Lacrosse has replaced hockey in Matt Garvey's heart and future.
Garvey, 19, is one of 23 players on the Manitoba Gryphons junior lacrosse team who are bringing the "fastest game on two feet" to Manitoba this weekend.
The Gryphons will make their home debut on Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. against the Edmonton Warriors at the Oakbank Recreation Centre (1016 Almey Ave, Oakbank). They play in the Rocky Mountain Lacrosse League in the junior B tier I division. The league is an 11-team interprovincial box lacrosse loop that also includes teams from B.C., Alberta and Saskatchewan.
The Rocky Mountain league is the top level for the 17- to 21-year-old age group and is regularly scouted by representatives from American colleges and universities. It is the first time a lacrosse team from Manitoba has participated in regular-season play outside the province.
"Lacrosse is my No.1-ranked sport because the opportunity for me is greater in lacrosse right now and I'm trying to focus a little more of my attention on that but keeping a focus on hockey as well," Garvey said.
He played three seasons for the Manitoba AAA Midget Hockey League's Winnipeg Thrashers and won a national silver medal at the 2008 Telus Cup national midget hockey championship.
"Being part of the Gryphons in this league is such a great opportunity to develop skills as a player or to maybe be able to play at an NCAA school. I would love to see how far I can take this and how far it can go for us as a team."
Garvey played in the 2009 Telus Cup when the Thrashers were the host team in Selkirk and last year was the Thrashers' leading playoff goal scorer. Most recently, he played for St. James Canucks in the Manitoba Major Junior Hockey League.
Garvey said the Gryphons team means players can stay in Manitoba to play at the elite level rather than having to move to Alberta or B.C.
Gryphons' Luc Sanders played in B.C. last year but came home to join the Gryphons while Jordan McKay and Brandon Stuebing have lacrosse scholarships with the Lindenwood University Lions in St. Charles, Miss., an NCAA division II school.
"This a big, big deal for me personally. If not for this team, I don't know if I would have been able to go somewhere to play -- that could have been the end of it (elite lacrosse) for me," said Garvey. "I feel fortunate to be able to be part of this program and the chance to build something special here at home."
Last weekend, the Gryphons earned a split in their first Rocky Mountain league games on the road with a 11-9 loss to the Red Deer Rampage and a 8-7 overtime win over the Calgary Shamrocks. The games were played at the halfway point in Saskatoon to save travel costs.
"It's a high-tempo, physical sport with lots of contact and quite honestly most people seeing the game cannot believe how fast the ball is moving from one side of the floor to the other," said Gryphons head coach Ken Stuebing.
Box lacrosse is fast and physical. Similar to hockey, it includes six players per side (a goaltender and five runners), and similar to basketball, there is a shot clock. Players have 30 seconds once in possession of the ball to take a shot that hits the opposition goalie.
Stuebing said fans will see a game where cross checking is legal and considered an essential part of its strategy.
"In box lacrosse you are allowed to cross check but if you try to injure someone, a penalty will be called," he said, noting cross checking on an opponent's back is prohibited. "The space between the hands on the stick is used and it can be between the waist and the shoulders."
Stuebing said playing in the Rocky Mountain league is a step toward the program's goal of having a junior A team by 2014. The Gryphons will host the national junior B championship, The Founder's Cup, in 2013.
The Manitoba Gryphons will play the first two games of their six-home schedule this weekend at the Oakbank Recreation Centre, 1016 Almey Ave., Oakbank.
Here's a look at the full home schedule
May 21: 8 p.m. vs. Edmonton Warriors
May 22: 2 p.m. vs. Edmonton Warriors
June 11: 1 p.m., 7 p.m. vs. Calgary Chill
July 2: 8 p.m. vs. Saskatoon SWAT
July 3: noon vs. Saskatoon SWAT