Coming off of the franchise’s first playoff appearance last season, what are you looking to see from the team in 2023-24 as far as your expectations?
This league is really hard to win games. Obviously, last year making the playoffs was really a big feather in our caps. It was proof to the guys that all the hard work and all the things that we have built in the two years are coming to fruition, so for them – learning how to win at the next level. How do we get to the next level? That is what I am looking for from this group. We have always heard that Rome was not built in a day. [Captain defenseman Matt Hossack] Hoss said it after we lost to Calgary [in the playoffs] that this is a process. This is the third year of the process. It is exciting to get going and see what we are willing to do to get to the next level.
In what ways did the club grow positively this offseason?
We identified pretty quickly after the season that we needed to get bigger and stronger at both ends. I think we have done that. Adding a fellow like [defenseman] Brent Mitchell – we have two first-round picks coming on either side of our offense in [forward Jason] Knox and [forward Ryan] Sheridan, which is exciting. 6’3 guys that have great hands and so bigger and stronger. I believe you have to tweak every year no matter where you finish. Last year Buffalo won the championship. We want to get there and we believe that by the additions of those three guys and adding a free agent in [defenseman] Brandon Goodwin and these young guys are now another year older – it is exciting to look ahead.
Head Coach Tracey Kelusky enters his third season at the helm for Panther City. In year one, the team surprised many people in the lacrosse community with the success the team had and Kelusky won NLL Coach of the Year. Last season the team made the playoffs for the first time in franchise history and Kelusky was the runner-up for Coach of the Year – What do you expect from him in year three and his growth as the leader of this team?
I am so proud of TK. He earned the new contract from ownership I am pretty excited for him going into year three. I love what he has done with our culture. I love the atmosphere in the locker room we have. Now we have talked about it at length – when the season ended last year I told him and he has identified it as well, to become a teacher now. I think the finer points of the game that he has to get across to the young guys – I think we know our culture, we know a group that is talented. Now it is about the Xs and Os and the teaching and really refining the systems, which TK is really, really good at, so I am excited to watch him in training camp teach our group of men.
Each year of the club’s existence the training camps have gotten more and more competitive. Do you expect more of the same from this year’s camp and what do you hope to accomplish coming out of training camp?
First year you don’t really know what you have – you have an idea, but you don’t really know. You come out of camp going, ‘Okay we have some spots filled for a long time.’ Second year camp – again very competitive, just like the first one. Second year you kind of had that core group, somewhat smaller, that you know was the basis for what your team was and we identified a lot of other things we needed. This year it is a bigger core group. We know the Hossacks, the [defenseman Connor] Sellars, the [forward Jonathan] Donvilles, the [forward Mathieu] Gautiers and the Malcoms [Will and Tony]. We know who they are and what they provide. Now it is going to be really competitive to get to the next level. We have to have a great camp. Those five, six or seven spots that maybe are open – to get to the next level, we need those five to seven spots to be even better. I have already spoke to the fellas. This will be our most competitive camp we have ever had. That is what you want every year.
Any specific battles to pay attention to in camp?
Great question. I think it is more battling to get to the next level. I think we are excited to see Knox and Sheridan. Two first-round picks, highly regarded. Guys are goal scorers and play makers. I want to see them grow up in a big hurry. Gautier has another year under his belt. Donville has another year, coming off a great field season. All those things to me are the battles – those guys getting to the next level. We really want the defensive end to be pushed. We want guys to be better and to get to the next level. Those are the battles – getting to the next level.
Any message you want to tell the Panther City Lacrosse Club fans?
Here we are! It is hard to believe it is already our third year. You look at this team – one of the youngest teams in the league. Made the playoffs in our second year. The sky is the limit for this group. We are really going to push them. When we push them then that means the product on the floor – for fans that come see us play – they are really going to enjoy the product. We are going to be a competitive team every night out and we are going to battle for a championship.