When Scotland finished an historical sixth at the 2014 World Lacrosse Championships in Denver, Colorado last month, the coaches gave a lot of the credit to a Duncan product.
Goalie Dean Stewart stood tall between the pipes for Scotland in some of their biggest games in Denver, and was named the team’s defensive MVP for the tournament.
"It was an honour, and also a shock since I just played three and a half of the eight games," Stewart said. "They said if it wasn’t for me, we wouldn’t have been in the Blue Division for the next Worlds."
The Blue Division is reserved for the top six teams in the world, and has exclusively consisted of Canada, the U.S., the Iroquois, Australia, England and Japan. Thanks in large part to Stewart, Scotland, who placed seventh at the 2010 tournament, finished sixth this year and booked their place in the Blue Division for 2018.
"We took out Japan," Stewart said. "No one has ever done that before."
A dual citizen of Canada and Scotland because his father was born there, this was Stewart’s first time playing for the Scottish national team, although he’s planning to return for the 2016 European Championships and 2018 Worlds.
The journey for Stewart started when he met some members of the Scottish team while playing at a box lacrosse tournament in Prague. Those guys put him in touch with the coaching staff, and he ended up attending camp in New York last October, where the Scottish hopefuls played a few games against NCAA Div. 1 teams. The lead-up to the Worlds also involved Stewart’s first visit to Scotland since he was two years old, where he got to meet some of his dad’s family.
"That was a good part of the whole experience, to meet family who I probably wouldn’t otherwise have a chance to," Stewart said.
Stewart grew up playing box lacrosse in Duncan and field for Baggataway/Pacific Rim in Victoria. He made multiple provincial teams and won several championships, and played intermediate and junior A with the Nanaimo Timbermen.
He went on to play three years of field lacrosse for Simon Fraser University, where he was named all-conference and helped get his team to the national championships. Stewart took a bit of a hiatus after school, but got the ball rolling when he joined his roommates from Burnaby at the Prague tournament.
His passion for the sport has since been rekindled, and his goal is to try out for a Major League Lacrosse pro team next year, something he just missed out on doing this year.
"When the tournament was on, it was near the end of their season, so there wasn’t really a chance, as much as I wanted to ride the momentum from Worlds," Stewart said.
Canada ended up winning the tournament, beating the U.S. 8-5 in the gold-medal game. Stewart cheered for Canada in the final, but despite having been on Canada’s radar in the past, had no regrets about playing for Scotland.
"I have a few buddies on Canada, so that would have been a blast," he said. "But now I have friends all over the world, so I’m kind of glad I went with that option."
Scotland might have played for a medal as well, had they not lost a close 10-8 battle with the Iroquois. As it was, the exhausted Scots played England – "the old enemy" – for fifth and sixth.
"At that point, there wasn’t much gas left in the tank," Stewart admitted.
Scotland opened the tournament with a 24-3 win over Thailand, and Stewart got his first chance to play against Switzerland, who Scotland routed 20-6. The other goalie played again in the last pool game, against Latvia, which Scotland won 17-7. In the playoffs, Scotland beat Finland 9-6 and New Zealand 16-12 to earn a spot in the championship bracket and a game against the Iroquois. The coaches tapped Stewart for that one.
"It was a bit of a shock to get the call in the biggest game," Stewart recalled. "I went in and played one of the best games of my life."
Out of the medals, but still with a chance to make the top six, Scotland faced Japan. Trailing 7-6 at halftime, Stewart came in and helped Scotland get the momentum as they tied the score in the last minute of regulation and won 10-9 in double overtime.
Stewart got the call again to start against England in a battle of old familiar neighbours.
"I wasn’t as fired up as a lot of the Scottish boys, but when you play against [England], it’s hard not to get fired up," Stewart said.
Stewart wasn’t playing as well as he did against the Iroquois and Japan, then was hurt by a shot off his leg in the third quarter. Scotland ended up losing 15-13.
Despite falling to England, Scotland’s success at the Worlds should give the sport a big boost in that country.
"Now that we’ve made the Blue Division, that should put Scotland on the map," Stewart said.