They say defending a championship is one of the toughest things to do in high-level sports.
Victoria Shamrocks head coach Bob Heyes, whose team opens its Western Lacrosse Association title defence Friday night against Nanaimo at The Q Centre, knows as much. He said the 2015 Mann Cup champions will be a “different team” this season without such big-stage veterans as Dan Dawson, Aaron Bold, Daryl Veltman and Steve Priolo in the lineup, not to mention losing captain Scott Ranger to retirement. Nonetheless, the ’Rocks will have a target on their backs, he said.
“We’re still going to be a team to be reckoned with and we’re going to be challenged every night, because everyone’s going to want to knock off the reigning Mann Cup champs,” Heyes said.
With such offensive stars as Corey Small and Rhys Duch – who signed this week – plus Cory Conway and eventually Jesse King back in the fold, and a core group of defenders and transition players who helped the team win the national title in September, the Shamrocks will be no slouch.
The team was built last year for making a run at the Mann Cup, with the west hosting the championship series. That said, Heyes looks at his returnees and recent signees, such as former Shamrock sniper Jeff Shattler and veteran WLA defender Myles Kenny, as giving the club a good chance at making another deep run.
“We’re still going to have a very good team and our goal is still to get to the playoffs, win the playoffs, get to the Mann Cup and go from there,” Heyes said.
The beginning of the season is often a time when WLA clubs scramble to put enough players on the bench, with many winding up their National Lacrosse League professional seasons.
Victoria is no different, with four of its players still committed to the Calgary Roughnecks – who are in the midst of the NLL playoffs – and King finishing off his studies at Ohio State University and playing pro field lacrosse in Rochester, N.Y.
On Tuesday, Heyes voiced a little concern about having enough quality players for the opener. He admitted, however, that the holes in the lineup, both from committed Shamrocks and the non-returning stars, have left spots open for some players who might have been on the outside looking in during last year’s championship run.
While no affiliation is in place yet, he foresees establishing some form of connection with the senior B Victoria Wolves down the road, once that West Coast League expansion club finds its footing and establishes its own identity.
In general, Heyes said, the Shamrocks are ready to dive headfirst into the new season.
“We know we’re going to be a different-looking team, but the guys who are out will play with that same drive and pride,” he said, and give the fans plenty to cheer about.
Game time Friday is 7:45 p.m. and a large crowd is expected for the pre-game Mann Cup banner-raising ceremonies. For more information or to buy tickets online, visit victoriashamrocks.com.