Sports

At long last, Thunder making noise

Langley Thunder’s Athan Iannucci hits the ground but not before scoring against Victoria Shamrocks goaltender Chris Levis during game two of the Western Lacrosse Association playoff series. The Thunder won the series in four straight and await their opponent for the WLA championship series, which begins next week. - Carl Meadows
Langley Thunder’s Athan Iannucci hits the ground but not before scoring against Victoria Shamrocks goaltender Chris Levis during game two of the Western Lacrosse Association playoff series. The Thunder won the series in four straight and await their opponent for the WLA championship series, which begins next week.
— image credit: Carl Meadows

Things sure have changed for the Langley Thunder.

Five years ago, the struggling senior A lacrosse team made a trade for Western Lacrosse Association veteran Kerry Susheski.

Susheski, who was playing in the National Lacrosse League at the time, was brutally honest on his feelings about being traded to one of the WLA’s weakest teams.

“He made it very public,” said Thunder general manager Gerry Van Beek. “That the worst moment of his lacrosse career was being traded to the Langley Thunder.

“Those kinds of comments hurt.”

That was the reality facing the Thunder, a team which has struggled since moving to Langley in 2004.

In the team’s eight seasons in Langley, they have averaged fewer than five wins each year. And those numbers are helped significantly by the team’s two playoff seasons: 2009 and this year, when the team went a combined 18-15-2.

But that was then and this is now.

This past off-season, the team acquired Athan Iannucci and Susheski. And whereas in years past, players of that calibre may have not reported and demanded a trade elsewhere, this was no longer the case.

Iannucci led the team in scoring with 29 goals and 58 points in 18 games, while Susheski was also solid with 20 points in 15 games.

The players were a big part of the Thunder’s four-game playoff sweep of the Victoria Shamrocks.

Langley wrapped up the series on Monday night at the Langley Events Centre with a 13-8 victory.

Iannucci had three goals and three assists in the clincher.

Following the victory, Van Beek said that Susheski told him he would gladly tell any media just how great Langley is to play for.

At the start of the year, the team had its sights set firmly on the playoffs.

“I would have expected us in the playoffs,” Van Beek said.

“That wasn’t a goal, it was an expectation.”

“We did get lots of pieces to the puzzle that we haven’t had the last couple of years come play for us and that helped us a lot,” he added.

The team made some roster changes, as well as getting a new coach, Rod Jensen, behind the bench.

Another big addition was the team’s first round draft pick, goaltender Brodie MacDonald, who was chosen second overall.

The six-foot-seven goalie did not disappoint, taking over the starter’s job.

The Thunder’s overall defensive play was also better, making his job easier.

Another key was centreman Ian Poole, who was fantastic in the face-off circle, helping the team get possession of the ball.

And Iannucci did what he was brought in to do, score goals.

Dispatching the Shamrocks in four straight was still a little surprising.

“No way I thought we would sweep them,” Van Beek said. “They (Victoria) are just too good of a team.”

The Thunder kept things simple, focusing on the old cliche of winning one period at a time.

“Every game was close,” Van Beek said.

“The two games at the Events Centre, the final score wasn’t close, but if you look at the scoresheet, we scored a bunch of goals at the end when (Victoria) was playing desperate lacrosse.”

Langley won games one and three in Victoria, both by 9-7 scores. Games two and four, in Langley, were won 13-9 and 13-8.

“With 10 minutes left in every game, it was within a goal or two,” Van Beek said. “Every game was close all the way through.”

Some of the series’ keys were the Shamrocks dealing with injuries and the Thunder not allowing Victoria’s power play many opportunities to operate.

Victoria only had seven power-plays in the series, scoring once.

Van Beek said it is rewarding to advance to the league finals.

“People knew we had a team that could compete,” he said.

“But the expectations outside of the Thunder weren’t very high.”

While Langley rests up to see who their next opponent will be, Van Beek said the players remain focused.

“They are happy for the ownership, the franchise,” Van Beek said.

“(But the mood) is not euphoric; they understand the next step is going to be harder.

“They are happy because now they have taken that next step.”

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