Timbermen ready for takeoff

Nanaimo Timbermen rookie Carlton Schuss takes a shot on goalie Matt King during a drill at practice Tuesday night at Fuller Lake Arena in Chemainus.

Nanaimo Timbermen rookie Carlton Schuss takes a shot on goalie Matt King during a drill at practice Tuesday night at Fuller Lake Arena in Chemainus.

The Timbermen think they might have their best-ever team. They might have had their best-ever camp. Now they want to put together their best-ever start.

Nanaimo’s senior A Western Lacrosse Association team – to be known as the Coastal Windows Timbermen this season – starts playing for real this Friday (May 13) with a road game against the Burnaby Lakers.

“Everybody’s really excited,” said Cayle Ratcliff, Timbermen forward. “I know we say that every year, but I really think we’ve got something special here and the makings of a really good squad.”

The core of the team returns pretty much intact, and a few new additions and draft picks should make a difference.

“You add a couple more pieces to the puzzle and hopefully they’re the right pieces,” said Scott Ranger, team captain. “It’s a funny league – it’s who puts the most money in and who wants to build the best team and [team president Hadi Abassi] is definitely putting all the effort into giving us the best chance.”

Coach Art Webster said there is a “need to win” this year.

“We’ve got an ownership group that stands 110 per cent behind us and we have to follow through on our commitment,” he said.

The Timbermen will try, if they can, to carry the things that worked at the end of last season into the start of a new season. Last year the T-men missed the playoffs with a 9-9 record, but won seven of their last nine games, so they weren’t eliminated from contention until the last night of the regular season.

Webster said looking back on that night, it was a lesson.

“I said, ‘Carry this with you and think about how tough it was to get to this spot,’” he said. “That’s what it’s going to take every single game.”

Here’s a look at the Nanaimo Timbermen team that will take the floor in 2011:

Offence

The Timbermen finished second in the league in goals last year and are expected to have a similar high-powered attack this year.

Lewis Ratcliff leads a potent left-hand side that also includes his brother Cayle, plus Joel Henry and top draft pick Carlton Schuss.

Ranger leads the group of righties. Gone this year is Callum Crawford, but the T-men have brought in brothers Mat MacLeod and Mike MacLeod.

“The MacLeod boys are both really good pick setters, which is going to help me a lot,” Ranger said.

Kaleb Toth played hurt with his NLL team this spring and the righty won’t be in the mix to start this WLA campaign.

Defence

Some narrow losses last year had the Timbermen looking back and wondering what might have happened if they had kept one or two more goals out of their net.

“You need a good defence to win any games,” said Lewis Ratcliff. “You can win the odd game by putting up a lot of goals but if you want to continuously win you’ve got to have a solid defence and goaltending.”

The group of back-end guys will be led by returning veteran Rob Kirkby and alternate captain Bubba Westwood (whose brother George has opted not to return). The T-men have brought back an old face as Bobby Debrone rejoins the back end, and draft pick Sean Nugent has fit in seamlessly.

“Our defence is bigger, younger and stronger,” Ranger said.

Goaltending

No. 1 goalie Matt King returns for his fifth season in Timbermen colours. He will be backed up this year by draft pick Zack Boychuk, who continues to impress the coaching staff and teammates.

Game on

Missing the first game will be Lewis Ratcliff, Mat MacLeod and coach Webster. That’s because Ratcliff and Webster and their Washington Stealth will be in Toronto getting ready to play MacLeod’s Toronto Rock in the NLL championship final on Sunday (May 15).

The rest of the T-men have definitely transitioned to summer lacrosse mode.

“We don’t have a ton of NLL guys, so I know for myself and a few of the other guys, we’ve been kind of chomping at the bit to really get after it,” said Cayle Ratcliff. “There’s nothing better to test where you’re at, ready-wise, than a game. So it’s go time.”

The T-men and Lakers are the only two WLA teams to start the regular season this weekend; the other five clubs get an extra week to prepare.

Nanaimo’s needed to get ready quicker, but it’s trying to look at that as a positive.

“We’re going to expect competition and we’re going to see what we have for guts and skill,” Ranger said. “It’s going to be a good test for us. Hopefully we can play our game and we’ll get two points in the end.”

The Timbermen face the Burnaby Lakers on the mainland at 7 p.m. The game will be webcast at www.tmen.ca. After that, the next action for the T-men is the home opener May 22 against the New Westminster Salmonbellies. That contest will be a 7 p.m. start at Frank Crane Arena. For season ticket information, please call 250-758-8636 or e-mail info@tmen.ca.

sports@nanaimobulletin.com