As the Halifax Thunderbirds prepare for their professional debut, coaches and athletes say their focus lies on creating a meaningful legacy in their East Coast home.
The team will square off against the New York Riptide on Saturday night at the Scotiabank Centre – the first game of its inaugural season after an intensive month of training in November.
“We feel Halifax is the city that’s going to turn this league around,” said team captain Cody Jamieson in the hours before the home opener.
“We feel like the fans here are very passionate and if we come in and we do our job, this is going to be one of the cornerstone franchises of the National Lacrosse League.”
The Thunderbirds are the National Lacrosse League’s fifth Canadian franchise and the only professional team in the Maritimes.
They were created after the owner and general manager of the Rochester Knighthawks, Curt Styres, made a successful application to the National Lacrosse League’s board of governors to relocate his team to Halifax.
Its players were scouted over the summer and drafted in September. Most come from Ontario and some are experiencing Halifax for the first time as part of the team. They held an exhibition game against each other last month to introduce themselves to the fans and were greeted by a packed arena.
Rookie Trevor Smyth, of Orangeville, Ont., said he’s already feeling a very warm welcome.
“The turnout was incredible so I’m really looking forward many people come out to support us, and the amount of support we’ve gotten from the city is incredible, so it’s super exciting,” he said.
“I’ve never been to the East Coast before…Everyone’s really friendly and the environment is great. I’m enjoying it and soaking it all in.”
The Thunderbirds held a practice on Saturday morning ahead of the game. Head coach Mike Accursi said he’s proud of the progress the 25-member team has made in the last few weeks.
“We definitely want to be remembered as a hard-working team,” he said in an interview. “I think it’s a team that we’ve built from the ground up that is committed to working for each other and doing all the good things right.”
The home opener began with a ribbon-cutting ceremony hosted by Mayor Mike Savage. The team will play nine regular home games this season, in addition to pre-season and playoff matches.
Its next game is against the Rochester Knighthawks on Dec. 21 in Halifax.
This is the second professional sports franchise to start-up in Halifax this year. Earlier in the spring, the HFX Wanderers’ soccer team kicked off it’s inaugural Canadian Premier League season, and were welcomed with open arms, as the majority of their home games this season were sellouts.
But the Thunderbirds won’t be the only team competing this winter, as they’ll be sharing the Scotiabank Centre with the QMJHL’s Halifax Mooseheads and the Halifax Hurricanes basketball team, who compete in the Canadian National Basketball League.
-With files from Jesse Thomas