Season Preview: Thunder set for 2024 campaign

by Gary Ahuja

Young, hungry and ready to prove themselves: that is an apt description of the 2024 edition of the Langley Thunder ahead of the Western Lacrosse Association season.

The Thunder – who won the WLA title in 2022 and were one victory away from a repeat championship in 2023 – embark on the regular season with a road game in Victoria on May 24 before returning to Langley Events Centre for their home opener against the New Westminster Salmonbellies on May 29.

“Our goal is to outwork every opponent we play,” said Ian Poole, who was elevated to the head coaching position after serving as an assistant last season. “We want teams to know that it will be a battle every time they face us.”

“Our strength will be our speed mixed with grittiness and the will to outwork our opponents.”

In goal, the Thunder are turning to Aden Walsh, who made seven appearances last summer with a 9.64 goals against average. He finished just over one game short (64 minutes) of the threshold of playing in at least 30 percent of his team’s games to qualify, but if he had, Walsh’s .832 save percentage would have ranked him second in the league.

He is also coming off a strong season in the National Lacrosse League where he took over the No. 1 job in the latter half of the season in the crease for the Vancouver Warriors as he started the final eight games, winning six of those. For the season, he was 6-5 with an 11.62 GAA and .750 save percentage.

The defence features several returnees with Poole expecting the group of Matt Abbott, Jesse Gillespie, Trent Kellner, Tyler Sceviour, Aaron Skye and Cal Slade. Graydon Bradley and Reece Callies – both NLL regulars with Calgary and San Diego, respectively – will provide veteran leadership on the back end.

“Our defence will be athletic, tough and aggressive,” Poole said. “I feel they are ready to take on bigger roles and will be relied on to help stabilize our D.”

The coach also highlighted Abbott – whom the team used a territorial protection pick on in 2023 – to play an enhanced role.

“He has an amazing work ethic and a passion for the game that’s hard to match,” Poole said of Abbott, who captained the Langley Thunder Junior A team in 2022 and was the recipient of the BC Junior A Lacrosse League’s Al Boles Award for Most Inspirational Player.

The veteran duo of captain Connor Robinson and Robert Church will each anchor one side of the offence. On the right side, Church led Langley in 2023 with 73 points (32 goals, 41 assists) in 16 games and followed that up by leading the Saskatchewan Rush this past NLL season in both goals (45) and points (100). And on the left, Robinson was tied for third on Colorado in points with 55 but had his season cut short to injury and he starts on the injured reserve for Langley.

“Robert’s veteran presence will be really valuable for our young guys to have around, and Connor is one of the best players around and a great leader,” Poole said.

Poole anticipates both Nathaniel Kozevnikov and Kyle Brunsch to step up and fill bigger roles on the right-side of the offence.  Last year marked Kozevnikov’s first WLA campaign after he dealt with knee injuries, and he delivered 12 goals and 29 points in 12 games while Brunsch saw limited action as a rookie in 2023, managing two goals and eight points in seven games. He is coming off a stellar season in the Arena Lacrosse League where he was fourth in the West Division with 29 goals and 10th with 60 points in 10 games.

Also expected to aid the offence are right-hander Chase Scanlan and lefties Clay Scanlan and Charles Scanlan. The latter is making his Thunder debut.

“I’m excited about the Scanlan trio. They work really well together and bring a lot of skill and grit to the team,” Poole said.