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Laurentians must take the long road at home


The St. Lawrence Laurentians find themselves in unfamiliar territory entering the Challenge Cup playoffs that begin today, but the Laurentians must be finding some confidence given the 2016 provincial senior soccer winner will be decided in their own backyard.

That’s because the Big Blue are unbeaten on their home turf — Centennial Field — in 12 regular season game, going 8-0-4.

That’s the good news. The bad news, however, is that St. Lawrence will have to take the long road if it hopes to unseat two-time defending champs Holy Cross.

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For the first time since the Challenge Cup went to a provincial format in the late 1980s, St. Lawrence has not finished first or second in the regular season. Given their third-place showing this summer, the Laurentians are in the three-four game today, with the winner going on to play the winner of the one-two game.

If St. Lawrence hopes to win a 25th provincial title, it will have to win three straight games this weekend.

The Laurentians and fourth-place Feildians tangle in the three-four game 4 o’clock this afternoon. The winner meets the loser of the Holy Cross-Mount Pearl First Choice Haircutters contest at 1 p.m. The loser goes home.

The winner of the 1 p.m. game goes straight to the final.

“To be in our own community, in our own dressing room, at our own field, that feels pretty good,” said St. Lawrence coach Derek Strang.

Challenge Cup commissioner Gord Dunphy said the 2016 regular season was one of the most competitive ever, and it shows in the standings with Holy Cross registering 16 wins followed by 14 by Mount Pearl, 13 by St. Lawrence and 12 wins for Feildians.

Strang said the Laurentians didn’t finish up strong, going 3-2-1 in August, their only wins coming against lowly C.B.S. and Corner Brook.

“We dropped points were shouldn’t have,” he said.

Strang pinpoints the start of the Laurentians’ funk to a July 17 game at Centennial Field when the Laurentians surrendered a goal in injury time to settle for a 1-1 tie with Feildians.

“I just felt there was a little change after that,” he said.

“And taking into account we consistently didn’t have a full 20 players available because of work commitments and vacations, I just found it was difficult turning it around.”

But, as they say, the playoffs are a new game. The Laurentians, of course, want another all-Newfoundland title, but would settle for a spot in the final game. That’s because the two teams in the final will play in the national Challenge Cup championship next month in St. John’s, as the host and provincial representatives.

“This is new to us,” said Strang. “We’ve always had a second life. This (today’s three vs four contest) is a knockout game, and we’re not looking past Feildians.

“Let’s face it, Saturday’s (semifinal) is the final because whoever wins is in the nationals. Most soccer fans, I think, would like to see Holy Cross and St. Lawrence in the nationals because of our history in Newfoundland soccer.

“But it all means nothing if we don’t win 4 o’clock Friday.”

St. Lawrence is led by Stefan Slaney, who potted a league-leading 22 goals. Slaney, said Strang, has a “very accurate and powerful” shot, and a “wonderful, gifted” passer.

“The opposition has to focus on him,” Strang said. “Hopefully, that will open up space for the other guys.”

St. Lawrence and Feildians hooked up four times this season, with the Laurentians winning twice. The Double Blues got one victory and the teams also played to a tie.

 

Notes

Opening ceremonies for the playoff tournament are scheduled for 2:30 p.m. at which team the Challenge Cup annual award-winners and all-star teams will be announced … Mount Pearl First Choice Haircutters veteran Mark Reddy is the August winner of the league’s player of the month award. Zach Wade of Holy Cross won the honours in July, while Zach Hynes of Feildians was the top player in June. The player of the month for May was Stefan Slaney of St. Lawrence … All games of the playoffs will be broadcast on CHCM 740 in Marystown, with Russ Murphy calling the play-by-play and Gord Dunphy and Rick Farrell, in his 25th year in the role, providing colour commentary …

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