(WINDSOR, ON) – The Orangeville Northmen Junior A lacrosse club finished their season in second place, edged out of first by the Six Nations Arrows with a couple late season losses. Both teams, however, have a common denominator; the Windsor Clippers.
Kellen Leclair has made a lot of headlines in recent months by stepping up to the Arrows late in the 2015 season and splitting time with the Calgary Roughnecks, of the National Lacrosse League. Windsor’s contribution to the Northmen is Lucas Ducharme.
Ducharme, a three-year veteran of the Clippers Junior B organization, has spent three full seasons with Orangeville and is a staple of their offense. Capping over 20 goals per season in each of his years with the club, Lucas also earned a NCAA Division I scholarship to Detroit Mercy and plays for their field lacrosse team.
As a Clipper, he made waves during the 2012 season by winning the OJBLL’s rookie of the year award for the Western Conference. A season later, he was signed by the Northmen.
Lucas serves as an exception to what seems to be a rule in the decentralized reaches of the box lacrosse empire of Ontario.
Many Fratmen and Clippers alumni in the past have jumped to the Junior A ranks: Jamie Pillon and Steve Hinek to Brampton, Dave Hodgins to Beaches, Matt Soulliere to St Catharines, Colin McDowall to Orillia, and Greg Krstic to Victoria, BC, just to name a few.
Most leave on a part-time basis, but some close up shop in Junior B and never come back. Many local talents stay here their entire careers and play for hometown glory.
Brett Hickey of the Toronto Rock, Trevor Veres with Wheeling Jesuit NCAA Division II, and Windsor’s new scoring record holder Logan Holmes spent their entire careers ripping up the OJBLL in Windsor. Both Junior A and B are noble endeavors and the validity of both paths can only be left to debate.
“I started playing lacrosse after watching a close family friend, Brett Hickey,” explained Ducharme. “From then on, I’ve always played lacrosse and hockey growing up. I played [Windsor] Warlocks lacrosse from when I was four years old. I grew up in the Warlocks system and had some great coaches from a young age.”
As a peewee, the standout was coached by local professional lacrosse legends Miro “Medo” Martinello and his son Terry. Coming up through the ranks, the young Warlock seemed destined for a shot with the Junior B’s, where he fell under the tutelage of yet another member of the famous Martinello clan; Ron.
“I knew he had talent and was definitely going to play at a higher level,” reflected Ron Martinello. “He was very coachable and just a very good young man.”
Martinello had a long and storied lacrosse career.
An inducted member of the Windsor-Essex Sports Hall of Fame, Ron played Junior A, B, and C here in Windsor, NCAA Division I with Maryland, and won a professional championship in 1991 with the Detroit Turbos. He was a member of the Fratmen/Clippers coaching staff for eleven seasons and now coaches field lacrosse in the US.
“It was a great experience being called up to the Windsor Clippers my midget year,” said Ducharme. “This gave me a taste of the intensity and the confidence to compete against older players who were bigger and faster.”
Lucas would spend two seasons with the big club, emphasizing that some of his greatest lacrosse moments were playing in front of the hometown crowd.
“The Clippers prepared me for Junior A,” he said. “Offensive coach Ron Martinello placed me in situations that helped me grow as a player. We were also very well taken care of in Windsor. [Mike] Soulliere is a fantastic general manager and has always been known for treating the players well.”
In the Summer of 2014 Ducharme made the quantum leap to Junior A.
“I chose the Junior A route because I wanted to play at the highest level possible,” he explained. “It’s been a goal of mine to play Junior A since I was in minor because I wanted to push myself to be able to play with the best players in Canada. The main difference between [Junior A and B] is the speed of the game, [it is more] competitive, so each night you must bring your best game. The next main difference is the stick skills of the defense and as well as very good goaltending. Especially with a team like Orangeville that likes to push the ball on transition and put a few in the net.”
When asked, Ducharme weighed in on the stigma that Junior A sometimes has with Windsor-area players.
“Some players rule out playing Junior A because of the travel or the commitment to live away from home,” Ducharme said. “Unless you are a full-time player, a team won’t give you a billet family to live with, so you really have to commit to what level you want to play at. This is my third summer with my billet family and they have been great to me.”
Ducharme has a lot of support from his peers.
“I think it was a great thing for him to move up to Junior A,” stated Clippers/Fratman alumni Brett Hickey, the Toronto Rock veteran and 2009 OLA West scoring champion. “He has been provided some tremendous coaches and surrounded by a pure lacrosse culture in Orangeville. For his growth as a player and knowledge of the sport, he could not be in a better location. He has always been a player with a great outside shot, but I think that, being in Orangeville, he has learned to play a more complete game at a higher level from an organization that expects the best and that will help him in his senior and pro career. I think that makes him more pro-ready than myself at that age and any Junior B player coming up the ranks. You can always adjust to that level of play, but I think it provides an easier path and a smaller adjustment curve if you play at the Junior A level in the right organization.”
In Ducharme’s player profile with the Northmen, he lists the former Clippers all-time leading scorer as his idol in the sport.
“I never had the opportunity to play at the Junior A or the NCAA level,” Hickey continued. “I was never asked to play at that level, so I decided to do the best I could at the level I was at and hopefully I would get a chance. I think if those opportunities presented themselves, then I think I would have taken them. Personally, I always want to play against the best; it’s how I grow as a person and as a player.”
Hickey is a local Junior B success story and did not discount the Clippers experience though.
“I also believe that no matter where you play in junior, if you are good enough and work hard, they will find you at some point and you will get a chance. When you have a team that has a chance to win a [Founders Cup] and you can be a dominant force in helping your team make it that far [like Logan Holmes], you will stand out,” Hickey said. “NLL and NCAA programs may not be at every game, but they do keep an eye out on the stats. When I was drafted by the [Vancouver Stealth of the NLL in 2011] they had not seen me play. It was based on stats and conversations they had with me.”
The former Fratman and LaSalle Vipers Junior B hockey player had more to add.
“Every player’s situation is different and it has to be the right fit for that player. However, generally speaking, Junior A is a better pipeline to the NLL and the NCAA,” he disclosed. “You are playing against the best. For the most part, in both Ontario and British Columbia, the Junior A leagues are coached by current or former NLL players and coaches. Those people have connections and an inside look at the best players of that age group. Windsor, on the other hand, is unique in itself because of how far they are from the Jr A loop. Logistically, it makes it hard for players in Windsor to commit to that. There are a handful of players on the Clippers that can play Junior A in a program somewhere in Ontario.”
When Lucas’ time with the Northmen is up, he will still have two years of eligibility with Detroit Mercy in the NCAA.
“From there I hope to get a shot at the NLL,” said Ducharme.
But, before he is done with Junior A, he would like to lift the big prize.
“Winning the Minto Cup would mean everything to our team and the Town of Orangeville as a whole,” he said. “It is the hardest trophy to win in all of lacrosse. We loaded up before the trade deadline and I’m extremely confident in the lineup that we are putting forward.”
To the Little Warlocks out there, Ducharme shared a bit of wisdom.
“Just work as hard as you can in every game because you never know who is watching,” Ducharme advised. “It was my time with the Clippers that the Orangeville coaches were in the crowd scouting.”