(Paul Evans Photography) The BCLA denied a Maple Ridge request to move the Port Coquitlam Saints to Planet Ice.

(Paul Evans Photography) The BCLA denied a Maple Ridge request to move the Port Coquitlam Saints to Planet Ice.

Intermediate lacrosse absorbed by Junior B

BCLA votes to realign intermediate division and denies Maple Ridge Junior A franchise

Local lacrosse took a double punch to the gut last week as the BCLA dissolved intermediate A and B leagues and denied the application to move the Port Coquitlam Saints to relocate to Maple Ridge.

The BCLA has voted to dissolve the intermediate A and B leagues, which will be replaced with a three-tier junior B division.

Both of the Ridge intermediate A and B teams will be lost, leaving local lacrosse officials scrambling for answers.

Jeff Fisher, manager of the now defunct intermediate A team in Maple Ridge, said the decision, approved late last week, means any graduating midget players in Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows will have to leave the cities if they want to keep playing A-level lacrosse.

“Ultimately, it’s a great way for the junior A guys to make it a more successful league and make the junior B league better, but it’s terrible for Maple Ridge,” said Fisher. “So we have some of the best lacrosse players in the Lower Mainland, we are the largest association, but our kids have know where to play A once they graduate.”

In intermediate, players generally range from ages 16 to 18.

Fisher said with the change in the system, not only will local players be forced to leave the area to keep playing at the A level, they will be up against players as old as 21.

“So your kid that’s not even shaving is playing against a guy that has a full-on beard,” said Fisher.

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

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

The decision to realign the intermediate league was kept away from a majority of the players, coaches and parents, and he feels more discussion was needed before it was put to a vote.

He said the motion was put forward by the B.C. Junior B league in hopes of ultimately building a better farm system for junior A with the ultimate goal of being more competitive come Minto Cup time. But Fisher said it’s a disservice to the kids of Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows.

“The major complaint from junior A is that we can’t compete with the Ontario, because they have a five-year program, that they’re way better than us. But we did win a Minto Cup in 2016. So were doing something right” said Fisher.

He said while they are calling it a realignment, dissolving better describes the term and the leaves players and coaches with more questions than answers.

“We understand the rationale, but the way they went about it kind of rubbed us the wrong way.”

He said issues like who is eligible from intermediate for the draft, who is protected and where will the grant money from the government go are all still yet to be decided.

Fisher said the BCLA Junior B league has been struggling for years, while the intermediate division has been wildly successful.

“The junior B was a failing league, and they actually say that in the rationale,” said Fisher.

“They called it a realignment to make it a better league. However, you’ve just done away with intermediate A, which is a very successful league. In fact, we just came out of our provincials, where we made $10,000.”

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.

Now with intermediate being absorbed by junior B and denying the relocation of the Port Coquitlam Saints, Fisher said you have one of the strongest lacrosse associations in the province being denied a chance to grow the game even more an the local level.

He said the junior A teams will be able to sign Ridge Meadow players to cards, and then designate other local players to the three-tier junior B league, something Ridge Meadows won’t have the luxury of doing.

“The real issue that if we have is a kid who is a strong midget A player, we have to ask him to come play junior B. But if Coquitlam drafts him, he’ll just leave and go play junior A.

“We can’t even keep our most talented kids around if they want to continue playing A ball.”

Fisher said he understands not wanting to add a another junior A team to the league, but it would be easy to relocate a team that that continually struggles to be competitive, pointing to Nanaimo or Burnaby. He said Maple Ridge would have no problem building a Minto Cup contender .

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.

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