BCJALL                                The owner of the Port Coquitlam Saints wants to move the junior A club to Maple Ridge.

BCJALL The owner of the Port Coquitlam Saints wants to move the junior A club to Maple Ridge.

Push for junior A lacrosse in Maple Ridge continues

Group bent on relocating Port Coquitlam Saints.

The cry to bring junior A lacrosse to Maple Ridge is getting louder.

A group led by Jeff Fisher has, for the past five years, been trying to get an expansion team or relocate an existing one to Maple Ridge, given the strength and success of minor and intermediate lacrosse teams here.

But, Fisher contends, the B.C. Junior A Lacrosse League and its governors – seven of the eight – continue to deny their requests, and according to him, without good reason.

Fisher said governors have told him repeatedly that there’s a moratorium on expansion teams.

He figures they reason that adding one would water down the talent pool in the league, which one of them confirmed.

So Fisher and others sought to have the Port Coquitlam Saints relocate to Maple Ridge, with the support of the junior A team’s owner and a league governor, Reg Thompson, who is moving to the city this fall.

But that bid was also denied.

Fisher was not allowed to be in the room, nor was Thompson, when that decision was made, and said an explanation wasn’t given.

He thinks it has to do with competition and the strength of lacrosse in Maple Ridge.

Both the intermediate A and B teams in Maple Ridge earned silver at the recent provincial championships. The A team, for which Fisher is the manager, is littered with players selected in the first-round of the past two junior drafts.

Junior A teams draft players out of the midget age division. But teams can’t draft from protected areas – only Coquitlam can draft players from Coquitlam. All teams can draft players from Lower Mainland associations without junior A teams.

Maple Ridge now boasts the largest minor lacrosse association in the province, and a stable of coaches who played in either the Wester Lacrosse Association or National Lacrosse League, or both.

The association had more than 700 players registered last season, and Fisher said the numbers are growing.

Part of the reason for the growth and strength in local minor lacrosse is a demographic shift; Maple Ridge has more affordable housing prices than much of the Lower Mainland.

He moved to Maple Ridge two years ago.

The junior A league has been around, in some form, for 58 years.

Port Coquitlam was once a power, and still finished third in the regular season this year.

But minor lacrosse numbers in Port Coquitlam are dwindling, said Fisher, who grew up in PoCo and was formerly involved with the junior A team there, as assistant general manager.

The association had around 450 registered players this past season, according to Port Coquitlam president Josh Wahl.

It did not have a bantam A1 team, but instead one at the A2 level.

PoCo did have five teams each in the mini tyke and tyke divisions, Wahl said.

He contends PoCo’s registration numbers have held steady for 10 years and are on par with New Westminster and Delta.

However, the association used to have 700 players a season or more, said Thompson, former president of PoCo minor lacrosse.

He is moving to Maple Ridge in September and wants to bring the Saints with him.

“Registration in minor lacrosse in Port Coquitlam is dying.”

There are no longer enough local players for the junior A team to draft to remain competitive.

Thompson said the league needs to lift its draft boundaries, but doesn’t see that happening soon.

He also agrees that an expansion team would water down the competition, making it more difficult for a B.C. team to compete for a national championship, the Minto Cup.

Fisher – whose son played on the Burrards intermediate A team this past season – thinks having a junior A team in Maple Ridge would be a threat to the league’s top teams, and that’s a good thing.

He added either Coquitlam or New West routinely win the junior A championship.

Coquitlam won the league title this year – with players from the U.S. and back east, Fisher said.

Moving a junior A team in Maple Ridge would create more competition for the the league, and give a semblance of fairness.

He wants to grow the game of lacrosse, and has started a social media campaign with that hashtag.

He would also like the players who grow up playing together to have the ability to stay together at an elite level.

He would like to see them compete for the Minto Cup, together, as opposed to being divided up around the Lower Mainland.

It cost between $10,00 and $30,000 a year to run a junior A franchise, Fisher said.

It costs players $500 to $700 a season to play.

Coaches are not paid.

Teams need volunteer help, and Thompson struggles to find that in PoCo.

Fisher and Dave Baliuk, president of the intermediate A team in Maple Ridge, intend to make a bid to relocate the Saints before January.

“We have to be able to sit down in a room and be told no and find out why,” Fisher said.

Karl Christiansen, BCJALL president, said the timing for a Maple Ridge relocation bid isn’t right.

“The decision made was just ‘yes’ or ‘no’ should the team move and it was voted upon.”

The vote, he added, did not meet the six of eight governors or 75 per cent majority in favor of the move.

Christiansen, who lives in Maple Ridge with his family and coaches minor lacrosse here, said the moratorium on expansion ends in 2018.

“I know many of the high caliber coaches who live within Maple Ridge and the minor system is very lucky to have all of them. As well, I know many of the high calibre athletes playing in Ridge Meadows.”