Arch-rival Major Series Lacrosse loop in Ontario postpones its start, showing how much work summer game needs to do after COVID canceled two seasons

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Some balls are bouncing the Western Lacrosse Association’s way right now. Others are not.

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The seven-team Senior A boxla league, which was forced to sit idle the past two summers due to the COVID-19 pandemic, will play its 2022 regular season opener on Friday when the Victoria Shamrocks host the New Westminster Salmonbellies at the Q Center in Victory.

That match-up, with its 8 pm start, will be broadcast on CHEK TV. That’s a part of the WLA trying to sell its product and woo back fans. The same goes for new rules brought about to help speed up the game as well as an increased social media presence from the league.

The WLA is also now dealing with the fact that its Ontario-based rival Major Series Lacrosse — the WLA and MSL champions square off in the best-of-seven Mann Cup national championship at the end of every season — announced Thursday that it is postponing the start of its season until further notice. It’s having issues with the Ontario Lacrosse Association.

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As well, there’s the Premier Lacrosse League, which is an American field loop that began in 2019, trying to keep players from suiting up in leagues like the WLA. And then there’s the West Coast Senior B teams recruiting away longtime WLA players. The Ladner Pioneers alone could have as many as nine, led by the likes of Logan Schuss, Matt Beers and Eli McLaughlin.

“There’s been a lot of hard work and tremendous progress to help our game,” league commissioner Paul Dal Monte said of the WLA’s extended off-season. “My sense is that our league governors are in the same boat rowing in the same direction.

“I’m excited to get back on the floor and put on a good show and give the best entertainment we can to our fans.”

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Dal Monte admitted to being “concerned” about the Ontario situation, but also said that “I anticipate logical minds will prevail.”

The Mann Cup, which rotates between the Ontario and BC every season and is scheduled for Ontario later this year, is the showcase event of the summer lacrosse season. It was first awarded in 1910. The last two years marked the first times it hadn’t been contested since 1916-17, when it was put on hold due to the First World War.

The MSL played its first regular season game Tuesday, with the Six Nations Chiefs and Brooklin Lacrosse Club squaring off, but the OLA refused to assign referees for the match-up and two volunteers from the crowd agreed to officiate the game.

According to The Lax Mag, the OLA has demanded the MSL return the Excelsior Lacrosse Club back to Brampton from Owen Sound, deeming that a 2018 sale of the club to Joe Norton was not approved due to “concerns about the legitimacy of the agreement.” There are also issues with the MSL not paying player development fees, according to the OLA.

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The Owen Sound Sun Times is reporting that Norton has retained a lawyer and the MSL Twitter announcement Thursday stated: “The financial risk brought about by potential litigation is just too great to overcome by both our privately and community operated teams.”

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As for the PLL issue, Dal Monte said he’s had correspondence with representatives and hopes to meet with them in the near future to come up with a compromise. There’s a clause in the PLL contract seemingly built to keep players from lining up in leagues like the WLA. At last count, there were 41 Canadians listed on PLL provisional team rosters. That eight-team league is slated to start June 4.

Players have split time between the WLA and past American field lacrosse leagues. Dal Monte said “guys want to do both,” WLA teams are willing to go out of their way to make it happen and he wants to reiterate to the PLL executives that summer box lacrosse success still looks good on the resumes of PLL players.

And with Senior B, Pioneers coach Ross Frehlick told the Delta Optimist that his club has sights set on making a run at the President’s Cup national championship, to be contested in Leduc, Alta., in late August. The North Shore Indians have also brought in noted WLA players in Alex Buque and Brandon Goodwin.

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Paying players in senior lacrosse is permitted. It’s never talked about openly, though.

“The PLL and Senior B dilemma gives younger players that wouldn’t necessarily make teams a chance to play and we could find a few diamonds in the rough that we may have passed on in the past,” said Maple Ridge Burrards general manager Lance Andre . “Younger players are hungrier and more willing. In 2019, we were lucky to get eight to 10 guys to practice. We are averaging 25 to 30 right now.

“I’m excited about getting back with the players who want to be there.”

Nobles expected to return around the WLA include goaltender Christian Del Bianco with the Coquitlam Adanacs and snipers like Curtis Dickson and Dane Dobbie with the Langley Thunder, Jesse King with the Shamrocks and Mitch Jones with the Salmonbellies.

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“We still have a lot of marquee players on each roster and when you add all the young stars of tomorrow I think we have the recipe for an exciting summer of lacrosse,” said Thunder general manager Rob Buchan.

Dal Monte said Friday’s game is currently the lone one this season slated for regular television. All 62 games will be webcast, according to the league.

The rule changes include an eight-second count for a team to get the ball across center floor when it gains possession in its defensive zone. Previously, a 10-second rule applied, and only when a team was short-handed.

The league announced earlier this month the addition of Maki Jenner and Jake Richardson as social media co-ordinators. Both played field lacrosse in the US and are from noted lacrosse families in Victoria and New Westminster, respectively.

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