WLA aims to start shortened season in late June

The Victoria Shamrocks last played on a steamy late-summer night at The Q Centre in September of 2019, going down in Game 5 of the Mann Cup national Senior A championship to the Peterborough Lakers of Ontario.

The Shamrocks are hoping their next game at The Q Centre, following a 21-month pandemic hiatus, will be their 2021 Western Lacrosse Association opener June 25 against the New Westminster Salmonbellies.

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The WLA unveiled its reduced schedule Wednesday, with teams to play 12 regular-season games each, down from the normal 18. The season will run 39 days through the end of July with playoffs scheduled for August and the Mann Cup at the home of the Ontario champion beginning Sept. 10.

The WLA season usually starts in May.

“We’ve played it right to the edge to give it maximum time for the vaccines to take effect,” said Shamrocks GM Chris Welch.

“It’s going to be a grind, no question, with lots of games in a short amount of time. It’s going to be intense. Youth and fitness will be a consideration when building teams. Veterans in this era want maintenance days but that is going to be difficult to accommodate with this schedule.”

Welch added the health regulations will need to be at the stage that fans are allowed in The Q Centre.

“That is the big question,” he said.

“We cannot play otherwise because we will not be able to pay our bills. The Shamrocks will not play unless fans are allowed in the building. We have travel costs and we have to pay rent for The Q Centre. We need paying customers for that. It is not viable for us to play without paying fans. It’s a straight economic question. It’s not feasible for us to play without fans. We need to pay our bills.”

Welch was asked about a scenario whereby other WLA teams — particularly the five on the Lower Mainland without the travel costs faced by the two Island teams — are willing to play a season without fans.

“We’ll cross that bridge if we come to it,” he said.

The Nanaimo Timbermen will open June 24 against New Westminster at Queen’s Park Arena before the T-Men’s home debut June 25 against the Maple Ridge Burrards at Frank Crane Arena.

The season is scheduled to open June 23 with the Thunder hosting the Coquitlam Adanacs at the Langley Events Centre in the first regular season WLA game since July 27, 2019.

“The health and safety of all participants in the B.C. lacrosse community is of the utmost importance to the WLA and we will be carefully following all applicable public health orders and best practices as we move toward the 2021 season,” said WLA commissioner Paul Dal Monte, in a statement.

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com

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