Lakers show real playoff potential

The Burnaby Lakers gave notice they are a team to beat following an emphatic 13-6 victory at home over the New Westminster Salmonbellies on Friday.

The win was Burnaby's fourth in a row in the Western Lacrosse Association and third straight at the Bill Copeland Sports Centre for the Lakers.

The victory also locked up the season series for the Lakers against the Salmonbellies, who meet again for the third and final time in the regular season at Queen's Park Arena next Thursday.

Following the outcome of that July 13 match up, Burnaby stands to learn volumes about its true playoff potential, when it meets WLA heavyweights Maple Ridge and Victoria, in a home-and-home double, in the following weeks.

Burnaby is currently locked in a first-place tie with the Victoria Shamrocks, both with 17 points, following the Island team's 11-5 win over Langley, also on Friday. 

However, the 8-3-1 Lakers have a superior win percentage having lost one fewer game to date than the 'Rocks.

How well the Lakers perform over that two-week period might ultimately determine whether or not Burnaby will be able to lay claim to its first-ever first-place finish in the senior A loop.

The opportunity for Burnaby became a very real possibility after Friday's win over New West.

On Friday, the Lakers fielded arguably their strongest lineup in recent years and it showed from the opening period with recent pickup from Coquitlam, Josh Sullivan, scoring his first goal on his first shot on goal in his Burnaby debut.

Second-year Laker Josh Byrne, in his first WLA game this season, gave the Lakers a 4-1 lead in the opening period with a spectacular sweeping, one-handed, under-hand shot that caught starting Salmonbellie goalie Tye Belanger by surprise.

Justin Salt also tallied in the first frame, collecting his first of three goals on the transition, giving the talented runner nine goals in eight games and a team-best 0.391 scoring percentage.

Burnaby had a big 6-3 middle period, including a pair apiece from Robert Church and Salt, despite having to kill off two separate five-on-three disadvantages.

Rookie Cam Milligan counted one of two short-handed markers in the period, taking a clever toss from Church and beating Alexis Buque, who took over in goal from Belanger earlier in the period, with a deft shot in close while two men down.

Heading into the final stanza and leading 10-5, Burnaby took a six-goal advantage with its fifth goal of the game on a transition break from veteran Ilija Gajic, another player in his first appearance this season for the Lakers.

Eli McLaughlin finished any faint hope the 'Bellies may have had of a comeback, potting back-to-back markers from the left side four minutes apart, including his career-high 18th tally, late in the contest.

Burnaby keeper Eric Penney was consistently solid throughout the entire 60 minutes, kicking out 48 shots to claim his fifth victory this season.

Penney, who was picked up in a trade from New West prior to the start of the summer season, is currently leading all WLA goalies with a 0.856 save percentage. He is also second overall just a fraction out of top spot with a 6.94 goals against average.

But what stands out when looking down the recent score sheets of the Lakers is just how effective the Burnaby defence has been, allowing only 18 goals in its last three games, while currently leading the league with eight goals against to date.

Next week, Burnaby has a back-to-back challenge, beginning on Thursday, July 13 in New West and continuing in Burnaby the following Friday, July 14 against the Maple Ridge Burrards. Game time at the Copeland Centre is 7:45 p.m.

All photos by Garrett James