Island Insider this week: Travis Paterson

Steve Nash’s Unlikely Ascent to NBA stardom

Island Insider This Week is a twice-monthly column released by Greater Victoria regional sports reporter Travis Paterson exclusively for Monday Magazine.

5. Islanders help pro lacrosse return to mainland  

The Vancouver Stealth of the National Lacrosse League is about to embark on its first season, based out of Langley, since relocating this summer from Everett, Wash.

It’s not the first time the NLL was in the Mainland and the similarities are heavy. Unfortunately, the Vancouver Ravens signed a sucker’s deal with Orca Bay Sports & Entertainment to play in GM Place (Rogers Arena) from 2002 to 2004 and consequently, the team died a quick death. It featured Darren Reisig, athletic director at Claremont secondary, Grant Hamilton, an officer with VicPD, Rich Catton and other Shamrocks from the era.

The Stealth team features exiled Islander Lewis Ratcliff, current Shamrocks sniper Rhys Duch, and rookie Cody Bremner, a Saanichite who plays for the Nanaimo Timbermen in the summer.

Draftees from the Junior Shamrocks, Brandan Smith and Chris Wardle, are currently looking to crack the squad, as is netminder Matt Flindell, who backed up the senior Shamrocks to the Mann Cup final in 2013. The Stealth’s list of ex-Shamrocks is long, as the team is a veritable all-star collection of players out of the semi-pro Western Lacrosse Association. Chief among them is Ratcliff, who won a Mann Cup with the Shamrocks in 2005, but was traded to Nanaimo before being chased out of town two years ago, and spent 2013 on the sidelines for testing positive to a performance enhancing drug.

4. Who spikes the water in Gordon Head

Speaking of special things to come out of Gordon Head, a la Steve Nash, is the pipeline of girls volleyball players.

The Lambrick Park Lions AA senior girls team is likely the best in the province, having defeated No. 1-ranked AAA and AAAA teams this season. While down the road the Mount Douglas Rams have two junior teams, including its Gold team which is made up of Grade 9s and won the Island championships.

At the senior girls AA level, the Lions are the cat’s meow. The team won the AA Islands last week and is stacked with a mix of volleyball specialists and elite athletes who’ve crossed over from baseball.

It has leadership, from graduating captain Emilie Wong, who’s been with the senior team since she was in Grade 9 and was part of its silver medal wins at provincials in 2010 and 2011.

It has height, particularly on the left side with 6-feet-tall power-hitting sisters Thana Fayad, in Grade 10, and Shimen Fayad, a Grade 12 with a scholarship awaiting at Wichita State. Both are provincial team players.

It has all-around athletes, with Emma Entzminger at libero (she of the national baseball team and who is also one of the most dangerous high school strikers when she laces up for the Lions senior girls soccer team) and Jasmine Strandlund, a Grade 11 who is no doubt NCAA-bound for baseball in 2015.

And it has depth, with a bench full of club volleyball players who would start on most school teams. Look for big things from this team at AA provincials next week.

The Jr. Rams, meanwhile, will eventually compete at the senior girls AAA or AAAA level though they too will face the Lions in crossover city play. That day is still two years away.

For now, the Jr. Rams are focussed on the present, as they attack the provincials as an underdog team looking to gain experience, today and tomorrow at South Delta and Seaquam (Delta) secondary schools.

3. The Oak Bay Bucks

Hunting is still a sport, right? If so, then welcome to the city’s newest sports program, the Oak Bay Bucks. A group of sharp-shooters, the Bucks are gonna kill the competition when they finally get assembled to cull 25 Oak Bay ungulates in 2014. Chick-chick, bang.

2. Nash’s Unlikely Ascent to NBA stardom

Being that his mentors are still coaching in Victoria, revisiting Steve Nash’s past isn’t a hard thing to do when you live here. Go to a Vikes game and ask around and you’re bound to come across stories of people who played with or against him.

But Steve Nash’s Victoria upbringing is not only revisited in a new book by authors Dave Feschuk and Michael Grange, Steve Nash: The Unlikely Ascent of a Superstar, it’s brought back to life with new relevance, using the knowledge of modern sports science.

