Sports

Barrie Lakeshores find silver lining in a losing season; team goes into rebuild mode

DAVID MANN, Special to the Examiner

Stephane Charbonneau of the Barrie Lakeshores checks the Peterborough Lakers' Nick Brayton into the boards during Ontario Lacrosse Association Junior ‘A’ action earlier this summer at the Memorial Centre in Peterborough. CLIFFORD SKARSTEDT/POSTMEDIA NETWORK

Stephane Charbonneau of the Barrie Lakeshores checks the Peterborough Lakers' Nick Brayton into the boards during Ontario Lacrosse Association Junior ‘A’ action earlier this summer at the Memorial Centre in Peterborough. CLIFFORD SKARSTEDT/POSTMEDIA NETWORK

It was a long shot from the season that the Barrie Lakeshores anticipated.

The Junior ‘A’ lacrosse team had been working towards a winning season for some time.

A lineup full of skilled veteran players was expected to mesh, but nine games into the season this didn’t transpire.

“There was two ways we could have gone,” said Lakeshores forward Brendan Welsh. “We sell the farm and build for next year, or we could have gone the other way and picked up a couple of players.”

Lakeshores management chose the first option.

At the trade deadline, they unloaded six graduating players to opposing teams and were dealt the first, third and seventh picks for the 2018 draft, as well as other players.

“We decided that the group we had needed a culture change,” said Lakeshores head coach Brian Beisel. “Work ethic and dedication need to be a No. 1 priority.

“For whatever reason, we didn’t have that with the group before, but we will have that going down the road,” he added.

The complete roster makeover included shipping out all captains.

Welsh and Tanner Poole served as alternate captains for the duration of the season.

The promotion proved a great opportunity for each player, but tallying just three wins as the last-place team also left some wounds.

“It’s very tough, especially when you look at your team and think you can compete this year and when it doesn’t go through it makes for a very long season,” said Welsh, who commutes from Collingwood to play lacrosse in Barrie. “It takes a lot of patience. All you want to do is win and then when you miss playoffs, it stings.”

Once a player is drafted into Junior ‘A’ lacrosse from midget, they have five years of eligibility to play until the age of 21.

For players such Stephane Charbonneau and Brent Layton who spent the bulk of their careers in Barrie, to see them compete for a Minto Cup championship in different uniforms is a little disheartening.

“We really wanted to accomplish something here,” Beisel said. “But we’ve got some great young men who will now have the chance to win a Minto Cup. I think a couple of them will have a really good chance to win.”

For the plethora of rookies and sophomores on this Lakeshores squad, had a new rebuild cycle not begun, many wouldn’t have been given the invaluable floor time.

“If you look at the season for a Connor Chisholm, the second half, given the opportunity to have the ball on his stick more was pretty darn good,” said Beisel, who just completed his third season as Lakeshores bench boss. “Austin Lane got some power-play minutes that he may have never had the opportunity to see and he’s really intriguing.”

The Lakeshores just finished their ninth season as a Junior ‘A’ club. Over that span, they’ve qualified for the playoffs twice, but never made it past the first round, most recently in 2015.

From 2000 until 2008, when the program first launched, Barrie competed in the Junior ‘B’ lacrosse loop. By the team’s fourth season, they even won the league, capturing the Founder’s Cup.

As the Lakeshores look to rediscover some of those winning ways, they’ll be putting their trust in a fresh group of rookies to cradle through opposition, at least for now.

“They’ll come in and start playing, that’s for sure,” said Welsh, who was the team’s leading scorer with 26 goals and 41 assists. “They’d get the ball on their stick a lot. I’d definitely expect some big things of them,”

The Lakeshores scouting staff has a list of 30 to 40 players who are on their radar for January’s draft. Top among these targeted athletes are lacrosse players from the Barrie Bombers Midget 1 team.

In fact, the potential for some of these local players was another incentive for the Lakeshores to take the rebuilding route.

“They’re a really exciting group. We had three of them play for us last year and they all showed well,” said Beisel, who is a former National Lacrosse League player. “Instead of getting one or two players, we believe we can get an honest four or five players out of the group to play Junior ‘A’ lacrosse.”

Some of the current Bombers could help make the Lakeshores a strong lacrosse team in the new cycle.

For this group of lacrosse players, including their coach, the past is behind them and only the future is ahead.

“Barrie has never been out of first round of playoffs and that will change over the next couple of years,” Beisel said.