Langley Thunder’s quest for Mann Cup begins at home

After a decade of some sorry seasons, the Langley Thunder are four victories from hoisting the Mann Cup. They opened the championship series Wednesday at Langley Events Centre.

The Langley Thunder and Brampton Excelsiors are battling for the 2011 Mann Cup.

Ken Buchan Jr. describes the past decade as ‘trying.’

Since his family bought the Langley Thunder senior A lacrosse franchise — it has also spent time in the Okanagan and North Shore before relocating to Langley in 2004 — success has been hard to come by.

Two years ago, the franchise made the Western Lacrosse Association playoffs for the first time, and it looked like they may have turned the corner.

Prior to that season, Langley was a combined 20-89 in six seasons.

But following a four-game sweep in the 2009 post-season, they fell back to last place in the seven-team league last season..

Because of their annual finish at or near the bottom of the standings, Langley has had plenty of top draft picks.

But the problem became that some of that youthful talent they sorely needed as well as some veterans they tried to acquire, made it clear: they would not play for Langley.

“Early on, no one wanted to play for us,” Buchan said.

Top players, whether it be draft picks or ones acquired in trade, balked at coming to Langley.

It wasn’t easy being spurned, but Buchan said those that were here, as well as the team’s management and coaching staff, laid a successful foundation for the franchise.

And this perseverance has helped the Thunder go from the cellar to the penthouse in the Western Lacrosse Association. The club captured their first-ever WLA championship last month by defeating perennial powerhouse New Westminster.

The title earned the Thunder the right to host the Mann Cup, Canada’s senior A men’s amateur lacrosse championship.

The best-of-seven series, which began last night (Wednesday) and continues tonight (Thursday) is being held at the Langley Events Centre.

Games three and four are Saturday and Sunday all of the matches begin at 7:45 p.m.

Langley is facing the Brampton Excelsiors, a franchise which dates back to 1912. Brampton has won 18 Ontario championships and 10 Mann Cups, most recently in 2008 and 2009.

For the Thunder, only coach Rod Jensen has significant Mann Cup experience.

“It’s a surreal feeling. It has been a long road from my first year with the Thunder to now,” said Kyle Belton, a 24-year-old who played through the ranks of the Langley Minor Lacrosse Association. Belton is in his third season with the team.

“We just have a real tight-knit group of guys and we have stuck to the process and the goals we have put into place since day one,” he said.

Matt Leveque has been with the team for six seasons and has been captain for the past five.

Even when the team struggled, the Thunder always had a good core and good chemistry.

“This has always been a very tight knit group,” he said.

“This team has been like one big family,” Buchan said.

“Everyone works hard for each other, not trying to let anybody down.”

While many of the players have played for the Minto Cup, Canada’s junior championship, or for professional championships, the Mann Cup remains the ultimate prize.

What makes it so special is that the Mann Cup is the only lacrosse championship which requires a team to win four games to claim the top prize.

“This is our Stanley Cup,” Leveque said,

Leveque saw his first Mann Cup game when he was eight or nine years old and ever since then, his goal has been to get his hands on the coveted Cup.

The players are excited.

“It is a great feeling,” said Kerry Susheski.

“With this group, you can tell it is something special.”

Buchan said the team has survived thanks to the perseverance of players and coaches.

“I sort of equate us to the Colorado Avalanche,” he said, referring to the NHL club when it was in Quebec. “We had all these first round draft picks (and) at some point in time, they were all going to get good and it has just taken time.”

“The young guys are now starting to become leaders and (the results) are starting to show.”

Buchan said the team knew they would get to this point, eventually.

“And it is nice to finally get here,” he said.

“It is nice to finally see good things happen from when you are 1-19 and struggling along.

“This is a fantastic feeling.”