Kamloops Venom netminder Dalan Etter joined the ranks of Kirk Gibson, Tiger Woods and Willis Reed of athletes that dominated a championship game with a massive leg injury.
The Venom edged the Vernon Source For Sports Tigers 15-14 in a thrilling fifth and deciding game Monday night to claim their fourth Thompson Okanagan Junior Lacrosse League title at Kal Tire Place.
Etter suffered a serious pull and a small tear to his left hamstring while running to the bench in Game 3. His backup, Mitch Horsman, suffered a concussion during Game 4 and was ruled out for Game 5.
“I owe a big thanks to our trainers Kevin (Christiansen) and Nicole (Brownjon). I was getting treatment and seeing doctors everyday,” said Etter.
Etter couldn’t even lace up his shoes before the game. “I was only able to put one on,” he joked after making 38 stops.
Playing deep in his net, Etter’s body refused him to make any butterfly saves and his cross-crease movement was slow at best.
“I was just trying to make myself as big as I possibly could and worry about my body later,” said Etter.
There were a few occasions when Venom defenders scooped balls out from behind Etter because he could not turn around fast enough.
Playing on the road in a championship game, in front of more than 1,000 rambunctious fans can be intimidating for some athletes. But not for Kyle Pauwels. He put the Venom on his back and took pressure off Etter by turning in a championship performance for the ages with eight goals.
“I think this was one of my best games,” said Pauwels, a fourth-year player. “We really bought in, played a hard 60 minutes and controlled the lead in the third period.”
Rylan Van Unen sniped a pair for the Venom, while their captain Blaine Boomer, Colton Boomer, Dallas Grismer-Voght and Riley Peterson added singles.
Tied 3-3 after the first period, it seemed like a defensive battle and whoever scored last, would win.
After a perfect regular season and opening playoff round, the Tigers’ season came unravelled in the second period Monday, allowing 11 goals.
The Tigers were forced to pull the league’s top goalie, Aaron Jensen, after he allowed 11 goals on 31 shots by the 10:24 mark of the second period. He was replaced by Jeremy Gray.
“I knew Aaron was fighting some injuries, so I was ready to come in,” said Gray. “I came to the rink two and a half hours before the game to get ready.”
Gray allowed three breakaway goals – one coming five seconds after he entered the game – as the Venom entered runaway train mode.
The trophy was slipping away from the Tigers after allowing a short-handed marker from Jerome Throne 12:56 into the second to give them a 13-8 lead.
The Tigers won Game 4 with a 10-goal third period and needed another big performance in the third to make it close.
“We were quiet in the room during the intermission. We won a lot of games this year and we knew what we had to do to get out of it,” said forward Tre Mason.
Mason was instrumental in the Tigers’ third period comeback with a goal and an assist to bring the Tigers within one at 14-13. He turned in four goals on the night.
Ethan Anderson poured in a hat trick and Darrell Landels scored a pair with a right leg that looked like it was held together by a MacGyver contraption. Steele Pelletier, Jay Seaton, Liam MacPhee, Ryan Sarazin and Quintin Harrish scored singles for the Tigers.
“It just wasn’t the outcome we were hoping for,” said Mason.
The Cats clawed back into it once Gray shut the door.
“I would say jitters and coming into a game cold were a pretty bad combination,” said Gray, who made 22 stops. “After I got over those three breakaway goals I was good. I proved something to myself tonight.”
This was the final game for six Tigers. Darrell Landels, Jay Seaton, Braden Barr, Ryan Sarazin, Mason and Jensen have graduated the Tigers’ program.
“I’m overwhelmed right now. I can’t even go into the room, I’m too emotional,” said Tigers’ captain Barr. “I couldn’t have asked for a better third period from these guys.”
The teams are set for the B.C. Junior B finals in Victoria this weekend. The Venom are joined by the Saanich Tigers and the Westshore Bears of the Pacific Northwest Junior Lacrosse League and the New Westminster Salmonbellies of the West Coast Junior Lacrosse League.