2020 Head Coach

The Peterborough Merit Precision Jr. A Lakers are turning to some winners to get the team back on the winning track.

The team announced Wednesday that Robert Hope, captain of the Mann Cup champion Century 21 Lakers, has been named head coach. Joining his staff are teammates Turner Evans and Jake Withers along with Matt Crough and Taylor Evans.

Ray Dance Jr., head coach the past two years, has been named assistant general manager to longtime GM Lee Vitarelli.

Team president Tim Barrie said the last time they had success, reaching the Ontario final in 2015, they were coached by alumni with vast pro and senior playing experience in Mat Giles, Tracey Kelusky and Dan Carey.

“Our board made a resolution that we weren’t going to miss the playoffs,” said Barrie. “We felt we needed to pull out all the stops. We felt we needed some of the NLL attraction to the team and a coach who is currently playing or coaching in the NLL.”

Senior Lakers GM Paul Day highly recommended Hope, who has extensive coaching experience. He, Crough and Taylor Evans helped coach high school field lacrosse at Holy Cross for seven years. Hope also coached with Evolve Elite Lacrosse, the Peterborough Minor Lacrosse Association and Peterborough Minor Hockey Council.

“Ray Dance worked really hard, as did his two assistants,” Barrie said.

“You hate like hell parting ways with them when they worked so hard, but the kids just weren’t responding. It was too easy for them to miss a practice. We’re hoping this is the change we need. Robert was a captain for us in junior, is a captain in senior and in Colorado.

“We know he’s a character guy and mature beyond his years. I remember when he was playing for us, he was coaching high school lacrosse. He’s always been a student of the game. He was one of those kids you knew one day would coach. As captain, he was level-headed. We think he’s going to be a good motivator.”

Hope said he was honoured when they approached him.

“We had such a great experience with the junior program and we wanted to be able to give back,” Hope said.

He knows it will be a challenge.

“We want to bring them back to where they should be, in the playoffs,” Hope said. “It’s not going to happen overnight. Things will have to change. The culture has to change, and that starts right from the top down to the players. We’ve had lots of discussions with Tim and Lee about that. They’re on board and excited for change. We’re not expecting to be winners overnight but that’s our end goal.

“We have a great wealth of knowledge, skills, systems and development we want to put in place. We hope to pass that along to our players.”

Barrie said the struggles can be traced in part to three to four years where the minor system didn’t produce many high-calibre players. That is changing.

“The minors are starting to generate players again,” he said.

Barrie said they understand three of the coaches also have playing obligations to the NLL and senior Lakers. It was the case in the past, and he points to Mike Hasen who coaches Brampton’s Jr. A team, the Century 21 Lakers and NLL’s Rochester Knighthawks.

“This isn’t without precedence,” he said, noting the staff is large enough that they will not be left short-handed when scheduling conflicts arise.

“We’re still players,” Hope said. “We’re still going to make sure we are the best players possible, but we want to give 100 per cent at coaching.”

Barrie said they didn’t want to lose Dance.

“Ray has a deep knowledge of the kids coming up,” Barrie said. “He’s really good at recruiting and knowing who is available and the kids’ backgrounds. He has that GM background built in. We’re really glad he agreed to stay on to help Lee.”