The box lacrosse world has their eyes on Whitby right now. The Coquitlam Adanacs are battling the Orangeville Northmen for the Minto Cup trophy after the two provincial winners emerged from the round-robin/2-3 playoff game as the last teams standing. The host Warriors put up a valiant fight, but fell short of defending their title. As for the other team in the Minto, things were much bleaker.
The Alberta rep Mountaineers went 0-3, being beat up 38-6 in the trio of losses. Alberta remains winless against a B.C. or Ontario opponent after a decade of competing at the tourney and have never been a threat to win the Cup. As expected, many in the lacrosse world are calling for the Minto to go back to being a best-of-7 series between B.C. and Ontario.
This week’s round-table of Ty Pilson, Teddy Jenner and Stephen Stamp look at the ‘Alberta Minto Experiment’ and whether changes need to be made with the junior title tournament.
TY PILSON: First off, I want to be transparent. One of my good friends is a coach with the Mounties and, as an Albertan, I’m a bit biased. I coach box and field and am working to grow the game in my province. That said, I can understand why some folks don’t like an Alberta rep at the tourney. To me, there are two issues here: 1. Should the format be changed, should it revert to the old style, should Alberta be bounced from it? 2. Why has Alberta struggled so badly and not seemingly improved at all in 10 years? Why can’t they be competitive? Let’s all address the first point and then move on to the second. I understand the Minto tourney — as is — makes more money now cause there are more games. This makes the current format better for the host team and all the lacrosse governing bodies. So what if everybody beats up on Alberta? It doesn’t hurt the other teams. So, why not let Alberta continue to compete?
JENNER- I guess that’s the million dollar question — Why let them stay?! — when all they do, as admitted by you, is increase the revenue of the home team and governing bodies. The Minto Cup should be pitting the top teams in the county against each other to decide who the best of the best is. Sadly, most of the past 10 Minto reps from Alberta wouldn’t be top three in B.C. or Ontario. This year they were allowed to pick up three extra players from other teams in hopes of bolstering their roster but it had zero effect.
STAMP: I have to admit I’m torn about this question. Having been at every Minto Cup game this year, I’ve seen a lot of good things from the Calgary Mountaineers. Their goaltenders were outstanding and both have three years of junior remaining. They have some very good players with two or three years left. They are also a hard-working, gutsy team that never gives up. Their coaches and players are working hard to get better and facing competition like they do at the Minto will help them to improve. I think the scores were a little misleading this year just because the other three teams were so good and had phenomenal goaltending. You’re talking about the last four Minto Champs with lots of players who have been there several times already. That kind of experience is invaluable and I think Alberta lacrosse will suffer if they no longer get to have it. On the other hand, it’s hard to argue that the Alberta teams are competitive and the Minto is supposed to be between the best teams in the country. I would love to see the best-of-seven format return because I think it’s the best way to determine who is really the best team. One option would be to have Alberta play the B.C. or Ontario champ in alternate years. When the Minto will be in B.C., Ontario would stop and play a best-of-three in Alberta to see who goes west. When the Minto is in Ontario, Alberta could go to B.C. or vice versa for a series. That would give Alberta high-level competition every year but they would only go to the Minto if they earn a trip. The trouble, of course, is how do you pay for that? Would it cost significantly more than everyone travelling to one spot? If it’s viable fiscally I like the idea. If it’s not, I can’t really think of an alternative.
PILSON: In a perfect world, Alberta would play some type of interlocking schedule with B.C. during the regular season. However, until money starts growing on trees, that’s unlikely. This was a tough year. The other three teams this year are stacked in talent and have more than ten 21-year-olds each on their rosters. Calgary had one, I believe. They were a much younger team with only one player — Tyler Melnyk — having any Minto experience. As well, with only four teams in Alberta and them all making the playoffs, there is no way to load up for a post-season run via trades like many B.C. and Ontario clubs do. Alberta teams won’t trade with each other. The NFL has weaker divisions where the winner makes the playoffs ahead of teams with better records. That’s what happens with the ‘Alberta’ division. For the foreseeable future, that will have to be the way the Minto remains. On the bright side, Alberta pee wee, bantam and midget teams have been extremely competitive at national tourneys of late. That bodes well for a stronger Alberta junior A loop in the future.
JENNER: It’s all well and good that the minor system in Alberta is starting to showcase their youth at the national level however those kids won’t be in the junior system for 5-10 years still. Money is the root of all evil here and that’s a huge issue in lacrosse these days. How do we make the most while spending the least amount. Yeah, sure, having four teams in the Minto brings in money but what has it gotten us? A ten year ‘experiment’ that hasn’t proved a thing except Alberta is still light years behind B.C. and Ontario. So now the CLA needs to reconvene and discuss what the next step is. Of course they’d love to see Alberta in the Minto. Hell, I’d love to see all of Canada in the Minto but right now, IMHO, the experiment failed.
STAMP: This is a timely discussion since the Minto Cup contract is up this year and the CLA will be looking at how to run it in the next several years. I get the sense that the CLA is pretty happy with the status quo and I suspect we will have the same format put in place for at least three more years. If that’s the case, the question becomes “Can Alberta become competitive in that time?” I think improvement can come earlier than 5-10 years. The Raiders have grown increasingly competitive over the years and the Mountaineers have a good base of players. They have lots of solid guys that are young and improving and that group will be supplemented by the midgets and bantams coming up. There are good goalies in the system as well and more being developed. The obstacle that is hardest to overcome is the one you can’t teach people — elite scoring talent. You don’t coach someone into being a Jeremy Noble, Reilly O’Connor or Robert Church. That’s where I think Alberta will need to import some players from Ontario and B.C. There is a wealth of talent in those provinces. Someone like Cody McMahon, who went out to Okotoks in 2011, could have a big impact. Several players like that could substantially raise the talent level and help Alberta become more competitive more quickly. The appeal for the Ontarians would be an opportunity for good players to be the main man on a team and get tons of floor time, rather than having to bide their time behind more advanced skill players at home. Think Jesse Guerin playing for MSL Ajax Rock rather than his hometown Peterborough Lakers.
PILSON: Not sure about light years behind B.C. and Ontario, Teddy, maybe light years behind the top clubs who are able to load up for playoff runs and floor veteran rosters. Nanaimo and Burnaby went 3-17 and 3-18 in B.C., while four teams in Ontario had less than six wins, including Mississauga that was 0-20. I think the problem in junior — much like senior — is that there are powerhouse teams and then all the rest. Alberta is with all the rest. At the end of the day, it doesn’t hurt anybody for Alberta to be there and hopefully my province can ramp it up. Stephen is right: Alberta clubs need to add import players to bolster their rosters, much like trades can within each of the other leagues. That said, will Alberta win a Minto in the next decade? Doubt it. Will they start being more competitive and beating some other teams? I sure hope so. Time will tell, I guess.Stamp is a TV sports announcer and lacrosse lover whose skill set made him a defender but who always dreamed of being a goal-scorer. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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