The New Westminster Salmonbellies went into Thursday's Western Lacrosse Association junior draft with more than one iron in the fire.
It resulted in the return of a local talent.
First-year general manager Ray Porcellato promised prior to the draft to get impact from the evening, and he delivered when he flipped the team's first pick and a couple of other draft picks to acquire New West native Drew Belgrave from the Nanaimo Timbermen.
“Obviously, this was the marquee deal for us to bring Drew back to New West,” noted Porcellato. “It’s huge for him being a hometown boy and being able to play before friends and family, but that was icing on the cake. Most essential is he’s an unbelievable, hard-nosed player.”
Belgrave, 23, is currently a defender with the National Lacrosse League's San Diego Seals. Local boxla fans will recall his contributions to a couple of strong junior Salmonbellie squads, as well as his playoff performance during the senior A 'Bellies' 2017 march to the Mann Cup.
As a second-year WLA defender, Belgrave played just four games last summer for the T-men, scoring once and setting up another. In his rookie season in 2018, the five-foot-11 stickman counted 13 goals and five assists over 18 games.
“My first reaction is that I am relieved because I won’t have to travel as much as I have in the last two years,” said Belgrave in a press release. “But the biggest thing for me is getting a chance to play at Queen's Park Arena again. I spent the last 10 years of my minor career there, the wearing the red, white and blue and playing on that wooden floor means a lot to me.”
To get the rock-steady defender, Porcellato flipped Ethan Ticehurst to Nanaimo, minutes after selecting the Coquitlam junior grad with the team's pick in the WLA compensatory round, prior to the draft. Ticehurst picked up the B.C. junior A league's Al Boles Memorial Trophy this past summer, as the circuit's most inspirational player.
New West also sent the team's second round pick, 12th overall, and their 2021 second round pick, to the Hub City.
With veteran backend leader Brett Mydske scheduled to miss the entire 2020 season due to probation requirements with the fire department, Porcellato admitted the defence was an area where the team would look to add a piece. Belgrave fits the bill.
“Along with (Mike) Messenger, I feel Belgrave really gives our backline a core of young, impactful players who also are going to be leading this club for years to come,” he said. “The two of them play a pretty fierce defence, and will make life miserable for opposing teams.”
By drafting Lucas Shein of Coquitlam with the team’s first pick, which due to past trades meant they had to wait into the fourth round and the 26th player, was another move to address a backline in transition.
“We were amazed that (Shein) was still available, frankly,” Porcellato said. “We feel he’s developed into a very good defender with lots of potential. He’s been able to learn under (ex-junior Adanacs coach, incoming sr. A’s coach) Pat Coyle and that’s invaluable.”
With an eye on bolstering the team’s netminding depth, they took a trio of graduating juniors, including a pair of jr. Salmonbellie imports in Brayden Bell and Kyle Hebert, both originally from Ontario, and PoCo’s Kyle Mooney.
Bell, taken with the 33rd pick of the night, posted an 8.40 goals-against average over 14 games, and a .801 save percentage. Hebert, taken 47th overall, joined the juniors late in the season and played six games, registering a 8.45 goals against average and .825 save percentage.
Porcellato said while Alexis Buque is the club’s starter, having a healthy competition for support can only make the team better.
“We wanted to stockpile a few goalies to provide us with depth. We’ve got Buque, Tyacke and I’ve talked with Tye Belanger about coming back,” he said. “When you have internal competition at all positions, your team is stronger for it.”
The draft also saw New West pick up Peterborough defender Riley Morgan, who played 2019 with the jr. ’Bellies and tallied a goal and three helpers over 18 games.
Porcellato said if Bell, Hebert or Morgan had B.C. addresses, they would have gone a lot earlier. He said both Bell and Hebert have indicated an interest to come out and attend New West’s training camp, which is slated to start in early April.
While he also explored other trades with his rival GMs, most teams were taking a wait-and-see attitude and enjoying the positive vibes that come from a draft.
“There were some teams that are gun-shy, but we’ll keep talking,” said Porcellato.
He also confirmed that the team has invited Tyrel Hamer-Jackson to camp. A player with the ‘Bellies in 2018, the 24-year-old took last year off after but could be a big asset in the faceoff circle if he makes the team, providing a backup to Messenger in that department.
The first round of the 2020 draft saw just two teams use their territorial protection rights, with Coquitlam picking jr. A's captain Reid Bowering, and Maple Ridge adding Langley junior's Anthony Kalinich. The remaining five teams were provided with compensatory picks before the first round, with New West taking Ticehurst with the fourth overall selection.
The league also unveiled its 2020 schedule, with New West kicking off the season May 21 at home to Maple Ridge. The 18-game schedule for the ‘Bellies concludes July 30 when they host Burnaby.