Thunder rolls to WLA championship

Langley captures first-ever Western Lacrosse Association title with series victory over New West Salmonbellies

Thunder captain Matt Leveque and owner Rob Buchan display the WLA championship trophy and banner.

Thunder captain Matt Leveque and owner Rob Buchan display the WLA championship trophy and banner.

Happy but not jubilant. That is how Langley Thunder general manager Gerry Van Beek described the atmosphere surrounding his senior A lacrosse team.

The Thunder, who have only qualified for the playoffs twice since moving to Langley seven years ago, pulled off an upset, dethroning the three-time defending Western Lacrosse Association champions and perennial powerhouse New Westminster Salmonbellies.

The Thunder won game six on Saturday night at the Langley Events Centre 7-5 to win the series 4-2.

“It is an accomplishment, but the next level is going to be harder again, but we are happy,” Van Beek said on Monday morning.

As the WLA champions, the Thunder will host the best-of-seven Mann Cup championship against either Brandon or Peterborough. The entire series will be held at the Langley Events Centre, beginning Sept. 7 and running until Sept. 15.

Against New West, the team traded victories through the first four games, with both squads holding serve on their home floor. But Langley won 8-4 in game five, in New Westminster and then closed out the series at the Langley Events Centre.

“The key was simply our execution, with a little bit of luck, was just a little bit better,” Van Beek said.

“We stuck to the plan and played our game; we didn’t play their game.”

There were just two poor periods — the first in both games one and three — the team struggled.

“Outside of that, we played pretty solid,” Van Beek said. “Not spectacular, but solid.”

He added that during game two, a 12-6 Langley victory, his squad began to realize they had a great shot at winning the franchise’s first WLA title.

“It showed our players that the game plan our coaches put in place would work,” he said.

And the entire roster contributed to the victory.

The offence retained possession on missed chances, while the defence limited New West’s scoring opportunities. And when the Salmonbellies did get chances, rookie goalie Brodie MacDonald came up with the save.

MacDonald, the league’s rookie of the year, finished tops in save percentage during the playoffs with an .840 save percentage and second in goals against at 7.24. He was named the playoffs’ most valuable player.

During the regular season, the Salmonbellies scored more than nine goals per game and in the playoffs’ first round, they averaged 10.2 goals per game.

But against the Thunder, New West reached double digits just twice — and won both games — but for the series, they averaged only 6.5 goals per game.

Langley had just enough offence, averaging 7.5 per game.

Athan Iannucci led the offence, scoring a league-high 22 post-season goals in 10 games. He was also second in points with 35.

Kerry Susheski was fifth in playoff scoring with 23 points (nine goals, 14 assists).

One of the players Van Beek singled out was Brett Mydske, who may not have shown up on the scoresheet — he had two points in the series — but was a big factor for his overall play.

“He was a horse,” the general manager said, explaining that Mydske probably played the most minutes of any player in the series, except the goaltenders.

Mydske was named the winner of the WLA’s Fred Wooster Unsung Hero Award earlier this month.

Van Beek also thanked the minor lacrosse community of not only Langley but the entire Fraser Valley, which came out to show their support at the games.

But despite being the WLA champs, Langley wants more.

“It is satisfying to get to this point,” he said.

“We put together a plan that we believed was solid, and we had to tweak it here and there, but we believed if we stuck to it, we could have success.”