suc­cess bet­ter, Lau­ren­tians coach Derek Strang says

The Southern Gazette - - EDITORIAL - BY PAUL HERRIDGE THE SOUTH­ERN GAZETTE ST. LAWRENCE, NL pher­ridge@south­erngazette.ca

Though they fin­ished at the top of the stand­ings for the first time in a while, St. Lawrence La­batt Lau­ren­tians coach Derek Strang said Wed­nes­day his play­ers aren’t get­ting ahead of them­selves.

Holy Cross Kirby Group re­mains the team to beat in the Mol­son Chal­lenge Cup pro­vin­cial se­nior men’s soc­cer play­offs, he said.

The tour­na­ment will take place at King George V Park in St. John’s over the Labour Day week­end.

After a slow start – win­less un­til the team’s sixth game – the Cru­saders came on strong as the sea­son pro­gressed and re­al­is­ti­cally were the strong­est team after­wards, Strang said.

“We feel like we’re still chas­ing Cross and we still got some­thing to prove, as we did last year,” he said.

The Lau­ren­tians lost only four times all sea­son, fin­ish­ing with 16 wins as well as three ties, good for 51 points.

The Cru­saders clawed their way back in the stand­ings and fin­ished in sec­ond place, with 44 points from 13 wins, five losses and five ties, set­ting up a matchup against the Lau­ren­tians on Fri­day in the 1-2 Page play­off sys­tem.

The vic­tor will ad­vance straight to the tour­na­ment fi­nal, while the loser will have to play the win­ner of the matchup be­tween third-place Mount Pearl First Choice Hair­cut­ters and fourth-place Feil­dians Ernst and Young in a semi­fi­nal on Satur­day to earn a berth in the cham­pi­onship.

Both the Lau­ren­tians and Cru­saders will be gun­ning for the win to bol­ster their chances, Strang said.

“It’s dif­fi­cult if you lose that first game and know that you have to play three. We did it last year, but very rarely has it been done,” he said.

Strang, who said there was more par­ity in the league this year, felt the Lau­ren­tians had a good sea­son.

“It was a lit­tle bit up and down,” he said. “We played re­ally well at times, but some other games, you know, not so well. I think that al­ways comes down to the amount of time we get to train to­gether.”

The team, which was scored on just 12 times in 23 games while scor­ing 47 times them­selves – the best def­er­en­tial in the league – was strong de­fen­sively, he said.

“You can’t leg­is­late goals, but play­ers can cover area and work hard and work smart,” Strang said.

“That’s what’s al­ways go­ing to win us games and that’s what’s al­ways go­ing to win a cham­pi­onship. We’re pleased with how we did in that re­gard, but we gave up some goals, too, that should never have been scored.”

Strang also cred­ited the other teams in the league for hav­ing good years, calling it the best sea­son in some time.

“Every­body was tak­ing real points off of every­body else,” he said.

Strang said the Lau­ren­tians will have seven or eight prac­tices be­fore the play­offs. Tac­tics, on both of­fense and de­fence, will be the pri­mary fo­cus.

The team will look to Ste­fan Slaney, who led the team with 11 goals on the sea­son, in­clud­ing a four-goal out­burst in the last game of the sea­son, to score, he said. Oth­ers will need to chip in, as well.

Brent Hen­neb­ury was an­other player who earned praise from the St. Lawrence coach.

En­ter­ing Grade 12 next month, he scored eight goals dur­ing the sea­son and has proved him­self as a player, Strang said.

Scor­ing the Chal­lenge Cup cham­pi­onship win­ner in ex­tra time last year and adding an­other game-win­ning goal at na­tion­als boosted the young­ster’s con­fi­dence, Strang said, adding Hen­neb­ury can’t seem to get enough of the sport.

“This year you could see right from the be­gin­ning he was more pre­pared to play and wanted to play. He was stronger and smarter,” Strang said.

SALTWIRE NET­WORK FILE PHOTO

Sean Drew (left) of the St. Lawrence Lau­ren­tians looks on as the ball heads to­wards his team’s net dur­ing the 2015 Chal­lenge Cup pro­vin­cial se­nior men’s soc­cer league fi­nal against Holy Cross at the Gushue Com­plex in Mount Pearl. The long­time ri­valry be­tween Holy Cross, which won that 2015 ti­tle game, and the Lau­ren­tians, who claimed the Chal­lenge Cup last year, will re­sume when the two teams meet in the 1-2 Page play­off game for the league’s 2017 play­off tour­na­ment in St. John’s on Fri­day.

SUB­MIT­TED PHOTO

Derek Strang

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