Raiders alumni shooting for pro spots
Lacrosse: Nine Okotoks graduates competing at NLL training camps
By: Remy Greer
| Posted: Wednesday, Dec 04, 2013 06:00 am
After getting a sample of life as a professional, an Okotoks lacrosse star is back hungry for the main course.
Okotokian Mitch Banister is bidding to make the National Lacrosse League’s (NLL) Edmonton Rush’s roster for a second season in a row with an eye on earning some time on the floor this go around.
“I definitely took it as more of a learning curve,” reflected Banister on his rookie campaign. “I got to sit behind some very good defenders like Kyle Rubisch and Jimmy Quinlan and I got to learn from them.
“I’ve taken bits and pieces from their game and try to apply it to mine.”
Banister was on the 23-man roster last season and made road trips to Minnesota and Washington, but did not see regular season game action.
It’s something he’s looking to change in 2014.
“I want to once again make the team and then to get there and play a game, keep growing as a player and keep getting better,” said Banister. “I wouldn’t say it’s any easier (trying out a second time) but I definitely think you would feel more confident in your ability to go out there and perform at that top level.”
The 23-year-old was told by the Rush brass to improve his strength and quickness in the NLL offseason. While playing Senior A with the WLA’s Maple Ridge Burrards, Banister put on 10 pounds to prepare for the grind of training camp and exhibition season with Edmonton.
Closer to home, undrafted Okotokian Cam Copland and captain Brett Baron earned invites to Calgary Roughnecks camp on something of a surprise call from Calgary GM Mike Board in early November.
“That’s what’s so sweet about this. I don’t have to go anywhere. It’s a 15-minute drive into Calgary,” Copland said. “Being able to go tryout I’m just going to take it as an experience and see how hard you can get pushed.”
The 21-year-old, who knows the odds are stacked against players jumping directly from Junior to professional lacrosse, said he is optimistic his combination of speed and size will give him a genuine chance at camp.
“Calgary’s got a young squad already and they’ve been doing so good,” Copland said. “It’s not like I’m lowering my standards because I do really want to make the team, but I know it’s going to be a tough team to make.
“I just weighed in a couple days ago. Six-two-and-a-half and 210 doesn’t hurt you that bad at all when you’re going against men that are 30 and 40.”
Copland has been training with Baron since the Minto Cup in August to prepare for potential camp invites.
“It’s awesome, but it’s also nerve-wracking at the same time right now,” said Baron, on the eve of training camp last Thursday. “It will be fun. It will be a good experience.”
The standout Raider is setting some lofty goals for his first taste of professional lacrosse.
“To crack the squad first and foremost,” Baron said of his expectations. “And if not, then to at least show well for next year, for the draft next fall.”
The Raiders’ captain from 2012-13, Baron makes his living as a heart-and-soul player comfortable in any situation on the floor. It’s that versatility the Calgarian hopes will set him apart from other roster hopefuls.
“I’m not sure where exactly they’re going to put me on the floor, on offence or transition,” he said. “Wherever I am I’m going to give it everything.”
Former Raiders captain Barclay Hickey, who was on the Calgary practice roster last season, and 2013 draft pick Jake Hayes are also flying the Raiders’ colours at Roughnecks camp.
Calgary’s exhibition schedule commences with stops in Langley, B.C. for a meeting with the expansion Vancouver Stealth on Dec. 7 and a pair of meetings in Ontario with the Minnesota Swarm and Rochester Knighthawks, Dec. 14-15.
Joining Banister at Edmonton’s camp is Raiders assistant coach Jesse Fehr, a member of the Rush in 2012 and part of its practice roster in 2013.
Elsewhere, former Raider Cody McMahon is competing for a spot on the Colorado Mammoth. Over in the East Division, ex-Okotoks sniper Jimmy Delaney is looking to soar with the Philadelphia Wings and Kevin Pym is vying for full-time duty with the Buffalo Bandits.
Banister, who encouraged first-timers to play with confidence at camp, said the myriad of Raiders at NLL camps speaks to the health of the junior program.
“It just shows what they’re doing to develop players and the steps that they’re taking to make careers better for the players,” Banister said. “The organization is definitely geared towards excelling and making each player better.”
For more on the Okotoks Jr. Raiders visit raiderslacrosse.ca
To keep track on the latest transactions in the National Lacrosse League go to nll.com/transactions