Don Wittmeier knew the well was running dry on the Co-op Petroleum Stylers.
The Prince George Senior Lacrosse Association team was in the process of folding, as was the Northland Nissan Assault. That would have left the senior loop with just two Prince George teams for the 2019 season along with team from Quesnel and Mackenzie until Wittmeier, the Stylers' coach, came up with a solution.
He blended the two teams as the Assault and they've built themselves into a contender. Nearly halfway through the 16-game schedule, Northland Nissan sits second in the league standings with a 4-3 record heading into a Monday battle against the first-place Westwood Pub Devils.
The trigger point for Wittmeier came when Stylers team manager and forward Matt Rochon announced he could no longer take on the load of running the team. He turned it back to the league and Wittmeier volunteered to take it over.
"They were going to fold this team and I said no, having just two teams in the city would kill lacrosse here," said Wittmeier. "I said I would take the team, I will find enough players."
Wittmeier's ability to draw a handful of former stars of the league back into the game has spearheaded the revival, giving the longtime coach an element of experience he never had in years past as the Stylers' bench boss. The new blend of youth and veteran savvy is producing the desired results in the win-loss column.
"We have a combination of younger and older guys, which is what you need," said Wittmeier. "With the Stylers it was always young guys against the men and we had no leadership with the older guys. Now with the older guys on board they can show the younger guys how to do it."
Davey Jenkins is now into his 30s but he's back to full health after knee surgery and still has the smarts and stick skills to quarterback the Assault attack. He's been reunited with Clarke Anderson and goalie Russill Mills, whose chemistry on the floor dates back to their Prince George minor lacrosse days with the junior B Posse.
Jenkins is tied for second in league scoring. In five games Jenkins has 13 goals and 21 assists for 34 points, equal to that of Drew Doig of the RPR Mechanical/JR Construction Bandits. Andrew Schwab of the Devils (18-22-40, not including Wednesday's game) leads the PGSLA scoring race.
Anderson has been hobbled by a leg muscle injury that forced him to miss a couple games but he's been productive (3-8-11) in the three games he has played. Matt Rochon, who came over from the Stylers, has also done his part offensively (11-10-21) and is back playing with his longtime buddy Olin Erricson (10-2-12). New recruit Cole Kulcyzycki (5-10-15) brings junior B experience from Alberta. Doug Porter (15-8-23) is also a significant scoring threat for the Assault. .
"It's pretty sweet when we can get all our guys firing at the same time with Dom Sia on the crease, Clarke Anderson as the shooter, Davey Jenkins as the setup man, and Doug Porter and Matt Rochon - that's our power play," said Wittmeier. "It looks good on paper, just have to get everyone there at the same time.
"It''s been a nice blend, I was able to get Anderson and Jenkins and Anderson back into the fold. That was one of my goals was to get people who hadn't played for a few years back into the game."
The Assault sent a second-round midget pick to the Devils to acquire Riley Stevens and he's lived up to Wittmeier's expectations with five goals and seven assists in seven games. The Sia siblings - Dom and Sera - are back together with the Assault. Dom returned to the game after a two-year absence to play with his sister and they've both added some spice to the offence, combining with former Stylers Gage Prince and Aden Halsall.
The Assault roster has 19 runners. With work commitments factored in they usually have about 14 to work with each game. On Wednesday they took advantage of a Quesnel Summit Electric Crossfire that had just six runners available and beat them 15-3 at Kin 1. Rochon led the way with five goals and two assists. Wittmeier tried to adjust for the discrepancy in numbers by having his defencemen play as forwards with his usual go-to snipers playing defence.
In goal, Mills (back from an extended lacrosse hiatus) and Kyle Frederick have been splitting the load with help from midget draft pick Liam Froese. Steve Moleski, Cole Callaghan, Cam Prouse, Brendan Girard, Nicholas Girard, Nick Hansen, Iain Scott, Rob Warren and Bret Benbow are the other Assault players.
The Assault-Devils rematch is set for Monday at 8 p.m. at Kin 1. Westwood Pub, now 7-0, clobbered Northland Nissan 15-3 in the opening game of the season April 24. The Devils have loaded up to take a run at the provincial senior A championship, which will be hosted in Prince George, July 26-28. Among the players they've added is former National Lacrosse League veteran defender Jeff Moleski.
"Jeff doesn't hurt them at all," laughed Wittmeier. "They've picked up a lot of guys from Vancouver that have played junior A. It's who you know, and they know Jamie (Westwood goalie/team manager Bellamy). They're high-calibre, they're going for provincials this year. They have 25 guys on the roster and are usually sitting five players every game.
"It should be that if you're new to the city you should be put in a draft, but that's not who they do it."
The Glen "Moose' Scott/Treasure Cove Casino Canadian Senior Invitational Lacrosse tournament will be contested the same weekend as the four-team senior C championship, both at the Kin Centre The invitational tournament is named after Scott, the PGSLA commissioner, who is now battling cancer, among other health concerns.
"This is my 29th year as commissioner and one of these days I've got to step down," said Scott. "I'm not sure but it might be next year."