The Kamloops Venom are the Thompson Okanagan Junior Lacrosse League champions.
The Venom clinched their second title in three years with a 15-10 win over the host Vernon Re/Max Tigers in Game 4, eliminating the Cats 3-1 in their best-of-five set Wednesday night at Wesbild Centre.
Veteran sniper Riley Donahue powered the Venom offence with five goals and some stellar playmaking ability in front of an estimated 700 fans.
“It feels good on my last year,” said Donahue, Venom captain. “I can’t ask for much more.
“We beared down. We’ve been running all season for particularly this game and this series. They looked like they died in the last two games here, but they still put up a fight. That’s what we love, and Vernon’s a great team to play against.”
The teams swapped goals in a high-tempo first period, with Ethan Anderson, Ryan Landels and Braden Barr tallying for the Tigers. Quinn Smith (2), Donahue and Jamie Forster, on a tremendous shorthanded solo effort, gave Kamloops a 4-3 lead at the break.
Special teams were a major factor Wednesday, with the Venom burying three shorties, and three powerplay goals (one was a delayed penalty). Vernon clicked twice on the man advantage.
“They just keep running that same system over and over, and eventually they just break through the cracks,” said Tigers’ captain Brett Hanna, of the Venom’s short man.
For the second game in a row, the Tigers took a cat nap in the second period, and Kamloops capitalized with unanswered goals by Zach Bruneau, Chris Case and Donahue to start the frame. Blaine Boomer, on a bounce shot, Jimmy Latin, hustling for a shorthanded goal, and Donahue streaking out of the penalty box to score on the fly, made it 10-5 after 40 minutes.
Nolan Frame, catching netminder Mitch Horsman off his post, and speedy Mason Limb, picking the corner on a breakaway, countered for the Cats.
“It was a tough loss and Kamloops proved for the second game in a row, if you take any time off or make any errors, they will capitalize on those opportunities,” said Tigers’ head coach Myles Brumpton.
“The last two games, the second period was our Achilles heel. It cost us this series, and ultimately going to provincials.
“I am very proud of the young men I coached this season. We started off with an 0-4 record and ended our season by losing to a solid team who should take gold in the provincials.
“The guys showed a lot of heart and a lot of commitment all season long. They took on a beast, and it was a tough challenge.”
As if to quash any idea of a Vernon comeback, Kamloops continued their assault with goals nine seconds apart in the first minute of the third period.
The Tigers could have rolled over, but instead kept pressing, getting further offence from Jay Seaton, Landels, Midget call-up Liam Drabiuk, Darryl Landels and Limb, on a brilliant end-to-end rush.
Donahue, Jerome Thorne and Kyle Pauwels completed the Venom offence.
Kamloops’ head coach Doug Clark credited the Tigers for their persistence.
“They’re a real hard-working team, well coached and they battled right to the end,” he said. “Nothing but respect for them.”
Kamloops’ keeper Mitch Horsman made 32 saves for the win. Josh Point and Tyler Landry combined for 35 stops for Vernon. Landry took over for Point in the third period and was steady in relief.
The Tigers were without starting netminder Joel Fruncillo for the playoffs after he broke his thumb late in the regular season.
Vernon will lose just one player, Ryan Oliverius, to graduation this year.
“This team loses one guy only, and we’ve got kids coming up,” said Brumpton. “This team is a true homegrown team.”
The Venom advance to Junior B provincials, Aug. 3-5 at Bear Mountain Arena in Juan de Fuca.