Cowichan LMG clinched its fourth straight Garrison Cup with a 3-1 win over Bays United at Dave Williams Field on Friday.
It’s not an easy task to win one Vancouver Island Div. 1 title, let alone four, and based on how things looked going into the 2017-18 campaign, a fourth seemed like a long shot.
Cowichan started the season with only seven returning players from last year: Kevan Brown, Anton Bucher, Cooper Barry, Paddy Nelson, Craig Gorman, Brad Archibald and Steve Scott, and many of the others on the roster to start the season had come over from the Cowichan United team that won Div. 2 last year before joining forces with the Div. 1 squad. Early in the season, as LMG waited for reinforcements from the collegiate ranks, they travelled to games with only a single spare, occasionally bolstering their roster with call-ups from U21.
“It was tough going at the start,” said head coach Glen Martin, who has shepherded Cowichan’s Div. 1 team for more than a decade. “To win the league after that makes it even better.”
Blending the Div. 1 and Div. 2 teams was a bold experiment, Martin admitted, but Ryan Flynn, who coached the Div. 2 team last year and became Martin’s assistant, has helped the process.
“That worked out really well,” said Martin, who has never before had a full-time assistant coach. “We’ve been working together well.”
Cowichan has won five Jackson Cup championships over Martin’s tenure, and while that tournament gets a lot of attention, there’s a lot to be said about winning the league title, too, the coach pointed out.
“Consistently winning the league really shows who the best team in the league is over a six-month period,” he said. “It’s not one tournament or the luck of the draw.”
With their win over Bays, LMG improved to 13-2-1 on the season, their 40 points putting them out of reach of second-place Vic West.
Bays opened the scoring, against the play, but Scott tied the game for Cowichan on a free kick about five minutes later, and the teams were even at the break.
“That made a big difference,” Martin said of Scott’s goal. “You don’t want to be playing well and trailing 1-0 at the half.”
Nelson scored twice in the second half, the first with about 20 minutes left to play and the second with about five remaining. Nelson now has 19 goals and is tied atop the Div. 1 scoring race with former Cowichan Div. 1 and Div. 2 player Ryan Andre, now with Lakehill.
LMG has two games left in league play, including a home date against Gorge this Friday at 7 p.m..
“We want to win the games, but it’s not the end of the world,” Martin said. “We will rest guys, give some playing time to guys who don’t start. Gorge is in a dogfight, so we will have to come to play.
“We won’t be letting Gorge off the hook. Believe me. We will be playing to win.”
Behind Cowichan and Vic West, Gorge and Nanaimo are tied for third in Div. 1 with 27 points, while Westcastle is fifth with 26 and Lakehill is sixth with 24. Nanaimo and Westcastle have three games left, while Vic West, Gorge and Lakehill have two remaining. Depending on how the Jackson Cup tournament plays out, the top three to five teams could be looking at provincial berths.
In Div. 3A, Miles Boulton and Matthew Archambault did the scoring as Cowichan Red Arrow picked up their second win of the season by beating FC Sagres 2-1 on Saturday. At 2-10-4 with 10 points, Red Arrow is tied with Juan de Fuca Pilgrims for 10th in the division, but hold a 14-point edge in goal differential. Red Arrow will visit JDF this Saturday for their league finale.