Okotokian makes NLL debut
Lacrosse: Mitch Banister suits up for Edmonton Rush in battle of Alberta
Wednesday, Apr 16, 2014 06:00 am
Playing your first National Lacrosse League game minutes from your hometown against the team your dad used to own, that’s what you called a Rush.
Okotoks native Mitch Banister made his Edmonton Rush debut when the visitors fought off the Calgary Roughnecks 15-11, Saturday night at the Saddledome.
“It was unbelievable, especially in front of that big crowd. It was ridiculous,” Banister said. “I just wanted to get out there and get either a first touch on the ball or some body contact to get myself into the game and relax.
“Having my whole family there, especially the situation with my dad and his history with the Roughnecks, that was pretty cool having him there.”
Dad is Brad Banister, the former owner of the Roughnecks and one of the original inductees to the Okotoks Wall of Fame as a lacrosse builder in the foothills.
“It was pretty emotional,” Brad said. “I’ve seen him workout hard for the last two years and not give up and not quit and it was a very proud moment.
“After the first few shifts, once he got those out of the way I enjoyed the game. I even had to wear an Edmonton Rush jersey for the first time in my life.”
The professional start was a long time coming for the 23-year-old. Banister, an Okotoks Jr. Raiders alumnus, was drafted by the Rush in 2012, made the roster in 2013 without seeing game action and earned a spot on the practice roster for the 2014 season.
Through two years on the sidelines, his passion never wavered and the patience and dedication came to a rewarding conclusion when head coach Derek Keenan activated Banister for Saturday’s game, a luxury afforded to a Rush team with first-place locked up.
“Obviously you want to get in and play, but when we’re on a roll like we were I was just happy to be a part of that,” he said.
“I knew I had to wait for my opportunity and I was sitting behind some of the best defencemen in the league. Just getting the opportunity to watch them and learn from what they do, helped improve my game.
“When I finally got my chance it helped out a lot. I came in with a lot more confidence knowing that I had put in the work and was in good shape.”
However, all the sage advice in the world can’t prepare you for the requisite bout of nervousness for your first game day.
“I couldn’t really sleep at all. I was a nervous wreck, walking around and couldn’t sit down or anything,” he said. “The closer I got to game time the more the nerves went away and it was just more excitement, just ready to get out there.”
Playing in his familiar defensive/transition role, Banister needed to be ready against a Calgary club boasting the league’s top sniper in Dane Dobbie as well as offensive studs Curtis Dickson and Jeff Shattler, to name a few.
“Playing them you’re always nervous, but like everyone they have tendencies,” he said. “You try to focus on those and play them like you’d play anyone else.
“My biggest goal was to go out and play team defence and to not really worry about being beat one-on-one and trusting our defensive systems.”
Banister made an impact at the other end of the floor, too.
The Battle of Alberta, dominated by the Rush all season, came down to the wire this go around with the Roughnecks coming back to even the score at 11-11 late in the second half. Seconds later, Banister would help set up the game-winning tally by Riley Loewen with an assist to lady luck on the play.
The goal set off a four-goal run to close out the 15-11 win for the Rush, giving Edmonton a league record 15th win on the campaign.
“I just remember trying to get the ball over half before the eight seconds, I was worried they would blow the whistle so I tried to get it to an open guy,” Banister said. “It was an extremely lucky bounce that ended up going right to Loewen’s stick. I didn’t even know how it went in. I was already on the bench and all of the sudden the guys were jumping.
“It was huge. You have to be lucky to be good and good to be lucky.”
Edmonton’s earned every bounce during its historic 2014 season. The Rush entered the weekend at a perfect 14-0 only to lose to the Colorado Mammoth on Friday before bouncing back by outlasting the Riggers 24 hours later.
“You never want to lose, but I think it was a good situation to see how we would react after a loss,” he said. “We just have such a tight-knit team, everybody is such good friends with each other and we have a lot of fun playing with each other that going out and playing is a good time for everybody.
“It’s unbelievable to be part of this and I feel very fortunate to be a part of this team.”