It took the Cowichan Rats just one season to make their mark on the Victoria Senior Lacrosse League.
The Rats capped off their first year of existence last Thursday by dethroning the defending champion Victoria Blazers with a 9-5 overtime win in the third game of the best-of-three final series.
The teams were tied 5-5 at the end of regulation, but the Rats dominated the 10-minute extra frame, scoring four times while Cowichan goalie Kevin Smith turned aside all four shots that he faced.
“The Blazers put up a hell of a fight, but we played our best lacrosse of the year when it mattered most,” Cowichan assistant captain Kyle Kaltiainen proclaimed. “Every Rat stepped up and took their game to another level.”
Wes Morris scored twice in overtime, Conor Manahan had one, and Paul Yaremus capped it all off when he took a pass from Curt Gailey and finished off a perfect two-on-one break.
Manahan and Gailey both scored twice in regulation as well, and Dan Alger added one. Gailey, Alger and Dylan Dewarle finished the night with three assists, while Kaltiainen, Manahan, Dan Rabey and Pete Vanden Dungen had single helpers. Smith made 31 stops in the Cowichan crease, while Blazers goalie Rob Wood turned aside 42 of the Rats’ 51 shots.
The Blazers, who had won the Bill Munroe Trophy in five of the previous six seasons, were clearly frustrated in the final, as assistant captain Kevin Manahan pointed out.
“I know that they were shortening their bench in the third and that’s what some of their arguing was,” he said. “Whereas we just kept rolling with everyone and kept playing our same game and team from all year.”
The reincarnation of the Cowichan River Rats, who had a successful senior C lacrosse run that ended in 2006, the new Rats pulled a team together just in time for the 2019 campaign, narrowly making several deadlines that would have put an end to the effort. Sheer talent kept the team going in the early weeks of the regular season, but as chemistry developed, the Rats realized they were a contender.
“We built a strong team as the season went on,” Cowichan captain Dylan Dewarle said. “From being a day away from folding to winning the championship, it was a memorable win. We just peaked at the right time.”
The Rats had lost to the Blazers earlier in the double-elimination playoffs, but made a statement by taking the first game of the best-of-three final on July 4 by an 11-7 score. Gailey notched a hat trick, Alger, Dewarle and Morris had two goals apiece, Vanden Dungen scored once and added five assists, and Conor Manahan also found the net. Smith stopped 27 of 34 shots and had an assist.
The Blazers evened the series with a 5-1 win on July 9. Manahan had the lone goal, while Smith made 29 saves to keep the game close.
League awards were presented at the end of last Thursday’s final, and two Rats collected hardware. Kaltiainen was named Defensive Player of the Year, and Vanden Dungen was named Rookie of the Year after finishing second in league scoring with 31 points on 16 goals and 15 assists in 10 regular-season games.
Several sponsors helped the Rats make it a successful season, including S & B General Contractors, HB Electric, Island Tractor, Duncan Music, Island Dairy Service, Jac’s on Queens, Pacific Industrial and Marine Ltd. and Hamilton Stone.