Shamrocks hand coaching reins to former assistant Mike Simpson

Mike Simpson, new head coach of the Victoria Shamrocks, takes will over skill anytime.

“Nine out of 10 times in the Western Lacrosse Association, the most determined team wins the game,” said Simpson.

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“We will have no off-switch. If we have this approach, we will have a chance to win every night.”

It is now Simpson’s job to instill that attitude. He replaces Bob Heyes, who was not renewed as Shamrocks head coach, despite having guided the team to the WLA title in four of his eight seasons behind the bench with one Mann Cup national championship. Simpson was Heyes’ assistant coach, specializing in offence, the past three seasons with the Shamrocks.

“It’s an exciting opportunity, one that I’ve always wanted, but I did not think it would come in this way,” said Simpson.

“Bob [Heyes] did a fantastic job.”

Shamrocks management said it wanted a new voice.

Simpson as a player won the Minto Cup national championship, the last for the Victoria Junior Shamrocks (then Esquimalt Legion) in 1988, and the Mann Cup with the Shamrocks in 1997. He was head coach of the Junior Shamrocks in the early 2000s.

“I was missing it, for sure,” said Simpson, 53, of his decision to join the Shamrocks WLA coaching staff in 2017.

“It’s crazy how important you realize it was to you once you step away from it.”

It’s a new era of lacrosse he discovered on his return.

“It’s night and day,” said Simpson, assistant chief for fire prevention with the Saanich Fire Department.

“Everything is so specialized now with offensive and defensive players. In my playing days, we had to be two-way players who stayed on the floor for both offence and defence. The game has changed so much. Not only that, but the players are bigger, stronger and faster.”

Simpson adapted quickly to the new game, something that was not lost on Shamrocks management.

“Mike Simpson is a proven winner with Mann Cup and Minto Cup championships as a player and a proven leader as former captain of both the junior and senior Shamrocks, and also in his job with the Saanich Fire Department,” said Shamrocks GM Chris Welch.

“He knows the game inside and out and is extremely competitive. He has grown up in this organization and bleeds Shamrocks green.”

Simpson said he will handle both offensive and head-coaching duties and veteran mentor Art Webster will return as assistant coach concentrating on defence.

The Shamrocks are the defending 2019 WLA champions and lost to the Peterborough Lakers of Ontario in the Mann Cup national championship that year. The 2020 WLA season was cancelled due to the pandemic. The chances for a 2021 season, beginning in late June, were given a huge boost Monday by the annoucement that every British Columbian will have their first vaccine dose by July. An abbreviated 12-games-per-team WLA schedule was released last week.

“We have to assume we are going to play and have to be committed to that approach,” said Simpson.

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com

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