Coming off the best season in franchise history, the Valley Rebels would dearly love to take one more step forward this year.
In their home opener Friday, the local senior B men’s lacrosse team will get an up-close-and-personal look at what they’re aspiring to.
The Tri-City Bandits, winners of seven of the last eight West Coast Senior Lacrosse Association titles, swept the Rebels in the best-of-five league finals last season. They’re the guests on Friday evening at MSA Arena, as the Abbotsford squad opens its home slate (8 p.m. start).
“Tri-City has been the champ for I don’t even know how long, and they just keep coming back strong every season,” Rebels coach Jim Nishiyama marveled.
“I think our guys are extremely pumped. They made it there (to the finals) last year, and they came up short. . . . You just have to work that much harder to knock them off. I’m hoping they have the mentality to do that.”
This is a new-look edition of the Rebels, beginning with Nishiyama’s presence behind the bench. He coached the team in 2011 before returning to the lineup as a player in 2012, but torn ligaments in his foot ended his campaign. He’s not eager to get back to the grind of playing, so he’s returning to the head coaching role.
The Rebels have endured a mass exodus in goal – their top two ‘tenders from last season, Matt Morehouse and Brandon Mulligan, have moved up to the senior A ranks with the Langley Thunder and Nanaimo Timbermen, respectively.
That’s left veteran Cam Janzen and Keenan Lambright, a youngster out of junior A, to handle the goalie chores.
The Rebels have also lost the services of Curt Callard, last year’s top scorer, to a broken arm, and he’s unlikely to play this season.
But the Valley squad has made some additions, most notably picking up Jarret Dorman from Tri-City in a trade for Bryan Poole. Nishiyama calls Dorman “one of the top three lefties in our league.”
“That’s a huge trade,” he said. “You usually don’t see marquee names in our league moved around.
“They both kind of needed a change of scenery, and it worked out in the end.”
Another Rebels newcomer, Brendan Galbraith, has had a productive start, racking up five goals and three assists in the team’s first three road games, during which the Valley squad picked up two wins and a loss. Galbraith sits second in team scoring behind Sean Kelly (five goals, five assists).
Other returnees lighting it up in the early going include Jordan Hernandez (three goals, four assists) and Shaun McRae (two goals, five assists).
Add it all up, and Nishiyama feels the Rebels should be among four teams battling it out for first place in the WCSLA this season, along with Tri-City, Ladner and Nanaimo.
Friday’s home tilt with the Bandits, he said, represents “one of our biggest tests of the year.”
“You always want to give the home crowd something to look forward to,” he said. “I hope we get a big crowd – we’ve got lots of kids in minor lacrosse, and they want to see two good teams battle.”