The Vernon Sun Valley Source For Sports Tigers grounded the Kamloops Venom 12-9 Thursday night to claim their first Thompson Okanagan Junior Lacrosse League playoff championship since 2014.
The loss snapped the Venom’s three-year hold on the league trophy. Vernon swept the best-of-five series 3-0 and will now face the winner of the combined West Coast-Vancouver Island championship in a one-game, winner-take-all B.C. final Saturday, Aug. 11. The game will be played in the Lower Mainland.
“We celebrated last night for sure,” said Vernon head coach Ryan Minchenko, a Tigers’ grad. “The mood was great in the room. Three years without winning caused some anxiousness. They put the work in all season long right from the get-go; they deserve it.”
Vernon pretty much ran the table in the four-team Junior B circuit, going 9-1-2, finishing one point ahead of Kamloops. The Tigers rang up multiple powerplay snipes as they ransacked the Venom 20-7 in the second game Tuesday night in Kamloops.
“Kamloops put up a good fight,” said Minchenko. “The score in that second game didn’t indicate how close the series was. Both teams make one another better. The players hate each other and the coaches don’t really like one another so it’s a good rivalry.”
Vernon jumped out to 5-0 first period lead in front of 500 fans at Kal Tire Place. The Cats were up 7-2 after 20 minutes and extended the lead to 9-2 at the 6:25 mark of the second period.
Kamloops scored five of the next seven goals and trailed 11-7 heading into the third. The Venom got as close as 11-8 just 30 seconds into the third period, only to have the Tigers restore their four-goal budge 24 seconds later.
Kordell Primus registered his third goal at 10;37 on a powerplay to pull the Venom back to within three, but they could not beat Vernon goalie Kyle McIntosh the rest of the game. McIntosh finished with 40 saves.
Vernon native Troy Cuzzetto started in goal for Kamloops. He was pulled in favour of Ethan Milobar at 15:13 of the opening period after the sixth Vernon goal. Cuzzetto returned to the goal after the ninth Tigers marker at 6:25 of the second period, and finished the game in net for Kamloops. The pair combined for 47 saves.
Cuzzetto also picked up an assist on a Primus breakaway goal. Things got ugly with 2:41 left in the game after Primus received a five-minute match penalty for boarding a Tigers player at the benches. Venom coach Doug Clark blew a gasket on the call and received a two-minute unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, a 10-minute misconduct and a gross misconduct.
Venom attacker Colton Boomer received a 10-minute misconduct on the play and another Kamloops coach was dismissed from the game for voicing his displeasure.
The Venom lost captain Brady Georget midway through the first period when he received a five-minute boarding major and game misconduct for pasting Tigers sniper Jordy Barr into the end boards. Barr was down for several minutes and missed a couple of shifts.
Barr and Jake Pelletier each had three goals for Vernon with Pelletier adding three helpers, while singles went to Quinn Stanhope, Brett Olsen, Kaden Doughty, Conor Webb, Eric Reid and Chase Wirth. Webb and Thomas Landels each pocketed three assists, while Caden Colmorgen and Kyle Cuzzetto each compiled two.
Anthony Matusiak had two goals for Kamloops, while Jordan Bunce bagged 1+2. Each team scored two powerplay goals. Vernon, who showed excellent composure all series, was assessed seven minor penalties.
Minchenko said the Tigers will take a week off before preparing for the provincial final. The defending provincial champion Coquitlam Adanacs leave for the national Founders’ Cup the day after the B.C. playoff so are not expected to be the West Coast opponent.
“The boys and banged up, black and blue so we’ll let them rest up,” said Minchenko. “We’re taking the B.C. final seriously. If we’re going down there, we’re going to try and win.”
Minchenko gave props to assistant coaches Casey Sherriff and Braden Barr, along with physiotherapist Derek Geldrich and his staff of Leslie Landels, Ryan Sarazin and Quintin Harrish.
“Duane (GM Barr) and Harold Mann did a huge amount of work in to make this a great organization. Hopefully, this is just one of many more championships to come.”