Burnaby Lakers back in the hunt with return of NLL star

What a difference a Robert Church makes.

If there was any doubt about just how important right-handed superstar Robert Church is to the Burnaby Lakers, all concerns were put to rest following a polished 13-10 Western Lacrosse Association victory over the visiting Victoria Shamrocks on Friday night.

With Church, who recently won a third pro lacrosse Champion's Cup with the Saskatchewan Rush franchise, actively taking charge, on and off the ball, the Lakers showed a quality and purpose not seen in the team's seven games leading up to the big win over the 'Rocks.

Although Church counted just three points against Victoria, his presence alone inspired all those around him to lift their game and it clearly showed on the score sheet.

Dane Stevens had his best game of the summer season by far, leading all scorers with a seven-point performance, including his second hat trick of the season against the Shamrocks.

Eli McLaughlin, who leads the Laker club with 14 markers, also responded in kind, counting his fourth multi-goal outing in six games to date with a second four-goal effort.

Rookie Rice Brine also got himself back in the mix, scoring his sixth tally in the WLA and first in five games, while right siders Scott Jones and Aiden Genik contributed seven assists between them.

Helping add to the comfort level shown by the Lakers were two Ontario newcomers Joel Matthews from Peterborough and former Six Nations junior AJ Kluck. Whitby, Ont. native Adam Perroni also counted his first WLA goal in just his third game for the Lakers.

The return of all-star transition runner Justin Salt to the Burnaby back end also could not be overstated.

“Definitely, (Robert) Churchy was huge and (Justin) Salty back in the defensive end helped,” said McLaughlin. “After the 18-2 loss we looked in the mirror and knew we had to be better.”

And Burnaby was perceptively better up front, not least for Church's loose-ball skills that gave the home side numerous second and third opportunities in the offensive end and had both the right and left sides executing in sync for arguably the first time this season.

“We were swinging the ball really well tonight. It's going to be huge (for our confidence),” McLaughlin added.

Those added touches with the ball went a long way to adding to a previously unseen comfort level on the ball for the senior A Lakers. And while further work in the back end is still a work in progress, it is apparent that Burnaby has cleared a big hurdle in establishing itself as a bona fide playoff contender.

With tough tests coming up in the next few weeks against Maple Ridge and New Westminster, Friday's victory over Victoria has come at potentially the perfect time.

Burnaby keeper Zak Boychuk, who won his fourth start for the club added: “It's a big win to beat an upper echelon team like Victoria.”

Upcoming for Burnaby is a home contest against the Maple Ridge Burrards on Friday, June 29 at the Bill Copeland Sports Centre. Game starts at 7:30 p.m.

Photos courtesy of Garrett James