The Armstrong Shamrocks cruised to a 12-3 win over the Kelowna Raiders in Game 1 of the best-of-five Rowcliffe Cup Senior C lacrosse championship series Wednesday night at sweltering Nor-Val Sports Centre.
The strong physical and quick feet of the Irish defence was simply too much for the Raiders as attempt after attempt to gain any offensive attack was thwarted.
Brett Hawrys scored four times, including a late highlight-reel snipe running an impressive give-and-go with Steve Clark. Hawrys split two defenders and streaked to the net receiving a pin-point pass from Clark then deking goalie Graham Cousins.
Cam Nelson scored twice on the transition and Braydon Sanders scored two shorthanded goals for the Rocks.
The game showed some intense emotion in the second period when Shamrock enforcer Blake Fredrickson challenged Raiders tough guy Darren Lornson but Lornson showed no interest and Fredrickson was ejected with a game misconduct.
Both teams settled down in the third period but the young legs and superior conditioning of the Shamrocks proved too potent as the Raiders struggled to maintain possession and their defence fell apart.
“We lost our focus in the second but came together in the room during the break and got back to our style in third,” said Clark, Shamrock captain.
Said Armstrong head coach Ryan Nitchie: “We have a very well balanced team and when we get into a rhythm we are tough to handle. Our guys play like a team and look out for one another and celebrate our success together and that’s really what motivates us.”
Game 2 goes Friday night in Kelowna with the third game scheduled for Wednesday back in Armstrong.
Meanwhile, if the Kamloops Rattlers fold, the Thompson Okanagan Senior Lacrosse League will follow suit.
The three-team league, which includes Kamloops, Kelowna and Armstrong, is in jeopardy, with the Rattlers losing the seemingly perpetual fight to recruit players.
“We’d hate to be the cause of the league folding,” Rattlers’ captain Mark Jurista told Marty Hastings of Kamloops This Week. “But you can’t go into the season having 10 runners going out to games.”
Vernon had a team, but it was scuttled prior to the 2013 campaign due to a lack of numbers.
Kamloops (2-6) qualified to square off against Armstrong (8-0) in the league final, but offered its position to Kelowna (2-6) because of an expected dearth of players for the best-of-five Rowcliffe Cup series.
“It’s not fair to Armstrong, us playing every two days with 10 runners,” said Jurista, whose Rattlers forfeited one game this season, unable to scrounge a full lineup.
Jurista, who founded the Rattlers in 2008, has kept the team alive with help on the organizational side in recent years from alternate captains AJ Lockwood and Nathan Akins.
But the captains are getting older and senior C lacrosse does not take precedence over young families.
“It’s only becoming harder for us to find the time to commit,” Jurista said. “There are not many younger guys coming up to replace us.
“I don’t know if they’re so burnt out that they lose interest, but it wasn’t like that when we stopped playing junior. That’s why we started the team. It just doesn’t seem like the same desire for the sport is there.”
Brandon Pittman is the GM of the Junior B Kamloops Venom and a graduate of the Thompson Okanagan Junior Lacrosse League.
“A lot of the guys move away for work or they’re heavy in the books for school and they don’t really have time [to play senior lacrosse],” said Pittman. “And it’s not that it’s not competitive. It used to be pretty bush league, but it’s gotten back to being a bit more competitive.”
There are also junior graduates who explore higher levels of lacrosse out of town, a path current Venom captain Riley Peterson may take.
But he isn’t sure why some of his peers don’t stick with the Rattlers when their Venom days are done.
“It could be because they’re working,” he said. “I’m not too sure, honestly. A lot of guys just kind of stop playing.”
The Rattlers have been composed of the same nine-or-so players for the last nine years, bolstered by a few new additions who stuck, but many rookie recruits show up for a game or two and slither off into the night, never to be seen again.
Jurista is aiming to charm at least a couple of the Venom’s graduating players this year.
“It’d be nice to invest more time in building a relationship with the junior team,” Jurista said. “I think there are eight graduating players from the Venom. We’ve had that before in the past, where there’s been a lot of graduates and we end up getting like one.”