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New Westminster Salmonbellies' Drive for 25 gets underway on Friday

Mann Cup fever: New Westminster Salmonbellies face off against Six Nations Chiefs in Game 1 on Friday, Sept. 8.
A sold-out crowd at Queen's Park Arena cheered the New Westminster Salmonbellies on to a Game 7 victory last week in the WLA finals against the Langley Thunder.

Mann Cup fever has struck New Westminster.

Starting Friday, the New Westminster Sr. 'A' Salmonbellies will face the Six Nations Chiefs in this year's Mann Cup.

Games, as needed in the best-of-seven series, will be played at Queen’s Park Arena on Sept. 8, 9, 11, 12, 13, 15 and 16.

Pat Downey, the club's game day supervisor and a member of its board of directors, said there's nothing quite like a Mann Cup run.

"Oh my god — it's like it's nothing else. It really is like nothing else you've ever seen before," she said. "I've been to many a Mann Cup."

Downey said online tickets are expected to sell out (and they already have for some games), and some paper tickets will be available at the arena.

The club had to know the outcome of the Western Lacrosse Association finals before having tickets printed.

The Salmonbellies earned the rights to host this year's Mann Cup by defeating the Langley Thunder in the WLA finals last Tuesday, Aug. 29.

For Downey, the energy in Queen's Park Arena for Game 7 of the WLA finals was reminiscent of past Mann Cup games.

Ray Porcellato, the team's general manager, said the crowd's support means a lot to the players.

"The commitment by the local people to get behind us and wear our colours, it was incredible," he said.

"The guys love it; they feel it. That's like having an extra man on the floor when everybody's chanting 'Go Bellies Go.' It was incredible to see that."

Porcellato said Bellies' fans will likely outnumber Six Nations fans during the Mann Cup games, but the Chiefs will have their share of fans in the building.

"They'll have all have an entourage with them," he said. "They have a lot of fans coming."

In the Western finals, New West and Langley took the series to seven games, including a game that went to sudden victory overtime and another that went to overtime.

In the Major Series Lacrosse finals, the Six Nations Chiefs swept the Peterborough Lakers — who had won the last four Mann Cups — in four games.

"Six Nations is stacked," Porcellato said, "but we're a confident team and believe we match up well."

Since the beginning of the season, the Salmonbellies players, staff and management have been focused on the "Drive for 25" — winning the club's 25th Mann Cup.

Winning the WLA championship was just the first step.

"There was a lot of excitement. But we didn't pour off the bench or throw our sticks in the air. We didn't touch the trophy. We took our picture, we got off the floor, we had a great party,” Porcellato said.

"But when the sun came up on Wednesday, the page had been turned. Even though we're proud to represent the West, we don't feel like we've won anything yet."

If the series goes to seven games, it would mean the teams are battling through seven games in nine nights.

"It's gruelling," Porcellato said. "I think it's one of the hardest things to win in sports."

While it was "no picnic" to win the WLA championship — and players had to endure "a lot of pain and punishment" in the hard-hitting series to make it to the Mann Cup — the real work is yet to come, Porcellato said.

"This is really another level of commitment to the team," he said.

"Whatever the team needs, that's what we get — if you have to block a shot, if you have to take a hit. … What goes along with super fitness is emotional control, and we're going to need that emotional control. It's going to be heated. There's going to be a lot of opportunities to let your emotions get the best of you."

Downey, whose father won five Mann Cups, can’t wait for this year’s series between New Westminster and Six Nations to get underway.

"They're a very talented team. They're going to be a tough team," she said of the Chiefs.

"But both teams have something to prove. So hopefully, it's going to be good and exciting, and a long series. That's what we hope for."

Regardless of the outcome of this year's Mann Cup, Downey hopes some of the returning and new fans who are attending games will return to the stands next year to cheer for the Salmonbellies and support the club.