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New West Senior A Salmonbellies set sights on 25th Mann Cup

Salmonbellies kick off their 135th season: “Big season, big lineup and big heart.”

The New Westminster Senior A Salmonbellies are kicking off their 2023 season this week with one goal in mind – winning the Mann Cup.

The drive for 25 begins Thursday, May 25 at 7 p.m. at Queen’s Park Arena, when the Salmonbellies take on the Nanaimo Timbermen. The ultimate goal is to hoist the Mann Cup in Queen’s Park Arena in September.

“It’s genuinely a magnet for our players, and I think there’s a concerted effort to try and make sure that we put a product out that gets us that 25th Mann Cup,” said Paul Horn, president of the New Westminster Senior A Salmonbellies. “It’s our 135th year. We are going to go for it.”

Each year, the Mann Cup is awarded to Canada’s senior men’s box lacrosse champion, which is determined after the Western Lacrosse Association and the Major Series Lacrosse championship teams compete in an east versus west series. The Mann Cup championship rotates between the East and the West each year – with the 2023 Mann Cup being hosted by the WLA-winning team.

Ray Porcellato, general manager, said there’s been “a collective commitment by a bunch of world-class lacrosse players” to suit up for the Bellies this season and help the team win its 25th Mann Cup.

“The team is fantastic,” he said. “To me, with giving proper respect to all the Bellies’ teams in the past, this is arguably one of the best teams ever assembled … The long and short of it is that all 18 starters are NLL stars.”

The offence includes several players who have racked up points in the 2023 National Lacrosse League season, including: captain Mitch Jones; Will Malcom; and Keegan Bal. Other forwards include Kevin Crowley; Haiden Dickson; Ryan Martel; Jordan McBride; Jason Jones; and rookie Noah Armitage.

The defence includes Brett Mydske; Drew Belgrave; Brandon Goodwin; Justin Salt; Patrick Shoemay; and Travis Cornwall. Other defenders include: Colton Clark; Anthony Courcelle; Ilia Gajic; Quinn MacKay; Jordan Gilles; and Jimmy McBride.

Anthony Malcom is playing transition and Tyrell Hamer-Jackson is on faceoffs. Cam MacLeod and Neil Tyacke have signed on as the team’s goaltenders.

Porcellato said a number of key players were out of the Bellies’ lineup last season, some opting to play Senior B lacrosse and others undergoing surgeries for lacrosse injuries. In addition to returning players, he said there are some new additions to this year’s roster including some players picked up in trades or the draft.

Along with players who are committed to regular-season play, others – including NLL and PLL players Mike Messenger and Eli Gobrecht, who have lacrosse obligations preventing them from playing in the regular season and playoffs – are committed to suiting up for the Salmonbellies if they make it to the Mann Cup.

Players are pumped

Mydske believes Porcellato has done a good job of assembling the skilled and role players needed to win a championship.

“Growing up in New West, going to all the senior games, you always dreamed of winning a Mann Cup,” he said. “Having it in the West this year and having a chance to be able to win it on your home floor would truly be something. If we could do that, it would be one of the best things I have ever done.”

Born and raised in New West, Mydske said “it means a lot” to suit up for the Salmonbellies. He was a call-up player on the 2009 team that “lost that heart-breaker in Game 7” and he’s itching to win his first Mann Cup.

“I have lost three of them. They’re hard to come by,” he said. “So hopefully this year is the year.”

“Big season, big lineup and big heart in the room,” is how Hamer-Jackson sums up the season that’s about to begin.

“It’s a tight group; a lot of family and tradition in this group,” he said. “It’s not just a normal team they put together. It’s a lot of guys that have been to war together and a lot of guys that know each other very personally. When you’re out on the floor, it’s a whole different story when you’re playing with your family, right? That’s what we have here in New West.”

For veteran Salmonbellie Jordan McBride, there’s no better time to win a Mann Cup than 2023 – this will be his final season with the team.

“It’s going to be exciting. Awesome,” he said. “The team they’re putting together, it’s going to be a good one.”

McBride, 36, said the team is going full throttle towards its goal of winning a Mann Cup.

“The very first year that I played for the Salmonbellies we went to three straight Mann Cups. Just going to that and playing, it’s something else,” he recalled. “Especially with the Mann Cup being here this year, to fill up that barn – there is nothing like it. I think it’s going to be a good year.”

An injury is keeping Logan Schuss out of this season’s lineup, but he’ll be behind the bench as the team’s offensive coach.

“I think it’s crazy good,” he said of this year’s roster. “I am just excited for this group. This is one of the best teams we’ve put together for a long time.”

Four-year plan

Since becoming the club’s general manager following the 2019 season, Porcellato said he’s been building the team with a view to competing for the Mann Cup in 2023 – knowing it would be hosted in the West.

“I just sort of geared the whole thing – all the players, the budget, our focus – to 2023. We don’t have the resources to do it every year, so you have focus your efforts on certain windows of opportunity. So, that’s what I did. And the guys all bought in,” he said. “We have an incredible team that’s committed to going for a cup.”

Since 2000, only four Western teams have won the Mann Cup (Coquitlam – 2001; Victoria – 2003, 2005, 2015), with Eastern teams winning 17 cups.

The Salmonbellies, who won their last national title in 1991, vied for the Mann Cup in 2008 and 2009 against the Brampton Excelsiors (losing four games to three in 2009), and in 2010 and 2017 where they lost to the Peterborough Lakers, who have won the past four Mann Cups. (No competition was held in 2020 or 2021 because of COVID-19).

With so few Western teams winning the Mann Cup in the past 30 years, Porcellato said it’s short-sighted to build a team around winning in the West – it needs to focus on beating Eastern teams. He’s looked at what has made winning teams successful in their quest for the cup.

“The recipe is pretty simple. Get the biggest pile of money you can and get the best players in the world, because the best players in the world only play for money,” he said. “They love the game, but they play this game for a living.”

But to make it to the big show, the Salmonbellies first have to get past their competitors in the WLA.

“By no means will it be easy to win the west,” Porcellato said. “I think we’re the deepest team, but Langley is going for it as well. And I think Victoria and Nanaimo will battle it out on the island.”

While there’s a bunch of Minto Cup winners and other championship winners in the Bellies’ locker room, Porcellato said very few of the players have won the coveted Mann Cup.

“I think it means literally everything to the guys in the room,” he said. “They’re all focused on winning the cup, and there’s going to be a lot of fun and a lot of heartache along the way.”

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