War­riors de­fender Salt says he’s back up to speed

The Province - - SPORTS - STEVE EWEN [email protected]­media.com

Justin Salt’s get up and go is ap­par­ently re­booted.

At Van­cou­ver War­riors train­ing camp over the week­end, the de­fender showed the speed and agility he dis­played in his break­away-filled 2017 cam­paign and swears that he’s as healthy as he was dur­ing that cam­paign.

Last sea­son, Salt suf­fered a bro­ken bone in his an­kle early on when he got tan­gled up with a team­mate help­ing de­fend a pick-and-roll. Salt tried to play through it for a time, but ended up hav­ing his sea­son shut down early.

The num­bers do tell the story. Last sea­son, Salt had one goal and seven points and snagged 54 loose balls in 11 games un­der the War­riors’ old Van­cou­ver Stealth ban­ner. In 2017, it was 11 goals, 28 points and 114 loose balls in 18 games for Salt, lead­ing to In­sid­eLacrosse.com nam­ing him its Na­tional Lacrosse League tran­si­tion player of the year.

“The doc­tor said that the only thing that would re­ally help was time off and resting up and that’s what we ended up do­ing,” ex­plained Salt, 28, who played spar­ingly for the Burn­aby Lak­ers last sum­mer af­ter be­ing a full-time reg­u­lar with the West­ern Lacrosse As­so­ci­a­tion club the pre­vi­ous six sea­sons.

An­other con­nec­tion with the 2017 sea­son for him is that Clay Richard­son has re­turned to the de­fen­sive co-or­di­na­tor po­si­tion af­ter tak­ing last year off due to work com­mit­ments.

Van­cou­ver went 2-16 last year and gave up 15.39 goals per game, with John Lintz and then Art Web­ster hand­ing the de­fen­sive co-or­di­na­tor du­ties. In 2017, the team was 9-9 while al­low­ing 12.28 goals per game with Richard­son in charge of the guys go­ing out the back gate.

It’s way too sim­ple to give Richard­son all the credit for when things went right. It’s also un­der­stand­able if play­ers are keen on his re­turn, and Salt be­ing one of those in par­tic­u­lar. Salt has been with the fran­chise since 2012, and his best to­tals in a sea­son prior to 2017 were his 10 goals, 19 points and 75 loose balls in 2015.

“Clay has been very good for my game,” Salt, a 6-foot-2, 195-pound left-handed shot, said.

Salt was quick to say that both Richard­son and head coach Chris Gill want an even greater fo­cus on the de­fen­sive zone for Richard­son’s charges. The Stealth loaded up on tran­si­tion types last sea­son, hop­ing to catch op­po­nents nap­ping, and it failed.

As proof in the switch in philoso­phies, they moved out a tran­si­tion spe­cial­ist on Thurs­day, trad­ing Travis Corn­wall to the Saskatchewan Rush for a sec­ond-round pick in the 2020 NLL draft.

As for Salt, as much as he’s known for get­ting the ball mov­ing the other way he’s also im­proved his check­ing year af­ter year, ac­cord­ing to Matt Beers, the long­time Stealth de­fen­sive ace.

He and Salt have been reg­u­lar room­mates on road trips for sev­eral sea­sons, and he says Salt is al­ways pick­ing his brain about play in Van­cou­ver’s zone.

“There are some tran­si­tion guys that you go right at if you have the ball. You know, by na­ture, they’re look­ing to cheat a lit­tle and get go­ing the other way. Salt isn’t one of those guys,” Beers said.

Gill added: “He has the speed in reper­toire, but he’s also knows the sys­tem and is very smart and de­ter­mined. He’s com­mit­ted to play de­fence first and tran­si­tion sec­ond. That’s what we want.”

The War­riors open the reg­u­lar sea­son on Dec. 15, tak­ing on the Cal­gary Rough­necks at the Sco­tia­bank Sad­dle­dome. Their home opener is Dec. 21, with the Rough­necks pro­vid­ing the op­po­si­tion at Rogers Arena.

GERRY KAHRMANN/PNG FILES

Justin Salt, right, will wear new War­riors colours when the re­named club opens its sea­son Dec. 15 against the Rough­necks in Cal­gary.

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