Imagine being named to a list of the world’s best field lacrosse players after helping lead your national team to its first world championship title in 28 years by scoring a tournament-high 28 goals.
Now, consider how it would feel to be left off the team for this year’s championship tournament.
Washington Stealth veteran forward Jeff Zywicki knows first-hand because it’s his story.
Zywicki, a deceptively fast 5-foot-9, 195-pound forward for the Stealth of the National Lacrosse League, helped Team Canada beat the United States 15-10 in the 2006 World Lacrosse Championship final, breaking a streak of six straight U.S. titles.
The Nepean, Ontario native was named the tournament’s best attackman and earned a spot on the All-World team while scoring five goals against the U.S. in the final.
“It was huge, it was kind of when I got my name on the map, I guess,” Zywicki said. “For me, personally, it was great, but it also was a great team accomplishment.”
Since the 2006 tournament Zywicki has won two Major League Lacrosse titles (2009 with the Toronto Nationals; 2008 with Rochester), won a gold medal with Canada at the 2007 World Indoor Lacrosse Championships playing alongside his childhood idol, NLL legend John Tavares, had an MVP-worthy 2008 season with 90 points for the San Jose Stealth (48 goals, 42 assists) and a 78-point season for the Stealth last year.
So, why the national team snub?
“I’m not 100 percent sure why,” Zywicki said. “I at least expected to make that top 30 (players) that they’re down to now.”
The 28-year old forward, who features prominently for the Stealth with quick, close-range attacks, is in the prime of his career.
“It was pretty disappointing and pretty tough to take,” Zywicki said. “… I’ve spent some time to try and find a reason why (he was left off the team).”
Fortunately for Stealth fans, Zywicki — not one that normally needs added motivation to perform — has the national team troubles to use for an extra kick on the floor.
“I’ll use that for sure because it was a pretty big deal for me,” he said. “I usually play best when I’m happy and having fun … that now just fires me up and makes me want to work harder.”
A Stealth player for all of his relatively young NLL career, Zywicki has developed into a senior leader for Washington.
The University of Massachusetts graduate has 26 points in four games for the unbeaten Stealth this season, including a five-goal, three-assist performance in a 17-8 season-opening win.
“He understands the game very well,” said Stealth head coach Chris Hall. “In terms of playing, leadership and direction and taking control on the floor and in practice, he has been there.
“There’s no sort of wasted energy with him,” Hall said of Zywicki’s playing style. “He’s very effective and efficient.”
Zywicki, who took up lacrosse at 8-years old and was coached by his father, Eugene, until he was 15, is no stranger to turning in strong performances in crunch time.
Before he solidified his name in 2006, Zywicki honed his game at UMass and scored an overtime winner against powerhouse Syracuse as junior in 2003.
“For us (UMass) it was a huge deal (to beat Syracuse),” Zywicki said. “That kind of got my name out there.”
“He’s one of those guys that scores big goals,” Hall said. “He’s a great finisher.”
Zywicki isn’t all business, though. Aside from playing lacrosse, he helps run youth summer camps for both indoor and field lacrosse around Ontario and during the season he said he likes to “dominate” his teammates in EA Sports’ NHL 2010 video game. Zywicki listed second-year goaltender Tyler Richards, who earned the nickname “Walnut” following the team’s first game, as his toughest competition in the virtual hockey world.
“First of all, I want to say he doesn’t dominate anybody at NHL,” Richards said with a laugh after Friday’s 13-11 home win over Buffalo, adding that Zywicki lost the season series with Richards 101-100.
“With him what you’ll see is not a lot of leadership by talking, it’s just his presence on the floor … he’s been huge for us,” Richards said.
Already an accomplished lacrosse player, Zywicki still has one big piece missing — an NLL championship trophy.
“The NLL is the one I really want and the one that matters most,” Zywicki said. “It’s one of the toughest ones to get.”
With a physical, fast and athletic Stealth squad and a little extra motivation in the back of Zywicki’s mind, the winning potential seems endless early in the season for Washington.