Salmonbellies sidelined from playoffs by last-place squad
The New Westminster Salmonbellies organization was in a state of shock Monday morning after missing the Western Lacrosse Association playoffs for the first time in eight years.
All the Salmonbellies had to do to make the post-season was beat the last-place Maple Ridge Burrards, who were 3-13-1 heading into the game, on Sunday. However, the Salmonbellies fell in stunning fashion losing 12-6. That left New West in fifth place with a 9-9-0 record, two points behind Coquitlam (10-8-0) and Burnaby (9-7-2), who tied for third.
"Very devastating. Not something we're accustomed to," said Salmonbellies president and general manager Dan Richardson. "Clearly nine and nine is not acceptable in our minds. It was a very up and down season. You go eight and one at home and one and eight on the road and that's not good enough."
The parity in the WLA this season was as strong as it has been in many years, but no one expected a team that has finished either first or second since 2006 to miss the post-season party. Richardson said although parity is one reason the Salmonbellies have the rest of the summer off, it isn't an excuse.
"Before we start blaming our results on parity, we have to look inwardly at our organization. We felt when we put this team together there was sufficient talent, but at the end of the day we didn't get the job done. We're going to have to take some time here and reflect on what kind of changes need to happen in our organization," said Richardson. "Our fans are very loyal, probably the best fans in the league, but they're also very demanding. Our organization isn't going to sit back and take this lightly. It's a real tough time. It's a hard pill to swallow. We're very resilient, we're not going away."
One of the realities of the WLA these days is players not only juggling full-time jobs, but also commitments to the National Lacrosse League in the spring, and the Major Lacrosse League, a professional field loop, in the summer. Two of the team's better players commuted on weekends, Kevin Crowley to Hamilton and Jordan McBride to Denver. They played each other in Hamilton on Saturday and flew back on Sunday to play for the Salmonbellies in Maple Ridge. Richardson said the team tries to be flexible in order to attract the better players, but it comes at a cost and it's something the team will look at during its self-evaluation.
"I'm not here to say that's the reason this club didn't get into the playoffs, but it takes its toll," said Richardson. "You do that numerous times during the season it takes its wear and tear on the body.
"We've had this situation since Jordan Hall was playing with a couple of different teams. It's a different story when you're winning and in the playoffs, but when you're struggling it gets multiplied and put under the microscope."
Richardson went on to say the bigger concern is the team's inconsistency, and that really showed Sunday when they weren't able to beat a seventh-place team with a playoff spot on the line.
"Maple Ridge was the better team on the day so we didn't deserve to get into the playoffs," said Richardson. "It's been a difficult year, but we'll roll up our sleeves. We were a 6-12 team in 2003 and we figured away out of that mess."
Led by Richardson, the Salmonbellies finished third in 2005 and had been either first or second ever since, inclduing advancing to the Mann Cup for three consecutive years (2008-2010).
"Our organization from top to bottom is used to those standards. When you set the bar high that's the expectation that our fan base and sponsors get attracted to that," said Richardson. "The alumni are a very proud group, and I feel bad we let them down."
The best thing about missing the playoffs is a higher draft position, and the 2013 draft is going to be a deep one that includes New Westminster native Tyler Digby. Combined with previous trades the Salmonbellies possess four of the top 11 selections, including second and third overall which excites him and the organization.
"That is the one positive I can see. We can right this quickly with some young studs coming up. We've just got to make sure we pick the right ones," said Richardson.
On Sunday, the Salmonbellies held a 4-3 lead early in the second period before the Burrards struck with seven straight goals, four of them by Curtis Dickson, that didn't end until midway through the third period. By that time it was too late. Dickson, playing just his second game of the season, was a one-man wrecking crew ending up with six goals and one assist.
Ilija Gajic had two goals and three assists for the Salmonbellies with his younger brother Alex getting two of each. Crowley and Corbyn Tao both had a goal and an assist.
To demonstrate their inconsistency, the loss came on the heels of a big victory last Thursday when the ’Bellies downed Coquitlam 9-6 at Queen's Park Arena. That game featured the Salmonbellies scoring the game's final five goals starting with Crowley's marker with one second left in the second period. Crowley finished with four goals and two assists. Alex Gajic had two goals and two assists while Ilija Gajic had a goal and four assists. McBride and Ian Hawksbee scored the ’Bellies other goals.
• The WLA semifinals begin Wednesday with the Burnaby Lakers taking on the first-place Langley Thunder. Game 2 is at Bill Copeland Arena on Friday. The other semifinal has Victoria taking on Coquitlam starting on Saturday. Both series are best of seven.