Jr. 'Bellies eager to begin the new season

The New Westminster junior Salmonbellies are go-time ready.

The B.C. Junior A Lacrosse League squad will launch a new season this Friday in Burnaby, aiming to deliver on a lot of promise and potential.

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The team will be without star sniper Tre Leclaire, who is still at Ohio State and was recently named to the All-Big-Ten second all-star team. Also absent are some others expected to be big contributors over the season.

But as with most every other team, those players still away at other commitments won’t take any of the shine away from the purpose they all come together – which is to build towards a Minto Cup contender.

“The boys have been working hard at practice the past few months so we’re ready to go,” remarked New West head coach Rich Catton. “We expect it may take a period or two to get their game legs, but we’ll shake off the rust pretty quickly.”

The ’Bellies open the season Friday in Burnaby (8 p.m.) with a roster that is nearly three-quarters of what is projected, the coach said.

In net, Ontario import Brayden Bell will be counted on to fill a big role with the graduation of Erik Kratz. Bell, a 20-year-old stopper from Sarnia, has shown just at his first practice this week with the team that he’s going to be a key addition, said Catton.

“He’s a big guy and gets on top of the rebounds,” said Catton.

The backline suffered a blow last month when Patrick Shoemay was injured while playing for RIT. The six-foot-four defender may not recover to contribute this year. The team’s other additions Mack Burns and eastern acquisitions Riley Morgan and Joel Trottier, will be tasked with key roles on the floor.

Generating offence will not just be Leclaire’s alone to deliver. He has some elite company in the form of Will Malcom and Erik Maas, who are also expected back from U.S. college commitments in the coming days.

Cam Garlin is also returning for a second season.

“As we’ve said to the guys, what we’re looking to do is get better every single game,” New West general manager Warren Goss told the Record recently. “We preach it at practice, how each one has to be better than the last. 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.”

Although rumours of parity in the junior A circuit continue to circulate, each season has stayed fairly the same but for the odd difference: Coquitlam being chased by New West, with some other team coming out from among the lesser pack. Catton said while he doesn’t know if parity is coming close to occurring, the one constant, until proven otherwise, is who is the top dog.

“Coquitlam is still the team to beat, even after losing the top goaltender in the country,” he said. “We’re all kind of aiming to be the team to beat them.”

He feels confident that the players who’ve made the team can help bridge that gap.

“We have talented offensive guys, a strong goaltending duo and very steady defence. Those are the key elements, along with the work ethic, that you need to compete in this league.”

New West, which finished second overall with a 15-6-0 record a year ago, seven points back of Coquitlam and just two points ahead of PoCo, will host its first game at Queen’s Park Arena on Sunday May 5, 5 p.m. against the visiting Nanaimo junior Timbermen.

The club is offering free admission to the game for all New West minor players wearing their jerseys.

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