The contributions of Brad Russnak, left, Brayden Schneider, centre, and Ryne Atkinson may not show up on the score sheet, but their leadership and drive have helped the Xtreme become one of the top teams in the Rocky Mountain Lacrosse League this season. JAMIE HARKINS LLS PHOTO
The Lloydminster jr. B Xtreme rattled off nine straight wins halfway through this Rocky Mountain Lacrosse League (RMLL) regular season.
The Xtreme (12-5) suffered a blip near the end of the campaign dropping three straight games, including two against the division rival Cold Lake Lakeland Heat (15-1-1), before redeeming themselves with a big 10-5 win against the Edmonton Warriors (6-11) on the final day of the regular season.
The Warriors are set to travel to the Centennial Civic Centre for the opening two games of the RMLL playoffs on July 7 and 8 with the winner of the first round series earning a date against the Heat the following weekend.
The mid-April to late-June regular season schedule featured strong offensive performances by a few members of the Xtreme, some standout defensive battles by a couple of its rearguards and a stolen game or two courtesy of the men playing between the pipes.
However, the key to the Xtreme’s success may have been the play of a few of its supporting pieces.
Graham Murray, head coach of the Xtreme, said rookie defenceman Brayden Schneider, first-year forward Ryne Atkinson and veteran defender Brad Russnak don’t get a lot of recognition on the score sheet, but they still contribute to the marks in their win column.
He said Schneider, Atkinson and Russnak take what they’ve learned during team practices around fundamental play and continually implement it during games.
“Ryne, he battles for loose balls all the time,” said Murray. “His nickname is mad dog and he really lives up to it by getting in there and digging up those loose balls. Schneider brings that physical presence every night and he sticks up for guys. He’s a rookie and he takes some of the smaller guys under his wing. No one is pushing those guys around anymore when he’s out there.”
Murray said Russnak has been giving his all for the Xtreme for the past five years.
He said the assistant captain shows up to the rink early, is emotionally involved in every game and likes to get his teammates fired up.
“He’s a battler for those loose balls,” he said. “He plays well defensively for us and he’s somebody who definitely the team respects.”
Schneider and Atkinson both said they joined the Xtreme this season after taking the past couple of years off from the sport. The former said a chance to play alongside his buddies brought him to the club, while the latter noted suiting up for the hometown team gives him an opportunity to try and stay in shape while playing a competitive game.
“What I try to do is go out there and do whatever I need to do to help the boys get the win,” said Atkinson. “That’s whether I go back to play defence or try to set guys up or hopefully get a couple of goals. At the end of the night, I just try to help us win a game.”
Russnak said his play hasn’t changed much since he first joined the Xtreme. He said his focus is simply to work hard on defence, help his teammates out and make sure the opposition doesn’t score.
The A on his jersey this year indicates an increased leadership role, noted Russnak, but that doesn’t mean it has transformed his focus on the bench. He said Murray sets the example and they simply follow his lead.
“We have a dedicated coach who comes out every day and he teaches us new things and ways to play,” added Schneider. “Even when we’re down, he’ll cheer us back up to go out there and hopefully get the W.”
Murray said Schneider, Atkinson and Russnak are a few of their last-minute guys who he’ll be counting on to close out games in the playoffs. He said their drive and passion for the game has played a big part in the team’s success this season and he’s counting on them to play a major role when the Warriors pay them a visit.
“We’ve got to keep on loose balls, be moving on offence a lot and make sure on defence that we shut down the full 30’s all the time,” said Russnak, about how they’ll keep the regular season success rolling into the post-season. “We’ve got to keep it down pat and whenever we get caught to make sure there is somebody else back there to help us out. We’ve got two goalies who stop the ball pretty well, so we should be able to do it.”