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Rampage eye Founders Cup

The celebrating is done and the Red Deer TBS Rampage are focused on their next title.

The junior B tier I club earned their first Rocky Mountain Lacrosse League and Alberta provincial crown on Aug. 3, and on Saturday they will be taking the redeye to Halifax for the Founders Cup, the Canadian Lacrosse Association junior B national championship.

Just getting over the provincial hump was a weight off their shoulders after coming up empty in the North Division final the previous three years.

“It’s been a grind,” said Rampage captain Pearce Just. “The last four years have been a lot of hard work and it just feels real good to come together with this group of boys and do it with the Red Deer guys.”

With eight core members of the Rampage graduating from the junior ranks, the tournament will hold a little extra meaning. Most of the group of Just, Spencer Lee, Reid Swier, Connor Hartley, Mitchell Vellner, Cole deGraaf, Dion Doust and Skyler Sargeant played all of their junior eligibility with the team. They had been through the ups and the down. For some this will be the last time they play lacrosse. For others, it is just the end of a chapter.

“There’s a lot of leadership in that group, not just in the lacrosse world, but in the other pursuits that they do,” said head coach Ron Just. “When we had our team meeting last week, there was not a question on their part what their goals are and what their focus was for the next couple of weeks.”

They will be in tough once they get to Halifax. As always, the Ontario and Iroquois representatives — Six Nations Rebels and Seneca WarChiefs, respectively — are the overwhelming favourites. Six Nations has won the last three championships and finished this season with a 12-1 record, out scoring their opponents 177-78. Seneca, meanwhile rolled to their championship in Southern Ontario with a 15-1 record.

Despite the lack of championship experience on the roster, the Rampage made sure to add some in time for Halifax. They brought in two players from the Calgary Jr. Mountaineers, who had won the previous five RMLL championships — making the national podium each of those years — to help fill out their roster, captain Sean Tyrell and Austin Rockwell.

Tyrell’s already taking a leadership role on the Rampage, addressing the club about playing a team like Six Nations. He pointed out they lost their first game against the Rebels 14-5 in 2013, but nearly beat them 16-14 in the final.

“It was good just to hear him say that,” said the head coach. “The first game might be a little tough because we’re not used to their style, but we will figure it out and we’ll be better in the second game against them, which hopefully will be the gold medal game.”

The Rampage, however, are not taking the rest of the teams lightly. They know full well what the Saskatchewan SWAT and Winnipeg Blizzard bring, and are expecting a tough game from every other province.

“It’s the national championship, it’s the best of the best, we’ve got to come to play if we want to compete with them,” said Pearce Just.

The expectation for the Rampage is to live up to the standards set out by their provincial rival.

Their greatest strength will be numbers.

While every team will have a 25-man roster, the Rampage have their quality stretched from one end of the lineup to the other.

“It’s at both ends of the floor,” said Ron Just. “When we look at the teams we play, we know offensively if we shut down three or four players we’re in good shape, and we know defensively they rely on a few defenders. For us, we’ve just got wave after wave of players coming out the defensive door and we play a very high intensity, high pressure defence that wears other teams down.

“Offensively, go ahead, take two or three players out of the lineup, we’ve got three or four others stepping forward to put the ball in the net.”

Davis Reykdal led the team with 75 points in 14 games and Lee was second at 63 points in 20 games, but they had seven more players score between 28 and 49 points.

One of those so-called depth players is Vellner. He spent the season battling a shoulder injury, getting into just nine games this season and finishing with 28 points, ninth on the team, but last year he was second with 57 points and first with 35 goals.

In the provincial final, his old form finally flashed once again. Despite a frustrating tournament, as he scored three goals and an assist to beat the Calgary Chill 11-3 and advance to the Founders Cup.

“It was a huge relief, because I had been sitting out for the whole playoffs,” said Vellner, adding the shoulder is feeling better with some rest and rehab over the last week. “Just to find my shot again was a huge load off my mind going into nationals.”

One other area they added depth was in net, bringing in goalie John McMillan from the Edmonton Warriors, despite solid play from both Rhett Baldwin and Darrian Banack. With potentially seven games in six days, they will need every body they can get.

“We know everybody is going to have to take a seat at least once, you can’t ask somebody to play that many games of lacrosse in that period of time,” said Ron Just.

Just to get to Halifax was a challenge. With a last minute qualification by the team, the push was on to raise money to get them there, despite some help from the CLA, the Alberta Lacrosse Association, the RMLL and Red Deer Lacrosse Association. Ron Just said the parents took care of it getting local businesses to step up to help foot the bill, this included the team’s main sponsor TBS stepping up with an extra donation and team jackets.

“A lot of the guys on our team are either in school or university or have already graduated and are not going to find the $2,600 to get out there,” said Ron Just. “Having the sponsors step up and bring some money to the table has been huge for us and made it affordable for everybody.”

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