Feschuk and Grange focus on the impact the 1980s era UVic Vikes had. Their dynasty run, with five national championships, were attractive to Nash and ultimately affected his decision to play in the NCAA with a goal of making it to the NBA.

Feschuk and Grange unnearth telling data through interviews with the legendary coach of that Vikes team, Ken Shields, and its players, Ian Hyde-Lay, who coached Nash (and was the part of the reason Nash missed out from playing the Grade 11 season) at St. Michaels University School, and Eli Pasquale, the Vikes and national team great who should have played in the NBA.

It also keys on the influence of then-Vikes rower Silken Laumann, and how Shields re-appropriated the Vikes rowing team’s high performance strategies to his basketball team and how that, in turn, affected Nash. And it doesn’t end there, tracking the many instances a “butterfly flapped its wings” in Nash’s direction.

Excerpt:

“While Pasquale was playing on the national team, it was the UVic campus where teenaged Nash went to basketball games and snuck in after hours to work on his game. It was also where Shields, the Canadian national team coach, gave that high school kid a chance to practice with the best players in the country, Pasquale among them.”

If there’s a critique on the book’s Victoria section, it’s a small one, as they include some minor interview excerpts from Yahoo! entrepreneur Jeff Mallett. As far as I can tell, it’s because he’s rich. Aside from Mallet, there’s about six hundred NCAA athletes who came from Victoria that could have said the same thing. Mallet came through Mount Douglas Secondary long after Nash had left for SMUS and was not part of the same butterfly effect which blew Nash to the Phoenix Suns, though they’ve since mingled at elite restaurants and, at one time, played soccer for the Mount Doug Rams.

Fun fact: Former Times Colonist reporter Jeff Rud is named dropped which is timely as his son Matthew Rud is having a successful start to his junior career with the Island league’s Saanich Braves.

1. Goalie controversy or, team defence

Call it an early Christmas gift to coach Dave Lowry.

He has two goalies on fire and no one can fault him for picking one over the other (as if anyone in Victoria would dare to criticize while standing in Lowry’s sights).

When the Victoria Royals turned mould into gold with a two-win sweep on its recent Washington road trip it was easy to lay the credit on backup-turned-awesome goalie Coleman Vollrath, who was in net for both, making 84 saves.

But this week Lowry went back to Patrik Polivka and, the Royals (15-10-0-1) won its fourth and fifth road games in a row, 2-1 over the Kamloops Blazers (6-15-2-1) on Tuesday and 4-1 over the B.C. Division leading Kelowna Rockets (16-3-0-1) on Wednesday.

Maybe it’s the Royals turning into a “road team.”

Or maybe it’s a response under pressure by Polivka, in which case we have ourselves a goalie duel.

If there was any doubt about the goalies’ performances, it’s that Polivka’s stellar outings the past two nights point as much to an improved commitment to team defence as they are evidence that Polivka stole the game.

Polivka was solid, said Kamloops This Week, which we’ve seen him be a lot in Victoria.

And that might be true for Vollrath, too.

That nut will be cracked when the Royals host the B.C. Division’s basement-dwelling Blazers on Friday and Saturday. The Blazers may be last but they’re a pain in the Royals’ side in a way. Remarkably, the Royals’ do better against the Portland Winterhawks (17-5-1-1).

Either way it’s easy to point to Polivka’s recent success as a response to the pressure put on by Vollrath, who was exceptional in helping the Royals win in Seattle and, ahem, Portland, a couple weeks back. Polivka lost his starting role in the Royals brutal 5-0 home loss to the Edmonton Oil Kings on Nov. 6 and Vollrath has made a statement for the starting spot, or, at least warranted an equal share of the starts.

Vollrath was amazing in the previous road trip, highlighted by the Royals’ wins over the Seattle Thunderbirds and Portland Winterhawks. Without half of the top-four defenceman, Joe Hicketts and Keegan Kanzig, Vollrath made 40-plus saves in both games.

Even in the Royals’ most recent loss, 3-1 to the Thunderbirds at home on Saturday, Vollrath only let in two. One was an empty-netter.

Kanzig also returned on Tuesday.

sports@vicnews.com

 

 

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