Without any structured practices prior to their season opener, Cowichan Valley Thunder head coach Neil Gailey wasn’t sure what to expect as his team prepared to open the junior B lacrosse season on the road against the Westshore Bears last Thursday.
"I thought going into Westshore, against the guys with matching helmets, matching gloves, matching shorts, they would have our number," Gailey admitted. "They seemed like a much more organized association than us."
Watching the Westshore players before the game started, however, he started to think his team might have a chance.
"I told the kids in the dressing room, ‘we can beat them,’" the coach recalled.
Gailey’s second assessment turned out to be more accurate, as the skill and effort of the Cowichan players prevailed and the Thunder beat the favoured Bears 12-10.
Graham Winship led the attack with four goals and one assist, and intermediate call-up Tyson Black added three goals and three helpers. Also chipping in were Kelvin Philp with two goals and two assists, Luke Anderson with a goal and four assists, Colin Winship with a goal and two helpers, and Brandon Clark with one of each.
Gailey acknowledged that there is still room for improvement for both teams.
"It wasn’t a great game," he said. "There were lots of mistakes on both sides."
The Thunder played their home opener at the Island Savings Centre two days later. Hosting the Saanich Tigers, who brought just 11 runners over the Malahat, Cowichan bounced back after a slow start to win 12-6. Goalie Nathan Clark was stellar in the first period to keep his team in the game.
"He allowed us to turn things around and start capitalizing on our chances," Gailey said of the experienced netminder.
Gailey expected the Tigers to be one of the stronger teams in the league this season, and they probably would have been better last Saturday if they had more bodies available.
"They were good; they just ran out of steam is what the difference was," he said.
Black compiled 10 points against Saanich on three goals and seven assists, while Graham Winship had four goals and a pair of helpers. Joey Robb scored two goals and set up two others, and Colin Winship had two goals and one assist. Philp (one goal, three assists), Curt Gailey (one goal, two assists), Tyler Clint (one goal, one assist) and Luke Frost (one goal, one assist) also contributed on offence.
The Thunder will visit Saanich this Sunday, then play host to the Nanaimo Timbermen at the Island Savings Centre at 8 p.m. on Monday.
Gailey noted that he doesn’t know much about the team the TMen will field this season.
"A few of their traditional A players have stepped down to play for fun in the B league, so I don’t know what to expect," he said. "They’ll probably be a big, physical team."