Despite the absence of the defending league scoring champion, the New Westminster Salmonbellies began the 2019 Western Lacrosse Association season on a Raptors’ like roll.
With a high-flying, basketball-styling transition game as their template, New West won both convincingly and in dramatic fashion, manners that should be music to local lacrosse fans’ ears.
New West launched the season last Thursday without standout forward Logan Schuss, recuperating from an injury suffered during the NLL season, but found plenty of offence anyways. They barreled past the Langley Thunder 14-9 at Queen’s Park Arena, and on Sunday, improved to 2-0 by eking out an 11-9 victory, thanks to rookie Jeff Henrick’s tally with 2:36 remaining against the Nanaimo Timbermen.
Coupled with the announced return to the roster of veteran defender Ian Hawksbee, and the anticipated return of Schuss, the victories signalled only good things for the determined 'Bellies.
The opening 20 minutes in the Hub City was a tight, low scoring affair, with the ‘Bellies taking a 2-1 advantage into the second period. It was a see-saw battle for part of the middle frame, with markers by the ‘Bellies’ Keegan Bal and former New West junior Drew Belgrave putting the two sides even, 4-4 with 32 minutes to play.
Then the visitors went on a run.
New West counted four goals to stake out an 8-4 advantage and looked ready to cruise. However, Nanaimo came alive in the third period and through a series of tallies, including two powerplay efforts, tied it up with 2:47 remaining.
Just 11 seconds later, the ‘Bellies regained the lead on Henrick's second of the game and never looked back. The first-year senior delivered the decisive blow and poured cold water on the host T-men's momentum -- considering Nanaimo had kicked off the season by upsetting Island rival Victoria two days earlier.
Jordan McBride finished with four goals and two helpers, while Mitch Jones contributed three goals and Bal a goal and four assists. Brandon Goodwin rounded out the offence.
Alexis Buque turned aside 46 shots to pick up his second win, while Nanaimo’s Charles Claxton stopped 41 in the loss.
Against Langley, Anthony Malcom and McBride each registered hat tricks while Jones racked up two goals and seven assists.
Up 10-5 after 40 minutes, New West did have to fend off a Thunder rally which pulled the visitors to within two goals. Three unanswered markers ended the game and Langley’s hopes.
Bal, making his return to the New West fold after a four-year absence, notched a pair of goals, while Lyndon Bunio chipped in with a single. Also scoring for New West were newcomers Darryl Robertson, with two goals and two helpers, and Austin Shanks.
The Salmonbellies look to extend their hot start on Thursday, 7:30 p.m. when they host the defending playoff champion Maple Ridge Burrards at Queen’s Park Arena.