For the second consecutive year, the Manitoba Blizzard climbed to the top of the Rocky Mountain Lacrosse League with the help of some homegrown talent.
The Blizzard finished the year with a record setting 18–2 win–loss record, clinching the top spot in the league’s Junior B– Tier 1 division after besting the Red Deer Rampage 12–8 in the finals, which took place Aug. 8 in Edmonton.
According to Blizzard veteran and Thompson local Taylor Ritchie, this unprecedented result is the culmination of a group of athletes being allowed to gel over the course of several years.
“We’ve all played together, we have really good chemistry, and this year it really came together because we had lots of good young guys,” said Ritchie, who signed with the Blizzard back in 2015. “Our rookies all filled their roles and figured it out really quickly.”
Outside of Ritchie, this year’s roster was peppered with several talented lacrosse players from the Hub of the North, including William Lutz, Isaac Babulic, and Taylor’s brother Evan.
While the Ritchie brothers were both on hand for last year’s championship run, Lutz and Babulic served as two of the team’s rookies throughout the 2017 season.
“They both played really, really well, and they’ve come really, really far just throughout the season,” said Ritchie. “They’ve both grown a lot as players.”
But the Blizzard can’t rest on their laurels just yet. This week the team is participating in the 2017 Founders’ Cup in Saskatoon, which features Junior B lacrosse squads from across the country going head-to-head. According to Ritchie, this year’s tournament offers the team a shot at redemption after a disappointing finish in 2016, where they only netted a single victory.
“We definitely think we have a chance to medal on that,” he said. “We’ve never gotten better than fifth place before, B side gold, so we’re definitely hoping to hop on the A side this year.”
As a three-year veteran of the Blizzard, Ritchie is also looking ahead to the team’s next season, which will also be his last.
“For the team we want to go three [championships] in a row. That’s definitely our goal,” he said. “For myself, I want to keep growing as a player, growing as a leader. In my last year I want to teach these younger guys as much as I can so they can keep winning when I’m gone and for many years to come.”
The Manitoba Blizzard’s schedule for the 2017 Founders’ Cup is as follows:
-Tuesday, Aug. 15: v. Seneca War Chiefs (4:30 p.m.)
-Wednesday, Aug. 16: v. Orangeville Northman (4:30 p.m.)
-Thursday, Aug. 17: v. Saskatchewan SWAT (8 p.m.)
-Friday, Aug 18: v. Coquitlam Adanacs (4:30 p.m.)
-Saturday, Aug. 19: v. Red Deer Rampage (4:30 p.m.)
-Sunday, Aug. 20: finals