The Armstrong Shamrocks’ playoff mantra has been ‘It’s not about who isn’t here but who is here.’
With a shorthanded bench, and playing against a determined Raiders squad in the sweltering, ancient Kelowna Memorial Arena, the Shamrocks overcame a blown 4-0 lead and scored an 8-6 overtime victory to sweep the best-of-three Thompson Okanagan Senior Lacrosse League final Friday night.
It’s the second straight Rowcliffe Cup (formerly Shaw Cup) title for the Irish.
“We needed to play as a team and we certainly did in the playoffs,” said an elated Shamrocks coach Ryan Nitchie, celebrating his seventh league championship.
“We earned the best record in the league by playing as a team and having everyone contribute in some way and, these last two games, I can say that every player contributed in some way to helping us win.”
The Shamrocks went to work early on the Raiders with game MVP Craig Bigsby opening the scoring with a nifty full body roll out of the corner to snipe a top cheese shot over Raiders goaltender Graham Cousins.
Armstrong’s power play proved lethal when Kyle Versteeg hit Steve Clark with a perfect cross-floor pass that Clark one-timed into the back of the net, then Nolan Frame sniped a point shot with the man advantage to give the Shamrocks a 3-0 lead after the first period.
The ‘Rocks went ahead 4-0 when Frame scored a highlight reel goal. Being beat down to the floor by the Raiders defenders, Frame held onto the ball, picked himself up off the floor while still carrying the ball and used four stick fakes to bury the ball over Cousins’ shoulder.
The Raiders mounted a rally, scoring twice before Versteeg ripped a shot clock buzzer beater inside the left post to give the Shamrocks a 5-3 lead after two periods.
Shamrocks starting goalie Chad Pieper was in phenomenal form as he stoned Vic Wiens on a breakaway and thwarted the few shots that made it through the defensive juggernaut.
Carston Schlaak and Austin Lewarne were standouts defensively, playing positional defence perfectly and stripping the Raiders of the ball and rushing up floor.
Kelowna showed character in the third period as the shortened Shamrocks bench struggled with line changes and were caught with odd-man rushes.
The Raiders scored two unanswered goals to narrow the gap to 6-5.
Steve Clark of the Armstrong Shamrocks (left) battles Matt Georges of the Kelowna Raiders for a loose ball during the Shamrocks’ 8-6 overtime win Friday at Kelowna Memorial Arena. – Douglas David Farrow photo
With 12.5 seconds remaining in the game, the Raiders pulled their goaltender. Joe Brown fed a perfect cross-floor pass to Pho Heng, who was standing unguarded at the left side of the crease and buried a one-timer into a virtually empty net to tie the game 6-6 and send the game to a 10 minute non-sudden victory period.
At the four-minute mark of the extra frame, Bigsby scored the game-winner, cutting across the crease with the ball and using his size and speed to blow past the weary Raiders’ defence to score a top-shelf shot for a 7-6 lead.
The Raiders pulled Cousins with two minutes to play but the Shamrocks’ key defensive unit, led by veteran captain Chad Pounder and hard-nosed Jamie Cockerill, picked off a pass with Cockerill streaking down the floor for an empty-net breakaway goal to clinch the cup.
“The guys in our room played with quiet confidence,” said Pounder, who celebrated his seventh title with his son, Kohen. “When we got down by a couple in Game 1, no one panicked. We just knew what our jobs were and got it done.”
The Shamrocks now head to Burnaby next weekend to compete in the BC Senior C Invitational Lacrosse Championships.