Nanaimo Timbermen senior A player Jake Cullen looks to make a play in the attacking zone during a game against the New Westminster Salmonbellies earlier this summer at Frank Crane Arena.

Nanaimo Timbermen senior A player Jake Cullen looks to make a play in the attacking zone during a game against the New Westminster Salmonbellies earlier this summer at Frank Crane Arena.

Season in review: Timbermen trying to take next step

NANAIMO – The senior A lacrosse club lost six one-goal games en route to a 4-14 record and a sixth-place finish in the WLA.

The Nanaimo Timbermen missed the playoffs, but in way, they didn’t miss by all that much.

The senior A lacrosse club lost six one-goal games en route to a 4-14 record and a sixth-place finish in the Western Lacrosse Association in 2016.

“We had unfortunate breaks,” said Kaleb Toth, coach of the Timbermen. “I thought we played hard and good enough to win, but we’re not going to win every game and we just happened to lose [six] games by one goal.”

He said he goes into every season with the hope and expectation that Nanaimo can make the post-season, and 2016 was no different.

“We wanted to make the playoffs; we thought we could,” Toth said. “From the beginning of the year to the end of the year, we improved as a team. We kind of figured out what we needed to do to win games and unfortunately we just always fell short.”

A turning point in the season came about midway through. Nanaimo, coming off back-to-back wins, hosted the New Westminster Salmonbellies on a special anniversary night for the 1956 Timbermen, drawing the biggest crowd of the season. The T-men got edged out in a well-played and exciting contest and then lost a last-minute heartbreaker one-goal game the next night, also on home floor, against the Coquitlam Adanacs.

“It just seemed like the ball, in the last 30 seconds of a game, wouldn’t go in for us,” Toth said. “But that’s part of lacrosse. You’ve got to man through that kind of stuff and figure out a way how to get that ball in the net and it’s not just the players, it’s the coaching staff, too.”

Newcomer Ryan Lee was Nanaimo’s best offensive threat in 2016, leading the T-men in goals (25) and points (50). As a team, the Timbermen scored 154 goals, nearly a goal a game better than last year’s 137.

Toth said his forwards played well for the most part this season. He would have liked to see them generate more shots and get to the middle more often, and said the team needed more secondary scoring.

It made a difference that off-season acquisition Casey Jackson never ended up reporting, Toth said, and it left a missing piece in the team’s plans.

Defence also showed some improvement in some of the necessary areas – size, toughness, positioning and transition, but showed its inexperience at times.

“We still made mistakes, but every team makes mistakes,” said the coach. “It was one of those things where instead of making one mistake and bouncing back, we’d go for 10 minutes making mistakes.”

The Timbermen allowed 181 goals this season, down from 192 a year ago.

Toth was happy with goaltending and said it’s unfortunate teammates couldn’t get backup Mike DeGirolamo a win, though they came very close. Both DeGirolamo (9.62) and starter Pete Dubenski (9.96) had goals-against averages under 10.

“I think overall the goalies played well,” said the coach. “I think they both want to get better.”

Nanaimo will have two draft picks in the first round and two more in the second round this winter and will be able to add depth, but Toth said in his mind, the greatest need is more of a veteran presence both on offence and in the back end.

“Those type of players, they’re very tough to get because they’re usually established wherever they are,” he said.

Toth said talking to guys at the end of the season, they’re disappointed they missed the playoffs, but feel they’re on the cusp of better things.

“I like the core group that we have,” the coach said. “They’re going to get better. They’re going to learn how to lead. They’re going to want to win more and the younger guys are going to see that.”

sports@nanaimobulletin.com