The ice is out and the Bear is ready.
B.C. Junior Lacrosse League starts this weekend with the Victoria Shamrocks visiting the Delta Islanders on Saturday before hosting the New Westminster Salmonbellies for the home opener at Bear Mountain Arena, 5 p.m. on Sunday (May 1).
Coach Jordan Sundher returns for his second year behind the bench and already he’s had some tough decisions to make whittling down his roster.
Expectations are higher this year, with a lot more skill added to the team, but it’s experience the club needs.
“We believe we can compete but it’s a steep learning curve in Jr. A for (1992 born players),” Sundher said.
Talented 18-year-olds Brody Eastwood and Jesse King will have an immediate offensive impact as rookies but first year spots are at a premium this year.
Early in the preseason Sundher signed 17 players born in 1992 to the tryout roster. Most of them come from last year’s intermediate Shamrocks who dominated the regular season before winning the B.C. championship.
“We’ve had 15 players – all legitimate Jr. A players in my mind – fighting for seven spots,” Sundher said.
“They’re tough cuts (for me to make) but having that competition is a good thing for the Shamrocks.”
Junior B clubs like the Saanich Tigers, Peninsula Warriors, Vic-Esquimalt Eagles and West Shore Bears are the most likely destination for the 1992 born players who don’t make the Shamrocks this year. Once released, however, players are eligible to sign with another BCJLL team, such as the Nanaimo Timbermen.
“We’d like to have them all nearby, if possible, as we work closely with the Bears and other teams,” Sundher said.
“There’ll be lots of chances for them to make the team in the next years.”
Sundher pointed to defenders Mitch Meilleur and Curtis McKinnon as examples of big, strong 21 year olds playing their first full junior seasons after two years in junior B.
Leadership this year comes from returning players Tyler Matheson, Jake Emms, Karsen Leung, Blair Pinnock and goalie Scott Bannister. Bannister, from Sidney, played for the Nanaimo Timbermen the past two years and will close out his junior career as a 21 year old with the Shamrocks.
Sundher won’t name a captain until most of the college players are back and he can get a feel for the team as a unit. Leung (Bellarmine), Emms (Quinnipiac), Liam Kelly (Bellarmine), Will Tanner (Jacksonville), Brandon McLean (Ohio State) and Rajin Allen (Limestone) are due home in mid-May. Big transition man Kurtis Green won’t be home until June 15 when the University of Denver’s quarterly system lets out.
In the family
Mason Pynn, Nick Sanderson, Fred Brathurst-Hunt and Jordan Cunningham are four intermediate Shamrocks on Sundher’s radar and will likely see a few games as junior callups this year.
The intermediate (16-18) Shamrocks, or Baby ’Rocks, host the Langley Thunder at Bear Mountain on Saturday (April 30) at 1:30 p.m. They’ll visit the Burnaby Lakers on Sunday.