Salmonbellies & Dickson come out on top of 2023 WLA

by Paul Horn

After a season of duelling with the Langley Thunder, the Salmonbellies have finished at the top of Western Lacrosse Association. The Bellies end the season with a 15-3 record, matching their 2018 season, the last time the team finished first in the WLA.

Despite missing some key offensive players, the Bellies rolled into Nanaimo for their final regular season game with confidence. They were down by one goal at the end of the first in a defensive battle, but evened things up with an early second period marker by Ryan Martel. The T-Men inched ahead again with a tally by Ryan Sheridan, but a quick goal by New West’s Jason Jones evened things up. Seconds later, Nanaimo would move ahead on a goal by Taggart Clark in what looked like it might be a back-and-forth affair for the entire 60 minutes.

Finally, at the 14th minute of the second, Haiden Dickson scored a goal that started a New West run. It was Dickon’s league-leading 51st goal and the Bellies never looked back after it hit the mesh. Dickson wasn't done, ending the night with a hat trick, and wrapping up the goal scoring title for the season at 53. Dickson was the game’s second star.

Rookie Noah Armitage was named 1st Star in the game, after a 3-1-4 effort. Armitage ends his rookie campaign with an impressive stat line of 16 games played, with 18 goals and 25 assists.

Haiden Dickson’s 53 goals was 9 better than Nanaimo’s Zach Manns (who was second in goals but tops in league points). It was Dickson’s second year as the league’s top goal getter.

No Salmonbellies player has reached the 50-goal threshold since Athan Iannucci in 2007 (with 51 goals). Dickson potted 40 last year, earning him Rookie of the Year honours, and was also the squad’s iron man, playing all 18 games in both of the last two seasons. No other player has been in the line-up for every single game.

The Bellies will face the 4th place Victoria Shamrocks beginning Aug 2nd at Queens Park. Game time will be 6:30 for all games in the best-of-five semi-final series. Game 3 will return to QPA on Aug 9th. Tickets are on-sale now here.

The Bellies are going into the play-offs strong, on the momentum of a 4-game win streak. They last lost 11-6 in a game in Victoria July 14th, but the New West team was missing a staggering 8 regulars. When Victoria visited Queens Park a week later, the Bellies returned the favour, taking a 10-7 victory over the Shamrocks. The season series was won by New West, who had squeaked out a tough 8-7 victory over Victoria at the Q on June 23rd.  GM Ray Porcellato said, "Winning the league is a great accomplishment for the team, but securing home floor throughout the WLA playoffs is huge."

The Bellies have managed some impressive performance statistics over the season, finishing with the best goals-per-game average (11.4), powerplay (56%), penalty kill (70%) and goal differential (+60). The team also has three of the top five points-per-game shooters (Keegan Bal, 1st at 6.4; Mitch Jones, 2nd at 6.2, and Kevin Crowley, 4th at 5.2). Goaltenders Neil Tyacke and Zach Higgins are also in the top 5 in goal tending overall, with nearly identical save averages (82.5% versus 82.6%).

Porcellato says the team is happy to have come out on top, but not satisfied.  "We celebrated winning the league title last night, but today our group has turned the page and our attention is solely focused on our first round matchup with the Shamrocks."

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