Last season, the Panther City Lacrosse Club put the National Lacrosse League on notice with a five-game winning streak, that included a 20-14 dismantling of the eventual 2021-22 NLL Champion Colorado Mammoth. But that wasn’t enough for Head Coach Tracey Kelusky, and leading into training camp this year, he wanted to make sure that message was clear.
Head Coach Tracey Kelusky addresses the team prior to practice in Brampton, Ontario.
“By all accounts, last year was not a successful year,” Kelusky said. “We didn’t make playoffs, which was one of our top goals.”
But it wasn’t just the coaching staff that was upset with the team’s 7 – 11 finish last season.
“The guys hated losing and ‘losing is not acceptable’ is a big part of who we are,” Kelusky said. “There was no denying the fact, if people watched us, that last year teams were scared of us. They knew we were a blue-collar team, a team that was going out and working and earning everything we got. That is embedded in our DNA and that is who we are going to continue to be, that hard-working team.”
That scrappy attitude was reflected in the team’s results, as Panther City played in three overtime games and were a part of seven contests decided by one goal. To continue to maintain that hard-nosed attitude and instill a culture of winning, Kelusky knew the team had to continue to add not only talented players, but also those with the right characteristics to solidify the foundation established during the club’s inaugural season.
“I know it is cliché and everyone talks about locker room, and we are family, and everyone cares about each other. Ultimately, to create a wining culture you have to have good people,” Kelusky said. “People that care about each other, guys that enjoy teammates’ success as much as their own, and truth be told that was one of the things that I was pleasantly surprised with last year. [General Manager] Bob Hamley did an exceptional job of scouting character, and we brought in a group of men last year that genuinely cared about each other. They cared about their own successes but more importantly cared about their teammate’s successes, and that’s an important part of building a winning culture and a winning team environment.”
“There was no denying the fact, if people watched us, that last year teams were scared of us. They knew we were a blue-collar team, a team that was going out and working and earning everything we got.”
Panther City welcomes several new players into that family this season, including last year’s number one overall selection Jonathan Donville and the ninth overall pick in this year’s draft, Mathieu Gautier. Kelusky believes both will fit perfectly into the mix and improve the team both on and off the field.
Jonathan Donville sees his first action with Panther City after being the first selection in the 2021 NLL Entry Draft. Donville was a key member of the 2022 NCAA Champion Maryland Lacrosse Team.
“Donville is an unbelievable lacrosse player, his skills speak for itself, but one of the things that we liked about him was who he is as a person. His character. He is a guy who is going to do a little bit of everything for us, he certainly makes his teammates better, and similarly Gautier is that person as well.”
On top of their skill and character, both Gautier and Donville bring a history of winning to Fort Worth. Gautier led his St. Albert Miners to a runner-up finish for the Minto Cup while setting a new scoring record in Canada’s National Junior A Championship Series, the first time a team from Alberta has appeared in a Minto Cup final. Donville has a similar winning pedigree, helping lead Maryland to the promise land in the 2022 NCAA Men’s Lacrosse championship.
“It always helps when you have been a part of winning teams and you understand that ingredient of unselfishness and that willingness to do whatever it takes to win,” Kelusky said. “We watched [Gautier] at the Minto Cup and he had a lot of personal success, but the way he goes about his business is about making the people around him better.
Forward Phil Caputo (19) shoots on goalie Nick Damude (39). Caputo led the team with 34 goals last season.
Any time you can insert two guys like that into your lineup who certainly are skilled, but also with that DNA embedded in them, it certainly is good for our club.”
Kelusky has not only been impressed by those two rookies, but the entire team this training camp. He understands that it is a vital part of bringing a lot of new parts together and preparing for the season opener that is now just a month away.
“It has been a competitive environment, and I love the fact that our guys are constantly trying to improve and take us to the next level because that is ultimately what we are here for. The camp gives us an opportunity to look at each person individually and what they bring to the table and bring up the conversation of not being content.”
“It always helps when you have been a part of winning teams and you understand that ingredient of unselfishness and that willingness to do whatever it takes to win.”
Now, all that is left to do is bring that competitiveness and winning mentality to Fort Worth on December 9 in the home opener versus the National Lacrosse League’s newest team, the Las Vegas Desert Dogs, and Kelusky knows exactly what the fans should expect out of the gate.
“High-energy, passionate guys who are looking to represent Fort Worth,” Kelusky said. “That is who our players are. They are passionate about Fort Worth. They are excited to be in Fort Worth and they want to play for their city.”
As you start to bring out your cold weather clothes make sure to remember those scarves Fort Worth, because Panther City is back on the prowl.
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