Okotoks Raiders’ application for BCJALL membership approved on conditional basis

The Okotoks Raiders have seen their share of success in Alberta, but they want more. As in development, as in growth, as in realizing potential as an organization and for the players dressed in the sweaters. To that end, the Raiders applied for membership in the BCJALL and that application was approved, albeit with terms that must be met before it becomes a reality. The biggest term of all is financial as the parties search for a way to cover costs of travel and associated expenses. The Raiders expect to play in Alberta in 2014 and hope to remain in the league beyond that, but have taken the step to be part of the BCJALL in 2015 should the organization determine at that time that a shift to that league is in the best interest of the team and the players. So while the shift certainly remains a possibility for Okotoks, there is a growing sentiment in Western Canada that could lead to an even bigger shakeup for Junior A lacrosse in the region: A single Junior A loop in Western Canada that includes teams in B.C., Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan.

In Okotoks, the Raiders are stressing and emphasizing that they’re not wanting to leave Alberta. They’re simply covering their bases to have options should issues arise and alternatives exhaust themselves.

“We have nothing to hide. We have every right to explore opportunities for our club and our players,” said Raiders general manager and assistant coach Dave Pym in a recap of a “Grow the Game” initiative posted at the Raiders’ team website. “That’s all we have done. We applied to join a new league. They accepted us with conditions. The intent and purpose was as stated but to be clear again, we have always sought the ALA travel permit to undertake travel outside of Alberta when such is known.”

The Raiders will be pursuing their third trip in 4 summers to the Minto Cup where it’s no secret that they have not been competitive. And that lack of competition is a big part of what’s behind talks for a new Western League, a la the Western Hockey League. Before the WHL formed in the mid-1960s, there were 4 junior leagues in 4 separate provinces. The WHL combined a number of teams into the WHL, and this basically is the thought and vision espoused by several lacrosse executives across Western Canada.

There are teams in Alberta behind this movement, but there also is plenty of support in B.C., including BCJALL commissioner Ken Wood, who in the past has voiced displeasure with the CLA and the way it functions. The bottom line among the supporters is that isolated lacrosse is not good lacrosse, especially for players and their development.

“We believe teams playing in isolation cannot compete,” said Wood.

The Raiders have held this belief for years and last summer took a long weekend trip to B.C. to play BCJALL teams, where they went 1-2. Plans are in place for a similar trip in 2014. While the competition is Alberta is challenging, expanding the goals and challenges to play teams in B.C. is something that will benefit players in the long run, exposing them to higher levels of skill and compete. And, perhaps, make teams in Alberta and other provinces bigger threats to win a Minto Cup.

As it is, all the talk right now is preliminary and there is no timeline for when, or if, the shift might take place. Discussions are ongoing and those involved again stress that they do not want to be a rogue league or rebel league. They’re doing due process with governing bodies in Alberta and B.C., as well as the Canadian Lacrosse Association.

It’s a bold and daring plan, the vision for a united western lacrosse league, but it’s one that is heavy on the hearts for those doing the talking. What becomes of this remains to be seen, even as changes are already underway with the Minto Cup format. The 2013 tournament in New Westminster was the final of the 4-team setup. This summer, the Cup will again be played in B.C. but only after the B.C. champ plays the Alberta champ to determine who plays the Ontario champ.

Ontario hosts the Minto Cup in 2015 and Alberta is scheduled to host in 2016. And if player development takes place the way Alberta hopes it can, lacrosse officials there are hoping they can be more than a host province. They’d love to have a team hosting — and playing for — the Cup.

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 bob.chavez@nllinsider.com or go to RochesterSports.com.

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