Lacrosse heats up

SCOTT ZERR -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 7:46 AM ET

B.C. and Ontario are Canada's hotbeds of lacrosse but Alberta, particularly Edmonton, is heating up.

To no one's surprise, the defending champion Burnaby Lakers and Six Nations Arrows are clearly the two favourites to take home the Minto Cup as national junior 'A' kingpins from the tournament which faced off last night at Bill Hunter Arena.

ALBERTA ADVANTAGE

But there is an Alberta advantage inching teams like the host Edmonton Miners to even ground with the upper echelon. A second year of the lacrosse academy at St. Francis Xavier high school is right around the corner and if interest proves anything, the sport is booming in these parts.

"The popularity is huge and I think kids are going to see the benefit down the road,"said Jamey Bowen, who heads up the program at St. FX. Today, Bowen will be named to the lineup of the NLL's Edmonton Rush when the team unveils its logo.

"I don't think it will ever get to the point of hockey or soccer in terms of sheer numbers, but with the Rush being here and us sending guys to the Miners, it'll sustain itself forever."

Bowen's program began this past school year with 22 students spending half-days of one semester focused on improving their game. That class will grow to 25 this September - all as full-time students at St. FX - with Bowen figuring to at least double if not triple the size of the group by 2007 as students in Grade 7 are already inquiring.

While sports academies at schools have been a growing trend, the St. FX program is the only one in Canada that offers lacrosse.

"In the U.S., a lot of college players go through that type of program and they are very successful. It's pretty special for lacrosse and to have it in Edmonton, it's going to show dividends 10, 15 years down the road," said Paul Day, the Rush's head coach and GM.

Aidan Inglis only needed a single year to reap the benefits. He was one of the students in the inaugural academy class, spending his morning at Ross Sheppard high school before moving over to St. FX for afternoons under Bowen's tutelage.

"I went into the academy as one of the better players and then I went to camp with the Miners and really noticed I was way more confident in my game," said Inglis, a six-foot-one, 205-pound defenceman whose club meets the Calgary Raiders in tonight's lone game.

"My goal was to make the Miners this year and it helped me get ready to play at that level. At Ross Shep, I was the only lacrosse player and I never got to talk about it or throw the ball around and actually be involved with people who love the game."

With the mission of making the Miners accomplished, Inglis hopes to pursue a lacrosse scholarship to a school in the U.S. like five of his teammates who play for St. Andrews College in North Carolina. Then there's the dream of landing a shot with the Rush.

"That would be the ultimate goal," said Inglis.

LAKERS WIN

- Alex Gajic scored three goals and assisted on two others to lead the Burnaby Lakers to a 6-5 win over the Calgary Raiders in last night's opening game of the Minto Cup.

Alex's brother Ilija also scored for the Lakers. Jamie Shewchuk and Bryan Safarik added singles.

Brett Christensen, Rob Miller and Keegan Davidson replied with a goal and an assist each for the Raiders. Justin Der and Josh Russell also scored.


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