The Peterborough Merit Precision Jr. A Lakers expect all their collegiate players including Owen Hiltz to play this season.
The key will be how the team performs in the first month until those players arrive home from school, said head coach Robert Hope.
After a modified 2021 season played at Oakville’s Toronto Rock Athletic Centre and a cancelled 2020 campaign, the Lakers return to a normal schedule starting Wednesday on the road against the St. Catharines Athletics.
They haven’t made the playoffs since 2015 but possess a core of players who won the OJLL’s U19 tournament last season. Hope and his coaching staff, including fellow NLL players Turner Evans and Jake Withers, are trying to rebuild the program to its days as perennial contenders.
One thing that haunted the team in those down years was their performance early in the season when their top players were still at college something Hope wants to correct.
“We’re hoping to get into the playoffs and make a splash from there and go on a deep run,” Hope said. “That’s what I truthfully think we can do. It’s important for us to have a good start to the season and that will be up to a lot of guys who might not be there when we have our full roster but they’re still an important part to our team,” he said. “Although you can only dress 18 guys we expect to have a 25 to 30 man roster in order to improve our record at the start of the year so we’re in a good spot come June so we can go for that playoff push.”
The team has 18 players who play at U.S. college or prep schools eligible to play for them and Hope says none have indicated they will not play this summer. Leading the way among the players they expect to filter in over the next month is Syracuse star Owen Hiltz, former first overall draft pick Lucas Osborne, his Lawrenceville prep teammate D.J. Clark, Nick Roode, Nick Crowley, Zac Thompson and Ben Trumble, to name a few.
They’ll start the season with a handful of regular players including Adam Thistlewaite, Tyler Hendrycks, Holden Lowes, Tyler Grandel and goalies Deacan Knott, Jackson Hainer and supplement the roster with affiliated players from the Gloucester Jr. B and Peterborough Jr. C teams.
“We’ll have a mixed bag of guys but it will allow for some young guys who are probably going to play Jr. C for their first year some good exposure to what junior lacrosse is all about. They will be guys we will be using in the future,” Hope said.
He believes they’re building depth throughout their lineup.
“I’m excited for both sides of the ball. I know we have a very athletic, big, strong, tough defensive group that will make it difficult for teams to play against. It was exciting to see it in the U19 group last year and those guys are all back and we’ve added to it.
“We picked up Dante Kulas from Whitby, a righty second-last year guy which will help us on the front end. We have lots of goal scoring up there. The right side is a little bit younger than the left side with Owen and Hendrycks leading the way but I’m excited to put Hiltz and Hendrycks together for a full season of growth together and see Owen’s ability to create and shoot. Hendrycks is a big body who can create some space for him and can bury on his own.
“Deacan and Jackson played great for us last year and the guys love playing in front of them. The coaching staff in general is excited about everything. We’ll be a fast team, a strong team, a mean team and tough to play against.”