Having clinched at least a share of first in the Western Lacrosse Association with a 13-10 win in Nanaimo on Tuesday, the Victoria Shamrocks could be excused for peeking further down the road toward the playoffs and – dare we say it – potentially hosting the Mann Cup series.
But Shamrocks’ head coach Bob Heyes and his coaching staff are doing their best to keep players focused on the present as the regular season winds down.
“It can be a trap to look too far ahead,” he says, noting that very few of his players have won the national championship. “Each and every thing we do going forward is to put a win in that column. Once the playoffs start, it comes down to that magic number of 12 wins.”
With a logjam in the middle of the standings – the five mainland teams were clustered within two points of each other heading into Wednesday night play – the defending WLA champion Shamrocks (12-3) have no idea who they might face in the first round of the post-season.
No matter who they open against, Heyes says, their opponent will be “hungry.” With the top four teams making the playoffs, “these teams are playing playoff lacrosse right now.”
He points out that the Island squad must travel a fair bit regardless, given the league’s one-game, home-and-home format.
The Shamrocks enjoy this weekend off before their next game, July 23 in New Westminster. They host Burnaby July 24, then wind up the schedule with a home game against Langley on Friday, July 31.
Health-wise the team is in good shape, with few games lost to injury this season. Once playoffs roll around and the schedule becomes more condensed, fitness will be a factor, Heyes adds.
“We’ve been fortunate we have that depth that we built in,” he says of the roster. With various players stepping up at different times this season, no one or two players have to carry the load at either end of the floor.
Evidence of that is seen in the fact the Shamrocks had the top four pointgetters in the league after Tuesday’s game: Corey Small with 63; Rhys Duch, 62; Cory Conway, 58; Jesse King 54. Cody Hagedorn has been a standout in the team’s three-goalie system, posting a league-best six wins and a second-best 7.61 goals against average in 10 games.
“From goaltending out, we feel very confident with where we’re at,” Heyes says. “We need to shore up a few areas; some of our decision-making and the intangibles, the intricate parts of the game.”
He looks to veterans Darryl Veltman and Dan Dawson for leadership and to help younger players with the mental aspects of the game that can be barriers to peak performances.
“There comes a time when you ask, ‘does your personnel have what it takes to win?’” Heyes says. “Not many good teams win championships – great teams win championship. My job is to get the guys into that mindset.”
The overall goal is to capture a Mann Cup on home floor, the team’s first since 2005. But the coach and everyone else in green and white knows there’s plenty of work to be done before they even get to take that shot.