It has been more than two months since the Lloydminster Xtreme and Westlock Rock played each other in lacrosse. Westlock won both contests back then, 10-3 season opener and 13-9 spoiling of the Xtreme’s home opener a week later. But since then much has changed about the junior B lacrosse team, who has solidified their defence system and won four of their last five games.
So for Xtreme head coach Graham Murray, those early season losses don’t mean anything, and heading into their first round matchup in the Rocky Mountain Lacrosse League’s (RMLL) North Conference, it comes down who comes to play this weekend in their best-of-three series.
“We are a very different team then when were at the beginning of the year,” said Murray. “Our defence has come a long way since then. I’ve kind of forgotten about those (games). We got a whole new mindset on what we need to be doing on defence.”
Defence will play a major role in the Xtreme’s playoff run this year, as through the start of the season they found themselves on the wrong end of too many high scoring games before the second half of the season began to see a sharp contract to what they were doing in the opening weeks. Lloydminster gave up 163 goals goals throughout the season, scoring 172. Westlock tallied 182 goals for, which was only one place better than Lloydminster in league standings, but they allowed 27 goals fewer.
Lately, the Xtreme have pushed their opponents to the outside of the shooting arch, and made them work to get inside for any type of shot on net. For Murray, limiting the shots on net and not giving up the easy goals due to break downs in transition or defence will be the key against a Westlock team that is capable of taking advantage of any chances given.
Westlock had four 20-goal scorers this season, including Scott Ivey who tallied 37 goals and 67 points in 16 games, the third most points in the league. Daneel Lategan had 31 goals and 43 points, Jake Chizma 26 goals and 37 points and Jordan Boulerice had 20 goals and 47 points to round out the Rock offence.
For the Xtreme Branden Petersen had 31 goals and 65 points, while Braeden Luedtke had 28 goals and 40 points and Terix Fischer-Kobes had 23 goals and 56 points to round out the 20-goal scorers.
So if the defence does it’s job, Murray is confident his scorers can handle their own and take care of the rest.
“If we definitely take care of our end first then the offensive side of things will definitely take care itself,” said Murray. “Offensively, that is starting to come together. At the beginning of the year there wasn’t a lot of movement, a lot of standing around. Now we got a good flow going. Guys are finishing their opportunities. I wouldn’t say we are peaking just yet. I think we have another gear to go and hopefully we find it here in the playoffs.”
With Lloydminster finishing in sixth place in the North Conference it means the road for them for the rest of the season, unless they make it to the final in the RMLL, as the North is hosting the championship this year, so the South Conference would come up to play them at home.
Opposing arenas haven’t been great to the Xtreme this season, however, as Lloydminster were 3-5 away from home. But Murray said in the RMLL, it all comes down to who shows up on any given weekend, so if the Xtreme are prepared for Saturday for Game 1, and Sunday morning for Game 2, they could come home with a series victory and begin to prepare for Round 2.
“It’s going to be an uphill battle,” said Murray. “The guys have to know we have to sacrifice to be able to travel on the road. We are the low seed, we are the underdog, and no one is looking at us to (host finals), but I think we are the team that can do something like that.”
Game 3, if needed, would go Sunday afternoon.