Keeping an even keel
First place nice, but playoff success better, Laurentians coach Derek Strang says
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.
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.