The Cats had it in the bag, or so they thought.
Up 5-1 heading into the third period, the Vernon Tigers were stunned as the host Armstrong Shamrocks earned a 7-6 comeback win in a series-deciding Game 3 of the Shaw Cup senior C men’s lacrosse semifinals in a sweltering Hassen Memorial Arena Wednesday night.
“Their sticks lit up and our sticks went cold,” shrugged assistant coach/player Steve Latimer.
“We played the same system all game and it worked out pretty well in the first period. I think we just started looking towards the end of the game instead of what was happening right in front of us.”
Armstrong will now face the Kelowna Raiders, who stuffed the Kamloops Rattlers 10-6 in Game 3 of the other semifinal Tuesday night.
Game 1 of the Shaw Cup final goes tonight at Memorial Arena in Kelowna. Armstrong will host Game 2 of the best-of-three affair Monday, 7:30 p.m. at Hassen.
“We had some close games against Kelowna this year, but we know if we want to be successful we will have to be way more disciplined as Kelowna is very dangerous on the powerplay,” said Shamrocks’ keeper Chad Pieper.
Fourty-three-year-old Tiger veteran Bryan Cope took a pass at the top of the crease and beat Shamrocks’ goalie Chad Pieper shorthanded to open the scoring Wednesday night. Singles by Kirk Krause, on the powerplay, and junior call-up Kasmer Boudreau, beating two Shamrocks defenders for another shorty, had Armstrong reeling.
Vernon further stretched its lead and silenced the raucous Hassen crowd on consecutive man advantage goals by Rob Short and Latimer to end the first-period scoring.
The Shamrock offence came to life in the second, but so did Vernon netminder Glen Clissold.
“There were a lot of times he was making saves he had no business making,” said Latimer.
Added Clissold: “It was great playing in Hassen in front of a full crowd. Our fans really supported us.”
The Rocks finally solved Clissold midway through the second when Logan Strohm buried a nice cross-crease pass for the only goal of the frame.
With their season on the line, the Shamrocks held nothing back in the third period, striking early as call-up Milan Marcetta ripped a shot top shelf.
The Rocks kept the pressure on with Strohm finding the net for his second, followed by Marcetta sneaking a long screen shot through traffic.
With the Hassen crowd in a frenzy, the Shamrocks equalized on Stohm’s hat trick goal.
Armstrong took its first lead on a delayed penalty call when Jarrett Medhurst solved Clissold with 10 minutes remaining.
Suffering from heat exhaustion in the Hassen hot box, Clissold was forced to give way to backup Ivor Sandaker. The duo combined for 46 saves. Pieper recorded 27 stops.
Cope, depositing a high rebound off Pieper, drew Vernon even on the powerplay goal with four minutes to play, but the Rocks’ Brett Logan buried the winner on a nice outside shot with less than two minutes to go.
“We stuck to our game-plan and started to outwork Vernon in the second, and in the third, we were able to get on a roll and find the back of the net,” said player/coach Chad Pounder.
“We had the fans worried for two periods, but they came to life in the third. It’s always fun playing in the old Hassen Arena. I really hope nobody left early, because they missed a great period of lacrosse.”
Though disappointed with the Tigers’ collapse, Latimer noted this was Vernon’s first .500 season in three seasons.
“People didn’t really give us much of a chance after the last couple years we’ve had, so I’m going to call this season a success. It’s definitely something we can build on for next year,” he said.
With Boudreau, Brennan Plante and a handful of other junior Tiger grads expected to make the jump, next year looks good for the senior Cats.
“We went through a couple lean years, but this year really turned the tide,” said Clissold.