New coach hoping for straight A’s
A’s open junior A lacrosse season on the road
He’s guaranteed his team will make the playoffs.
Now, it’s time for the journey to begin.
Steve Toll was named head coach of the St. Catharines Athletics junior A lacrosse club last October. Just over seven months later, the A’s will take to the floor in their 2018 season opener Friday in Brampton against the Excelsiors.
With at least 16 returnees this season, the A’s depth definitely stands out, according to their new bench boss.
“The way I play is that we dress eight O (offence) guys and 10 D (defence) guys,” Toll said. “And we really have 13 solid D guys that could be put into the lineup at anytime. It’s a good thing to have, that’s for sure.”
Veteran netminder Nick Damude anchors the Athletics back end, as former St. Catharines Spartan junior B Troy Holowchuk will serve as backup.
“I’ve been impressed very much with our goaltending,” Toll said. “Nick is unbelievable, even in practices. Both our goalies are good kids, and they’re both lowmaintenance, which is very key for goaltenders.
“I really don’t have to worry about our goaltenders.”
Latrelle Harris, who’s been named 2018 team captain, leads a core of defenders which includes nine players back from last season.
Toll has high expectations for Harris, who just wrapped up his second year of professional lacrosse with the National Lacrosse League’s Toronto Rock.
“I’ve said to him since the beginning of the year, I don’t want him to be defensive player of the year or transition player of the year, I want him to be at least nominated for league MVP,” the coach said. “He’s got the potential to dominate at both ends (of the floor). He’s definitely where it starts with our team.”
Up front Jeff Wittig, entering his final year of junior A eligibility, who was drafted by the Vancouver Stealth in 2017, will lead a group of talented, but need to be more consistent, offensive players.
“We’ll be dressing eight very good offensive players, and I’ve noticed in the past with this group when they’re not scoring they try and shoot their way out of a scoring slump, and on this team they’re not going to have time to do that,” said Toll.
“We can’t afford to have a guy on this team taking 15 shots and only getting one goal. And I think that was the big problem last year.”
Alex Simmons, who’s away at prep school in the United States and won’t return to the A’s lineup until next month, is someone Toll is expecting big things from.
“Simmons is a guy that has two years left (of junior A lacrosse) and his skill-wise is pretty much off the charts,” Toll said. “He’s got phenomenally soft hands, and I think if you need a big-time goal he’s got that swagger to him. I’m very excited to get him back.”
Simmons averaged 4.3 points per game last season, more than any Athletics player. Over a full season that would have put the Smithville native into the top five scorers in Ontario junior A lacrosse.
The A’s visit Six Nations Monday afternoon, before welcoming Kitchener-Waterloo on Wednesday for their home opener. Game time at Jack Gatecliff Arena is 7:30 p.m.
Wittig has been named a fulltime alternate while Alec Tamas and Carter Zavitz will wear A’s at home, and Tom Whitty and Simmons will be alternate captains on the road.
“I think the X-factor for this team is being consistent, playing with the lead, and not giving up leads,” Toll said. “If you look at some of the blown leads they had last year in the third period, that can’t happen.
“With this team finishing eighth and ninth the past two years (11 team league) playoffs are definitely the real goal, and with this team and the depth and the goaltending and scoring that we have we should be looking for that sixth spot.
“I think the fans are going to see an exciting brand of lacrosse.”
A’s Acorns: Niagara IceDogs defenceman Liam Ham will start the season with the Athletics. Ham plays offence in lacrosse … The A’s will host their annual golf tournament Saturday, May 26, at Beechwood in Niagara Falls. For more information email Steve Tamas at firstname.lastname@example.org.
‘‘ “He’s got the potential to dominate at both ends (of the floor). He’s definitely where it starts with our team.” STEVE TOLL St. Catharines A’s head coach on team captain Latrell Harris
Latrell Harris, right, shown in action against Six Nations in this July 2017 file photo, is captain of the St. Catharines A’s junior A lacrosse team.