The Manitoba Gryphons will take flight in April and the sky is the limit for the new junior lacrosse team.
The Gryphons team announced Wednesday at a press conference that it has joined the Rocky Mountain Lacrosse League (RMLL). The Gryphons will be the 11th team in the junior B tier I loop that also includes nine teams in Alberta and one in Saskatchewan. Players are aged 17-21.
It is a box lacrosse league, which means the game is played in an indoor arena when the ice is out. Manager Allan Jacks said establishing the Gryphons in the interprovincial league will open doors for Manitoba players.
"This team will offer players the opportunity to play at a high-performance level, interprovincially, at the national level, possibly the NLL (professional league) and most importantly, the opportunity to scouted for scholarship opportunities," Jacks said.
The Gryphons team was created from the two-time provincial junior B champion East End Gryphons, coached for the past five years by Ken Stuebing.
"Because of the success of where we've come from, the reality is we need to take that next step," said Stuebing, whose youngest son, Brandon, 18, may play for the team if he doesn't play at the junior A level. His eldest son Justin, 21, and Brandon both play lacrosse at Lindenwood University, an NAIA school in St. Charles, Mo. Jordan McKay, 19, is another player from Winnipeg who also plays at Lindenwood and may rejoin the Gryphons.
"The reality is our players need to be challenged to take that next step in their development and for the evolution of the game here."
Play is expected to begin in late April and the Gryphons have plenty to keep them busy until then. The team is still looking for a facility for home games, needs to finalize its roster, has the bulk of its fundraising left to do, has not yet received its season schedule and is updating its website.
Stuebing said he expects to have about 25 players on the Gryphons' roster. He has about 17 players already listed and will hold an open tryout in the coming weeks to fill the other positions.
Goaltender Justin Godson, 16, has been recruited by the Gryphons from the midget (15-16 year-old) league.
"I think it's a great idea to have this team, it's allowing us to expand our program to compete in other provinces and it's really going to give a big lift to the sport in our province," said Godson, a Grade 11 student at Transcona Collegiate. "I'm just ecstatic, so pumped and ready to go. It's going to be a great opportunity to play on this team and I just want the season to start tomorrow."
The Gryphons expect to play at least 14 games in the RMLL, a reduced schedule from the usual 22 games, and have opted out of the playoffs. At this point, the Gryphons' schedule is expected to include six home games, four in Saskatchewan and four in Alberta.
Team officials say they still need to raise about $50,000 of the estimated operating budget of $80,000 for the 2011 season. The goal is for the players to pay the same $300 registration fee they have paid in the past to play in Manitoba and the Gryphons team would look after all expenses.