While last season saw the Langley Thunder emerge from the shadows to capture their first-ever Western Lacrosse Association championship, the team went into 2012 with a target firmly on their backs.
The senior A lacrosse squad returned virtually the entire roster from last season, but also made some very major additions in former league most valuable player Lewis Ratcliff in an off-season trade — he earned WLA playoff MVP honours with 49 points in 10 games — as well as convincing Langley Minor Lacrosse homegrown talent Garrett Billings to return home to play for the summer.
Those two moves were designed specifically to upgrade the Thunder offence which was silenced in the 2011 Mann Cup championships, won in five games by the Brampton Excelsiors.
Langley won game one of the series before dropping the next four contests.
“The first thing we wanted to address was our offence,” admitted Thunder coach Rod Jensen.
“We lacked scoring in the finals last year.”
After scoring 11 goals in a series-opening victory at the 2011 Mann Cup championships, the Thunder offence went silent in dropping four straight games, scoring a combined 18 goals the rest of the way.
Ratcliff tied for the team lead with points, including 26 goals, in a dozen games, while Billings was a deadly set-up man with 23 assists and 30 points in just six games.
Combined with leading scorer Athan Iannucci (30 goals, 27 assists in 17 games), the Thunder were second during the regular season with nearly 10 goals a game.
And in the post-season, the big three delivered.
Aside from Ratcliff’s 49 points, Billings had 26 assists and 31 points while Iannucci added 14 goals and 22 points.
The Thunder also got contributions from rookie Shayne Jackson (10 goals, 18 points) as well as Joel McCready and Alex Turner, who both had six goals and 13 points in the playoffs.
The team also concentrated on adding depth and character, knowing they would be in tough to repeat as champs.
“We picked up some real role players,” Jensen said, adding it was important the team and players not rest on the laurels of last season.
As for last season’s Mann Cup defeat, Jensen said there is lots to take from that.
“Last year was such a new thing, I think everybody was in awe,” he said.
“It was an exciting time.
“(But) we learned that we have to be patient and can’t let your guard down for a minute.”
Prior to 2011, Jensen was the only member of the Thunder with Mann Cup experience, having coached Coquitlam to an appearance in the 2007 national championship series.
Langley captain Matt Leveque said there is lots to take from last season’s Mann Cup.
“Not let our emotions get too involved,” he said.
“Last year, we were just excited to be there and a lot of us were inexperienced, never having been to a Mann Cup before.
“Now we are bringing last year’s experience with us. We just have to keep our emotions intact and stick with what the coaches tell us to do.”
Ratcliff is playing for his first Mann Cup since 2005 when he won with the Victoria Shamrocks. He was also on the ’Rocks team which won in 2003.
“It is nice to get back there,” he said.
“It is a lot of lacrosse in a short time but it is going to be a lot of fun.”
The team should go into the series with a full arsenal after a full week to heal between the end of the WLA final and the start off the Mann Cup (Sept. 7).
Iannucci missed game six while Ian Poole, the league’s unsung hero award winner, should be good to go.
Poole has been out of the line-up since game four.
Poole is the team’s face-off ace, having won nearly 59 per cent (174-for-297) of the team’s draws during the regular season to lead the league in that category. His numbers were even better prior to the injury, winning 69 per cent of the face-offs (79-for-114) through the first seven games of the playoffs.
Jensen knows Langley has its work cut out as they head to Peterborough to face a Lakers team which has won four of the past eight Mann Cups (2004, 2006, 2007 and 2010).
“Unfortunately this year, we will probably see the best team from the east that I have probably seen in the past 10 years,” he said.
“It will be a tough series.”
Overall, Major Series Lacrosse champions have won seven of the past eight Mann Cups.
The Lakers won the MSL title in five games over the Six Nations Chiefs and are 11-1 in the 2012 playoffs.
Peterborough has been led in the playoffs by Shawn Evans (17 goals, 50 points), John Tavares (15 goals, 43 points) and John Grant (21 goals, 39 points).
All games at Memorial Centre in Peterborough, Ont.
Game 1: Sept. 7
Game 2: Sept. 9
Game 3: Sept.10
Game 4: Sept. 12
Game 5: Sept. 14
Game 6: Sept. 15
Game 7: Sept. 16
Games can be followed by clicking here.