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Axemen make Whistler debut

Coach hopes to create club, not just team

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The Axemen rugby club is no longer attaching itself to just one place.

The squad dropped "Squamish" from its name as it looks to expand its presence in Whistler, a movement it started on Saturday, Sept. 30 with its first-ever match at Whistler Secondary School. The Axemen made a strong first impression, stomping Meraloma 75-7 in men's BC Rugby League third-division play.

Coach Blake Mahovic said though the club has been based in Squamish since its revival four years ago, slightly more than half the players were actually from Whistler. At the end of last season, in which the Axemen enjoyed an undefeated regular season before falling in the championship game, Mahovic said the club opted for the name change and to embrace Whistler more fully.

"With the nature of Whistler, we've got a lot of English, Australian, and people from New Zealand as well," he said. "We hope to encourage more participation from the Whistler community as well. As it stands, about 60 per cent of our players are from Whistler and it would be nice to have the same kind of presence that we have in Squamish."

Saturday's game was the first of two the Axemen will play at the high school this year, with the second slated for Saturday, Oct. 14 at 12:45 p.m. against Capilano.

"It's a nice reward for all those guys in Whistler who have been playing all these years, travelling 40 minutes minimum to play two hours," he said.

Mahovic estimated roughly 50 spectators came to the match, noting conditions weren't ideal and the Whistler Games drew part of the potential fan base.

He hopes to see more people out to the next game, adding the Axemen play a "fast, loose" viewer-friendly style.

"We're not like an old-school team. We're not a particularly big team, so we rely more on our speed and our skill rather than just being able to push people," he said. "I always tell our players to take risks and we'll fix up afterwards."

Mahovic explained while he appreciates strong showings on the field, they're not his main goal. The club decided last year that their primary focus would be to foster the rugby community in the Sea to Sky corridor.

"As coach, I like to see the results," he said. "We decided that it was going to be a community club first and foremost.

"For me, it would be great to continue the winning streak and maybe actually get the first (hardware) in the club's history, but our main priority is on developing the game and ingraining ourselves into the Whistler culture."

Mahovic added that the club has a women's training squad as well, and new players, male or female, are always welcome. For more information, see www.facebook.com/AxemenRugbyClub.

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