It was a good run-through for what lies ahead for the New Westminster Salmonbellies.
The B.C. Junior A Lacrosse League club wrapped up the junior A regular season with a polished 10-5 victory over the Langley Thunder on Sunday, ready to launch their run for a Minto Cup berth.
Backstopped by a standup performance from netminder Kyle Hebert, who turned aside 59 shots, New West garnered a feel-good ending and guaranteed a first-round series against the Victoria Shamrocks.
As evident by the 10-5 loss to the Coquitlam Adanacs two days earlier, avoiding the defending Minto Cup champs in the first round was a major achievement, especially in a year where two B.C. teams advance to the national championship series.
“It was an important game for us – we wanted the opportunity to play Victoria in the first round, not that there was any strategy on it,” remarked ‘Bellies coach Rich Catton. “We want our guys to evolve as a team through a seven-game series so we’re looking forward to it. We have a couple of guys who are banged up in our lineup but we’ll work through that.”
The semifinal showdown with Victoria kicks off Saturday in the provincial capital, and comes to Queen's Park on Sunday, 4 p.m. for Game 2. The series continues July 20 in Victoria, with Game 3 in New West on July 21. If the series goes further, Game 5 in Victoria is on July 27, with Game 6 in New West July 28. A seventh game, if required, would be played July 30 on the Island.
The Thunder, who had been eliminated earlier in the week, provided some persistent pushback and made New West work for it’s win.
After Langley opened the scoring, the visiting ‘Bellies fired back with three straight tallies – by Gabe Procyk, Andrew Bishop and Will Malcom – and never trailed.
Malcom would finish the day with five goals and two assists, capturing the BCJALL scoring title with 106 points, one more than Victoria’s Zach Manns.
“It feels really good,” the second-year junior said. “There are a lot of talented guys in the league this year, and again, I wouldn’t be able to do it without the guys on my left side creating space for me. Huge ups to those guys.”
Procyk counted two goals and two assists, while Andrew Bishop, Kieran McKay and Jordan Trottier also scored.
In Friday’s loss in Coquitlam, the game hinged on a third period where a tight contest suddenly went sideways for the visiting ‘Bellies.
Having held a brief 4-3 lead late in the second period – before the Adanacs’ Haiden Dickson tied it with 52 seconds remaining in the frame – New West found themselves trailing when Philip Buque buried a shorthanded effort to start the third.
Bishop would knot the score at 5-5, but Coquitlam’s Dawson Rodin restored the lead for the home team, and kick-started a five-goal run that finished the game.
“We played two quality periods against Coquitlam and we kind of let our foot off in the third period. We know what it takes to win, and that’s hard work,” said Catton.
It’ll take the same if they are to knock off Victoria, which holds home-floor advantage after winning two of three encounters during the regular season. In fact, seeing New West, Victoria and fourth-place Nanaimo close up the season with identical 14-7 records, just six points back of Coquitlam, is just another example of how close the teams are.
That’s why Catton said having some good match-ups to end the regular season was a big boost.
“We played five games in eight nights the past week and a half, which was a lot of lacrosse. It was tough ending our season against good teams, I like that and it’s what we wanted. We don’t want the soft teams at the end, it promotes bad habits. We had to come out and compete hard tonight, it meant something and I’m proud of the guys.”
Malcom is excited to get to the playoffs and put that season-long goal of getting to the Minto Cup tournament – which will be hosted in Langley – into action.
“We’d rather see (Coquitlam) in the finals. Now we have a big series ahead of us against Victoria and hopefully we will be going to the Minto,” said Malcom. ““I think when we play fast we’re a really fast team, we like to tranny the ball, I think our shots are going to drop, our defence is going to play great.”