Championship dream over for Athletics
Over 30 minutes following the end of his junior career, St. Catharines Athletics goaltender Nick Damude sat on the bench, still half-dressed with his leg pads on, and stared out at the floor at Jack Gatecliff Arena.
Damude chatted with forward Jake McNabb and a couple of others briefly, trying to make sense of a promising season which had just ended at the hands of the Burlington Chiefs.
The A’s dropped an 8-5 decision to the Chiefs and were eliminated 4-2 in their Ontario Lacrosse Association junior A best-of-seven semifinal playoff series.
“I’ve played with St. Catharines my whole life and I’m just trying to let in sink in that it’s finally over,” the 20-year-old Fonthill native said. “I’ve played with most of these guys my whole life and it’s surreal to think that it’s coming to an end.
“We all gave it our best, so that’s all you can ask for at the end of the day.”
The A’s, who featured 10 graduating players, were built to contend for an Ontario championship and had high hopes of running the table and bringing St. Catharines its first Minto Cup since 2003.
“It’s definitely hard because in the back of everybody’s head we had a Canadian championship, but it was a good team over there.
“It’s tough seeing the career come to an end, that’s for sure.”
Damude seemed most emotional about the friendships he is leaving behind.
“I’ve played with guys since I was five so not getting to play with those guys . . . it’s the last time I’ve ever going to have the St. Catharines jersey on,” he said. “I’m sure I’ll get to play with a lot of these guys in the pros. We have a lot of good guys on this team with a lot of long careers, but I’m just trying to soak in my last few minutes at The Jack.”
The Athletics were playing without head coach Steve Toll, who was serving the third game of his three-game suspension. Under new OLA rules, Toll was not even permitted to enter the building to watch.
Toll did address the team following the loss.
“My message has always been little things always add up to be big things,” he said. “As good as we played all year, we made little mistakes during the season.
“We ran into a very good club with a very good goalie and they outplayed us.”
The A’s played the series without sniper Alex Simmons and it showed on offence.
“I’m not an excuse guy, but when you lose a player of Alex Simmons’ stature, it’s huge,” Toll said. “He had 48 points in seven games. Losing Sidney Crosby would hurt the Pittsburgh Penguins.”
It was the second straight season the A’s were ousted in the second round of the playoffs.
“Sometimes you have to lose before you can win,” Toll said. “The big thing is you have to know how to win and know when to put the clamp down and we didn’t do it at the right time.”
The loss also marked the end of the junior careers of captain Latrell Harris, Tyler Brown, Rylee St. Onge, Saul Van Der Zalm, Alex Pace, Kyler Kilgour, Jake McNabb and the injured Brett Erskine.
“To watch 18 boys in there 21 and under crying is painful,” Toll said. “Obviously to lose 10 of the guys we just lost is unbelievable and it hurts.
“Like I said to them, they all have long and prosperous careers in the NLL and senior A. It’s not over for them. You still get to play the game you love so enjoy every minute of it.”
A’s acorns: Alex Simmons, Liam Ham, Owen Friesen, Tanner Vail, Trent Jackson, Gavin McGregor and Alex Gaston did not dress for the A’s . . . The A’s lost three games at home in the playoffs after losing just once at Gatecliff Arena during the season.
Chiefs 8 A’s 5
BPSN Star of the Game: Burlington’s Jason Knox with three goals.
St. Catharines Athletics: Brayden Mayea 2 (8, 9); Carter Zavitz (7); Latrell Harris (5); Liam Mcdonald (3).
Burlington Chiefs: Knox 3; Ryan Lanchbury 2; Sam English, Hunter Lemieux, Matt Anderson.
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