Rookie rushing to the big leagues
Lacrosse: Mitch Banister earns spot on NLL's Edmonton Rush
By: By Remy Greer
| Posted: Wednesday, Dec 26, 2012 06:00 am
In a week clouded by uncertainty for the future of lacrosse in the foothills, a 22-year-old has broken new ground as the first Okotokian to crack a National Lacrosse League roster.
Mitch Banister will be wearing the black-and-white for the Edmonton Rush this season after officially being named to the National Lacrosse League (NLL) team’s 23-man roster on Dec. 20.
“It’s a pretty cool feeling. It’s something I’ve dreamt about since watching the Roughnecks play in 2001,” Banister said. “I honestly wasn’t sure if I was going to make the active roster. I thought I played well, but I was thinking because with my age and everything that I’d be more likely to make the practice roster.”
The soft-spoken Okotokian said it was his willingness to compete at the December training camp that spanned from Toronto to Leduc that likely pushed him onto the roster.
“I played a more gritty defence. I didn’t shy away from any of the veterans on the other teams in the exhibition games,” he said. “I played to my strengths and it seemed to work out.”
Banister, Edmonton’s fourth-round draft pick in October, said he expects his role on the team to increase under the guidance of head coach and general manager Derek Keenan.
“They weren’t sure if I was going to start right away,” Banister said. “But they said they want to continue seeing me play the way I played and to not be surprised that I made the lineup, to know that I earned the spot.”
Mitch’s father Brad Banister was over the moon to hear his son would be hitting the floor with the elite in box lacrosse in 2013.
“I knew they wanted somebody with some intensity and he brings certain intangibles to the table,” Brad said. “In my opinion, with everybody it’s a pretty tight race and whatever attributes you can bring that are extra is important and that makes the difference.”
Seldom do first-year players make the jump onto an active roster in the NLL, a nine-team league where incumbents and returnees usually fill up a lineup.
“As a rookie breaking into this league with only nine teams is pretty incredible,” Brad said. “I’m proud of him. He did it on his own and it’s going to be a little different cheering for different teams than I’m used to.”
Brad, the former owner of the Calgary Roughnecks who is still employed by the team’s parent company, said his allegiances haven’t shifted north just yet.
“I’m pretty sure they’ll forgive me for cheering for black-and-white every now and then,” Brad said of his bosses with the Roughnecks.
Mitch received plenty of cheers during four seasons with the Okotoks Jr. A Raiders where the feisty transition and defensive player locked horns with Alberta’s best, highlighted by two appearances at the Minto Cup.
Raiders owner and general manager David Fehr moved the Raiders to Okotoks from Calgary in 2006 and Banister’s development to the professional ranks as the first Okotokian to make the NLL stands as a testament to the success of the Raiders program, Brad said.
“We’re seeing the results of that program right now with Mitch as the perfect example and perfect timing to show what that program has done,” Brad said. “That’s a kid who has gone through the entire program from Novice through to Junior A.”
However, the Raiders are a franchise in limbo right now as the Rocky Mountain Lacrosse League executive is determining whether or not the team should be expelled from the Alberta Junior A League.
A hearing regarding the future of the Raiders was held on Dec. 18.
A ruling has yet to be made, and Raiders and league representatives have been barred from commenting on the hearing until the process is finalized.
For his part, Mitch Banister said he doesn’t expect his former organization to be given the axe.
“There’s so much support coming from the town, from local players and from other teams across the country that I don’t think it will happen,” Banister said. “I think they will be fine and playing in Okotoks for a long-time.”
Brad Banister said he anticipates cooler heads to prevail in the Alberta Jr. A dispute.
“I can’t imagine anybody wanting to hang their hat on the partial collapse of their Junior A league,” he said. “I think they’re smarter than that.
“You have to look at this and go is this for the kids or is this for the individuals or selfishness, or their own egos,” Brad added. “There’s always politics, there’s always competitive nature amongst teams, but at the end of the day you’ve got to be able to sit across from each other on the same table and get along.”
In the meantime, Banister is focusing on making a successful transition from the Western Lacrosse Association’s Maple Ridge Burrards into regular duty with the Edmonton outfit.
The Rush open the regular season by hosting the Toronto Rock on Jan. 13.
“I’ll be dreaming about it for the next three weeks that’s for sure,” he said.