After refusing to show everything they had in their round-robin game against Coquitlam at the provincial intermediate B lacrosse championships in Langley earlier this month, the Cowichan Valley Thunder shocked that same team in the gold medal game and finished the year as the best team in B.C.
The Thunder had already locked up a berth in the final by beating their first two opponents, so the final round-robin game had no impact on the standings. Head coach Lorne Winship opted not to use his regular lines or his acclaimed powerplay, and Coquitlam rolled to a 10-3 win.
It was a different story in the final, when Winship let his team play the game they were used to playing. Cowichan led from start to finish and won 9-5, emerging victorious over a provincial lacrosse powerhouse when it counted most.
“The way it all came together, and beating a team from Coquitlam was very special,” said Winship, calling Coquitlam lacrosse a “measuring stick” for the rest of B.C. “They get to choose from so many more players than we do.
“They walked off the floor completely stunned. They thought they were going to win the game and we proved otherwise.”
Mat Jung led the Thunder in the final with three goals and one assist, while Tyson Black had a goal and four helpers.
Kyle Page and Brody Black each had two goals and one assist, James Taylor scored once and set up two others, and Colin Winship, Steven Robertson, Liam Clinging and Mitch Page had one helper apiece.
Goalie Kain Stewart stopped 51 of 56 shots and was named game MVP for the second time in the tournament. He was later honoured as the MVP for the entire championships and named to the tournament all-star team alongside Taylor, while Tyson Black was the overall scoring leader.
“I was really surprised,” Stewart said. “I didn’t think I’d get anything.
The goalie, whose provincial championship resumé includes four gold medals and one silver, was pleased with his performance in Langley, saying they were the best games he had ever played. He acknowledged he wasn’t the only player on the team who took his game to the next level.
“A lot of my teammates did,” he said. “We all played the best we could. I thought we had a really good chance.”
The Thunder opened the tournament with an 11-5 win over Ridge Meadows, with Steven Robertson collecting MVP honours. Next, they beat Delta 15-4, with Mitch Page taking the MVP award. Stewart’s first game MVP award came in the round-robin finale against Coquitlam.
The key in the final, Winship said, was to establish the physical game and focus on defence and goaltending.
“It was hard to get inside on us,” the coach said.
That doesn’t mean the team forgot about scoring goals. The Thunder have been explosive all season, and that was no different in the championship game. Winship wasn’t worried about offence.
“These are kids I’ve coached a lot of years,” he said. “They found a way to get enough goals to beat them.”
It was also important to remain focused, something the team has been capable of doing all season.
“We don’t get too high or too low. We’re able to get through a game like that without getting nervous.”
Last year, with a team made up mostly of first-year intermediate players, the Thunder reached the gold medal game and lost to Coquitlam. This year, with mostly second-year players, they ran rampant over the rest of the Vancouver Island league, but didn’t face a real test prior to the provincials.
“We thought maybe we were the team to beat, but you never know from year to year,” Winship said.
Winship had coached the majority of the players in the past, winning provincial championships at several levels, but some others hadn’t played at a level higher than B or even C before. They all came together when it counted.
“We have huge heart,” Winship said. “I’ve coached some of these guys for a lot of years, and I always say they’re bigger than the sum of all the parts. They’re able to find a way to play in big games.”