May 7, 2010
LOUDONVILLE, N.Y. -
In anticipation of the conference tournament, Siena men's lacrosse player Brian Neufeld is sporting a Mohawk. It's something of a Canadian tradition, akin to playoff beards in hockey.
"I tried to get some other guys to do it, too," Neufeld said.
The sophomore attackman wasn't particularly successful in coaxing teammates to join him -- only one agreed to go under the shears -- but his influence on Siena's lacrosse program can't be overstated.
The Onatario-born Neufeld is the Saints' leading goal scorer heading into the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Tournament, which No. 1-seeded Siena begins today with a semifinal game against No. 4 Marist in Poughkeepsie.
If the Saints advance and win the championship game Sunday, they will earn a berth in the NCAA Tournament for the second consecutive season.
Siena's potent attack, which has produced more goals this season than any MAAC team, is buoyed by Neufeld, who is part of a growing trend of Canadians coming to the United States to play college lacrosse.
He's one of 105 Canadians playing Division I men's lacrosse this season, which is a 40 percent increase from 2009, according to the lacrosse website http://calilax.com.
"In Canada, indoor (lacrosse) is very popular," Neufeld said. "The Canadians' stick skills seem to be a little bit better than the Americans', because the game is much faster. Coaches are starting to realize that having a Canadian on the team might help you."
Neufeld, the second Canadian to play for Siena under sixth-year coach Brian Brecht, has been a dynamic scorer since he arrived.
He has registered at least one point in all 32 games of his career, a scoring streak that ties for fifth in the country. His 43 points this season (36 goals, 7 assists) rank second on the team.
"Great hands, catches everything and always knows where he is on the field," said senior attackman Ryan Duggan, the Saints' leading scorer. "He just knows the game very well."
Like most Canadian lacrosse players, Neufeld grew up playing an indoor version of the sport, usually in hockey rinks -- sans the ice surface -- during the summer. The game, called "box," includes hockey boards, smaller nets and goalies in hockey-like pads.
Neufeld didn't play outdoor lacrosse until his freshman year of high school. He was spotted by the Siena coaching staff when his club lacrosse team played in a tournament on campus.
"He scored maybe 100 goals in the course of the afternoon," Brecht said. "He was a pure goal scorer. Every time we turned around, he was putting the ball in the back of the net."
Neufeld also was a hockey player -- a center, which is primarily a playmaking position.
But his role on the lacrosse field is scorer. He is served well by the quick hands and strong stick skills he developed playing hockey and indoor lacrosse.
"A lot of hockey goals come off of rebounds," Neufeld said. "Just like hockey, as soon as someone shoots I'm always going for the rebound."
More often than not, it ends up in the back of the net.