Sports

Lacrosse game could be ‘springboard’ to return to Lower Mainland

Garrett Billings (#13) goes flying through the air during the Toronto Rock’s championship final against the Washington Stealth last May at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto. Billings, who is from Langley, is in town on Saturday for a National Lacrosse League exhibition game at the  Langley Events Centre. - Graig Abel/Abelimages
Garrett Billings (#13) goes flying through the air during the Toronto Rock’s championship final against the Washington Stealth last May at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto. Billings, who is from Langley, is in town on Saturday for a National Lacrosse League exhibition game at the Langley Events Centre.
— image credit: Graig Abel/Abelimages

Professional lacrosse makes its return to the Lower Mainland after a seven-year absence on Saturday night.

But instead of playing downtown at what is now Rogers Arena, the National Lacrosse League will stage an exhibition game at the Langley Events Centre (Saturday, 7 p.m.)

The combatants will be the past two league champions, the Toronto Rock and the Washington Stealth. The Rock won in 2011 and the Stealth in 2010 with both teams beating the other in the finals.

And NLL commissioner George Daniel hopes Saturday’s game is just the start of professional lacrosse’s return to the Lower Mainland.

“We are real excited about this game,” he said.

“Lacrosse is important to B.C. and British Columbia is very important to the National Lacrosse League.

“With so many of our players originating from (the Lower Mainland), we are just thrilled to be able to put this event on.”

The NLL has teams in Washington, Buffalo, Colorado, Minnesota, Philadelphia, Rochester, and then Canadian teams in Toronto, Edmonton and Calgary.

The Vancouver Ravens folded following the 2004 season and Daniel would love to bring the pro game back to B.C.

“We would hope this (game) could be the springboard to bigger and better things,” he said.

“(B.C.) is an important market for us and I am hopeful this weekend could potentially give us some momentum.”

The LEC seats 5,200 for the exhibition game.

Average attendance league-wide is just under 10,000.

As for the notion Langley could possibly house a NLL franchise, Daniel said the LEC’s size, while not ideal, would not be a deterrent.

“I don’t think we would rule it out,” he said.

“I think there is a business model that can be built around a smaller venue.”

“For us, the first thing is to have a quality ownership group, that is first and foremost,” he added.

“Secondly, for that ownership to demonstrate they can run a viable business operation, and if that can be done in a smaller-sized arena, I don’t think we would rule it out; I think we would keep an open mind about it.”

The Rock and Stealth are in the midst of their training camps as they gear up for the 2012 NLL season, which begins next month.

“It is going to be the highest level of lacrosse you can see,” said Langley’s Garrett Billings, now a Toronto Rock star.

Billings played throughout the Langley Minor Lacrosse Association ranks.

Up until last summer, he played with the senior A Langley Thunder, but now lives full-time in Toronto, where he works as a foreign exchange broker.

Billings, who expects to have about 30 friends and family members at the game, hopes for a good turnout.

“I just really want B.C. to show their support,” he said.

“It is such a great matchup between us and Washington, I don’t think you could ask for a better game.”

“It is going to be fast and a little testy,” he predicted. “There are jobs on the line. We are in training camp and you are going to see guys trying to make an impression on the coaches.”

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