One thing is certain, the Junior A Lacrosse League season will end at Langley Events Centre, site of the 2019 Minto Cup Championship this August.
What remains to be seen is whether the hometown Langley Thunder will be among the four teams competing for the coveted crown of Canada’s Junior A National Champion.
The path to fulfill that quest began this weekend as the Thunder kick off their BC Junior A Lacrosse League season with a pair of games, the first was Friday, April 26 in Port Coquitlam where they battled the Saints. And this afternoon (Sunday), they’re hosting the Victoria Shamrocks at Langley Events Centre with the game starting at 5 p.m.
Both the BCJALL champion and finalist will compete at the Minto Cup from Aug. 15 to 26.
To get one of those coveted spots, Langley will need to rebound from a disappointing 2018 campaign, which saw them miss the post-season following an average regular season where they went 10-10-1 to finish six points back of the fourth and final playoff berth.
They do so with a new coach at the helm, as Dane Dobbie will run the Thunder bench with Matt Leveque, Adam Smith, and Evan Bradley serving as his assistants.
Dobbie brings an impressive playing resume, one which is ongoing.
Now in his 12th year in the National Lacrosse League, Dobbie has set career highs with 47 goals, 68 points and 115 points and is in prime position to win the NLL scoring title. He is also still actively playing Senior A in the Western Lacrosse Association with the Langley Thunder. In 105 career WLA games, Dobbie has 226 goals and 466 points.
Dobbie comes with no preconceived notions about his players and his message to the squad is simple.
“I am going to take my 25 best players, doesn’t matter what age or how long they have been here,” he explained.
“We have a good core here right now. We just have to compete every night and go one game at a time.”
The pieces are in place for what should be a bounce-back season.
“Our defence is big and athletic and we have lots of guys that can put the ball in the net,” Buchan said.
One of those who will be counted on to lead the offence is Ryan Martel, the team’s leading scorer in 2018 when he racked up 40 goals, 47 assists and 87 points.
Martel was third in the league in both goals and points and fourth in assists. The left-handed 21-year-old forward was also second in points per game at 5.4. That came on the heels of a 43-goal, 97-point season (when he played the full 21 compared to last year’s 16) in 2017.
Joining him up front is Nathaniel Kozevnikov, who scored 32 goals and 58 points in 21 games last season with Langley, and then after the trade deadline, New Westminster. Kozevnikov added seven goals and 14 points for the Bellies in the post-season.
Both will be counted on help the team improve offensively, as they averaged just 9.8 goals per game.
Langley’s two leading scorers at the Junior B level, Kyle Brunsch (26 goals, 29 assists) and Chase Moore (30 goals, 23 assists), will also aim to fill the net for the squad.
The back-end will be anchored by Anthony Kalinich. But big things are also expected of Jackson Cowie, who captained the intermediate Thunder a few seasons ago, and Quinn McKitrick, who missed the entire 2018 season.
And Gavin Bruce, acquired at the trade deadline last season and off-season acquisition Nick Scott, will play key roles in the transition game.
In goal, Torin Van Rheenen and Braeden Washington will share the crease.
Van Rheenen received the bulk of the work in 2018, going 8-6-0-1 with a 9.21 goals against average and .814 save percentage in his third season in the league.
Washington was 2-3 with a 10.87 GAA and .777 save percentage in his rookie season after being the second overall selection in the 2018 draft.
Discipline and focus are two areas the team will address.
“We were second in the league in penalty minutes and we need to change that. That is going to be a big focus for us this season,” said Thunder general manager Rob Buchan.
“Keep our composure and not take any team lightly. Every team is capable of wining and you need to play a full 60 minutes every night or you are not going to win in this league.”