It's a season that has been about five years in the making and the path in front of the Delta Islanders has never been more favourable.
A team loaded with top end veteran talent that will need to win just one best-of-five playoff series to advance to the Minto Cup national junior "A" championships for the first time in franchise history.
The Islanders begin their potential breakthrough journey on Saturday when they open B.C. Junior "A" Lacrosse League regular season play in Victoria.
A year ago, Delta reached the league finals only to be bounced in straight games by seven-time defending champion Coquitlam. Essentially, the entire roster returns and both BCJALL finalists will advance to the Minto thanks to tournament taking place in Langley this season.
"It's still going to be hard enough with the pressure that will be on us," warned head coach and assistant GM Greg Rennie. "We will not be a surprise and people know we have been building for this. We did luck out that (the nationals) are not out of province this year. It couldn't have played out better for us. Now we have to play through it."
Rennie began shaping the roster for the 2016 campaign before he even returned to Delta from the Richmond Roadrunners Intermediate program. He endorsed a deal that saw star Eli McLaughlin dealt at the league deadline for prospects, then traded him again a year later. At the same time, young talents Evan Messenger, Cody Nass and Jon Phillips all were aged up to get a jump on their junior careers. Richmond standouts Brad Hofmann, Spencer Bromley and goalie Ryland Hood all arrived in Delta with Rennie. He also swung deals to bring in Langley's Chase Fraser and Reece Callies.
It all adds up to a boat load of elite players looking to end their junior careers in style. Even Rennie is saying he will move strictly into a GM role next season and hand the reigns to current Islanders intermediate coach Kyle Goundrey.
"It's been like building a puzzle putting all the pieces together (for this season)," admitted Rennie. "For a number of guys, this began five or six years ago in Richmond when we lost the (provincial intermediate final) to Ridge Meadows. I believed in them and I definitely still do now."
The Islanders return seven of their top eight scorers from a year ago, including rising star Tre Leclaire who bypassed intermediate entirely and finished second in league scoring, earning rookieof-the-year honours. Messenger and Nass give Delta three players capable of winning the league scoring title.
At the back end, Hood was superb in last year's playoffs while Hofmann and Callies provide plenty of experience and leadership in front him. Hofmann has been named team captain for the second straight year with Callies and Bromley serving as assistants.
The team also has grit with returnees Shawn Richardson and Mitch Winter. Only two rookies - Riley Phillips and Riley Taylor - have been signed. The Islanders will also be relying on junior 'B' and intermediate call-ups through the early stretch of the season as Phillps, Callies, Fraser and Jayden Campbell eventually return from U.S. collegiate field lacrosse.
Rennie says he has three remaining roster spots that he will hold on to until midway through the season.
"We will strongly be emphasizing on out-of-province talent," he added, hinting a defender from Alberta will likely be the first acquisition. "We have to as we can't forgo the future (of the team). It's a process of playing it out and seeing where the holes need to be filled, probably some time in June. We will be huge buyers. Everything has been saved for this year and we will be going all in."
ISLANDERS 2016 SCHEDULE
Sat. April 30 at Victoria 5 pm
Sun. May 1 at Burnaby 7 pm
Wed. May 4 at Coquitlam 7:30 pm
Sat. May 7 vs Langley 7:30 pm
Tues. May 10 at New West 8 pm
Sat. May 14 vs Nanaimo 5 pm
Sun. May 22 at Nanaimo 3 pm
Fri. May 27 at PoCo 8 pm
Sat. May 28 vs New West 7:30 pm
Sat. Jun 4 vs Burnaby 7:30 pm
Wed. June 8 at Coquitlam 7:30 pm
Sat. June 11 vs New West 7:30 pm
Sun. June 12 at Burnaby 7 pm
Wed. June 15 vs Langley 8:15 pm
Sat. June 18 vs Coquitlam 7:30 pm
Sun. June 19 vs Victoria 5 pm
Thurs. Jun 23 at Langley 8 pm
Sat. June 25 vs PoCo 5 pm
Sat July 2 vs PoCo 7:30 pm
Sun July 3 vs Victoria 5 pm
Wed Jul 6 vs Nanaimo 7 pm