Maple Ridge Burrards president Lance Andre feels like his team has a lot better shot at winning the Mann Cup after the weekend.
Not because of changes on his roster or coaching staff, but due to moves the Western Lacrosse Association board of governors made in the boardroom.
Changes in trades, free agency and allowing teams to protect top minor lacrosse prospects in their cities were all hammered out in a marathon meeting.
In September 2018 the Burrards lost in the Mann Cup, the Senior A national championship, as they were swept in four straight by the Peterborough Lakers of Ontario’s Major Series Lacrosse league. It was the Burrard’s second Mann Cup appearance, and defeat, in three seasons. They lost to the Six Nations Chiefs in five games in 2016.
The Ontario champions have dominated the Mann Cup for the last 13 years, save for an interruption by the Victoria Shamrocks in 2015.
The New Westminister Salmonbellies, Victoria Shamrocks and other WLA teams used to be able to compete, but it is getting so that lacrosse fans in B.C. have a better chance of seeing Halley’s Comet than a Western team hoisting summer lacrosse’s championship trophy.
On Saturday night in a meeting room in the John B Pub in Coquitlam, the WLA held the longest AGM in recent memory, if not their history, starting at 9 a.m. and running until 4 p.m..
“We made some big improvements,” asserts Andre.
One change will allow WLA teams to protect one player coming out of their city’s minor lacrosse association each year. That player will not go into the entry draft.
“We can pick one local player before every draft, and he is automatically ours,” explained Andre.
Andre loves this rule change, because it allows the Burrards to hang onto the top local talent. At the same time, it gives WLA teams incentive to help their local minor associations grow – something the Burrards have been good at.
The rule will first come into effect in time for the 2020 draft, and it could mean the Burrards are able to protect Anthony Kalinich, a Junior A player who is already in the NLL with the Calgary Roughnecks.
Andre said he might be the best player in that draft, calling Kalinich “a high intensity defender who could captain your team.”
“He’s the only player in that age group in the NLL right now,” he added.
This rule change was not without controversy, because in terms of good minor lacrosse associations, there are haves and have nots in the WLA markets.
Andre’s team is in a market that has the largest minor lacrosse association in the province, and the teams are coached by guys who have experience in the NLL and WLA – by Andre himself. There is a great lacrosse culture, that will be enhanced by more kids being able to start and finish their lacrosse careers as Burrards, he said.
The Ontario league has rules that allow three of these “territorial picks,” and it is a big reason Peterborough, a hotbed of the sport, has been able to establish a dynastic franchise.
The board of governors recognized it is good for WLA teams to have teams with local talent, said Andre.
Under new rules, teams will be able to trade away players, and get them back on their roster for the next season.
This one will be a huge change in terms of competing for the Mann Cup, said Andre.
Under past rules, if a team traded a player away they could not get him back on their roster until two seasons had passed. This was designed to keep teams near the bottom of the standings from “loaning” players to teams bound for the playoffs.
That’s exactly what will change.
Under the new rules, if a team falls out of contention early in the season, they could trade away some of their best players for draft picks or prospects, with the understanding that those elite players are just on loan until next season. The teams must have their final rosters in to the league in the beginning of July, when most teams still have six or seven games left in their 18-game regular season schedule.
“The top four or five teams will be able to load up,” said Andre.
When they took on Peterborough, the Burrards faced a deep roster, with NLL players all over the floor. While Ridge’s top players were easily in the same class, their depth of talent wasn’t there. This new rule will change that, he said.
“If we want to win some Mann Cups, we need to be able to load up,” he said.
“It would have helped us last year.”
At the same time, the rule change will allow weaker teams rise in the standings more quickly.
“It will help the bottom teams get better, by them either getting more draft picks or young players.”
Andre said draft picks will be more fluid and they are a huge commodity for team building. The Burrards built their team through the draft, picking elite offensive stars Curtis Dickson and Ben McIntosh, as well as goaltender Frank Scigliano.
Even later draft picks are valuable.
“Sometimes you find a diamond in the rough in the fifth or sixth round,” Andre said. Generally teams draft talent early, and then “you need your character guys to fill roles, and you get those guys with your fourth, fifth or sixth picks.”
The WLA also made it easier for players to become free agents – they must sit out two seasons of Canadian Lacrosse Association action.
That replaces a rule that said a WLA team would retain their playing rights if they played lacrosse virtually anywhere, including the NLL, NCAA and Major League Lacrosse. In the past, WLA teams that owned a player’s rights could block him from being on other teams in the league, even if he wanted to leave.
“It will force teams to trade guys,” said Andre, rather than lose them to free agency.
The cumulative effect of these will be a stronger WLA, predicts Andre.
“It levels the playing field a bit, will help our league, and will help the West win a Mann Cup.”