In a recent social media post, Panther City Lacrosse Club head coach Tracey Kelusky was captured saying to his team, “championship or bust.”
Is that a lofty goal for a team entering only its third year of existence? Not if you ask Kelusky.
“Every year is championship or bust,” he said frankly. “It doesn’t matter if it was year one, coming in as an expansion club, or year three: We strive for a championship. That’s our mentality. We thought that we were close last year. We got to playoffs and were a couple goals short of getting to the Western Final… My objective, my number one goal when I took this job was year three, we are vying for a championship. You want to do it every year but certainly this year it’s a lot more realistic. We’re trying to hold everyone’s feet to the fire a little bit but truth be told that should be an expectation every year.”
Panther City began their training camp in Fort Worth before switching to the TRAC in Oakville last weekend for a scrimmage against Philadelphia, which was a close 13-12 loss. This week they were at Brampton’s Memorial Arena for a practice Saturday afternoon and then heading southwest to the Iroquois Lacrosse Arena in Ohsweken for more practices Saturday night and Sunday.
“This weekend is about going out and playing and seeing who can play at the highest level and who can contribute and vie for a spot with Panther City Lacrosse,” Kelusky said.
Ideally the team would practice in Fort Worth every week, but at the moment, Kelusky said it’s a matter of convenience.
“We’re predominantly Canadians,” he explained. “We have a bunch of guys in Ontario, a bunch in British Columbia so it makes sense to do it where the vast majority of our guys are. We’re starting to become a little bit more B.C. than Ontario so we might have to see what that looks like in the future. It’s about convenience and certainly being in a spot where we can scrimmage some other teams as well.”
In Week 1, the goal was to introduce the team to the area, the arena, and the PCLC staff. The weekend also included media events and team physicals.
“A big point for us this year was making sure everybody’s in the best possible shape so we did a lot of that sort of thing,” Kelusky said. “We got into a little bit of teaching but it was really just about going out and competing and getting into some of the tactical things we want to do.”
Before they faced off against Philadelphia, Kelusky said the team’s practice was more competitive. Spending an afternoon in Brampton will help with that kind of intensity as well, with Memorial Arena being smaller than a standard NLL-size floor.
“There’s certainly some benefits to Brampton where it’s a bit more intimate, a little bit smaller setting so guys have to react that much quicker,” Kelusky said. “But we certainly want to get acclimated to playing on bigger floors; that’s why we played at the TRAC and it will be similar at the ILA. It’s good to practice in smaller venues but we want to get acclimated to NLL play because the season is sneaking up on us relatively quickly.”
Panther City opens their season on Friday, December 1, visiting the Vancouver Warriors.
PCLC defender Brandon Goodwin knows a lot about those Warriors – he was one for five years before signing with Kelusky’s club in the offseason.
“Goody is a guy we went after hard in free agency,” the coach explained. “He compliments the way we play. We like to get up and down quick, and he plays with a bit of an edge on the defensive side of it. Certainly he can transition the ball. He was one of the first priorities that we went after and he liked what we’re doing and chose to sign with us. He can check a lot of boxes for us, not only from a playing perspective but for his personality. He’s a team-first guy.”
Goodwin is familiar with several of his new PCLC teammates – not only did he play for the Warriors, but he’s from B.C., so he joins the contingent of Canadian west coasters that have found a home in Texas.
One of those players is rookie Ryan Sheridan, drafted fifth overall in September’s entry draft.
“I’ve played against Sheridan in the WLA for a couple of years now,” said Goodwin. “He has an incredible stick, he’s a big body and he’s incredibly good in tight. He beat me pretty good at training camp this past weekend so I definitely noticed that.”
Goodwin also mentioned Jason Knox, drafted fifth overall in the 2022 draft, who will also join the team up front.
“Knoxy’s got a pretty heavy shot, I think he’s going to surprise a lot of guys up there as well,” Goodwin said.
Kelusky likes what he’s seen so far from the rookies.
“We’ve only had one scrimmage, but certainly I’ve really appreciated everybody’s compete and everybody’s [willingness] to be coached and take that next step,” he said. “Our core group isn’t satisfied. We’ve come in with a bit of a chip on our shoulder. Our whole nucleus… is hungry as ever. Callum Crawford has come in and had a real good training camp for us. Sheridan is certainly lived up to expectations and Knox … getting acclimated pretty quick here.”
Goodwin said he will be bringing veteran leadership to his new team, in his eighth season of NLL play. He said the team is raring to go.
“I love the way our team runs the ball… During camp we’ve focused on pushing that ball from the defensive end, while stopping the ball at the same time. So far it’s been a blast, it’s a great group of guys and we’ve been going hard so we’re ready for the season start.”
Does he think the Panther City Lacrosse Club can bring a championship to Dickie’s Arena? Yes, but it’s going to take a lot of hard work and growth, he said.
“We’ve touched on that quite a few times but I don’t think we necessarily look at it that entire way,” Goodwin hedged. “A championship is the main goal and that’s something that we strive for but at the same time we’re here to challenge ourselves to be better every day. That pushes us towards that championship just a little bit closer.”