For their first big tournament, the Fort St. John Vikings novice lacrosse team did considerably well in Edmonton June 29 - July 2 for the 2012 Edmonton Rush Capital Cup.
Out of nine novice teams, the local boys finished fifth with a record of 2-2 for the tournament.
"I'm extremely proud of them," said head coach Craig Brownlee on Tuesday. "There are a lot of athletic young people here in Fort St. John. A lot of them went to this tournament their first year playing, playing kids who've grown up with lacrosse as their number one sport, and there are a lot of kids who could easily go down and make Tier 1 in an Edmonton league after playing only one or two years here."
Brownlee said he and his team went to Edmonton without any expectations except to get in some experience against other teams, something they rarely get to do here in Fort St. John.
Winning two of their games against some Tier 2 teams was just a highlight.
"Fort St. John hasn't been a big hot bed of lacrosse," Brownlee said. "You go to a tournament and hope you meet with equal type of competition. We weren't making it a try-out basis, we just brought in players that wanted to go to the tournament."
The Vikings played two games on June 30 and two more on July 1 against some pretty skilled team.
On the Saturday they faced the Medicine Hat Sun Devils to kick off the Capital Cup and fought hard to keep their 7-5 lead. While the Vikings were up on the Sun Devils early in the game, Medicine Hat pushed back, and it was good goaltending that saved the Vikings, Brownlee said.
"We found out early on that game that we were pretty competitive," he said. "After that game the kids were on a pretty good high."
One aspect of the game that Brownlee tried to prepare the players for was the physicality and speed of competitive lacrosse. However, like with most things, players don't understand many parts of sports until they are caught in the midst of it. Some big-hitting Alberta teams initiated them to that pretty quickly, especially the Edmonton Warriors, one of the best novice teams in the province.
"It was lightning quick," Brownlee said about the Vikings second game against the Warriors on Saturday.
"This team was very skilled, but I couldn't believe we were playing nine and 10 year olds with how strong they were with their passing. What we tried to work on is them hustling back and getting into a defensive mode and creating a shell, and they didn't start to do that until halfway through the first period," he said.
"It was their first real look at some of the strong teams down there."
By then it was 6-0 for the Warriors. Brownlee called a timeout to rally his troops, but it was a big hole the Vikings were in and ended up losing the game 16-5.
Sunday, however, began on a positive note as Fort St. John beat the Parkland Posse 2 by a score of 4-2, then took on Westlock Rock to make it to the semifinals.
"That game was very competitive throughout and that team might've been one of the other top five teams," Brownlee said about Parkland. "When the guys came out I remember after the first period saying to them as a team, 'This is our first period where you guys look like a lacrosse team.' They were playing hard, they were playing the strong transition they weren't getting pushed around on the Sunday. They came out and were battling hard and winning some battles. They came out with quite a strong performance."
Westlock was another story. The Vikings lost 9-2 in their final game of the tournament to finish fifth, but Brownlee said his team finished appropriately.
"They were quite a big stronger than us," he said about Westlock. "It was probably a case where we finished right with our level of talent."
"We had a pretty good turnout and all the players did really well."