Blue Devils training for one goal
London Community News
By Jonathon Brodie/London Community News
After making their first playoff appearance after nine years in the Ontario Junior B Lacrosse League, the London Blue Devils are setting their goals on winning a championship.
“Nothing less than a Founders Cup is our goal,” said Daryl Van Slyke, the team’s newest addition to the Blue Devils staff.
The defensive coach and the team’s bench boss, Jeff Williamson, hang around the boards of the North London Optimist Community Centre’s gym watching players whip balls around during tryouts. The Blue Devils have scheduled eight open trials over March and early April and with only four training camps left before cuts the staff is scrutinizing every player to reach the team’s lofty goal in their 10th season.
About 25 players have shown up to each tryout so far — a mix of veterans preparing for the April 22 season opener at Nichols Arena against last year’s champs Six Nations and young hopefuls looking to make it onto the roster.
“More heart. We just need to work harder,” said Sam MacGee, 18, describing what the Blue Devils need to work on in his sophomore season. “There’s a lot of new talent, it should give us more depth.”
Williamson, who recently became the interim general manager, expects between 12 to 15 players returning from last year, leaving some room on the 23-man team. The coach points out though; in the previous season his team went through about 35 teens before finalizing the roster heading into playoffs.
The Blue Devils will be looking to fill the forward position this year after an offence that had had plenty to cheer about, but was barely noticeable on the stat sheet.
London had the fewest goals out of all the playoff teams heading into last year’s postseason and were only one of five teams to not have a 30-plus scorer (26 teams in the league).
That being said, in 20 games the Blue Devils scored 173 times— the most in the team’s history. An impressive number considering Williamson said the team lost several attackers to Junior A squads heading into the season and had to shift three defenceman up front.
The team’s leading scorer last year, veteran Matt Muszak, with 28 goals had never played offence in his lacrosse career.
“Really we just need to find a couple of key scorers,” Williamson said. Muszak won’t be donning the Blue Devil jersey this season due to overage.
One teen the staff has their eyes on to possibly pick up the slack is Chris Willman who has come out to all four tryouts to date. Looking for offence, Willman might be what the Junior B team needs after he scored more than 50 goals last season with the Blue Devils strong midget competitive team.
“I’m kind of a captain on my minor team so I can be a leader, but I’m also kind of stronger for my age as well so I can add a physical aspect if needed,” Willman, 16, said.
The 5-foot-10 forward has the stats and possibly the ability to make the higher skilled squad, but it’s his eight years growth in the London lacrosse system that makes him a real prize.
Williamson said, he’s trying to create a program Forest City players will be proud to play-in to keep local products at home, rather than have another season of losing teens to out-of-town Junior A teams— London doesn’t have a Junior A squad.
“When you look at small towns like Elora (the team who eliminated London in the playoffs) or Six Nations, those local kids want to play for their hometown. They have the ability to go play junior A, but winning it for their hometown means a lot,” Williamson said. “If we can build a winning program here and entice those kids to stay here going forward, that’s a big step.”
That step hopes to bridge the gap between a Founders Cup and last year’s seventh place Western Conference finish and a first round knockout.
The large aspirations show a characteristic Blue Devils staff might be looking for in every player they choose this time around— a desire for one purpose.
“If everybody has that attitude going in, that you’re here to win a Founders Cup, then everybody has a good attitude,” reiterated Van Slyke. “Confidence from the beginning, you have to have it. It’s not we hope to make the playoffs.”