Thursday, June 4, 2015

Brampton Excelsiors defy expectations with 2-0 start despite missing eight regulars

Heading into the 2015 Major Series Lacrosse Season, the Brampton Excelsiors were generally not considered to be ready to compete with much of the league. It's early yet, but two games into the season and without almost half of their regular lineup available, Brampton is making people sit up and take notice that they don't intend to be doormats.

The Excelsiors opened their season with a 9-5 win over the Oakville Rock and followed that up with an 11-8 win over the Brooklin Redmen Wednesday night in Whitby. Both Oakville and Brooklin were missing several players who are still finishing their NLL seasons, are injured or otherwise unavailable so far. But while Brampton is succeeding with an enthusiastic and athletic young lineup, they stand to improve as much as anyone when all their players return.

Rookie transition player Connor Sellars led a balanced attack against Brooklin with a pair of goals and an assist (he actually had a second assist but wasn't credited with it). He's the type of player Brampton is building with: young, local and ready to work hard to earn playing time and win games.

Twelve different players have scored goals and 17 have scored points, while Mike Burke leads the club in scoring with just six points on a goal and five helpers. Everyone is contributing. The fact than another transition player, Jayson Crawford, leads the team in goals with three gives you an idea that they like to run.

Pushing the pace is a great equalizer and the young Excelsiors love to get up the floor. It also helps that many of the players are familiar with each other. "A lot of the young guys coming up, we grew up together, we played together our whole lives," Sellars said after Wednesday's game. "We're used to playing together and know what each other are going to do. Everybody's been welcoming and helping us in and we're fitting in well."

New head coach Paul Stewart liked that his young roster retained its composure in the win over Brooklin. "We got down and we didn't panic. It was a good team-building win for us," Stewart said. "We did use a lot of speed out of the back end, a lot of young guys that show up for practice and hustle."

Tye Belanger has been excellent in net for the Brampton, but he is an affiliated player from the Wallaceburg Thrashers in Sr B, so he won't be able to play more than nine regular season games for them. They have another solid keeper, though, in Tyler Carlson.

Carlson is just one of many players who will help make the Brampton defence, which has allowed just 13 goals in two games, better as the season goes on. Veterans Kyle Rubisch, Chris Corbeil and Sandy Chapman are all still playing in the Champions Cup playoffs. Rubisch and Corbeil will both be members of Canada's team at the World Indoor Lacrosse Championships this September. They'll be joined by Paul Dawson, also still to return to the Excels this summer.

They'll only help with what Sellars says is the plan for the season. "Our defence is going to play fast all year and use our young defence to our advantage. We're going to make it hard on the opposition every game."

The offensive end should get a boost, too, with the prospect of Dan Keane, Joe Resetarits and Brandon Benn on the way soon.

Brampton has been on the road to start the season but kicks off their home schedule Thursday night at the Memorial Arena.