By Jeff Gard/JG Sports Media
The Cobourg Kodiaks are eagerly awaiting the start of their fifth Major Series Lacrosse season.
It’s unclear, though, when that might happen and what the season might look like, if it happens.
The Kodiaks were scheduled to open the MSL season May 31 at home against the Six Nations Chiefs, but at this time their home venue, the Cobourg Community Centre, is still closed.
The Ontario Lacrosse Association issued a press release March 30 that a postponement of sanctioned in-person activities (try-outs, training sessions, scrimmages, practices, games) from March 13 to April 5 would be extended until at least May 15.
That means MSL teams are unable to proceed with training camps and games until further notice.
More information regarding plans for the season is expected to be released soon by MSL.
In the meantime, the Kodiaks did have a busy off-season, which included the hiring of a new head coach, Jim Milligan, from Peterborough.
General Manager John Webb announced in late January that former head coach Jamie Dubrick had been relieved of his duties.
Dubrick played an important role in the building process when the team was purchased and relocated from Kitchener-Waterloo.
“Jamie was instrumental in that transition from Kitchener to Cobourg,” Webb said of Dubrick, who drove from his home in London for games and practices. “He had been coaching Kitchener for three to four seasons before that as well so he knew the players, he knew the system and so that transition was just vital and he was an absolute professional in coming over and helping us get through that initial stage of our development.”
Milligan, meanwhile, brings 15 years of coaching experience in the National Lacrosse League (NLL) and MSL. He has been behind the bench of several NLL teams, including Edmonton, Chicago and Toronto and most recently Vancouver from 2016-2018. As an assistant coach in MSL, he won five Mann Cups with the Peterborough Lakers.
“Jim has that experience in developing talent and that has shown to be his strength wherever he has coached,” Webb said in a media release at the time of Milligan’s hiring.
In a recent interview, Webb pointed to the importance of having a professional-level coach as the Kodiaks continue to increase the number of NLL players on their roster from two their first season to as many 18 now.
“Last year we had six wins, which was our most, but we felt we needed to bring in a professionally-seasoned NLL coach to help us get over that hump and be competitive every night in MSL,” Webb said.
Webb believes the Kodiaks are “very close” to earning a playoff berth for the first time.
“I think last year we were very close as well,” he added. “We started off really hot, then we had some injuries, we had some players missing because of work commitments and family commitments so then we went on an eight-game losing streak, which really hurt our chances at making the playoffs last year. I think this year we’re more mature, we brought in a few more pieces, new coaching. I think we’re even that much closer to competing for a playoff spot.”
Patience was important in the early years for the Kodiaks as they had to build through the draft and trades while not rushing the building process.
“When you look at it short-term it’s easy to get very frustrated when you’re not finding success on the floor each night, however, we knew that the league is so competitive and so highly skilled…our fans realized very quickly that these are the best players in the world and the teams are incredibly talented and the line between winning and losing is so fine each night,” Webb said.
Cobourg added eight more players, including second overall pick Latrell Harris, through the 2020 MSL draft in January as they continue to build a competitive team.
Webb said the Kodiaks “were very excited” to select Harris from St. Catharines junior A.
“Latrell could’ve went first overall in any draft year. He’s played for the Toronto Rock in the National Lacrosse League for two years before graduating junior A even, which is almost unheard of,” Webb said. “It’s very rare that you would see a lacrosse player step in while they’re in junior and play professionally. He attends Brock University in St. Catharines, which makes that possible, because you can play university field (lacrosse) in Canada and still play professionally.
“He’s a great defender who’s an awesome athlete and can really move the ball up the floor,” Webb added. “Toronto Rock fans would be very familiar with Latrell.”
The Kodiaks were looking for a goalie in the draft and promptly selected one, Ethan Woods from Beaches junior A, with the eighth overall pick. Woods gained some great experience as a backup goaltender for the New England Black Wolves of the NLL this past season.
Adding Riley Curtis 10th overall from St. Catharines junior A gave the Kodiaks another skilled lefthanded shot forward. Curtis attends the University of Denver and Webb said he sees the floor well and is great at distributing the ball.
In addition, the Kodiaks drafted Travis Longboat 20th overall from Six Nations junior A, Skkylar Thomas 21st overall from Beaches junior A, Ben Utrosa 22nd overall from Whitby junior A and Cam Badour 26th overall from Gloucester junior B.
“First and foremost, we just wanted good athletes,” Webb said. “We needed to address both ends of the floor. We were looking to pick up a good goalie in the draft as well and fortunately it was a really deep draft for goalies.”
A trade this off-season saw the Kodiaks acquire Derek Downs from the Oakville Rock, which Webb said was another step towards building up the left side of the floor.
Cobourg will also get star player Chris Cloutier, a former first overall pick, back at the end of June following the conclusion of a one-year rental agreement with Six Nations.
Fan favourites that will return to the Kodiaks when they play next include captain Joey Cupido who plays for Colorado in the NLL and Cam Milligan, who led Cobourg in points last season, and also plays for Rochester in the NLL.
Webb said MSL provides local lacrosse fans a great opportunity to watch top players, including those who also compete in the NLL.
“It would be similar to having the best NHL player come back to your hometown every summer and play hockey for you in the summer when they’re not playing NHL,” he said.
Webb can’t “say enough good things” about support for the Kodiaks from the local community.
“Our fan support has been incredibly loyal and patient with us and we’ve tried to show our appreciation by going out and getting better every year, showing them that we want to win for our fans,” he said.
“With businesses it’s been incredible how supportive the business community has been in sponsoring and advertising the Kodiaks. We try and give them the best bang for their buck because we realize money is tight, especially with this whole pandemic going on money is incredibly tight and everything is appreciated.”
Webb said the Kodiaks also have a great relationship with Northumberland Minor Lacrosse. He was president of the organization when it made a comeback a number of years ago and said lacrosse is a great sport for young athletes.
“Lacrosse encompasses everything about minor sports that you want young people to learn. It’s very athletic, it’s incredibly team-oriented and it takes a lot of skills that encompass other sports and puts them all together,” Webb said.
“It’s physical, you need hand-eye coordination, you need to persevere through hard times and you need teammates to rely on and teammates to be successful. I think that’s why kids really gravitate towards it.”
Webb said the Kodiaks often supply players to Northumberland Minor Lacrosse so they can run clinics for the young players.
“Our players are just awesome (in working with the minor players),” he said. “Minor players can look up to those Kodiaks and say…I want to be one of them one day.”