BLOOMINGDALE - Champions were crowned in eight divisions Sunday during a day of finals action in the 39th annual Can-Am Rugby Tournament.
With more than 100 teams competing in the tournament again, it's evident that the sport of rugby is alive and well. And with six of the eight championship matches decided by six points or less, the Can-Am Tournament appeared to be as competitive as ever.
Six of Sunday's finals were held in Bloomingdale, and the other two - the men's social and the women's club division contests - took place on fields in Saranac Lake. After those games wrapped up, the United States women's under-20 national team won a lopsided exhibition match against the Nessies, an under-23 team selected to play in the finale on the field behind the Bloomingdale Fire Department.
Defenders from Cave and Ditches attempt to chase down an East Side Hyenas runner during Sunday’s men’s Club Division championship game in Bloomingdale at the 39th annual Can-Am Rugby Tournament.
(Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)
The premier division final was a rematch of last year, and this time, Mystic River turned the tables on the Brockport Doggies. In 2011, Brockport eked out a 6-5 win to claim the championship but Mystic River avenged that loss, winning 20-16 in a hard-hitting affair.
Less than five minutes into the match, Mystic River scrum half Chris Nolan, an Irishman who plays with the club, was flattened while tackling a Brockport player. He shook off a shoulder injury sustained on the play and stayed in the game. Nolan and his teammates then held on to win the match that saw both teams own leads.
"After losing here a year ago, we did not want to waste the weekend," Nolan said. "That guy I tackled, he was a big lad and had no intention of going around me. It's so nice to come out on top this time. We really had to battle to win it."
What made the win even more special for Mystic River was the team they put on the field was a young mix of under-19 players and collegiate ruggers combined with some veterans.
"We all pulled together," Nolan said. "When it comes to summer rugby, this tournament is a highlight. Hopefully, I can make it back here with the guys next year."
The club division final also featured another thriller, as Cave and Ditches rallied from a 17-point deficit to claim a 27-24 overtime win against the East Side Hyenas. The Philadelphia-based team pulled out the win early in sudden death when Mike Ruggeri successfully booted a short penalty kick that sent his teammates into a frenzied celebration.
"We made some changes at halftime and got some fresh legs in there that really helped us out," said team captain Bryan Christ. "There were some boys on the sideline who wanted to make an impact and they really came through. It's a long weekend up here and it takes a toll.
"We always love making the trip here and this win certainly makes the summer special," Christ added. "It's all about being a team. We are friends, we are a family, and we do everything together when we come here. On Friday, our whole team went out and played miniature golf. All 25 of us stayed in the same house. When I wake up tomorrow, I'll already be thinking about next year."
The Schenectady Reds is a team that is usually around when it comes to playing in the finals. A year ago, Schenectady was knocked out of contention in the over-35 division, but this time, the Reds rallied to a 20-18 win in the final against rival White Plains. The Reds roster had a handful of players with local connections, with Saranac Lake native John Burns again in the lineup. Also on the team were Saranac Lake's Eric Bennett and Bill Donaldson and former Mountaineer players Chris Caffrey and Steve Charles.
"Our road to this title was not easy," Burns said, noting the Reds had to topple Buffalo and Brockport to reach the final. "We just came back and nipped White Plains. They were beating us and with a couple of impromptu bounces, we were right back in it. It was just a battle. Meat on meat. It was tough stuff. Being here and winning a game like this, it's the pinnacle of the rugby experience."
In another battle, the Green Mountain Geezers of Rutland Vermont won the over-45 title with a 17-14 triumph over Belleville. The over-50 final saw a showdown of Old Boys powerhouses, with Ottawa's Father and Sons claiming an 18-12 win over the Virginia Cardinals. Meanwhile, another Father and Sons team didn't fare as well in a title tilt as SURRA, a group of Syracuse alumni, pulled out a 14-12 win to claim the men's social division crown.
The two women's division championship games were the only matches that were decided by double figure margins. After a two-year title drought at the Can-Am, Beantown captured the women's premier division championship with a 22-10 victory over My Big Fat New York Wedding.
In the women's club division final, Severn River blanked Saratoga 29-0.
Prior to the men's premier division final, the pitch behind the Bloomingdale Volunteer Fire Department was cleared except for the presence of one bagpiper. During those moments, dozens of names of ruggers who passed away were announced to all the fans and players who were in attendance, including that of longtime Mountaineers club member and former president Dean Neagele. This year's tournament was dedicated to the Neagele, who captained the Old Boys team for 10 years, including the 2004 squad that won the over-40 division.
The Can-Am Rugby Tournament will celebrate its 40th anniversary in 2013, with the event scheduled for August 2-4. For complete results of all games in this year's tournament, visit canamrugby.com.