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Junior Shamrocks readying for playoff run after finishing first in regular season

An Island club hasn’t lifted the Minto Cup since Gary and Paul Gait with Esquimalt Legion in 1988 en route to their revolutionary NCAA careers at Syracuse University and the pros that changed the sport and landed them in the pages of Sports Ill
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Victoria Junior Shamrocks’ Kyle Pepper shoots around traffic in front of the net against the Burnaby Junior Lakers at The Q Centre in May. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

An Island club hasn’t lifted the Minto Cup since Gary and Paul Gait with Esquimalt Legion in 1988 en route to their revolutionary NCAA careers at Syracuse University and the pros that changed the sport and landed them in the pages of Sports Illustrated.

Only three Island teams have hoisted Canadian Junior A lacrosse’s holy grail — Esquimalt Legion in 1988, Victoria McDonald’s in 1976 and the Victoria Junior Shamrocks in 1962.

If there has ever been a group to end that drought, it is the current Junior Shamrocks, who have won their first B.C. Junior A Lacrosse League regular-season crown since 2003 with an 11-3 record.

The Junior Shamrocks went to the 2019 Minto Cup, losing to the Orangeville Northmen of Ontario in the final, but as the second B.C. team following the regular-season champion Coquitlam Junior Adanacs because this province got two berths that year due to the tournament being held at the Langley Events Centre.

That was Victoria’s first Minto Cup appearance since 2008, when it also lost to Orangeville in the final, but just as the Junior Shamrocks seemed on the verge, the pandemic wiped out the 2020 and 2021 seasons.

That was too bad for the older players on the 2019 team, who lost the remainder of the junior careers, but the rookies from that squad have now blossomed into stars, especially Patrick Dodds.

Despite only being 20 and still junior age, Dodds had a blockbuster professional National Lacrosse League debut for Panther City of Fort Worth, Texas, with 26 goals and 58 assists for 84 points in 17 games. The six-foot-three, 212-pound forward uses well his size and ample reach and was second in B.C. Junior A Lacrosse League scoring this season with 70 points in 14 games and behind only Burnaby Lakers forward Thomas Vela’s 71 points.

“The rest of the league is set up to stop Patrick Dodds with double teams, so Patrick just sets up our other guys,” said Shamrocks head coach Terry Dennett. “And he absorbs a lot of cheap hits without complaining, and just keeps going.

“Our whole team has taken it upon itself to be better. It’s been infectious. Everyone is accountable.”

Denton Macdonald of the Junior Shamrocks led the league with 48 assists. The Baby Shamrocks are backstopped by NLL pro-signed goaltender Adam Bland of the Calgary Roughnecks. Other key players include Casey Wilson and Noah Manning, both also in NCAA Div. 1 with the University of Denver, and defensive stalwart Owen Russell.

But if the Island is represented at the 2022 Minto Cup — from Aug. 22-29 at the CAA Centre in Brampton, Ont. — the Nanaimo Junior Timbermen aim to be that team. The Baby T-Men have a seriously good squad and tied with the Langley Junior Thunder for second place at 10-4. The annual-power Coquitlam Junior Adanacs were fourth at 9-5. The Burnaby Junior Lakers were 7-7, the New Westminster Junior Salmonbellies and Delta Islanders both 4-10 and the Port Coquitlam Saints 1-13.

The top six of the eight teams advanced to playoffs. The first and second seeds get a bye into the semifinals, where they will be joined by the winners of the third-versus-sixth and fourth-versus-fifth quarter-finals. The top seed plays the lowest-seeded team advancing from quarter-finals while the second seed plays the higher-seeded team coming from the quarter-finals. The semifinal winners advance to the league final with the league champion moving onto the Minto Cup in Brampton.

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com