Sr. A Timbermen can compete with anyone

Last year, the Nanaimo Timbermen made it to the Western Lacrosse Association playoffs for the first time since 2007 - it was their second time since joining the WLA in 2005 - while notching a franchise-best ten wins. In 2019, the Timbermen are on the cusp of another double-digit winning season and could notch a playoff spot in back-to-back years all because, to paraphrase the well-known Frank Sinatra song, “they’re doing it their way.”

As youngest members of the WLA, it’s been a tough, discombobulated go for the greater part of the Timbermen’s 15 seasons. Yet, through new recruiting tactics, a strong familiarity with the guys in the locker room, and a belief that their “no-star” team can compete with the league’s historically prolific teams, Nanaimo is becoming a consistent force to be reckoned with.

Being the second-best team on the Island has been tough for the Timbermen. With half the games on the Lower Mainland and a smaller pool of incoming players residing there, it’s been a struggle convincing top-tier players to either join the club or getting up-and-comers to stay. But, now with a stronger emphasis of recruiting and selling players on the tight-knit, hardworking mentality from the top down in the organization, the Timbermen are maintaining their talented youth.

Assistant captain Colton Clark, who is also the oldest player on the T-men at the age of 29, has seen players choosing to stay with the Timbermen in recent years.

“We’ve got guys that are staying here for more than a year,” said Clark. “Instead of guys coming to our team or guys that we’ve drafted and then asking for a trade, we’re getting guys that want to stay for longer than that year.”

Young Timbermen such as the team’s leading scorer Jon Phillips as well as Chase Fraser (out for the season), Drew Belgrave (who is likely to return from a lower-body injury before then end of the season), Evan Messenger, Nate Wade and others are examples of players who are not from Vancouver Island and and have chosen to stay with the the team for longer than one season.

Having many players that have been with the same club for two, three or four years builds strong chemistry, even during losing seasons. Especially, with the addition of “rental trades,” there’s a flurry of moves that are being made by most WLA teams. The Timbermen haven’t been included in many of those deals, and therefore, head coach Kaleb Toth believes his men have a leg up on the other contenders.

“We’re the same crew that’s been together for the last few years and those other teams aren’t,” said Toth. “We’re more of a team than they’ll ever be.”

“We pride ourselves on having no superstars,” Clark added. “We don’t really have that guy that’s going to score 40-50 goals a year. We have no problem sharing the ball with each other and celebrating each other’s success.”

Of course, it takes more than chemistry to win games. Execution and production, which has been a problem at times this year for Nanaimo, is essential to bringing in wins not to mention handwork and hustle.

“We don’t stop,” said Toth. "We’re going to always work hard. We’ve embedded it into their brains that they have to run full sprints at all times.”

The never-quit mentality has been evident with this club, even as games are out of reach. There have been a handful of games in which this team has fought to the last whistle. It speaks to the team’s character and buying into what the coaching staff has been preaching. The Timbermen’s go-to goaltender Charles Claxton knows that the guys in front of him are leaving it all on the floor to out-hustle opponents.

“We’re a grind-and-hustle team,” said Claxton. “We don’t have stacked lineups like all these other teams, so we’ve got to outwork teams to win games.”

Claxton is just one the guys on the T-men knows his team can compete with the supposed-juggernauts in the league. With wins against all the team’s currently in the playoff race - albeit their win against the New West Salmonbellies was a forfeited win - they’ve shown they can beat the league’s best teams - they did bring the Salmonbellies to an overtime loss this past weekend.

“When we’re playing our best game and we have most of our guys out there, we can compete with anyone in this league,” said Claxton. 

The Timbermen have three games left on their schedule to make franchise history by making the playoffs in back-to-back years. Their final games are against the Langley Thunder, Maple Ridge Burrards, and Burnaby Lakers, so they’ll need to continue out-work, out-hustle and out-execute the competition in the next week and a half to make the postseason. It’s evident that the Timbermen think they can do it.

Adam Levi