By Devan Mighton – Originally published in the Tecumseh Shoreline and the LaSalle Post on June 23, 2017 and the Lakeshore News on June 29, 2017.
Photo: Windsor Clippers’ Andrew Garant pictured on June 18, 2017. DEVAN MIGHTON / TECUMSEH SHORELINE
(WINDSOR, ON) – Andrew Garant has the ball.
His team, the Windsor Clippers Junior B lacrosse club, is shorthanded.
Their opponents, the Point Edward Pacers, employ triple coverage, but there is no restraining Garant.
He ducks and dives past the attackers, swimming through them, using the momentum of their cross-checks to propel him free.
His movements are poetry in motion.
And he’s off. Off down the floor on a wide-open breakaway.
He soars through the neutral zone and deep into enemy territory.
Does Andrew curl to the corner and set up a play?
No. This time it’s for keeps. He barrels down on Pacers goalie Brayden Bell, Garant’s former teammate, and rips the ball past him so fast that Bell has no time to react.
Another shorthanded, unassisted goal for Garant.
These kinds of goals have been commonplace for the Clippers captain throughout his five years with the team.
But tonight, he isn’t just serving as a high-intensity spark plug for his teammates or quarterbacking the offence, he is rewriting the record book on the spot.
His shorthanded marker, on June 15, early in the second period of an 18-8 win over Point Edward, was the 500th of his career – a plateau never reached by any of his Clipper predecessors.
“I told him if he didn’t get to 500 points tonight, I would healthy scratch him against London – because it wouldn’t count for as much – so it’s a good thing he got it,” said Windsor Clippers coach Jerry Kavanaugh. “I don’t know if I would have got away with that, but I threatened it anyways.”
Only two nights before, in a 20-7 destruction of the Wallaceburg Red Devils, Garant became the most prolific goal scorer in Windsor Clippers history.
On an assist, the Clippers’ sniper surpassed National Lacrosse League prospect and former teammate Logan Holmes’ all-time points record, cracking his 494th off a Chase Kavanaugh bullet.
“It’s a great honour,” said Garant. “To be at the top of that list, it does really mean a lot. I got to see Logan Holmes … in his junior career and pretty much all of minor. That guy works hard and he put in the work to get up there … and Brett Hickey who’s lighting it up for the Toronto Rock. It’s nice to be up there with those two.”
Garant, known as Hammer by his teammates, joined the Clippers in 2013 and like most Junior B rookies, spent his time in the trenches as part of the support staff – digging for the loose balls and playing transition.
Andrew had the opportunity to watch and play with many of the great names that came through the Clippers organization, including 2014 league scoring champion Brendon Anger, Jeff Rivait, Trevor Learn, and Holmes. He has also had a chance to play with budding stars like teammate Chase Kavanaugh.
“I’ve always been lucky enough to play with really good lefties on the offence,” said Garant.
“The coaching staff has been running a really good system the last four or five years since [coach Jerry Kavanaugh] stepped in … the only reason I have so many points is because of them.”
However, he put in his work and paid his dues. By the 2015 season, he was the centrepiece of the Clippers’ penalty kill. A role that quickly gained him a reputation around the league.
In shorthanded situations, Garant had an uncanny knack for gaining possession of the ball early and never losing it. Rarely did he lose possession and he dazzled the fans at the Forest Glade Arena and inspired his teammates.
At the end of a kill, he would sprint to the net and bury the ball, infuriating his worn down opponents.
In theory, power plays are meant to benefit the non-penalized team. In the Clippers case, Garant was trendsetting. Teams augmented their power plays in an attempt to contain him – to little benefit – giving up on power play advantages to compensate, and even destroying their own momentum in the process.
A year later, Garant’s effect on other teams’ style of play became exceedingly evident.
Case in point, the Clippers archrival, Wallaceburg. After Garant burnt the Red Devils time and time again on their own power play in 2015, they sat back in a zone defence on their own power plays in 2016.
“So many other teams have changed the way they attack because of him,” explained Kavanaugh. “So many teams don’t want to come near him, they just let him stay outside because he’s so dangerous getting to the net. It’s great for us when teams don’t even want to be on the power play because teams are afraid to go near him when he’s got the ball.”
Andrew credits much of his work ethic to Kavanaugh and his father Barry.
From age three, Garant was coached alternately by Kavanaugh and his father as a member of the Windsor Warlocks minor lacrosse system.
“From a coach’s perspective, it’s been an absolute pleasure,” said Barry. “Anytime you’re a coach, all you can wish for is for the kids to succeed at what they do. Andrew has put in all the work that he can to get to the point he is now.”
“He wasn’t always a point guy! Really!” exclaimed Kavanaugh. “He was always a hard work guy growing up.
“I think in midget he didn’t even play on the power play, but you knew the skill level was there. He just did so many other things you almost had to tell him to take some time off on the power play.
“He was a loose ball machine, he did defence, killed penalties. That guy just loved being on the floor, whether it was practice, game; if there was open floor time, he was the guy out there.”
Before the season began, Garant told his father that his goal in the 2017 campaign was to set a new single-season record for points by a Clipper.
On Sunday, against the London Blue Devils, Garant did just that.
Point No. 146
On a breakaway goal in the dying seconds of the game, in the final match of the regular season, Andrew collected point No. 146, surpassing a record set by Holmes just a season before and clinching the league scoring title by a 26-point margin.
“As his father, it’s absolutely amazing to be able to see him do these types of things,” said Barry. “Lacrosse has been my passion for so long and I’m fortunate enough to spend some quality time with my son and watch him grow into this game.
“Every sports person, who loves sports, could probably wait a whole lifetime to be able to see their favourite athlete … I get to see my favourite athlete every single game and I will not stop doing that. I love it.”
Also a cross country athlete at St. Clair College, Andrew has his eyes set on the NLL. Two former Clippers are currently rostered in the pros – Hickey with Toronto and Kellen LeClair, with the Calgary Roughnecks.
Hickey took the long road to the pros. Playing his full junior career in the Junior B league, he worked his way up through the Senior B and A systems before cracking an NLL lineup.
“Hickey never gave up, that’s a guy who didn’t want to give up on his dreams,” said Garant. “Logan is still doing that, he’s playing Senior A now, he played in that Arena Lacrosse League … it’s guys like that that you look up to.”
In his final year of junior lacrosse, Garant is splitting his time with the Clippers and Orangeville Northmen of the Junior A league.
The Northmen, who are in an affiliation agreement with Windsor, have a similar playing system to the Clippers, and are the defending Ontario Junior A champions.
“I love this sport so much that I know I don’t want to stop … I want to keep going until I make the next level,” explained Garant.
For the Clippers, the playoffs loom. Windsor will play their arch-nemesis, the Red Devils, in the opening round.
However, as he and his teammates greet fans after a long fought game, Garant recalls a simpler time.
“I started at [a young] age, watching those Clippers games, loving it, wanting guys to sign a ball or whatever I can get and one day, I’ve been playing for this team for five years,” reflected Garant.
“For those little kids, just keep working hard and don’t give up on it.
“Lacrosse is an underrated sport, but it’s a great thing and don’t give up on it.”
For more information on the Windsor Clippers Junior B lacrosse club, please visit WindsorClippers.com.