Two scraps, four lead changes, 30-degree heat and zero quit – it all added up to a thrilling series-deciding Game 4 between the Vernon Re/Max Tigers and Armstrong Shamrocks Thursday night at a humid Nor-Val Sports Centre.
The other number to add that Junior B lacrosse stats line is the five goals scored by big Mike Quarin, who literally powered the Cats to a 9-7 semifinal playoff win to eliminate the Rocks in front of 400 boisterous fans.
Vernon now faces the powerhouse Kamloops Venom in a best-of-five Thompson Okanagan Junior Lacrosse League final. Game 1 goes tonight (6:30) at Kamloops Memorial Arena. Game 2 has tentatively been slated for Wednesday (7:30 p.m.) at Wesbild Centre (visit members.shaw.ca/vernontigers for schedule updates).
“This is what we’ve been working for,” said Tigers’ assistant coach Dave McWhirter. “The boys have really showed they want to get to the next level.
“I think we’re bigger, I think we’re stronger and we’re as fast as they (Venom) are. It’s going to come down to the team that makes the least amount of mistakes and who has the better goalie.”
Thursday night was a back-and-forth affair, with neither team building anything more than a one-goal lead, at least until 25 seconds to play, when Nolan Frame set up Quarin for an insurance marker.
“I was lucky I got that final goal to take the pressure off a bit and clinch the win,” said the humble Quarin, a Prince George product.
“We came out strong. We knew we had to win, and I couldn’t have done it without my teammates. They all rallied and played a solid game.”
With both goalies – Armstrong’s Cole McFarlane and Vernon’s Tyler Landry – solid from the start, it took until the 10-minute mark for the Rocks’ Carston Schlaak to set up Cam Nelson for the opening goal. Quarin opened Vernon’s account at 14:40, barging through four defenders before finding the net.
“Mike’s a big load; he’s hard to stop,” said McWhirter. “When he gets going, he’s got a nose for the net. And when you get two guys on him, he’s quick to dish.”
Nelson and Quarin swapped singles again to make it 2-2 after one period.
A little over a minute into the second frame, captain Brett Hanna worked a 2-on-1 to set up Ryan Olivierus to give Vernon its first lead. The Shamrocks equalized and then went ahead at 9:00 when Drew Hassard picked the lower right corner through a screen.
Earlier in the period, Armstrong’s Owen Barker and Vernon’s Theo Wagner squared off in a spirited scrap. Wagner, who used a hip toss to take Barker down, was ejected when he kept throwing punches as the referees tried to separate the two.
Quarin, with a rocket from the top of the circle, and speedy Mason Limb, slipping his check to earn an open shot, gave the Cats a 5-4 lead after 40 minutes.
The final period started with a quick tilt between the Rocks’ Daniel Peterson and Tigers’ Ryan Sarazin. Brett Hawrys pulled Armstrong even yet again at 3:33 with a rocket from the top of the circle, only to have Frame convert a gorgeous diving shot at the five-minute mark.
Willy Hanley, playing with a broken hand, responded for the hosts 22 seconds later, and added another snipe after Quarin had restored Vernon’s lead with his fourth goal.
The heat took its toll on the undermanned Shamrocks as the game wore on. Head coach Pat Nelson was impressed by both team’s effort level.
“It was just a hard-fought game on both ends,” said Nelson. “It’s tough when you get these temperatures; it sucks the energy out of the guys.
“Those three extra sets of legs would have been nice to help the guys out on the floor and give them a rest.
Ryan Landels supplied the winner on a shifty solo effort, pinballing off a couple defenders to beat McFarlane from in close.
“I’ve gotta take my hat off to Armstrong; those guys worked hard,” said McWhirter. “That was anybody’s game, right up until two minutes to go.
“It was either going to be close, which is what we wanted, or it was going to be a blowout and get ugly. They forced us to dig deep. It shows a lot of character on our guys’ part, but Armstrong just never gave up.”
“It shows Armstrong has a lot of talent. They are a team of the future for sure.”