It was a night of firsts for the North Okanagan squads in the Thompson Okanagan Senior Lacrosse League Friday.
The Armstrong Shamrocks moved into sole possession of first place with a 9-2 thumping of the previously unbeaten Kelowna Raiders in Rutland.
The Vernon Tigers picked up their first win in their return to the league after a six-year hiatus, thumping the visiting Kamloops Rattlers 7-2 at Kal Tire Place.
In Rutland, Steve Clark scored the only goal of the first period with a rope-ripping submarine shot to give Armstrong a 1-0 lead.
During the break the Shamrocks made some tactical adjustments and elected to run super sniper Brett Hawrys and offensive stand out Logan Strohm off the defensive end on occasion to try and catch the Raiders’ offensive players on a fast break or two. The plan worked to perfection as Hawrys picked off an errant pass and with an offensive defender trying to keep pace, lit up the afterburners and strode coast to coast to score his first of four on the night.
While the Shamrocks were shorthanded Strohm scored his first of two with a top cheese rip. With Hawrys playing the top position on the short man unit he broke free on a shot stopped by Chad Pieper who hit him with a perfect lob pass for the breakaway and Hawrys showed the flash and superior stick skills he’s built his reputation on to make the goalie flail in vain while he buried his shot to make the score 4-0.
The Shamrocks bench erupted and the momentum swing was palatable on the bench as both the offensive and defensive units worked in unison. The Shamrocks earned a power play of their own and passed with precision to move the Raiders defenders laterally then in circles as Hawrys stepped in from his point position and rifled a sub shot into the bottom corner for a 5-0 lead. Shamrocks rookie Jorge Sam grabbed a great cross-floor feed from Nathan Strohm and ripped a low glove side shot. Late in the second Joel Castle grabbed a feeding pass from the top shooter position and buried a strong overhand shot to make the score 7-0 at the second intermission.
The Raiders managed to break the goose egg early in the third period when Tarren Davies stepped around the Shamrocks defender and used him as a screen and placed a good shot tight to the post. Matt Gorges scored a one timer while on a 4-3 advantage to make the score 7-2 and bring some life to the shocked Raiders.
But the night was won by the smothering physicality of the Armstrong team defence that forced desperation shots, blocked shots, challenged ball carriers and hustled for every loose ball battle throughout the game. Super defenders Cameron Nelson, Carston Schlaak, Braydon Sanders were relentless in their pursuit and when a shot did manage to break through, Pieper was in great position to make the save and collect the rebound. Logan Strohm took a cross-crease feed from Hawrys on the power play to make the score 8-2 then Hawrys scored his fourth of the night splitting three defenders and streaking in to dazzle and stun the crowd with a goal to make the final 9-2.
“This was a complete team win for us tonight,” said Shamrocks coach Ryan Nitchie “We came in here tonight to send a message that we are defending champions for a reason and we proved to ourselves why we are. I thought our defensive play was stellar tonight with every guy on the defensive unit contributing.
At Kal Tire Place, Ryan Sarazin scored three times as the Tigers got their historic first win. Junior Tigers call-up Jordy Barr scored twice and singles went to Craig Bigsby and Jay Seaton – set up by his brother, Nick – as Vernon mobbled goalie Josh Point at the final buzzer.
Point, playing after being removed in the third period the week prior against Kelowna after taking a shot to the mask, was outstanding, making 36 saves while junior call-up Ethan Milobar made 29 saves for the Rattlers.
Former Shamrock AJ Lockwood had both goals for Kamloops.
The Tigers travel to Kelowna and Armstrong will visit Kamloops in action Friday night.