Friday is the day that members of the New Westminster Sr. A Salmonbellies get a chance to make their lacrosse dreams come true.
The Salmonbellies and the Six Nations Chiefs will kick off the 2023 Mann Cup series on Friday, Sept. 8 at Queen’s Park Arena. As needed, other games in the best-of-seven series will be played on Sept. 9, 11, 12, 13, 15 and 16.
From Mann Cup winners to rookies in the Western Lacrosse League, the Bellies are ready to hit the wooden floor at Queen’s Park Arena in their quest to win the lacrosse club’s 25th Mann Cup.
Team captain Mitch Jones said the Mann Cup’s history is one of the things that makes it so special.
“If you look back through the Mann Cup teams, every single one of them is highly, highly skilled. But it just takes a little bit more than that. It takes a little bit more dedication to spend your summers with the team, to get through these seven-game series,” he said. “There's no other championship where you have to grind through something like you do with the Mann Cup. That makes it much more special. Between the history and the difficulty to win it, it just kind of puts it up there on the pedestal to all lacrosse championships.”
Jones is the only player on the Salmonbellies’ 2023 roster who has won a Mann Cup, a feat he achieved in 2015 with the Victoria Shamrocks.
“I may have been the only one to win one but we have we have a lot of Mann Cup experience in our locker room,” he said. “It's been a privilege to lead these guys. We've got a lot of veteran leadership on our team. It's definitely a bonus – some things I can look back on and see what it took to win that championship. But it's definitely a new year and a new group of guys.”
Jones said the Six Nations Chiefs are a “very good team” but he believes the Bellies will match up well with the winners of the Major Series Lacrosse league.
“I think we're going to be here at home and use our home advantage and run the floor and play our game,” he said. “I’m just very excited to get started.”
The team gets an “extra boost” when playing in front of their supportive hometown fans, Jones told the Record at Thursday's Mann Cup media event.
Queen’s Park Arena is a place Jones knows well, as he and older brother Jason (who also plays on the team) often attended their father’s games when they were kids. Randy, now an assistant coach with the team, joined the team in 1992 – one year after the Bellies won their last Mann Cup.
“It’s very special,” Jones said.“This has kind of been our goal and our dream since the beginning. So it's a chance to make that come true.”
Jones, who plays for the Philadelphia Wings in the National Lacrosse League, said the Mann Cup is a tough championship to win.
"It's seven games in nine days, and that just kind of cultivates that anything can happen in those in those nine days, right? It happens so fast,” he said. “There's ups and downs. You're going to wins some games; you're going to lose some games. There’s not much time for recovery. You finish your game, you try and get some sleep and you're right back at it the next day. So that mental attitude of being ready for anything and sticking together as a team is very, very important.”
Noah Armitage, who is in his rookie year with the Salmonbellies, is thrilled to be part of this year’s squad. Having played minor lacrosse in New West, he attended Senior A games as a fan long before joining the team.
“I've been coming to these games ever since I was four years old. And now to be on the floor, to put on the jersey, it's a pretty special thing,” he said. “I'm super excited to do it for the city, and we're quite excited to do it for all the teammates that have done it before us. It's a really great opportunity for us.”
Armitage, who is among a number of Bellies’ players who grew up in New West, said it’s a special experience to be playing for a Mann Cup championship before a hometown crowd
“Filling the arena with a bunch of close friends and family, it's a feeling like no other,” he said. “I play field lacrosse in the States. I hardly have anyone coming to those games. So here in my hometown, filled with so much love in the stands, it's really special.”
Armitage, who attends Stoney Brook University and plays for the Seawolves men’s lacrosse team, has made arrangements to delay his return to college so he can be part of the Bellies’s bid for a Mann Cup.
“There's no way I was missing this,” he smiled.
While Armitage is playing for the Mann Cup in his rookie year, some veteran lacrosse players, including Colton Clark, have been waiting for this opportunity their entire careers.
“This is my 13th year in the league,” said Clark, who has played for a number of teams. “This is my first crack at it. It's just such a cool experience. I am just kind of trying to take it all in.”
Clark said it’s an “unbelievable” experience to play in front of a packed crowd in Queen’s Park Arena, but “it’s business as usual” and players are focused on the task at hand.
Tickets for this year’s Mann Cup are available online.