It started in 2007 for Ilija and 2010 for Alex. But for these 2 Gajic brothers, their time with the New Westminster Salmonbellies ended this week with Thursday’s announcement that the ‘Bellies traded the brothers to the Burnaby Lakers. The ‘Bellies get Colton Clark and a second-round pick in next year’s Western Lacrosse Association draft, but they’re also getting the stomachache that comes with balancing what’s best for the team and what’s best for the players who have done so much for that team. “The guys in the room had ample chance the past three or four years,” New West GM Dan Richardson told The Province. “They didn’t get it done. We needed to change the make-up in the room. It was a very, very hard decision to make. We just have to change the ways we are doing things. It’s nothing against Ilija or Alex. They’re great players, great people, they come from a great family. This is business.”
And this is where Richardson and the New West brass say they’re struggling with the decision to trade Alex and Ilija. With Ilija in the lineup from 2008 to 2010, the ‘Bellies were an amazing 24-1 in WLA playoff games. Alex was in the lineup for the 2008 and 2010 teams. And although those 3 WLA titles sent the ‘Bellies to the Mann Cup each of those seasons, none were won.
And so the quest continued. But instead of getting closer, the ‘Bellies were going backward. They haven’t been playoff participants the past 2 summers. Something had to be done in a lacrosse land were expectations are great. Something had to change in a lacrosse land where winning is expected. So even though Richardson and the ‘Bellies were grateful for the contributions of the 2 Gajic brothers, he orchestrated a deal that he believes will be better for the team as a whole.
“We need to change things up,” said Richardson. “The players and the alumni and the fans in New Westminster expect to be in the playoffs. I’ve changed coaches a couple of times in the past five years. We’re very happy with our coaching staff now. What’s left?”
What’s left is a New West team with 2 more Gajic brothers. Milan is the oldest brother who took a 10-year break from the game before returning to New West in 2012 and has played sparingly. Nenad has been playing with the ‘Bellies since 2006 and is team captain. Whether both of them will be back in 2014 isn’t known, and Richardson said right now was not the time to ask after he traded away Alex and Ilija. “We’ll have that conversation when the time is right,” he said. “We would like to have them back.”
In Clark, the ‘Bellies get a player they got to know well when he was traded from Nanaimo to New West in 2010 to finish out his Junior A ability. The Senior Salmonbellies had hoped to draft Clark in 2011, but he was drafted by Burnaby before New Westminster had a pick.
What’s to come for the Salmonbellies remains to be seen, but Richardson told The Province that the ‘Bellies are not finished with the deals.Chavez is an avid lacrosse player in Rochester and a journalist for the Democrat and Chronicle as well as a longtime Inside Lacrosse contributor. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or go to RochesterSports.com.
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