Season preview: Loaded offence for Thunder

by Gary Ahuja

Robert Church is one of three players who were part of Canada's gold-medal winning team in 2019 who will suit up for the Langley Thunder this Western Lacrosse Association season. Garrett James Langley Events Centre photo

Rod Jensen has coached a long time and in a variety of leagues -- including at the professional level – and this might just be the most potent offence he can send over the boards onto the floor.

“This group we have this year is probably the strongest I have ever coached, potentially in the NLL, the WLA or Junior,” Jensen said, referencing the core forward group he will have at his disposal this Western Lacrosse Association season.

The Thunder begin the 2022 WLA season on May 29 in Maple Ridge against the Burrards hosting the Coquitlam Adanacs in their home opener on June 1 (7:30pm) at Langley Events Centre.

Langley begins the season with plenty of buzz thanks in large part to a pair of key additions up front with Curtis Dickson making his long-awaited Langley debut (he was acquired in 2020) and Robert Church, whom the team traded for back in February.

Dickson and Church join Thunder returnees Dane Dobbie and Connor Robinson, giving the team a dynamic offensive duo on both the right and left-side.

“We have probably one of the strongest offences I have been associated with; three Team Canada players (Dickson, Church and Dobbie) and Connor Robinson is going to be on Team Canada (down the road) I imagine because he is playing so well,” Jensen said.

Langley will begin the season without Dobbie and Robinson as both players are with their respective National Lacrosse League (NLL) teams as Dobbie’s San Diego Seals battle Robinson’s Colorado Mammoth in a decisive third game this weekend with a spot in the NLL Championship on the line. Two other Thunder players are also involved in that series: goaltender Frank Scigliano (San Diego) and forward Dylan Kinnear (Colorado).

But while the team awaits the return of Robinson, Dobbie and Kinnear, there is no shortage of young players ready and eager to make their WLA debuts and fill that void with Thomas Vaesen and Erik Maas --- two of the team’s top three picks in the 2021 WLA Graduating Player Draft – looking to contribute.

Vaesen led the BC Junior A Lacrosse League with 53 goals in 21 goals back in 2019 for Nanaimo and finished that season with an even 100 points. Maas comes from the New Westminster junior program – he was captain his final season – and won the Ab Brown Award as the team’s Most Inspirational Player. Maas also played this past winter in the Arena Lacrosse League for the Grizzlies and was second in goals (16) and tied for the team-lead with 35 points.

Jensen called the defence young but developing and a work in progress with loads of potential and he expects Reece Callies to anchor the unit and the versatile Keegan Bell moving to a defensive role with so much scoring already up front.

Callies has been an NLL mainstay with Calgary while Bell spent this past season on Vancouver’s practice roster and spent the winter playing a prominent two-way role in the ALL West Division. Bell scored the decisive goal in helping the Sea Spray win the inaugural ALL West Championship.

Bell played seven of the dozen regular season games but managed 14 goals and 21 points in that short time. He was fourth in shooting percentage (.483) among players with five or more goals.

In goal, Scigliano -- yet another Thunder player with national team experience, having represented England at the 2019 World Lacrosse Indoor Championship – will be the team’s starter. He was also the WLA’s top goalie in 2019 with a 5.16 goals against average and an .883 save percentage for Maple Ridge.

Gordy Bowden and Kyle Mooney are both WLA rookies, but both spent this past winter as part of the Arena Lacrosse League, and each finished among the top five in the ALL West Division. Bowden was tops with a .785 save percentage was Mooney was tied for third (.770). Mooney was also third in total saves with 224 and fourth in GAA at 12.50 while Bowden was fifth at 12.65.