MSL Season in Review: Cobourg Kodiaks

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The first season for the MSL’s Kodiaks in Cobourg was a memorable one. Off the floor, there are good memories. On the floor, however, the last place finish was pretty forgettable. The Kodiaks managed just one win and one tie in 18 games and did not make the playoffs. They’ve been off since July 28 while the league’s top four teams battle for the right to host the Mann Cup.

Hosting the Mann Cup should be a goal the Kodiaks strive to achieve in a few years. The Cobourg Community Centre is a beautiful facility with over 2000 seats. There is plenty of hotel space in town and in nearby Port Hope, and the town would welcome the the national attention. With a year under their belts, the goal in their second year will be to bring in some higher end talent and put up a few wins to keep the fans excited.

The Kodiaks moved from Kitchener-Waterloo in the offseason after years of declining attendance at the Waterloo Rec Complex. They were purchased by the ownership group of John Webb, Eric Graham, and Chris Galbraith, who moved the team to their hometown of Cobourg. Marketing started early in the year and the town became excited for pro lacrosse. Attendance in their first year was second in the league, with the home opener drawing 1200 people. They reached an average of 800 fans per game with a season high 1500 in their last home game on July 24.

The Kodiaks had a solid TV deal with local broadcaster Cogeco, as well as a radio deal with Peterborough based Extra 90.5. All Kodiaks home games and some away games were broadcast on both TV and radio. The ownership group really did an amazing job promoting a positive image of pro lacrosse and it really paid off, with both fans and players excited all season long.

Captain Joey Cupido reflected on the season.

“The crowd, the energy was fantastic. As a team on the floor we definitely had our ups and downs this year, a lot more downs. But we’re a new team. We knew it wasn’t going to happen overnight. We have some new pieces and we’re going to continue to get better.”

Of course, it was a challenge to keep up the excitement when the team did not win a game at the CCC all season. Their only win came on June 23 at the Brampton Memorial Arena. They also tied at home versus Brooklin on June 4.

Despite having only moved, the Kodiaks may as well have been an expansion team for all their new players. Returning from 2015 were only Cupido, Luke Laszkiewicz, Cody McMahon, Derek Searle, Jordan Robertson, Chad Cummings, Eric Guiltinan, AJ Masson, and goaltenders David DiRuscio and Rance Vigneux. That’s only half the roster.

A good core of the guys played in the Canadian Lacrosse League and won a championship with the Durham Turfdogs this past winter, so they had a good group with built-in chemistry. First year Kodiaks Riley Campbell, Matt Crough, Dylan Goddard, Rob Kloepfer, Patrick McCrory, Pete Rennie, John St. John, and Mike Triolo played for the Turfdogs, as did Cody McMahon. Tyler Roche and Rance Vigneux spent the Clax season with the Barrie Blizzard.

It was a much talked about aspect of the season, that the Kodiaks just couldn’t compare to the rest of the league in terms of talent. Other rosters are comprised mostly of NLL players looking to stay in shape during the summer and win a national championship.

General manager John Webb was happy with the group he assembled, and while he took care to point out that the team lacked the star power of the other teams, he is also confident that his team will grow together and with a year under their belts at the MSL level, will be better in 2017.

“They’re young guys, they’re passionate about lacrosse… They know what it takes, but they are just very young,” he said. “They want to win. They want to win for the fans here.”

In years past the Kodiaks boasted players Dhane Smith, Ryan Benesch, Dillon Ward, Aaron Wilson, Jay Thorimbert, and Jason Noble, but the KW Kodiaks were forced to make trades for their future, and it left the cupboard nearly bare.

Even though the talent was lacking, one thing the Kodiaks always had was team unity. They had players like Broedie Birkhof, Tyler Roche, and Chad Cummings who were always willing to jump in and stand up for a teammate or to provide a spark. Birkhof led the league in penalty minutes though, with 154—100 more than the second place finisher—and it should be a goal of the coaching staff this offseason to sit him down and talk about reigning in his emotions a bit. Playing on the edge has always been Birkhof’s style, but he left his team shorthanded more often than not. The team also had five others in the top 20 in league PIMs.

That said, the Kodiaks best stat of the season was shorthanded goals. They led the league with 13. Cupido led the league with four, while Crough, St. John, and Jacob Ruest each had two. Ruest only played seven games; he could have tripled his output had he played all 18.

The Kodiaks had one scorer in the league’s top 20. Matt Crough, in his fourth MSL season, had 25 goals and 23 assists for 48 points, tying him for 11th. Crough spent his first three seasons with the Lakers and, as a Peterborough native, was initially shocked to have been traded but really settled into a good rhythm with the Kodiaks and led their offensive core.

“I’m fairly glad (for the trade),” Crough said. “Obviously not winning much is tough but it gave me an opportunity to become a better player and find that jam I was lacking for the last couple of years playing with the Lakers.”’

The Kodiaks were optimistic to start the season. Nobody projected them to win many games, and that proved true, but especially in the early going they were right in every game they played until they got down a few goals. They lacked the ability to come back. Because of their youth and inexperience, they were sometimes unable to put together a complete game. They had their share of leads, but those lapses cost them.

“The change came with getting that first win and realizing that we had to put a full 60 together to even have a shot at winning a game,” Crough said. “A lot of losses came because we played a 45 minute game and teams capitalized for those 15 minute lapses.”

In their last few games, they started playing harder. They were a changed team—more dedicated, less frustrated, and more accepting of their limitations. They got down but they no longer just gave up. They kept fighting, and that bodes well for the future.

“I’m absolutely excited for next year,” head coach Jamie Dubrick said. “We knew coming in to this year that it was going to be a battle. With a whole new roster, we were basically an expansion team. We brought some guys back from last year but we had a turnover, and then we lost our NLL goaltender who’s been out the whole year and that put a damper on things especially when you’re playing with your backup. We’re excited for next year. Behind the scenes our ownership has been awesome for us. Fan support as you can see is awesome. It’s a growing sport. It was nice for everybody to get a feel for it and we’re going to build over the next couple of years until we get it right. I’m really looking forward to next year.”

The Kodiaks must address their goaltending situation before next season. They expected to have the Buffalo Bandits Davide DiRuscio as their starter, but things didn’t work out. DiRuscio missed the first few weeks of the season for the NLL finals. He played two games before being injured in a game against Brampton by Tyler Fereira. Then, in his first game back from injury (coincidentally also against Brampton), which he didn’t even start, he played about 10 minutes before sucker punching Ferreira and ending both their seasons (Fereira to injury, himself to suspension). Who knows what will happen next season?

Therefore, Rance Vigneux saw time in 16 of 18 games. Vigneux is a talented Clax goaltender and really put the Kodiaks on his back, but he wasn’t able to keep up with the NLL shooters in front of him, and ended up with a 12.50 GAA. Webb said that they didn’t even inquire about trading for a goaltender at the deadline in July and were comfortable with Vigneux and his backup Ryan Schuetzkowski, who played 95 minutes over the course of the season and ended with a GAA of 15.15.

The Kodiaks defense needs help. They have great young players in Derek Searle and Pete Rennie and obviously their transition is top notch based on their shorthanded goal total. But they need a steady veteran presence back there who can settle the troops when they get down.

Cupido is optimistic for next season and realizes the team has a lot of work to do in the offseason. He’s happy to be captain of a program that is building the right way.

“2017 seems a long way away right now,” he said. “Hopefully we have all these young rising players back, we’ll be able to have a good draft, get a couple more skilled players in here and keep building towards the future.”