The bantam C Cowichan Valley Thunder capped off their 2016 box lacrosse season in fine form, sweeping their way through the provincial tournament last weekend to claim the banner.
The Thunder won all five of their games at the tournament in Vancouver — four by at least a five-goal margin — and finished the year with eight straight wins dating back to the start of the Island playoffs.
The dominant performance came about thanks to the team’s outstanding execution in all aspects of the game.
“Our ball movement was incredible for a bantam C team,” head coach Les Thibedeau said. “The kids are always first to loose balls. They definitely did that well. We had three men back all the time. Defensively we were really good. All season long we worked on defence, special teams and possession, and they executed that to perfection.”
The Thunder opened the tournament with an 18-0 victory over the Vancouver Burrards. Although there was no attempt made to run up the score, the hosts proved no match for the eventual provincial champs.
“They thought we were doing it intentionally, but we weren’t,” Thibedeau said. “There’s only so much you can do.”
In their next two games, Cowichan had to come back from deficits. They trailed the West Kootenay Wolfpack 4-0 in the first period, but rallied for an 11-6 victory. The Port Coquitlam Saints jumped out to a 3-0 lead over the Thunder, but Cowichan again came back and ended up prevailing 13-7.
The crossover game against the Penticton Heat was the Thunder’s lowest-scoring game as they won 7-2, but the bigger victory came as the Cowichan players refused to get sucked into the Heat’s rough tactics.
“The boys really worked on staying out of the penalty box all tournament, and they didn’t retaliate [against Penticton],” Thibedeau said.
The Thunder expected to face Island rivals Victoria-Esquimalt in the final after the Eagles also finished 3-0 in the round robin, but Vic-Esquimalt was eliminated 5-2 by West Kootenay in the other crossover game. Cowichan was ready for the rematch against the Wolfpack, and won 8-5 .
“[West Kootenay] got within one in the second period, then we got three more goals from kids who hadn’t been scoring,” Thibedeau said.
Cowichan’s Michael Daniels was named tournament MVP and a tournament all-star.
The team had five first-year bantams on the roster, and three kids had never played lacrosse before, including Matthew Currie, who stepped up to play goalie despite his lack of experience and had an outstanding tournament, ultimately being named MVP of the gold medal game. In the two playoff games, Currie stopped shots from some big players in games against West Kootenay and Penticton.
Also having strong tournaments for Cowichan were Dante Evans and Chris Hleck. Evans’s speed was invaluable for the Thunder.
“He’s probably the best breakout kid I’ve ever seen,” Thibedeau said. “No one can catch him.”
Team captain Chris Hleck received the team’s Fair Play Award for the tournament, and finished the year with about four minutes in penalties, Thibedeau estimated.
“We couldn’t ask for a better captain,” the coach said.