The newly-formed Kelowna Raiders will make their Thompson Okanagan Junior Lacrosse League debut Thursday night at home to the Kamloops Rattlers.
Face off at Memorial Arena is 7:30 p.m.
The 2011 Raiders are the result of an off-season merger between two local teams—the Rutland Raiders and Kelowna Warriors.
With the numbers of minor players in Kelowna steadily dropping off, organizers for both clubs decided there just wasn’t enough depth locally to put two teams on the floor.
“We weren’t able to support two teams in Kelowna,” said Raiders GM Daryl French. “We amalgamated the teams in an effort to create a real junior atmosphere, a competitive environment where guys had to do more than just show up to make the team. We’ve upped the ante and we really like the group we have. It’s a strong team.”
The Raiders will be co-coached by Travis Wray and Kelly Cahill. Wray was behind Rutland’s bench last season while Cahill guided the Warriors.
“These guys are working great together,” French said of Wray and Cahill. “Travis is a younger type coach, he relates well to the players. Kelly has years of experience and knowledge, he was a great junior A player in his day down on the coast. It’s a good combination.”
On the floor, the Raiders will be led by 2010 TOJLL MVP Tyler French and defensive player of the year Shawn Hochhausen, two members of the BCHL’s Westside Warriors.
Tanner Blesham and Cody Taschuk will share goaltendering duties.
Among other key players on the roster are Scott Renner, Sheldon McDonald, Evan Helgesen, Ryan Phillips and Iain Hart.
With a large number of players born in the 1990 to 1992 range, there is no shortage of experience on the Raiders.
“A lot of these guys have come up through minor lacrosse together, they’ve won medals at the provincial level, and they work extremeley well together,” said French. “We have a good, strong group of older players.
“Our goal from the start is to win the league championship and go to provincials.”
Joining the Raiders and Kamloops Rattlers in TOJLL this season are the defending league champion Kamloops Venom, the Vernon Tigers, Armstrong Shamrocks and South Okanagan Flames. The Raiders will play 15 regular season games—seven at home and eight on the road.
Meanwhile, the Raiders warmed up for the 2011 season with two wins over the weekend at the TOJLL Icebreaker in Armstrong—7-2 over the Rattlers and 6-4 over Vernon.
Sr. Raiders edged by Rocks
A furious rally over the final two periods came up just short as Kelowna Raiders dropped a 12-11decision to the Armstrong Shamrocks in the Okanagan Xtreme Lacrosse League opener for both teams.
Down by five goals one period, the Raiders roared back over the last 40 minutes to tie the game late in the third 11-11.
But two penalties with 90 seconds left sealed Kelowna’s fate as Armstrong scored the decisive goal on the power play.
The Raiders outshot the Rocks in the first frame but trailed 8-3. Kelowna then outscored Armstrong 8-4 the rest of the way only to fall short.
Steve Plasko paced the Raiders attack with three goals and two assists, while Pho Heng added two goals and two assists.
Luke Bailey, Jared MacLennan, Kyle MacLennan, Joe Brown, Evan Helgeson and Braden Renner added single goals.
Steve Clark scored five times for Armstrong.
The Raiders return to action this Friday night when they visit the Kamloops Rattlers.
Next home action for Kelowna is April 29 against Vernon.