It’s a line-up stacked with pro talent and the Ladner Pioneers are not offering any apologies.
The Pioneers will play their first West Coast Senior Lacrosse Association home game in two years Thursday, May 26 when the North Shore Indians visit the Ladner Leisure Centre at 8 p.m.
It will mark the hometown debut of Vancouver Warriors standout Logan Schuss who is passing on playing in the Western Lacrosse Association this summer to help the team his dad once played for win a national senior “B” championship for the first time in 18 years.
He’s not the only one.
By the time the playoffs roll around in July, the Pioneers will have 10 National Lacrosse League regulars on the floor and will be heavy favourites to win the league title and represent B.C. at the 2022 President’s Cup in Leduc, AB. That’s where the top end talent will be needed in a tournament where the competitive bar continues to rise.
“We showed up (at the 2019) President’s Cup thinking we were good enough to win it and we weren’t,” said Pioneers head coach Ross Frehlick. “We were close but it came down to needing a timely save or goal. But these Ontario teams have a whole bunch of pro guys and so does Alberta. How do you compete with that?”
What paved the way for the inflow of elite talent was the Pioneers playing an exhibition series last summer against North Shore when the senior leagues were shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It resulted in a number of WLA regulars suiting up for them.
“Last year was the perfect year for us,” Frehlick continued. “There were no playing cards required and a lot of guys just could come in and check us out. They realized this isn’t a bad place to play and you are treated well.”
Ontario native Ryan Benesch, one of the NLL's all-time leading scorers, is back for another summer with the Pioneers. Thanks to the efforts of Delta Islander alumni and current Saskatchewan Rush member Mike Mallory, three of his NLL teammates – Matt Beers, Jeff Cornwall and goalie Eric Penny have joined him in Ladner.
Another former Islander star, Colorado Mammoth sniper Eli McLaughin, will also be here when the NLL playoffs conclude. Warriors’ defender Owen Barker and the return of Zach Herreweyers (Calgary) are other impact players.
“I’ve heard comments from both ends that we are making our league stronger and we are hurting our league,” added Frehlick. “We are doing what we can to be good and that's not my fault. Some of these teams in our league just expect players to show up. You have to recruit and you have to get people to help you out.”
Ladner opened its season with wins over New West (15-3) and Victoria (10-5) last weekend.