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Former player rises in Regals ranks to head coach

'The Regals are my hometown,' said Callyn Martin, the team's new coach

It wasn’t that long ago that Callyn Martin played junior B lacrosse for the Guelph Regals. Last year he was on the Regals’ bench as an assistant coach. This year he’s the head coach, taking over the reins from Steve Keleher who served in an interim basis last year after Al Burton stepped down due to personal reasons.

“Coming in this year being head coach, I'm not worried at all,” Martin said. “Our first game (at the Elora preseason tournament), we lost 6-5. We were down 4-1 after the first and the team really came together for those next two periods so I think we have a real good stepping stone this year. I think we can have same performance as last year, if not better.”

That’s a big goal as last year the Regals won a playoff series for the first time in their 32-year history.

Moving up from the assistant position to the top job has been a bit of an eye opener for Martin.

“I assumed it would be a lot more work and, yeah, it's a lot more work than I thought it was going to be,” he said. “You know, I’m up for the task.”

He’s also put together a coaching staff of former Regals that should help alleviate some of the workload. The assistants are Spencer Fraser-Steinbach, Cory Savery and Liam Howell.

“Last year we only had two coaches on the bench, so we both had to pull our weight,” he said. “This year, we have three so I can rely on my assistant coaches much more. I still will take as much responsibility as I can. As head coach, if we lose games due to coaching, that's on me. Everything goes through me down.”

Being son to one of the Regals’ all-time greats, Pat Martin, and being from Guelph can add to the pressure of the job.

Callyn was a defensive player who suited up for the Regals in the 2018 and 2022 seasons, collecting seven goals and five assists in 15 games. He had a goal in 11
games of junior A with the Kitchener-Waterloo Braves in 2019.

His father played six full seasons of junior B as an offensive player, most with the Regals although he was traded to the Elora Mohawks one year, but returned to Guelph for his final two seasons. From 1993 to 1998, Pat played in 162 regular season and playoff games and was essentially even in goals and assists as he had 338 goals and 337 assists.

“The Regals are my hometown,” the 22-year-old Callyn said. “It's great to see that they're finally playing well. They had a couple of years there, there was a drought. We weren't winning too many games. So it's just great that we have players showing up, people that want to have this game go on. Guelph is a great lacrosse town. I just want to see it grow as much as possible.”

The Regals went 14-6-0 to tie for fourth in the Western Conference with the Windsor Clippers last year before they swept the Clippers 3-0 in the best-of-five conference quarter-finals. However, they were defeated 3-1 in the best-of-five conference semifinals by the first-place and unbeaten Six Nations Rebels.

“The pressure is huge this year,” Callyn said. “A lot of people probably don't think we'll be able to have the same impact we did last year. We went so far setting records for the Guelph Regals not making it to that second round. This year I think we can easily get the same place if not farther.”

The Regals will look a little different look this season with a new coaching staff, new logo and new uniforms that are to be used in game play for the first time in their season opener. The team’s play will likely also look a bit different with the graduation of, among others, twins Marcus Keleher and Ethan Keleher who combined for 88 goals and 106 assists, and Owen Orpana (66 goals, 62 assists) who’s expected to move up to junior A.

“We don't have those outside shooters,” Callyn said. “We have more in-tight guys this year, so we'll have to rely more in tight and more on our defence pushing the ball up.”

The Regals were on the floor once a week for about a month and a half with sessions at both the Toronto Rock Athletic Complex in Oakville and Queensmount Arena in Kitchener before playing three games in the Elora preseason tournament where they beat Windsor 8-3 and lost 7-4 to the Orangeville Northmen and 6-5 to Elora. Each team used lineups that aren’t likely to be seen in the regular season.

Callyn is still playing as he suited up for the Brampton Express in the Ontario-based East Division of the Arena Lacrosse League. The Express reached the semifinals in a game that was played a day before the final workout session in Kitchener.

Still playing means Callyn knows the on-court pressures the Regals’ players face.

“The game's always progressing,” he said. “It's always getting a faster pace. Defensive strategies are changing. Offensive strategies are changing. Even playing last year, our defensive coach was Dylan Evans, who just became defensive coach for the Rochester Nighthawks (of the professional National Lacrosse League) and he taught me so much.

"I'm able to bring that to this team now and change them. This year we had more coaches come up, so we're able to learn more. Once again, I can bring that to these guys. So every year I play, you know, I learn more myself and I can bring it to these guys to coach them just as much as I learned.”

As far as his playing days in junior go, what was his favourite memory?

“Probably my first junior A game,” Callyn answered. “I went up and I got a goal. So, you know, it's really memorable. But by far, you know, that jump off from junior B to junior A, it's just amazing. Stepping in that arena with the music going and having a lot of fans, it's just always the best and I hope every kid can experience that.”

And he considers part of his job as a junior B coach is to get players ready to play at the junior A level should they decide they want to do that.

“It's definitely quite the step,” he said of the difference between junior B and junior A. “It's definitely shocked most players. A, it's just so fast paced. There's no standing around. You know, B, sometimes they won't set picks and stuff, but A, it's always moving. Your head's always on a swivel. The picks are harder. The guys are faster. Shots are harder. So you’ve just got to try to be ready for that pace and pick it up on the go. Just grab everything and run as fast as you can.

“I try to tell my players most times before the game, I'm here just to make you better and get you to that next step. If your step is to keep playing B, keep going up to A, I'm just here to get you there. So it's always up to the players to choose how their future goes, but I'm just here to make them the best I can.”

The Regals are to complete their preseason schedule with a game against the Clarington-based Green Gaels Sunday at 3 p.m. at the Victoria Road arena. They’re to start their regular season there April 21 with a 3 p.m. game against the Wallaceburg Red Devils.