Abolished draft jeopardizes parity in junior lacrosse

Junior A box lacrosse faces setback with cancellation of midget draft

Peninsula and Saanich renew their B rivalry in the Island's Junior B league this summer.

Peninsula and Saanich renew their B rivalry in the Island's Junior B league this summer.

The junior Victoria Shamrocks stand to benefit from a controversial rule change around player recruiting in junior box lacrosse.

After four years of existence, the B.C. Junior Lacrosse League midget draft (2007 to 2010) has been cancelled after the B.C. Lacrosse Association ruled against it for 2011.

By doing so, the league has now reverted to the same rules that allowed the Burnaby Lakers to dominate the BCJLL for 12 years (1996 to 2008) while basement dwelling teams suffered annually.

From the junior-A Victoria Shamrocks’ perspective, recruiting from the open market gives his team a big advantage, general manager Rod Wood said.

Under the midget draft, players in the catchment area of the Westshore were protected by the Shamrocks. But if the Shamrocks organization wanted free agent players from the unprotected Victoria-Esquimalt, Saanich and Peninsula catchments, it had to catch them in draft.

Now, all free agents are eligible to play for the BCJLL team of their choice.

In the Shamrocks’ case, it’s a favourable situation Wood said.

“Practically every (lacrosse playing) kid from the South Island wants to be a Shamrock.”

It means Nanaimo will likely stand in line behind Victoria when it comes to attracting free agents from the South Island, a lacrosse hotbed producing some of the best

players in North America. And the situation is much more uncertain on the mainland, where the Coquitlam Adanacs are the 2010 Minto Cup champions, with New Westminster right behind them.

Wood sees the draft from opposing sides and is actually for it, though he admits his club can better recruit without a draft.

“As a GM it’s great to have a large pool to draw from and it will help my team, but as a governor on the league’s board, it’s not going to help the smaller, weaker teams,” Wood said.

“The problem now is top prospects from unprotected catchments like Maple Ridge are free to go to Coquitlam and New West,” Wood said.

Without the guarantee of the draft’s top pick(s), weaker teams rely on talent from their own catchment, something even the best teams can’t do, Wood said.

“The league is angry about (losing the draft). The governors want it back.”

Cancellation of the draft came about when Prince George’s Great White North junior-B lacrosse league submitted a complaint about losing its core of elite talent to the mainland. With the Thompson-Okanagan junior-B lacrosse league in a similar situation, the BCLA agreed.

One of the sticking points that could remedy the situation for Prince George is the draft age, a touchy subject among governors in the BCJLL.

Rather than drafting players out of midget (15 and 16 year olds), they could be drafted as they graduate from the intermediate level, when players are 17 and 18 years old.

BCLA gave the OK for a draft of graduating intermediates. Figuring out how to make it work, if possible, is the board of governor’s next step.

The problem with a draft of graduating intermediates, Wood said, is that five of the eight junior A teams run their own Intermediate A team and will be unwilling to part with players they’ve invested in for two years.

Rights to players drafted from 2007 to 2010 will remain the property of their respective junior club.

While the junior Shamrocks share the Clover identity, the Intermediate A Victoria Shamrocks are one of four independent teams in the BCLA’s Intermediate A Lacrosse League and would be little affected by a draft of its graduating players (if that’s the best option for league parity).

Lacrosse on the rise

Part of the buzz around the abolished draft is the rising number of lacrosse players in their later teenage years. Island intermediate teams expanded recently and now the same bubble of players are growing the Island junior B league.

This year, eight teams will compete. Peninsula and Westshore are back along with the Victoria-Esquimalt Eagles and Saanich Tigers, back from hiatus. They’ll join Campbell River, Nanaimo and Duncan. Parksville also came close to fielding a team.

It’s a blessing for the junior Shamrocks, who will turn away at least 25 of the 50 players expected to try out this spring. Players released from camp become free agents, open to try out for other junior-A teams. Wood estimates 10 to 15 players of junior-A calibre will have to move elsewhere or stick with their local junior-B affiliation, under the Shamrocks watchful eye.