'Bellies suffer first loss; find solace in Raptors' win

Toronto Raptors fans come in all sizes and shapes.

They even come from other sports.

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Polling a couple of New Westminster Salmonbellies following their edge-of-their-seats 9-8 loss to Maple Ridge on Thursday at Queen's Park, you'd think Yonge Street -- the longest street in the world, according to Wikipedia -- travels through the Royal City.

For Ontario transplants Austin Shanks and Alexis Buque, news of the Toronto Raptors' 118-109 victory in Game 1 of their NBA final with the Golden State Warriors was as good as it gets -- at least outside their own lacrosse game.

While completely focused on learning from the game and continuing to develop team chemistry, they were ready to turn the page on an early season setback and show their support for their favourite hoop team when asked.

“I’m a Toronto fan. I’m not a big basketball guy but im rooting for them – did they win tonight? Awesome," said first-year Salmonbellie Austin Shanks. "Let’s go. That place (downtown Toronto) must be blowing up."

Led by Pascal Siakam, Toronto staked themselves to a big lead then fended off the favoured Warriors to grab the series opener on home court.

Most of Shanks' teammates were following the hoop game, which was just beginning when players started showing up for the Thursday contest at Queen's Park Arena.

"We had it on (TV) for a little bit in the front, but once the warm-up came we turned it off. We had to focus, but maybe we were too into the basketball game in the first period. We started a little slow."

Unlike the Raptors, New West fell behind early, with Maple Ridge barrelling ahead with the game's first four goals. They pushed it to 7-2 by the 23-minute mark before the home team regained its composure. Shanks' second tally of the night, with 3:23 remaining in the middle frame, pulled the 'Bellies within one, on a shot that riccocheted in and out of the net quickly.

His third marker, 7:52 into the third, on a shot from the high slot that found some daylight between Frank Scigliano and the post, made it 7-7. Maple Ridge would reclaim the lead with four minutes left, but Mitch Jones converted an Anthony Malcom pass, with just 1:09 to play, to knot it at 8-8. 

Everyone was settling into the possibility of seeing the league's new overtime rules -- with three runners per team and first goal wins over a five-minute session -- only to have MIke Mallory squash that hope with a last-ditch shot from the high slot that fooled Buque, just as the 30-second possession buzzer sounded.

The final 15 seconds was killed without incident, after the Burrards won the faceoff.

“Unfortunately no replay but I challenge that on the board," said Buque of the call.."You know, it is what it is. We have to soak the ‘L’and come back Monday for practice and be ready to go for next week."

Buque, who like Shanks and fellow newcomer/defender Darryl Robertson, is from the lacrosse hotbed of Whitby, an hour northeast of Canada's largest city. Growing up, it was easy to become a Raptors fan.

"I'm a long time (Raptors fan)," Buque said. "I was late in on the Vince Carter era but I got to enjoy what I could from him. I think they’ll get the (championship) win, I think so.  Kawhi (Leonard) did it before he got hurt with (San Antonio), and almost put (Golden State) away in the playoffs a couple of years ago. He’s healthy right now and we’re firing on all cylinders. I really hope to see them win."

Although Vancouver sports fans have a reputation for jumping on a bandwagon, for Buque and Shanks, the more the merrier.

"I'm a big Raptors fan – that's a big W. I love it, but I’m always about that. I love being the underdog," said Buque.

Shanks said the two sports -- lacrosse and basketball -- have enough similarities to have plenty of crossover, although he confesses to not having been much of a player.

“I was a little Steve Nash out there, I’d just run it up and dish out for assists. I like scoring goals now. ... They really do have a lot in common. It’s all about picks, smart ball movement, you have to get back on defence and can’t give up transition (chances). It’s a very similar game, except we can beat the (crap) out of each other (in lacrosse)."
Lyndon Bunio netted a pair of goals, while Jordan McBride and Jones finished with a goal and four assists each.
New Westminster's next game is Wednesday in Langley, before returning to Queen's Park on June 6 to host the Coquitlam Adanacs.
Game 2 in the Raptors' series goes Sunday.

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