October 2, 2012
Rush coach taps Whitby connection at draft
By GERRY MODDEJONGE, QMI Agency
EDMONTON - In a league with no real feeder system to speak of yet, Derek Keenan has gone ahead and crafted his own.
When he's not acting as the head coach and general manager of the Edmonton Rush, Keenan runs the Whitby Warriors junior team — which accounted for a big piece of the pie in Monday's National Lacrosse League draft.
Both of Edmonton's first-round picks — Mark Matthews and Curtis Knight — played for his Warriors, along with current Rush transition player John LaFontaine.
"Playing the summer under him definitely helped in knowing the systems and everything that he uses out there," Matthews said.
And it works both ways.
"Familiarity is a good thing, I certainly know what I'm getting with those picks. You have a comfort level with guys, but you've got to remember too they're both great players," Keenan said.
"I'm not picking guys just because of that. They're highly touted by everybody.
"They've been on championship teams and they have the pedigree, for sure."
Knight, the No. 8 pick, is an all-star junior player from Oshawa who will help address the lack of right-handed forwards on the Rush roster.
The versatile player is adept in the faceoff circle and is known as a loose-ball vacuum.
"There were probably three options that we felt we were going to have when that pick rolled around and it just turned out we got the guy we wanted," Keenan said.
"We were fortunate, it definitely fills a spot where we have a need."
But besides his Ontario talent, Keenan is counting on a pair of Alberta products to add to the competitive mix once training camp begins in November.
In the fourth round, the Rush moved up in a deal with the Minnesota Swarm to take a pair of Maple Ridge Burrards teammates in Edmonton's own Simon Giourmetakis, as well as Okotoks's Mitchell Banister Ñ son of Calgary Roughnecks owner Brad Banister.
"A real good player. Left-shot offensive guy," Keenan said of Giourmetakis, who was teammates with Matthews in Coquitlam for the 2010 Minto Cup championship. "He needs some development time, but he's just finishing up school out here in eastern Buffalo.
"He'll move home for the season."
While the sport isn't nearly as popular in Alberta as it is in B.C. and Ontario, that doesn't mean there isn't the occasional diamond in the rough.
"It's good to get local talent. It's good for the program and it's good for lacrosse in Alberta overall," Keenan said.
"It's always hard for guys that far down the draft to make a team, but in practice, guys get hurt, they get an opportunity and they can grow and get better."