Victoria Shamrocks open Mann Cup quest against Burnaby

The ‘Rocks find themselves in an unfamiliar position as first-round underdogs

The Shamrocks and captain Corey Small will hope to slip past the Burnaby Lakers in the opening round of the Western Lacrosse Association playoffs. (Joel Tansey/News Gazette staff)

For the second consecutive year, the Burnaby Lakers and Victoria Shamrocks will square off in the first round of the Western Lacrosse Association playoffs.

Unlike a year ago, it’s the Victoria Shamrocks that enter the series as the underdog, having dropped their last three games to slide down the standings and into fourth place.

The Lakers were the victors in two of those three games, having beaten the Shamrocks by 7-4 and 14-8 margins in the season’s closing week.

The Shamrocks took the only other matchup between the two clubs, an 11-6 win at The Q Centre in May.

Head coach Bob Heyes’s club will need to find its early-season form if it is to advance past a stingy Lakers squad. The Shamrocks dropped just a single contest over their first eight games but went 4-6 over their final 10 to squander an opportunity for home-floor advantage in the playoffs.

Heyes says he isn’t concerned, and that the underdog role might not be a bad thing.

“There’s always pressure on the Shamrocks to finish first, to be top of the heap and everything like that. This is a different role and as a team we have to take on that different mindset that maybe we’re not the favourite team to make it through,” he said, adding that this year’s team can draw inspiration from the 2013 ‘Rocks that upset the Langley Thunder on their way to a Mann Cup appearance.

Heyes will count on the usual suspects up front to provide the bulk of the offense. Rhys Duch played in only six games this year but provided 31 points in limited action. Corey Small lead all WLA scorers with 38 goals and 88 points, while Casey Jackson and Mike Triolo provided 60 and 45 points respectively to balance out the attack. In net, Aaron Bold had a modest 8.89 GAA but there’s little doubting the capabilities of the National Lacrosse League star.

For Burnaby, Eric Penney was the best goaltender in the league this year with a sparkling 7.07 GAA nad .856 save percentage.

The offense will run through Eli McLaughlin (30 goals and 37 assists) and Robert Church, whose 29 goals and 36 assists are made even more impressive given he only played in 13 games.

The Shamrocks emerged from last year’s series with a 14-11 Game 7 win.

Game 1 of the best-of-seven series goes tomorrow night in Burnaby. The series will shift to The Q Centre on Saturday for Game 2.

All games start at 6:00 p.m.

joel.tansey@goldstreamgazette.com

Twitter: @joelgazette