This season is about two things for the South Okanagan Flames lacrosse team — making a deep playoff run and honouring Isaiah Kozak.
Flames coach Kevin Thompson said this Thompson Okanagan Junior Lacrosse League season is in honour of Kozak, who died suddenly in early March while studying at the University of Linwood in Missouri, where he played field lacrosse. Over the players’ hearts, a black patch with Kozak’s number (11) on it.
“Every one of these guys knew Isaiah, loved Isaiah, and loved his work ethic, his smile,” said Thompson. “Right about now is when Isaiah would have been coming home from university and joining the team.
“We as a team decided that this year was dedicated to Isaiah and we wanted to wear him on the heart,” continued Thompson. “We take his jersey with us on the road and home games and we hang it there. We always talk about him. We don’t want this kid to be forgotten. We’re going to do our best to keep it that way.”
The Flames have established a fund in his honour. A donation jar is at the admission table at Memorial Arena. Underwriters Insurance has donated a used car that will be raffled off at the end of the season. Proceeds from the raffle will go toward the fund.
When it comes to making a deep playoff run, the Flames have experienced letdowns in TOJLL over the years.
Strong regular seasons did not lead to playoff success. Part of the problem was player commitments, especially with those graduating high school. Personal commitments, including graduation trips, became a larger priority than suiting up. Flames coach Kevin Thompson said players will not be attending that graduation trip as they are committed to the team for the long haul.
“I think we have a great lacrosse team,” said Thompson. “There is a lot of parity in the league right now. That makes it a battle the whole season.”
The regular roster is supported by a group of midget affiliate players, whom Thompson describes as excellent.
After five games, the Flames have two wins, recently losing 11-7 to the Vernon Tigers on May 8 while racking up 142 penalty minutes.
“I am very disappointed at my guys’ discipline,” said Thompson. “We’re going to be addressing that. I was pretty embarrassed about how it turned out. It was way out of line. I don’t coach teams like that.”
The undisciplined play cost the Flames nine power-play goals, which the Flames coach said was unbelievable. The players were fatigued from having to try and kill so penalties. There were also some unnecessary injuries. One that especially hurts is a concussion suffered by the Flames’ Louis Shortreed, who was checked from behind in the neck. He was diagnosed with the concussion after going to the hospital.
The Flames, who played Thursday in Kelowna, are back in action at home on May 15 when they host the Kamloops Venom at 7:30 p.m. at Memorial Arena. In the teams’ first meeting, the Venom won 12-3 at home.