'Bellies prepare for Minto march

The goal may sound a tad repetitive, but the New Westminster Salmonbellies are eyeing a shot at the Minto Cup again as the start of the 2019 B.C. Junior A Lacrosse League approaches.

No matter the sound, that target is something that the organization never aims to shake as a highly competitive program.

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The fine line between competing and winning, however, has proven elusive – primarily because of the presence of the archrival Coquitlam Adanacs.

Last year’s crushing loss in the league final – after leading the best-of-seven series 2-1 – is a motivator that ’Bellies general manager Warren Goss hopes resonates for some time.

“One of the first things we set up for training camp is the monitor in our dressing room, it showed (Coquitlam’s) Christian Del Bianco celebrating their victory,” said Goss. “I want them to remember exactly how that felt, because that was for many the worst feeling they’ve had after a game.”

Knocking at the door the past handful of years only to fall short has weighed on the ’Bellies, but every year begins with renewed optimism. There’s a strong core of returning veterans, elite players on both sides of the ball, and a hungry rookie crew vying for positions.

One plus on that side is that the Adanacs will no longer have Del Bianco to lean on, who was the undisputed league MVP for much of his five seasons in Coquitlam before aging out of the circuit.

It’s good news for New West’s snipers, who include Will Malcom, Tre Leclaire and Erik Maas, who combined for nearly 200 points. Leclaire and Malcom finished fourth and fifth in league scoring last season with 87 and 83 points, respectively. A Surrey native, Leclaire posted the second-best sniping total, with 52 goals over 18 games.

Goss and coach Rich Catton also received a second-year commitment from Ontario native Cam Garlin, who contributed eight goals and 22 assists over 16 games.

On defence, the team has re-acquired both Mack Burns and Patrick Shoemay from Burnaby, and inked eastern recruits Riley Morgan and Jordan Trottier as lefthanded backdoor-transition players. Also back and expected to take on bigger roles are Cole Catton and Emmett Donahoe.

In looking to replace graduated netminder Erik Kratz, New West has brought in Brayden Bell of Toronto to set the tone in the crease.

“(Bell) brings with him an amazing stick, and that is going to help our transition game,” said Goss of the long-passing goalkeeper. “He moves the ball so well, we think that gives us a quicker look up the floor.”

Just as New West has reloaded and filled holes due to graduation, so too will the Adanacs. They remain the measuring stick, said Goss, but he feels the work achieved over the winter months has moved them in the right direction.

Although the team will be missing the likes of Malcom, Maas and Leclaire, who are part of a large contingent attending U.S. colleges, the first few weeks will be important to setting a tone.

“As we’ve said to the guys, what we’re looking to do is get better every single game. We preach it at practice, how each one has to be better than the last,” said Goss. “We’re definitely putting our aim on getting to the Minto Cup, but we know that the league has only gotten closer, less of a two-horse league.”

New West, which finished second overall with a 15-6-0 record, seven points back of Coquitlam and just two points ahead of PoCo, opens the season on May 3 in Burnaby.

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