The demise of the two-way player is lamented by box-lacrosse oldtimers and purists. But they don’t hold much sway anymore. It’s turned into a game of offensive and defensive units that come off the bench on the fly after each possession. Teams need to have both in balance in order to be successful.
The Victoria Shamrocks appear sufficiently loaded on offence, but the back side remains a question mark, with former mainstays Steve Priolo, Graeme Hossack and Greg Harnett not returning following the two-season pandemic break.
That has placed the returning defensive veterans such as Ben McCullough, Tyler Burton and Matt Yager into mentorship roles for emerging newcomers Dylan Raymond and Junior Shamrocks-graduate Liam Phillips from Panther City of Fort Worth, Texas, in the professional National Lacrosse League.
“[Shamrocks defensive coach Art Webster] has given the veterans a lot of latitude to take the younger guys aside,” said Victoria head coach Mike Simpson.
“Some of our defensive players are getting their first taste of the Western Lacrosse Association and they really want to learn and there is so much excitement in practice.”
It’s all part of the learning process.
A key addition to the defensive rebuild will be NLL pro Jackson Nishimura, signed Thursday by the Shamrocks. Nishimura will be in the lineup Friday night at 6:45 at The Q Centre when Victoria (1-0) meets the Burnaby Lakers (0-1 heading into Thursday night’s late-finishing game in New Westminster) in WLA action.
The 25-year-old came out of the Toronto Beaches Junior A team to be selected 26th overall in the NLL draft by the New England Blackwolves, where he scooped up 97 loose balls in 16 games as a rookie. Although six-foot-two, Nishumura is flash-quick and tracked down 123 loose balls in the 2021-22 NLL season for the franchise, now known as the Albany FireWolves.
“He’s an incredible athlete that will bring more speed out of the back end and help our game tremendously,” Shamrocks GM Chris Welch said in a statement.
Offence isn’t a concern for a Victoria team featuring Rhys Duch and Jesse King, veteran NLL pros and explosive scorers in the past for the Shamrocks, and who have returned to the fold. King had four goals on an eight-point night as the Shamrocks opened the WLA season last week with a 14-10 victory over the New Westminster Salmonbellies.
There is also much expected of Marshal King, out of NCAA Div. 1 Drexel, who is joining older brother Jesse King, who played NCAA field lacrosse for the Ohio State Buckeyes. The younger King had a goal on a two-point night against New Westminster, as did Duch.
Forward Jacob Ruest comes with pro experience from the Colorado Mammoth and Albany FireWolves of the NLL, while Larson Sundown and Victoria-product Cole Pickup each had hat-tricks in the opener against the ’Bellies. Defenceman Phillips, a throw-back as a two-way defender, had two goals in the opener.
Adding to the offensive thrust, once they return from the NLL playoffs, will be Chris Wardle and Brad McCulley. Wardle is with San Diego and McCulley with Buffalo in the NLL post-season.
As with his approach to the defence unit, Simpson wants the veterans to take the lead on various levels with the offence.
“I’ve given Rhys [Duch] and Jesse [King] the keys to the car,” said the Shamrocks bench boss.
“Their roles are almost like offensive co-ordinators.”
Meanwhile, Burnaby comes to the Island Friday in rebuild mode, which includes having lost NLL veteran and former NCAA Div. 1 Drexel star Robert Church to the Langley Thunder.
“The Lakers are young and rebuilding but put in a lot of effort and hard work and that can overcome a lot and makes any team dangerous,” said Simpson.
The Shamrocks’ first road game is Sunday at Cam Neely Arena in Maple Ridge against the Burrards (0-1).
The Nanaimo Timbermen, off to a 0-2 start, host the hot-starting Coquitlam Adanacs (3-0) on Saturday night at Frank Crane Arena.