Nanaimo Timbermen player Colton Clark has a shot attempt stopped by goalie Pete Dubenski during practice Tuesday at Frank Crane Arena. The T-men start the WLA season the road Friday and play their home opener Sunday. (GREG SAKAKI/The News Bulletin)

Nanaimo Timbermen want to keep trending upward

Senior A lacrosse team, coming off a 2018 playoff appearance, about to start 2019 WLA season

The Nanaimo Timbermen finally had their breakthrough season last year, and can now set their sights higher.

The city’s Western Lacrosse Association club set franchise records for wins and points in 2018, and were rewarded with their first playoff appearance in more than a decade. They badly want to make it back to the post-season.

“We want to basically start where we left off…” said Kaleb Toth, Timbermen coach. “The goal this year is to continue to improve and continue to get better and just to go further and further along in the playoffs and hopefully get an opportunity to play for a championship.”

Management and coaches can talk about those goals because there are players who believe it and buy in.

“We’re moving in the right direction,” said Brody Eastwood, team captain. “We’ve just got to keep working at it and keep that culture switch. The losing culture’s finally left the dressing room, which is good. We’ve got a good group of guys in here.”

RELATED: Senior A Timbermen know they can still raise their game

Some other top teams in the WLA might have a little more star power, but when the T-men have all hands on deck they expect to have good balance.

“[We’ll be] kind of grinding away in games,” Eastwood said. “We have the will and the effort, and we do have some skill. But we’ve just got to work a little harder to get those wins.”

All of Nanaimo’s top five scorers from last year are back – Jon Phillips, Colton Clark, Chase Fraser, Evan Messenger and Eastwood, though Fraser is still playing NLL playoff lacrosse and won’t be available for the start of WLA season.

The major addition to the forward ranks is Braylon Lumb, who led the junior A league in scoring last year. Nanaimo also hopes for good things from Sean Tyrrell, who will join the T-men after NLL playoffs.

Nanaimo’s team strength is expected to be its defence, as the Timbermen have a deep, committed core, including guys who are tough, positionally sound, slick in transition or all of the above.

Drew Belgrave, Tyson Roe, Mason Pynn, Brandan Smith, Adam Jay, Conrad Chapman and Nate Wade are some of the veterans to watch. Draft pick David Byrne will also fit right in. Jordan Gilles is injured, but should be back in a few weeks.

The goaltending picture isn’t sorted out yet, as the T-men start the season with three goalies, too many in a sport with just one or two games a week. Charles Claxton and Mike DeGirolamo were the goaltending tandem last year, but former No. 1 Pete Dubenski has returned to the senior A Timbermen after a year of senior B.

The T-men have a challenging start to the season, playing two presumptive contenders the first weekend. Nanaimo visits the Victoria Shamrocks on Friday, May 24, then hosts the New Westminster Salmonbellies on Sunday.

“We’re looking forward to it,” Eastwood said. “You play to compete with the best, so we’ll see how we fare. I think we’ll be right in there.”

He said the T-men have seen how the early-season points can come into play later in the summer.

“They’re huge games,” Eastwood said. They can be the difference-makers making the playoffs or not.”

GAME ON … The T-men host the Salmonbellies on Sunday, May 26, at 6 p.m. at Frank Crane Arena. Tickets will be available at the door.

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