OAKBANK -- Sixteen seconds is all it took to end the final game of the Manitoba Gryphons' season-opening, three-game homestand Sunday night.
Sixteen seconds as the crowd sat on edge at Oakbank's One Insurance Arena, and then the ball snapped into the net to give the visiting Okotoks Marauders a 7-6 overtime win.
It was a hard loss to swallow, especially for the Gryphons' standout Dylan Smith. "We had a lot of heart there," said Smith, who scored a hat trick to keep his Junior B lacrosse squad in the game. "We tried to keep our composure, but I guess things don't always work your way."
It's early in the season, so the Gryphons showed a few rough edges. Too many passes went astray. While the Gryphons went on a parade to the sin bin, the Albertans made them pay. Smith, 19 and in his third season as a Gryphon, was one of the guilty parties, taking an elbowing penalty in the second period that Okotoks converted on to take a lead.
But Smith promptly went out and got the goal back, tying the game on a satisfying thwack with just over 90 seconds left in the second period. Then, with just 10 seconds left in that frame, he scored again. Then in the third, with the Marauders up by one and the Gryphons fighting to survive, Smith scored his third tally with 3:07 left in regulation.
That goal forced the abbreviated overtime. After battling back so many times, it was a heartbreaker.
With the loss, the Gryphons are 1-for-3 to start their Rocky Mountain Lacrosse League season. But there's a lot of lacrosse left to be played -- and something special to help the team look forward: From Aug. 19-25, the Gryphons will host the Founders Cup, the national Junior B box lacrosse championship.
It will be the first time in 20 years a Manitoba team has hosted the tournament, and the Gryphons are already feeling pumped.
"Everyone is so ecstatic," Smith said. "They get so excited knowing that Founders is going to be here and they just try to take it out on the floor."
The Gryphons landed the Cup in only their third season since moving up from the Red River Lacrosse Association to the Rocky Mountain league. It came as part of an eight-year development plan that team builders hope paves the way for broader lacrosse development in Manitoba -- maybe a Junior A team some day, maybe a chance to attract more scholarship dollars for players.
Smith, who plays hockey during the winter months, concurred the move up leagues was a hit with Manitoba's best junior-aged lacrossers. "It's huge," Smith said. "That was the biggest thing for me. When we got that opportunity, it was such a dramatic change from playing city lacrosse, and then competitively in the Rocky Mountain league. It's a huge step up, and all competitors want to do that."
In an interesting twist, the national bantam lacrosse championship will also be hosted in Winnipeg.
After Sunday's game, Gryphons business manager Scott Kinnear said the Founders Cup offers the team a chance to trumpet the sport, and see what kind of fresh attention it attracts. "With the eyes of the nation on Manitoba, we hope to increase enrolment," he said.
"We'd love to see another team from Manitoba enter the Rocky Mountain Lacrosse League too -- we just hope to continue to see Manitoba lacrosse players get opportunities."