The Red Deer Rampage have been impressive early in the Rocky Mountain Lacrosse League season, but there’s every reason to believe that the best is yet to come for the junior B tier 1 squad.
“There’s a lot of fundamental parts of our system that we’re really trying to get down early this year and some of that maybe isn’t progressing as fast as we’d like, but overall I’m happy with our start,” head coach Ron Just said Saturday following an 8-5 victory over the Manitoba Blizzard at the Innisfail Arena.
“We don’t have all of our guys back in the lineup yet. Some guys are still in school in the States and we have some out with injuries. Our young guys have really had to step up and play a big role, so we’re also really happy with that.”
The Rampage improved to 3-1-1 with Saturday’s victory and appear to have a legitimate shot at improving on last year, when they finished second in the North Division — third overall — and eventually fell 2-1 in a best-of-three division final.
“We played pretty well with a short bench last year,” said Just, who has a deeper roster in 2014.
“We have a couple of guys who have come back to Red Deer from junior A teams in Calgary and Edmonton,” added the head coach, in reference to Davis Reykdal and Ryan Beatson.
Beatson scored twice and also assisted on two goals Saturday, while Reykdal and Reid Swier — two of the team’s better left-handed players — are still attending school south of the border but will eventually join the club.
Exactly what type of team will the Rampage be when all hands are on deck?
“A very athletic teams with lots of speed,” said Just. “We’ve got some great skill on the offensive side of the ball with Davis and Ryan coming back to play with us and guys like Mitch Vellner and Reid Swier deciding not to go and play at the A level. That gives us a lot of scoring potential and lots of transition players who are capable of jumping up into the rush and joining the offence.
“Most of our defensive corps is back from last year and we really grew a lot defensively last year. We have a lot of experience and a lot of youth, kind of like the team we had four years ago.We have a core group of 20- and 21-year-olds which brings a lot of experience and a lot of depth, and then the 17-year-olds this year have just so much skill, potential and athleticism.
“They’ve been thrown right into the mix right off the bat and they’re stepping up and learning so fast. We have a really deep, athletic, fast and experienced team, so that’s a great mix.”
The Rampage roster features six first-year-players, including Blayne Friesen and Landon Willoughby.
“Those two are making a big, big difference on the defensive side of the ball. They’ve picked it up really well,” said Just. “But really, I’m happy with all of them. This has been our hardest year in regards to team selection. We had just so much depth (during tryouts) that we released a couple of guys who for sure would have made our team last year and the year before.”
That depth, said Just, is due partly to the blooming popularity of the sport in the Red Deer area.
“What’s really happened over the last eight to 10 years is that the programs in the surrounding towns have gotten so strong,” he said. “We really are Central Alberta’s team. Probably a half dozen guys on the team this year are from out of town. It’s bringing so much depth to the junior program and that’s a great sign for Central Alberta lacrosse.”
The Rampage were in Innisfail Saturday because the floor at the Red Deer Kinex tends to ‘sweat’ early in the lacrosse season.
“We had one guy break his hand there (Kinex) last year and he was out eight weeks,” said Just, whose team will return to their regular home base in early June. “So we wanted to get out of the Kinex early and because we have kids from Lacombe, Innisfail and one from Rimbey, we want to get out to some of these communities.
“The boys take a lot of pride in the Rampage program and we want to provide some excitement in the communities that have provided us with so much talent and have become a big part of our program.”
Vellner fired four goals Saturday and also picked up two assists. Brandyn Blain and Dawson Reykdal rounded out the Red Deer attack with a goal apiece, while Pearce Just, Friesen and Trey Christensen each had two helpers.
Rampage netminder Darrian Banack made 36 saves as his team held a 43-41 advantage in shots.