Youth movement hits Raiders

Lacrosse: Okotoks buoyed by promising rookie class

By: Remy Greer

  |  Posted: Wednesday, Apr 23, 2014 06:00 am

First-overall pick Brett McIntyre loads up a shot at the Okotoks Jr. Raiders pre-season training camp. McIntyre headlines a strong group of freshman expected to contribute to the Raiders this season.
First-overall pick Brett McIntyre loads up a shot at the Okotoks Jr. Raiders pre-season training camp. McIntyre headlines a strong group of freshman expected to contribute to the Raiders this season.
Remy Greer/OWW

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The defending league champions are bringing a distinctly fresh look to the floor.

Youth is in order for the Okotoks Jr. Raiders as a promising crop of rookies and improving prospects are poised to replace a massive void in the line-up left by the graduation of seven players.

“We don’t have the biggest class, but they’re really skilled,” said Raider Leighton Gibson, who’s joined the coaching staff while he continues to fend off post-concussion issues. “I think we have probably three or four (rookies) that are going to make the squad. There are some openings for sure.

“We’ve got some kids with incredible stick skills that are probably going to play up-front even, probably take some shifts on offence.”

First-overall pick Brett McIntyre, a University of Maryland Baltimore County commit, and second-rounder Colton Bymak, a Grade 10 Foothills Composite student from the High River area, have been among the rookie standouts at camp.

“The guy that’s looking really promising is Brett McIntyre, a commit to UMBC, he has a great shot to play up front as well as an Okotoks guy in Colton Bymak,” Gibson said. “And Brett Craig, a big transition and d-guy with good hands, those guys probably have the best chance to make it this year.”

Those openings in the lineup can be attributed to a core group of Raiders ageing out of the Junior ranks, including the likes of two-year captain Brett Baron, five-year stalwarts Cam Copland and Aaron Tackaberry as well as the versatile Kevin Pym and defensive whiz Kyle Burrell.

McIntyre, a product of the Calgary Axemen program, isn’t taking anything for granted in making the jump from to Junior.

“I want to give it my all. Rookies have to grind hard with the big leap from Midget to Junior,” McIntyre said. “You’ve just got to make sure you put in a lot of effort and hustle. I hope I can contribute to the team and maybe score some goals. There are some open spots, but you’ve got to work for them. New coaches here so they don’t know a lot of the players.”

Taking over behind the bench is a familiar face in Calgary Roughnecks captain Andrew McBride, who served as an assistant coach behind former bench bosses Dave Pym and Bruce Codd. He’s joined by Roughnecks teammate Dane Dobbie, the National Lacrosse League’s top goal scorer, who will serve as an assistant.

“Like Dobbie said at the first floor time, all 18 spots are open and that’s kind of the inspiration right now,” said Craig. “The opportunity is so great, two NLL players coaching, not too many people get that. It’s pretty incredible.”

Craig, a sophomore at the Junior level, spent last season with the Calgary Jr. B Mountaineers where he honed his skills to make his second shot at cracking the Raiders count.

“It was my first step towards playing high level lacrosse. I learned a lot last year transition wise, stick skills even, and communication wise,” Craig said. “This year it has escalated from that, even from camp, being loud on the floor and keeping communication up.”

Sophomore Raider Kade McCormick is eyeing full-time duty with the club in his second go around. He expects to make his mark in year two after sticking with the team for the first-half of his rookie campaign before being dropped down to Junior B at the end of the season.

“Last year it was a lot older crew and you could kind of follow in their path. I learned a lot from them last year,” said McCormick, a Grade 12 student at Holy Trinity Academy. “I’m trying to be more like them, trying to be like my brother (teammate Carson McCormick), he’s a good leader and I look up to him.

“We’ve got a couple great rookies, some of the guys out are really good. A few years down the road, we’re going to be really strong.”

More than anything, the Raiders brass is looking for an injection of skill. The rest will take care of itself.

“You can develop them into the system, you can get them to learn the Junior game, “Gibson said. “The biggest thing is they’ve got to have the stick skills to play and be able to transition the ball.”

Training camp and pre-season action continues until the first week of May. The Raiders’ regular season kicks off on May 10 when they welcome the St. Albert Miners to the friendly confines of Pason Centennial Arena at 3 p.m.

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