Buccaneers gear up for season

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Axsivier Lawrence of the Central Alberta Buccaneers fends off Erik Kyler of the St. Albert Stars during AFL action last season. Lawrence is among the veteran players on the team stepping into leadership and coaching roles. (Ashli Barrett/Lacombe Globe)

Ashli Barrett – Lacombe Globe – Saturday, May 20, 2017

After having their AFL championship hopes capsized by the Fort McMurray Monarchstwo years in a row, the Central Alberta Buccaneers are looking to right the ship this season and chart a new course to the league title.

With a number of players and coaches leaving the team, and a smaller turnout at their spring camp, the Bucs are anticipating several changes on and off the field for the upcoming season.

“It’s a bit of a rebuilding year. We don’t have as big of a roster as in past seasons,” said Buccaneer Todd Lewis, who has now taken on a community relations role with the team. “Numbers are down and it’s a challenge for sure, but the executive has worked hard to recruit this year and pick up players to fill the gaps.

“We have a number of new guys so it’s a great opportunity to look ourselves in the mirror and re-establish some of the traditions we used to have, really retool our culture.”

Among the reasons the roster is shorter than it has been in years past, perhaps, is a bit of uncertainty caused by the loss of their head coach.

Devon Hand, who coached the team for two seasons, stepped down to focus on family and work. A long-time Buccaneer himself, Hand was instrumental in improving the conditioning of a team which was often plagued by injuries. He was also credited with changing the culture of the team from what some players described to be almost a beer-league atmosphere to be more competitive.

Offensive Coordinator “Auzzie Dave” also stepped down to make a move to Manitoba as his wife will be attending post-secondary there.

Command of the pirate crew has now been turned over to a Lacombian with plenty of football coaching experience under his belt.

“Fred Knip is going to take the mantle of head coach which is really good because he’s got 30-plus years of coaching experience,” said Lewis. “He’ll be a great figure to have behind the clipboard and whistle.”

In terms of position coaches, team veterans have stepped up to help prepare the team for the season ahead.

Team Captain Mark Fay is running the defence, while Jesse McPhail and Axsivier Lawrence are guiding the offence. Lewis, alongside Tylor Johannesson, are working on special teams.

“I feel like we have a decent group, some solid football minds,” said Lewis. “I think we can set the tone really well and get a great culture established as a team.

“The quality of guys we have is exactly what you want for a football team. They’re great character guys, committed to the team and passionate about football.

The 2016 Bucs had a championship or bust mentality, focusing at that final game for the duration of their season. This year, they plan to take the season game by game.

“Do we want to win the AFL final? You bet. That’s the goal,” he said. “We’re focusing more on the process, and if we do a good job in laying that foundation, we’ll see how far we go.”

While they’re confident in the players they have, the Bucs are still looking for more players to join the team.

Interested parties are asked to contact cabucs.generalmanager@gmail.com for more information. Practices are held Wednesday and Thursday evenings. The Bucs will officially launch their season May 27 on the road against the Grande Prairie Drillers.

The pirate crew has dominated the team for the past couple years, thrashing the Drillers 50-16 in last year’s home opener, and winning 37-14 the year before, but Lewis said it’s hard to know what to expect early on in the season.

“It’s always interesting in week one because you don’t really know 100 per cent who you’re playing against yet,” he said. “They were dominant a number of years ago and the last few years they’ve been middle of the pack but they’re always a hard-hitting team and it’s always a battle against them.”

Kickoff will be at 7 p.m. at Legion Field.

The Bucs will then host the Lloydminster Vandals June 3 at MEGlobal Field at 6 p.m. Tickets are $5 each.