Repeating a championship is supposed to be more difficult than winning it the first time around, but the Blackfalds Silverbacks are making it look easy as they take aim at their third senior C lacrosse provincial title in four years.
With two dominating home wins on the weekend — 16-6 over the Edmonton Tomahawks on Friday and 24-4 over the Lethbridge Pioneers on Sunday — they clinched first place in the Rocky Mountain Lacrosse League’s North Division with three games to play.
But the Silverbacks (10-1-0) know they will be given a stiff challenge to advance out of the North in the playoffs with an always scrappy Vermilion Rage squad likely awaiting them.
“We put the pressure on ourselves, we expect a lot out of ourselves,” said Silverbacks head coach and team captain Geordin Flett. “We know what we’re capable of … we really don’t care about the score, we just care about executing, defensively and offensively. You do that right in this game — minimize turnovers, maximize loose balls and faceoffs — nine times out of 10 you’re going to win the game.”
The Silverbacks beat the Rage in two straight games last year for the North title and then the Okotoks Erratic in three straight games for the provincial championship.
Blackfalds won their second league title in the three-year history of the league last season, but underwent a mini makeover in the off-season, adding nine new faces to their lineup. But it hasn’t slowed them down.
Instead, they have the potential to finish the regular season with an even better record than their 11-2-1 mark last year.
Their only setback this year was a 16-8 loss in Okotoks to the South Division leading Erratic (7-4-0 heading into Sunday) on June 15.
But the back bone is still the veterans and the culture that has been instilled since the franchise’s first season.
“We’re more like a family,” said Luke Flett. “We hang out with each other after the game, we’re all friends out here, we all get along and we’ve all played together for like 20 years, so we all know where (the ball’s) going to be. When new guys come up, they get welcomed into the family.”
Their biggest weapon on the floor has been their offensive depth.
Heading into the weekend, Luke Flett was their leading scorer with 29 points (17 goals, 12 assists) in nine games, but that only put him fifth in the league scoring race, 16 back of the league leader — Edmonton’s Sean Wilhelm (24-21-45 in five games). Justin Kinnear was second on the team with 24 points (13-11-24), while Harry Thompson had 20 (13-7-20) and Tyler McRobbie had been white hot with 19 points (8-11-19) in six games.
“They even said tonight ‘oh if we shut (McRobbie) down, it doesn’t even matter because there are six other guys that can score out there,’” said Luke Flett. “Well our defensive guys can score goals for us too.”
The depth does a few other things as well. Most importantly, it allows them to put an emphasis on practice, with a roster of 26 players, critical in a league where everyone works and is also juggling family and holidays and injuries. Also, it allows more players to play their natural position. It means traditional defensive and transitional players are not being forced into high-scoring roles.
It’s a toxic combination for anybody they end up playing against.
“The thing about this team is, everyone has a role and they all accept it and play well and try to excel at it,” said Geordin Flett. “Not everyone can fill the net and not everyone can be the hero. There’s lots of roles to play and guys have really relished their roles.”
They will need everything at their disposal, however, if they make it to the provincial final for a fourth year in a row. The South is the strength of the league with three tough teams that can beat anyone on any night — the Erratic, Calgary Irish (6-4-0) and Airdrie Mohawks (4-5-0).
Despite the first seed in the North already locked up, the Silverbacks will make good use of those games as they prepare for their post-season push.
“We can always improve on our stick skills and our crispness,” said Geordin Flett.
“We can always improve on our defence, especially our team defence and our man down. Loose balls are always key, faceoffs, we always strive to improve on just about every facet.”
NOTES — Luke Flett added 16 points to his total on the year, scoring four goals in Friday’s win over the Tomahawks and two goals and 10 assists in Sunday’s win. Meanwhile, Shandi Werenka scored four assists on Friday on three goals and eight assists on Sunday, McRobbie had seven points (3-4-7) on Friday and six (5-1-6) on Sunday, Ebbert had five (4-1-5) on Friday and six (3-3-6) on Sunday, Geordin Flett scored four points (2-2-4) on Friday and four (2-2-4) on Sunday, Trent Olsen had four on Friday (0-4-4) and five (3-2-5) on Sunday, Ray Williams had four on Friday (2-2-4) and sic (3-3-6) on Sunday, Troy Klaus added four points (2-2-4) on Sunday and David Wilton had his first two points of the season on Sunday (1-1-2) … Chris Davis picked up the win in net on Friday Adam Mooney got the win on Sunday.