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Shamrocks embark on major rebuild for WLA season

Victoria opens at home against Langley on Friday
Patrick Dodds is one of the young stars the Shamrocks will be counting on this WLA season. (DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST)

Team Tomorrow, aka the ­Victoria Shamrocks, takes to The Q Centre floor today at 6:45 p.m. to open their ­Western Lacrosse Association ­season against Team Today, as ­represented by the defending-champion and overwhelming 2023 favourites Langley ­Thunder.

It is the WLA’s turn to host the Mann Cup. Instead of loading up for a run at the Canadian Senior A championship at home, as the Shamrocks have done in such past seasons with starry hired-stick recruits from Ontario, the club is taking more of a longer view by rebuilding with ­promising young, local talent.

“It’s a different approach for us … more of a development approach,” said Shamrocks GM Chris Welch.

The Victoria Junior Shamrocks have been outstanding the past few seasons and the senior Shamrocks have managed to corner much of that graduating talent thanks to the territorial protection provision allowed in the WLA draft.

So say goodbye to the ­bulwark provided in recent seasons by departing veterans such as Rhys Duch, Jesse King, Ben McCullough and Tyler Burton. And say hello to the future with former Junior Shamrocks stars Patrick Dodds, Casey Wilson, Max Wilson, Denton MacDonald and goaltender Cam Dunkerley stepping up into the green kit of the senior ’Rocks.

“We are taking advantage of the opportunity the draft presented to us to emphasize the local and we are giving these young guys a chance and letting them run with it,” said Welch.

“We might take our lumps in the short term while they develop. But this opportunity [to rebuild] with these graduating recent local juniors was too good to pass up and is the right move for us. Our former [veteran] group didn’t jell overnight and it is also going to take time for this youthful group to jell. We are not going to win every game but we will be battling in every game.”

The rewards could be tremendous down the line as this new green wave evolves and crests. Dodds is already an impact professional player in the NLL and considered a major star of the future. Casey Wilson will represent Canada at the world lacrosse championship next month in San Diego.

“We have the last two B.C. Junior A Lacrosse League MVPs [Dodds and Dunkerley] and that speaks well for our future,” said Welch.

Add to youth brigade the free-agent signing of Bennett Smith, a standout for the Edmonton Miners in last year’s Minto Cup national Junior A championship tournament, and Arthur Miller out of the Nanaimo Junior Timbermen, who the Shamrocks managed to nab in this year’s WLA draft.

“This is not a surrender, it’s more of a long-term versus short-term approach,” said Welch. “If we thought we were close in 2022 [the Shamrocks were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs], we would have gone all-in for this year. Instead of desperately clinging to something, it was better to build for the future.”

There is, however, also a ­noteworthy remaining ­veteran presence provided by ­Marshal King, Cole Pickup, Brad ­McCulley, Jacob Ruest, Dallas Wade, Derek Lloyd and captain Matt Yager. The club is unsure about the return of veteran Chris Wardle, currently in the NLL pro final with the Colorado Mammoth. Returning to the Victoria club will be 2019 Shamrock and three-time NLL-champion Adrian Sorichetti.

Former Shamrocks players will again man the bench with Mike Simpson returning as head coach with Bruce Alexander and veteran defensive-mentor Art Webster as the assistant coaches.

The Thunder, meanwhile, came within a Game 7 loss of winning the 2022 Mann Cup against the Lakers in ­Peterborough, Ont., and are the prohibitive favourites to repeat as WLA champions with the potent foursome of Curtis Dickson, Dane Dobbie, Robert Church and Connor Robinson. The ­Thunder flashed their credentials by opening the WLA season Wednesday night with a comprehensive 20-5 victory over the Burnaby Lakers.

Nanaimo, which reached the WLA final last season for the first time since 1968, also returns the bulk of its roster and will give it another good run.

“We believe it’s not just a two-horse race and that there is a degree of parity with four or five teams with the potential to make some noise,” said Welch.

Fancied as a possible team that could push the Thunder and Timbermen are the New Westminster Salmonbellies, who feature an explosive offence. The Lakers, Maple Ridge Burrards and Coquitlam Adanacs will be joining the Shamrocks in rebuilds with each ­believing they will be heard from in ­coming seasons.