Victoria Shamrocks head coach Bob Heyes (in centre) speaks to his players during practice at The Q Centre this week. The team opens its 2017 Western Lacrosse Association schedule there this Friday against the Langley Thunder at 7:30 p.m. Don Descoteau/News Gazette staff

2017 Shamrocks look to bring Mann Cup back to Colwood

Role players counted on more, unlike 2015 Mann Cup champions

Recreating the magic from a championship season is difficult, especially for senior A lacrosse teams in B.C.

The last time a Western Lacrosse Association champion won a Mann Cup title in the east was 1976, when the New Westminster Salmonbellies beat the host Brampton Excelsiors four games to three.

While talking Mann Cup before the season has even started might be considered putting the cart well before the horse, the 2015 champion Victoria Shamrocks have done their best to beef up their roster with an eye on the national final, to be held in the west this summer.

The lineup for tonight’s season opener against the Langley Thunder at The Q Centre (May 19, 7:30 p.m.) will be quite different than the one from 2015 – even from last year’s team, for that matter. But the goal, says head coach Bob Heyes, is to build enough depth to compete with the powerhouses from the east and the WLA clubs looking to host the Cup series this year.

“All the stars have to align, with everybody playing their best, and maybe the opposition isn’t as healthy as you are,” Heyes says. “When it is a western Mann Cup you have to build your lineup … the bottom five guys have to be able to be play as much as your top five guys. It’s about depth and not having hesitation about putting any of your players in.”

The 2017 Shamrocks don’t have the embarrassment of riches the Cup champion team had, with players like Dan Dawson, Daryl Veltman, a healthy Jesse King, Scott Ranger and Karsen Leung propelling the Rocks to the title alongside current stars Rhys Duch, Corey Small and others. But some new faces should help give the team a good chance to make a run for the Cup.

Shamrocks general manager Chris Welch and company got busy in the off-season, acquiring forwards Mike Triolo, a Dawson-like 6-8, 245-pounder from the Oshawa Outlaws, and Casey Jackson, a homegrown player with four seasons with Burnaby under his belt. Big defenceman Steve Priolo – a part of that championship Rocks team – is back and will be joined by National Lacrosse League veteran Sheldon Burns. Also new to the mix are junior A grads from Alberta, defender Jake Archdekin and Tristan Rai, a right-shooting offensive player.

Small likes the versatility of the twin towers Priolo (6-5, 235 lbs.) and Triolo – known on the floor as “Pre” and “Tree” – as well as the mobile Burns. “Priolo’s another big body for us, he’s considered one of the top defenders in the NLL. Anytime we can add guys like that into the lineup it can only make you better.”

Incoming B.C. juniors are led by seventh overall draft pick Evan Messenger, a standout attacker who led Delta to a B.C. title last year. Graduated junior ’Rocks signed include Dallas Wade and Matthew Hamilton, while former BC junior scoring champion Cody Nass was drafted later from Delta.

The youngsters will be guided by such Shamrocks stalwarts as the Harnett brothers, Jon and Greg; gritty defender Ben McCulloch, Matt Yager, Ethan Garland and 2016 acquisition Paul Brebber.

Looking at last season, Heyes said the team maybe pushed a bit too much toward the end to secure first place and home floor advantage throughout the playoffs. With many players toiling in the professional National Lacrosse League in the winter, there’s not a lot of down time for them to recuperate and as such, he said, the Shamrocks went into the playoffs with many injuries, which contributed to the 4-2 loss in the WLA final to Maple Ridge.

“Last year we relied a lot on our core guys, our top-end guys and our bottom-end guys, they got thrown into it, they learned game by game what it takes to win,” he said.

“No disrespect to Maple Ridge, but I think think we had a better team,” said team captain Small. “We hit the injury bug at a pretty significant time. When your roster’s being depleted like that at such a critical time, it’s hard to fill in holes.”

Goaltender Aaron Bold will be the wild card for the team, although dependable returnees Cody Hagedorn and Adam Shute will hold down the fort until Bold arrives late season. He was a key factor in the 2015 Cup run, playing the majority of minutes in the WLA playoffs and Mann Cup series.

editor@goldstreamgazette.com