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Lacrosse fans in for treat with WLA final

Shamrocks, Salmonbellies both play ‘high-octane’ game

Victoria Shamrocks players don’t have to be reminded that the Western Lacrosse Association final, kicking off Friday (Aug. 14) in Colwood, will have a far different tone than the series they just finished off.

Having seen his team wage a “war of attrition” in sweeping the Maple Ridge Burrards, Shamrocks’ head coach Bob Heyes looks forward to playing the New Westminster Salmonbellies for the right to host the Mann Cup championship.

“We’re going to be playing skill against skill,” he said Tuesday, after the league announced the schedule for the best-of-seven final. “There’ll still be some good playoff lacrosse battles, but it’s going to be more skill and speed out there … We know it’s not going to be a cakewalk. We’ve got to adjust to a different style of play and make sure our focus is back on that high-octane offence.”

Starting with a rare 6 p.m. game tomorrow at The Q Centre and playing subsequent games Monday (Aug. 17) in New West, next Wednesday at home and Friday back on the mainland, the regular season champion Shamrocks face a Salmonbellies team that has won nine straight after sweeping Langley 4-0 in the other playoff semifinal.

One of those wins was a 9-7 decision over Victoria at Queen’s Park Arena back on July 23, the last time the teams met.

The ’Rocks beat the ’Bellies in the semis last year, but that was their first playoff matchup since 2008, when powerhouse New West lost just one game all year then was swept by Brampton in the Mann Cup.

The current versions of the Shamrocks and Salmonbellies have similarities, Heyes said. Both are fast and have many weapons to keep opposing defenders on their toes. But the Shamrocks, with five-time Cup winner Dan Dawson in the lineup and a core of talented players who battled for the Cup in 2013 and 2014, have a big-game edge, he said.

“I definitely think we have the experience when it comes to playing for championships,” he said, noting Dawson’s leadership added a critical piece to the puzzle. “We know what it takes to get out of the west. I’d say that’s the biggest advantage that we have.”

The ’Rocks won the league at 14-4 and took two of three games against New West (12-6, second) this season. Victoria was easily the top-scoring team in the WLA with 217 goals, while the Salmonbellies were mid-pack with 158.

Individually, Corey Small won the WLA regular season scoring title with 79 points, four more than Shamrocks teammate Rhys Duch in second. Victoria’s Cory Conway (67) and Jesse King (64) were also in the top 10. Dawson, who flew back and forth between here and Brampton, added 34 points in just seven games.

New West’s Logan Schuss (68 pts., fourth) was the lone ’Bellies player in the top 20. However, Keegan Bal, Jordan McBride and Josh Byrne have stepped up their offensive games in the playoffs.

Heyes predicts special teams will play a major role in the series. While these two teams were the most penalized in the league this season, both have elements of unpredictability, with lightning-fast transition players who can create odd-man scoring opportunities.

“New West is going to throw different looks on us on defence. They’re a fast team with a fast transition game and we know if that team outworks us, we’re going to be in tough for sure.”

In goal the teams are also closely matched. Victoria and New West were 1-2 in the league for fewest goals against (139, 144, respectively).

Cody Hagedorn played the most in the ’Rocks three-goalie system this season, posting a league-best goals-against average of 7.61, but Aaron Bold played the majority of the series against Maple Ridge. He went 4-1 during the regular season, with a stellar 5.88 average and .841 save percentage.

New West stalwart Eric Penney, who has played every minute of the playoffs so far, had eight wins and an .829 save percentage this season – both league bests – along with an 8.17 average.

Mark your calendar

The Western Lacrosse Association released the alternating schedule Tuesday for the playoff final between Victoria and New Westminster.

• Fri. Aug. 14: 6 p.m., The Q Centre

• Mon. Aug.17: 6:30 p.m., Queen's Park Arena

• Wed. Aug. 19: 7:45 p.m., The Q Centre

• Fri. Aug. 21: 7:45 p.m., Queen's Park Arena

• Sun. Aug. 23: 6 p.m., The Q Centre (if necessary)

• Tues. Aug. 25: 6:30 p.m., Queen's Park (if necessary)

• Thurs. Aug. 27: 6 p.m., The Q Centre (if necessary)