Three key events showcase Canada's sport
Alberta lacrosse has taken gigantic strides since the end of the National Lacrosse League season in May.
It started back in June with the sale of the Calgary Roughnecks to the Calgary Flames, continued in August with the Minto Cup (A national tournament to determine Canada's best team), and finished in September with a successful National Lacrosse League Entry Draft.
Okotoks Raiders defenceman Aaron Tackaberry was a key component in two of those aspects.
With his Jaromir Jagr-esque mullet, the defender helped drive his junior-A Okotoks Raiders to their best finish ever at the Minto Cup.
In the semi-final game against the eventual champions, Whitby Warriors from Ontario, the Raiders fought hard but lost 8-4.
However, Tackaberry said it was a big step for Alberta lacrosse.
"That semi-final game was very tough to lose, but I still think we were with them the entire game," he said.
And he spun the performance into being selected by the Rochester Knighthawks with the 36th pick in the NLL draft.
"I didn't know where I would be going, but to be going to Rochester is just fantastic," said the 19-year-old. "I'm excited to go somewhere to open my wings in another neck of the woods."
Tackaberry wasn't the only Alberta player selected, with Raiders captain Barclay Hickey and Edmonton Miners forward Darren Kinnear both being picked up by the Roughnecks.
"The two of us coming out of the Minto showing everybody that we can play, getting drafting and getting the chance to play in the NLL, that's a big stepping stone for Alberta lacrosse," Tackaberry said.
Tackaberry stands out among the group because he was drafted to play in the eastern United States, something that Roughnecks general manager Mike Board said isn't very common.
"I think it's important of us to be supportive of Alberta lacrosse, but more importantly is other teams, and not just us, taking Alberta kids," said Board.
"I mean Rochester picked an Alberta kid, so to me that shows Alberta is starting to develop some lacrosse players that are catching the eye of NLL GMs around the league."
Everyone believes it's just a beginning of things to come for Alberta lacrosse.
"There has been a history of kids being drafted, but the real success is having the kids drafted each year," said Roughnecks captain Andrew McBride, who also acts as an assistant coach with the junior A Raiders.
"What we are doing as coaches is making sure we have players selected every year and really get them put out across Canada."
Now with only nine NLL teams compared to 13 when he was drafted back in 2002, McBride added it's even harder to be drafted.
McBride agreed the type of players drafted likely started playing around the time the NLL made its first stop in Alberta with the Roughnecks back in 2001. (The Edmonton Rush joined in 2006.)
"It always helps to have the ability to have people playing at a high level with the Edmonton Rush and Calgary Roughnecks, they have something to strive for," said McBride.
The sport took another step forward in August when the Minto Cup was hosted in Okotoks for the first time ever. It wasn't until 2003 that Alberta was included in the junior A battle for national supremacy.
"Having Alberta as part of that is very important because the kids that are playing in Alberta have something to shoot for," Board said. "It exposes the younger players to (junior lacrosse) because they are finally able to watch the Minto Cup.
McBride added: "The opportunities for kids to take their games to the next level is even more of a reality. The future is bright and I can't wait to see what happens in five years."
- By Bryce Forbes