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New West Salmonbellies get set to kick off 2024 season May 23

Some returning faces – but lots of changes – to the New Westminster Senior A Salmonbellies since team's exciting 2023 Mann Cup run.
Drew Belgrave, shown here in a 2023 playoff game against Victoria, is the New Westminster Sr. A Salmonbellies' new captain.

Bigger, faster, younger.

That’s how New Westminster Senior A Salmonbellies president and general manager Ray Porcellato describes this year’s team, which kicks off its 2024 season on Thursday night at Queen’s Park Arena. The Salmonbellies take on the Burnaby Lakers on Thursday, May 23 at 7:30 p.m.

“We're younger, bigger, faster,” Porcellato said. “I like the look of our team.”

Porcellato expects this year’s squad to feature more of a “motion offense” and a lot of movement on the floor.

In addition to seeing movement “all over the floor,” Porcellato said lacrosse fans may notice some other changes to this year’s lineup.

“You look down the list and everybody is 6-3,6-4, 6-5. They're huge, and nobody's big and lumbering; everybody is long and lean,” he said. “So, it's really difficult for a team to get inside on our defense when we're that big.”

The Bellies are returning to action after an exciting 2023 season that saw them win the Western Lacrosse Association title, with a league-leading 15-3 record. The Salmonbellies then swept the Victoria Shamrocks in the first round of the playoffs and defeated the Langley Thunder in the WLA finals in the seventh and deciding game – earning the right to play the Six Nations Chiefs, winners of the Major Series Lacrosse title, in the 2023 Mann Cup.

The Chiefs won the series 4-1 games and hoisted the Mann Cup in Queen’s Park Arena last September.

Porcellato said the club’s goal, as always, is to compete for the Mann Cup. (The championship alternates between being hosted in the east and west, with this year’s series set to take place in Ontario.)

“We like the way our team looks,” he said. “We think we’ll contend for the west. And it would be our goal, as is every year, to win the west and go back.”

Old and new faces

While this year’s roster features some returning players, the team is also welcoming some new faces to the squad.

“There's a whole bunch of changes to the lineup,” Porcellato said. “We still have a sprinkle of veterans, but the team is way younger, way bigger, way faster.”

Mitch Jones, who was the team’s captain last year, won’t be suiting up for the team this year, as he’s playing Senior B lacrosse for the Ladner Pioneers this season – as is Salmonbellies’ sniper Haiden Dickson (named one of the WLA’s two MVPs in 2023) and Jason Jones.

According to Porcellato, Keegan Bal is taking a year off and won’t be suiting up for this year’s team.

Returning forwards include Kevin Crowley, Colton Clark, Will Malcom, Ryan Martel, Noah Armitage, and Logan Schuss (who returns to the floor after serving on the bench as an offensive coach last year, while recovering from surgery).

New additions on offense include Tyson Gibson, Adam Dickon, Luke Pilcher and Austin Ducommun, a 6-6, 220-pound rookie from New West.

Tyrell Hamer-Jackon returns full-time to the Salmonbellies lineup this year as the team’s faceoff guy.

Returning defenders include Brett Mydske, Tony Malcolm, Jordan McKenzie, and Drew Belgrave. Belgrave, who was named a first-team all star in the WLA in 2023, is the team’s new captain.

“He's a great leader. He's vocal and he's an experienced pro, a New West guy. He just has a great energy about him but knows when to be firm and when to have fun,” Porcellato said. “He's just got a real good feel for the room, and he's loved by everybody, and more importantly, respected by everybody.”

Joining returning defenders, including Belgrave, Mydske, Justin Salt and Brandon Goodwin, are some new players, including Sean Kriwokon, Owen Down and Noah Lebar.

While the goal-tending situation could change as the season progresses, Neil Tyacke returns as the Bellies’ starter.

Building momentum

Last season’s Mann Cup run drew packed crowds to Queen’s Park Arena, and the organization is looking to build on that momentum.

“We're going to keep raising money and getting new sponsors and enhancing the fan experience,” Porcellato said.

Porcellato said some “cool initiatives” are in the works to help generate money for the club.

“Players at this level play for a lot of reasons, and the number 1 reason is money,” he said. “If you have the biggest budget, there's a very good chance you're going to compete for the Mann Cup.”

Game day fun at Queen’s Park Arena includes the Bellies beer garden (featuring Steel & Oak brews) and the launch of the Salmonbellies’ new mascot – a salmon, who has yet to be named.

“That's going to be a hit with the kids,” Porcellato said of the costume created by his mom, Pixie. “It was designed so he could like run around, be on the floor and be super interactive.”

Organizational changes

In the aftermath of the 2023 Mann Cup run, the club announced some changes within the organization.

Porcellato, who had been the club’s general manager, assumed the dual role of president and general manager after Paul Horn stepped down as president, said a news release from the club.

Head coach Rory McDade, who shared the WLA Coach of the Year honours in 2023 with the Nanaimo Timbermen coaching staff, left the team, as did assistant coach Randy Jones.

Jason Bishop, a New West resident who has a vast coaching resume, is the Bellies’ new head coach.

“Jason is an elite level coach,” Porcellato said. “It's just a different vibe and culture. I like to call it like a cultural reset for the team.”

Joining Bishop on the bench as the team’s assistant coach is New West resident and Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame player, Geordie Dean. Dean, a 10-time all-star, played 16 seasons with the Salmonbellies and played in nine Mann Cups (winning three).