By Mat LaBranche
The Nepean Knights are turning heads as they find themselves making a playoff push in the Ontario Junior B Lacrosse League for the first time since the summer of 2015.
After finishing last and second last in their conference in the past two seasons, the Knights have turned the tide, and currently sit with a winning 8-6 record as they enter the home stretch of the regular season.
“I’m not surprised at all,” said second year head coach Matthew Firth. “I kind of saw it coming. We were 5-5 down the stretch last year and lost a lot of close games at the beginning of the season. I attributed that to a lack of experience, and now that we’re a year older and a lot of guys have had some years of junior B under their belts, you can see that experience goes a long way.”
The Knights have improved their game at both sides of the rink since last season, averaging a full goal per game more and almost a full goal against per game less, which has given them their first positive plus-minus in three years. Furthermore, they’ve almost surpassed their goals for total from 2016 with six games still remaining.
“(The last two seasons) built some resiliency, a hunger to win and an appreciation for the thin line between success and failure,” revealed Firth. “We’re winning the tight games and we probably have a bit more depth this season throughout the lineup. We’re stronger offensively and stronger defensively, and playing with more poise and composure. Winning helps in that regard, because there’s no panic in our game.”
Knights captain Jordan Hendrycks echoes his coach’s statements. He sees the silver lining in the previous two seasons, with them serving as lessons learned rather than lost time.
“It takes some hard losses, especially for a young core team, to build experience of how to win,” admitted the Ottawa native. “I believe that success comes from a lot of failure before you can start doing well. I’m lucky that the guys we have work their tails off and are constantly hungry.”
Hendrycks also credits the team’s turnaround to the chemistry that has built over the years, where a family-like atmosphere has been created, both literally and figuratively.
“We’ve all been playing together growing up for a really long time, so there’s definitely a lot of chemistry. But we have a very young flare, especially on defence,” said the transition player. “It feels a lot like a family out there, especially because my younger brother is in his first year (on the Knights), and there’s also another pair of siblings on the team.”
With it being his last year of eligibility, Hendrycks is grateful to see how the team has progressed, but more importantly, he’s eager to see how the Knights further develop, as he envisions a very bright future for them.
“I’ve always tried to put the team before myself at all times. That’s one thing I pride myself on, being the best teammate possible,” disclosed Hendrycks. “So above all, personally, I want to see this program do well. In four or five years from now, the guys that I have an impact on and maybe taught a thing or two, can hopefully go far. I think the guys have done everything they can to give Denzel (Moran-Weekes, also in his final season of eligibility) and I one last hurrah.”