This past weekend was the opening round of the playoffs in the Alberta Junior A Lacrosse League, a round that could be completed on both fronts by Saturday after a unique and brilliant ABJrALax double header is complete at Servus Credit Union Place in St. Albert. The St. Albert Miners and Calgary Mountaineers begin the festivities at 5:30 p.m. and the Sherwood Park Titans and the Okotoks Raiders will begin the second game of the double dip at 8 p.m. after the Titans discovered that the venue they intended to use had to be closed for repairs.
The first-place Calgary Mountaineers took a 2-0 series lead in their best-of-5 set against the St. Albert Miners after defeating the fourth seed 9-5 and 14-9 in the two games at Stu Peppard Arena in the Stampede City.
On the surface, a matchup between these 12-4 and 2-14 teams looks like just a formality, but there is more at stake for both teams despite who gets to three wins first. For the Mounties, they have introduced Richard Thompson and Matt Andruchow to their team without losing anyone off their roster in the trades they made with the Miners and Sherwood Park Titans to acquire them. Both players can infuse a bit of offense in the Mounties transition game on the floor,while having to become a part of a tight knit squad off the floor.
Mountaineers coach Rick Windl had this to say about the two new additions to his line up: “Both Matt and Richard have fit in well. The Team Alberta program that both have been part of from their minor careers helps a lot. They come into our room knowing many players, already being teammates at one time. Both have found their roles and have had some success already. The team is excited to have them both join the group.”
From the Miners’ perspective, they are trying to build on two late-season victories that finally rewarded them for being in a lot of their games this season thanks in large part to goaltender Scott Kavalinas’ outstanding play. A cloud hovered over the team for most of the season as they could not find the scoring at the right time late in games to pull out wins. Much of what they have left to prove in 2013 has to do with their own confidence and bringing positives out of these games against the Mounties, where they find themselves challenged to keep up to the rate at which Calgary can score let alone focus on stopping their attack.
Windl offered these comments when asked about the challenges the Miners presented to his team in games 1 and 2: “The Miners have always been a team that never quits. They also have a very rich history of success in Alberta Jr. A. Their special teams have been great and are able to get the ball in their shooters sticks for looks. Overall they are a good team with speed. We need to continue to handle the transition game and neutralize their speed.”
Out in Okotoks, the Raiders had an easy time with a deflated Sherwood Park Titans team as they posted 14-2 and 10-2 victories. Getting rid of offensive leaders Cole Sheen, Dustin Reykdal and Matt Christiansen along with starting goaltender Mike DeGirolamo has had a profound effect on the Titans. Coach Paul Rai said it best in the first sentence of his July 12 entry at his tlppower site: “I would have to say that the trade has kicked the crap out of the team.”
He goes on to explain that he and co-coach Jimmy Quinlan anticipated that their team would stumble after losing such big pieces from the lineup, but they hoped that other players would seize the opportunity, prove their worth as offensive players at the junior A level and gain valuable experience that will help the Titans in 2014 when Sheen and DeGirolamo return to the lineup.
It is tough to evaluate an offense off of four goals in two games. One positive could be that a player the Titans acquired at the deadline from the Miners, David Lehman, has three assists to lead the team in scoring, but that is overshadowed by the fact that Sheen has posted 6 goals and 10 points in the first two games, outscoring all of his former teammates combined. The Titans are faced with two options Saturday. They can continue to be baffled by their coaches’ decision to break up the team in 2013 or they can look ahead to 2014 and play their remaining game or games with a serious chip on their shoulder.
So to reiterate, the Miners and Mounties face off at 5:30 p.m. on Saturday followed by the Titans and Raiders at 8 p.m. Games Sunday, if needed, will start at 1:30 p.m. with the Miners and Mounties while the Titans and Raiders are penciled in for a 4 p.m. start.
For those who can’t be there in person, make sure to follow @ABJrALax on Twitter for live updates.Kris Partington is in his first season covering Alberta lacrosse for IL Indoor.com. He has spent most of his 20 years in the game coaching with the St. Albert Rams minor lacrosse program, is an original member of the St. Albert Rams Senior Lacrosse Club (now the Spruce Grove Slash) and has managed the sponsorship program and websites for the Senior Rams, St. Albert Junior B Crude and St. Albert Miners Junior A and Senior B lacrosse teams. He is now a devoted player and tailgater with Relics Lacrosse and an official with the Alberta Lacrosse Referees Association.
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