For the first time since 2012, the Armstrong Shamrocks visited Kal Tire Place to reignite the most historic sports rivalry in North Okanagan sports and tangle with the Vernon Tigers in Week 2 of the Thompson Okanagan Senior Lacrosse League (TOSLL).
And the first victory in the reborn rivalry goes to the Shamrocks, who rolled to a 13-4 win over Vernon.
The game was the home opener for the Tigers and the first lacrosse game of the season at Kal Tire Place after the ice was removed, and unfortunately the floor conditions were not ready as a thin layer of white ice paint caused the players to slip and slide as if the game was being played on ice.
“We have to give credit to the Tigers who have a lot of guys who haven’t played in a while and it was great to see them back in the league and rebuilding their team that has a lot of history in the lacrosse community,” said Shamrocks captain Steve Clarke, referring to the three Presidents Cup Canadian Senior B championships the Tigers won in the 1970s. “The floor conditions made it a little tough to find our marks and plant our feet to pivot or shoot, which was a challenge, but we still probably got off about 60 shots and as a unit the offence really moved the ball well in the second and third periods”
The poor floor conditions aside, the pre-game hype lived up to expectations with the pace fast from the outset.
Former Shamrock Craig Bigsby scored the first “new era” Tigers goal on a low shot from the point that beat Armstrong starting goalie, veteran Chad Pieper. The game was tied up shortly after when Kyle Versteeg stepped around a screen and buried a top shelf shot over Tigers starting goalie Josh Point.
The Shamrocks took a 2-1 lead after league MVP Brett Hawrys snagged a long rebound and streaked down the left side on a partial breakaway and wired a low corner shot. Jay Seaton tied the game for the Tigers squeaking a shot between the wickets of Pieper that trickled over the goal line.
Steve McIlwrath potted his first of the night for the ‘Rocks off a faceoff breakaway on a feed from Hawrys that was reminiscent of the Owen Barker/Hawrys connection of the past to make the score 3-2 for the Shamrocks. Hawrys got his second of the game on a two-on-one with Marlon Forrest, using a sneaky decoy move with Forrest to bury a shot and take a two-goal lead. With time nearly expired in the period, Tigers star Ryan Sarrazin grabbed a loose ball by the Shamrocks bench and with the Shamrocks defenders looking like they were on a belated Easter egg hunt, ripped a low bounce shot from about 40 feet to make the score 4-3 for the Irish heading into the first intermission.
During the break the Shamrocks stressed defensive assertiveness and ball distribution on offence and the team responded, scoring five unanswered goals.
Shooting on the end of the floor that appeared to have better traction, the Shamrocks offensive unit appeared to shake the rust off their sticks and display their championship form. McIlwrath scored his second of the game on a powerplay breakaway. Joel Castle scored on a perfect feed from Forrest. Veteran Shamrock Jamie MacGregor ripped a side arm from the left hash mark to make the score 6-3. McIlwrath scored his hat trick goal on a nifty deke ‘n’ dunk move taking a pass from Hawrys. And Logan Strohm made five or six dazzling stick fakes after spinning around a Tiger defender to make the score 9-3 after two periods.
Defensively the Shamrocks tightened up a man-to-man system and played aggressively, smothering the Tigers offensive unit and gobbling up loose balls. Jamie Cockerill, Brandon Northcott and Nathan Strohm used their physicality to keep the Tigers shooters at bay while Pieper shut the door on any shots that did get through. Clayton Schlaak and rookie Garrett Turner hustled all night while veteran Braydon Sanders was in the face of Sarrazin every time he stepped onto the floor to earn the shutout period for the Shamrocks defensive corps.
Hawrys started the third period with a rope-ripping shot for his hat trick goal. Versteeg sniped his second of the night on a rare perfect cross crease pass from Clarke (Clark’s not known for his idyllic passes) for a one-timer shot. On the Tigers powerplay Sarrazin rifled a top corner shot for his second of the night to make the score 11-4. Clarke potted two more late period goals for Armstrong.
Shamrocks coach Ryan Nitchie was equally pleased with the teams performance.
“We moved the ball well in transition and on offence we worked on our interchange system that worked very effectively swinging the ball from the left to right sides to get their defence and goalie moving,” said Nitchie. “Defensively we broke away from our traditional zone defense system to key on their right-handed threats in Sarrazin, Bigsby and Seaton and it was effective.”
Point finished with 55 saves as Armstrong outshot Vernon 68-24.
The Shamrocks record improves to 1-1 early in the season as the team prepares to travel to Kamloops to take on the Rattlers next Friday, May 10, at 8 p.m. at the Kamloops Memorial Arena. The Rattlers are 1-1 after losing to the Kelowna Raiders 10-2 Friday night.
Vernon drops to 0-2 and travel to Kelowna to face the 2-0 Raiders Friday, 8 p.m., at the Rutland Arena. Next home game for the Tigers is Friday, May 24, against the Raiders (8 p.m., Kal Tire Place)