One more to make history

The Burnaby Lakers are staring history square in the eye.

In the finale to the Western Lacrosse Association regular season tonight against the Langley Thunder, Burnaby has the opportunity to do something it has never done in its 27-year history – finish in first place overall.

With the table already set for the other three playoff contenders, a third consecutive win over the Thunder would give the Lakers a 12-5-1 record and one point more than the idle and current league-leading Maple Ridge Burrards.

On paper, Burnaby looks like a lock to make franchise history.

The Lakers are 5-2-1 this season at the Bill Copeland Sports Centre, while the last-place Langley club is a dismal 1-7-0 on the road.

But just one month earlier, Burnaby needed an unanswered four-goal third period at home to quiet the Thunder 8-6 in the second meeting between the two teams.

The Thunder, although just 4-13-0 this season, have to be considered dangerous.

The Fraser Valley club have won three times this month, including upset wins over both New West and Victoria. Five other games in the month of July were lost by a mere two goals or less.

Langley, as the saying goes, has nothing to lose and a complacent Lakers have been known to stumble in similar scenarios over the years.

Factor in the surprising release of first-year head coach Jim Milligan from the Burnaby club late last week and there are a lot of possible distractions heading into the final league game of the summer lacrosse season.

But let's focus on what we know to date.

After a major hiccup in the second week of July with painful back-to-back losses to New Westminster and Maple Ridge, Burnaby has rebounded well, disposing of perennial powerhouse Victoria twice, including a 14-8 season-series decider on the Island last week.

The Lakers then backed up those two all-important wins with a 12-9 victory the following night in Nanaimo.

Burnaby collected eight of the possible nine game stars over that two-week period with stout performances in goal from Eric Penney and Zak Boychuk, a defence that allowed an average of only seven goals against over that period and a front end that is coming to the boil at seemingly just the right time.

Star sniper Robert Church was named the first star in both games on the Island last week, garnering eight points against the Shamrocks and then scoring four times in the win over the Timbermen.

Church is just one goal shy of tying a career-high 29 goals during the regular season. He is currently averaging more than five points per game with 62 points to date in just 12 league games.

Eli McLaughlin, who currently leads the Lakers in scoring with a career-high 27 goals, 36 assists and 63 total points, had 10 points in last week's twin wins.

Together with Church, McLaughlin and the crafty right-hander are sporting near equal and impressive .241 and .239 shooting percentages this season.

Veteran leftie Jason Jones also chipped in nicely with five goals and four helpers over that same stretch.

But perhaps the most welcome news is the play of Penney and Boychuk between the pipes.

Penney, in his first season with the Burnaby club, currently leads all keepers with an .855 save percentage and is second overall to New West's Alexis Buque with a 7.37 goals against average.

Boychuk, 2016's goalie of the year, also sports strong numbers again this season, including an .816 save percentage.

The feather in Burnaby's cap though is a talented and deep back line that leads the WLA with a league-low 8.17 goals against average.

Having said that, it's up to the Burnaby Lakers to back up all the hype with a franchise-building performance against the Langley Thunder at the Copeland centre on Tuesday, Aug. 1. Game time is 7:45 p.m.

Photos courtesy of Garrett James