Lacrosse:

Okotoks Raiders embark on national journey for fifth time

Cole Sheen and the Okotoks Raiders took on the New Westminster Salmonbellies at the 2013 Minto Cup. Wheel File Photo

Cole Sheen and the Okotoks Raiders took on the New Westminster Salmonbellies at the 2013 Minto Cup.
Wheel File Photo

 

 

 

The wait is finally over.

For the first time in four years the Okotoks Raiders are going back to the holy grail of Junior A Lacrosse – the Minto Cup – for the fifth time in the distinguished history of the franchise.

Just getting to nationals is no easy feat.

The Alberta championship has switched sides annually between the Calgary Mountaineers and Okotoks Raiders over the past six years. The latter punched its ticket to the 2017 Minto with a five game series victory capping a dominant season in the Rocky Mountain Lacrosse League.

Okotoks last competed for the Minto in 2013 in British Columbia, finishing winless against Coquitlam, New Westminster, and Whitby.

“I got to play in one game and the calibre of lacrosse out there is incredible and it’s always been my goal to get back there,” said Raiders alternate captain Kade McCormick on the Minto. “It’s revolved around that. I’ve loved lacrosse all my life, played it all my life and I value junior more than any age group.

“I’ve always seen the Minto Cup as the biggest cup in lacrosse and always wanted to compete there.”

Kade was a keen observer at the 2011 Minto Cup at Okotoks’ Pason Centennial Arena watching as older brother Carson and the Raiders duked it out with Whitby, Coquitlam and Edmonton.

Okotoks Raiders alternate captain Dylan Kinnear competes at the Western Final versus the Coquitlam Adanacs in 2015. Wheel File Photo

Okotoks Raiders alternate captain Dylan Kinnear competes at the Western Final versus the Coquitlam Adanacs in 2015.
Wheel File Photo

The 2011 tournament produced a number of athletes who went on to star professionally in the National Lacrosse League including Saskatchewan Rush stars Mark Matthews and Curtis Knight along with DeWinton’s Holden Cattoni, fresh off at a terrific rookie campaign with the Calgary Roughnecks.

“Getting to watch Mark Matthews and some of the biggest names in lacrosse play, watching my brother compete as a young guy and just seeing what kind of lacrosse young guys can do and the speed and intensity and the grind it sparked my interest for sure,” McCormick said.

Politics between provincial governing bodies left Alberta out in the cold for a two-year run. In 2014 and 2015, the Alberta champion was forced to play the powerhouse B.C. champions, which both years was the dynastic Coquitlam Adanacs.

Calgary managed a win in the best-of-five series in 2014 and Okotoks put up a good fight in 2015, but neither team could bust through the door to the national final.

The Mountaineers changed all that last summer by picking up wins over Delta and Orangeville at the 2016 Minto, the first victories by Alberta teams over B.C. or Ontario opposition at the championships since 1979.

“All the credit in the world to the Mounties for going in there and winning the two games they did last year and playing that two-three game,” Getz added. “It makes us more respected, makes us be able to bring in more guys like Orley (Kevin Orleman) and Liam Patten. When they know we’re competitive they’re more willing to play for us. That goes a long way.”

The Minto Cup dates back to 1901 and was previously used to determine champs in the senior and professional level. Since 1937 the prestigious trophy has been awarded to the junior champions.

Alberta has never produced a national champion in Junior A lacrosse. Yet the gap between provinces looks to have been narrowed over the past half decade and it’s hard to argue with the results.

“The year before I thought we had a great show against Coquitlam and I think Alberta has been on the rise for last five years,” McCormick said. “Big hopes for us.”

Okotoks’ hopes will rest on a strong start against both perennial favourites and a relative unknown on the national scene at the 2017 Minto, held Aug. 17-27 in Brampton, Ont.

The Mimico Mountaineers, in just their third season at the Junior A level, qualified for their first trip to the Minto since 1970.

Ontario’s other representatives are far less of a surprise. The Six Nations Arrows shoot for their fifth national championship and third in the last four years.

Out of B.C., the Coquitlam Adanacs are back to defend their national title. The purple-and-yellow clad squad is a virtual lock to compete in the championship game having played for the gold medal tilt in six of the past seven years.

“Alberta lacrosse has come a long ways and we’re hanging right there with the big dogs now,” Getz said. “It’s time for us to go out there and really put our foot down and make strides forward here and go win the thing.”