On paper, the Thompson Okanagan Junior Lacrosse League final between the Vernon Source For Sports Tigers and Kamloops Venom looks like a wash.
After watching the No. 4 seed Venom (they finished the regular season at 5-10-1) stun the No. 1 Kelowna Raiders in last week’s semifinal, the Tigers know better.
Vernon, who shared an identical 12-3-1 record with Kelowna, relied on stingy defence to stymie the upstart Venom 9-6 in Game 1 of their best-of-five championship series Sunday night at Kal Tire Place.
Game 2 went Tuesday in Kamloops, with Game 3 set for Thursday night (7:30) in Vernon.
“We knew Kamloops would come in and play strong,” said Tigers’ assistant Keith Hanna. “Their team has gotten better as the season went along.”
The Cats took a 3-2 lead into the first intermission, with both Kamloops goals coming on backdoor plays. Hanna said the defence addressed the breakdowns between periods, which resulted in a stellar string of shutout lacrosse in the second frame.
“Our dee is really communicating well together now,” said Hanna. “Our defence is floating from zone to man-to-man on command, and they’re recognizing Kamloops’ game strategy.”
Vernon was able to hold Kamloops scoreless in the second frame, even while killing 10 minutes in penalties, including a full 5-on-3.
“Our goaltender, Joel (Fruncillo), was stellar,” said Hanna. “That and our shortman was very good. Our boys came out ready to play and we stuck to our game-plan.”
The majority of Vernon’s penalties resulted from aggressive play while chasing loose balls, which Hanna was fine with, but he noted there were a couple of unnecessary minors, which is something Vernon needs to clamp down on.
Nolan Frame led the Vernon offence with three goals, two of them in the first period. Ryan Sarazin and Daryl Landels, each with 2+1, Jay Seaton (1+2) and Liam Drabiuk rounded out the attack in front of Fruncillo, who finished with 46 saves.
Captain Brett Hanna supplied three assists, and Jordan Orr had two.
Jerome Thorne netted 2+1 for the Venom, who got 1+3 from Blaine Boomer and singles by Kyle McLellan, Brody Jorgenson and Trent Maunder. Dalan Etter recorded 29 stops.
The winner advances to Junior B provincials over the B.C. Day long weekend at Copeland Arena in Burnaby.