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New look for Thunder
New jerseys, new players, but same expectations.
Those are the feelings of the coaching staff of the Langley Thunder as the senior A lacrosse team gets set to embark on the 2014 Western Lacrosse Association season this weekend.
Langley opens on the road on Saturday (May 17) when they visit the Coquitlam Adanacs.
The Thunder won the 2013 WLA regular season title with a record of 11-5-2 before losing in the league finals. And the two seasons prior to that, Langley captured the WLA championship and represented the west in the Mann Cup.
Gone are some of the team’s top players — including Langley’s Garrett Billings, who tore his ACL during the National Lacrosse League season last month, but had already said he was taking the summer off — as well as Dane Dobbie, a mid-season trade acquisition in 2013 who led the Thunder with 29 goals and 62 points between Coquitlam and Langley. Dobbie also led the NLL in goals this past season.
Several other players have opted to play in Ontario this summer, while some are not playing at all, and a few are undecided.
That doesn’t change the Thunder’s mindset.
“We are going to be competitive,” Jensen promised.
“We are not just going to cash in the year because these guys went in different directions.
“I am optimistic, but you have to realize we lost a lot of players, a lot of quality players,” he added.
“A lot of young guys are going to get into the line-up and it is going to be a different look.
“We are going to be more athletic and have to really work hard for everything as opposed to having a little extra skill that can make things easier.”
Defensively, the team should be strong.
Manning the pipes will be Brodie MacDonald, the winner of the WLA’s Leo Nicholson Trophy as the top goaltender.
The six-foot-seven, 255-pounder was 8-3-2 with a 7.51 goals against average and a .821 save percentage. Both numbers led the league.
Entering his fourth pro season, MacDonald is 21-10-4 with an 8.19 GAA and an .817 save percentage.
The defence will be anchored by Brett Mydske, who has won the Gord Nicholson Trophy as the WLA's top defender award two years in a row.
The team allowed a league-low 137 goals in 2013.
One confirmed returnee on offence is Athan Iannucci who was second on the Thunder with 27 goals and 56 points in 18 games.
A couple of other players expected to contribute are Alex Turner (17 goals, 38 points) and Joel McCready.
Jensen called McCready “a fireplug” who missed the bulk of last season.
Captain Matt Leveque is also back for his eighth straight season.
“The offence might be a bit of a challenge early because you lose that kind of talent,” Jensen said, adding that it would be incumbent for some of the new players to step up.
“We are going to try to pick up the pace and the tempo of the game and keep the other team off balance.”
Earning one of the four post-season berths remains the goal.
In 2013, Coquitlam snagged the final berth with a record of 9-8-1 and 19 points.
“I am sure every team hopes to make the playoffs (but) it will be a scratch to the finish line just to make the playoffs,” he said.
“Burnaby has a real good line-up and have been knocking on the door. I would say they probably have the strongest team on paper.”
Langley opens with three road games before their home opener on May 28 when the Maple Ridge Burrards visit the Langley Events Centre.