Graham Murray has more control over the Lloydminster Xtreme lacrosse team this season.
Last year, the new head coach of the Junior B team was thrown into a new team after coming to the Border City from Ontario, and didn’t have the same amount of time as he did this season to get his team prepared for the start of the regular season.
Now with a full year to recruit new players, work on training and systems of play, Murray is ready for his second season behind the bench.
“We have been together for a couple months now,” said Murray. “Everyone is buying into the systems we are trying to run. We definitely have a few more guys that came in ready to play junior this year. The midgets that we got this year are going to fit in nicely. There won’t be a lag for them at all.”
It will be a quick test for the Xtreme to open their season as they travel to Westlock on Saturday for their season opener against the Rock, a team that finished with a perfect 18-0 record through the regular season and lost the Rocky Mountain Lacrosse League’s North Conference final to the Fort Saskatchewan Rebels.
Lloydminster played the Rebels to open the season last year, losing 13-7 in Murray’s first game coaching in the RMLL. So while Westlock will definitely bring the highest level of competitiveness to the Xtreme on Saturday, Murray is going to use it as a game to mark where his team is and what areas they need to still improve in heading into the season.
“It gives us a benchmark of where we should be and where we need to be to be competitive,” said Murray.
With a good number of returning players, Murray has extremely high expectations for the lacrosse team this season, expecting the Xtreme to be at the top of the conference, battling for a championship. Lloydminster started last season with a 2-2-1 record in their first five games, a slow start in Murray’s eyes. They finished with a 8-9-1 record and just missed out on the playoffs, finishing five points back of third place Vermilion.
While the goal last year was to finish above .500, which the Xtreme barely accomplished, Murray said this year he expects above a .750 average, and a quick start against Westlock and Sherwood Park, who the Xtreme play Sunday, is how they get the early momentum at the start of the season.
“We definitely are a playoff team,” said Murray. “We should be at the top of our conference, no questions asked. Last year our slow start definitely hindered us. We definitely can put the ball in the net, it’s just a matter of us controlling our emotions, staying out of the box and working hard.”
Last season the Xtreme took 18, five-minute major penalties, en route to 486 total minutes in the penalty box. It easily contributed to the number of goals against, as Lloydminster allowed fifth most goals in the nine team RMLL North East conference.
The biggest change for the Xtreme comes from their move into the city, rather than playing out in Kitscoty. The team has been practicing at the Russ Robertson arena before making the move to the Civic Centre for their home opener on May 2 against Westlock. It’s a tough opening for the Xtreme, who play only one of their first four games at home, but a mid-season six game home stand should help keep any early season success moving forward.
“It is a lot easier commute now for guys after work,” said Murray. “They can go home, settle down. Everybody is really enjoying being in Lloydminster.”