Quesnel Wildfire bantam lacrosse team are champions of the Great White North Lacrosse League thanks to a pair of wins against two rival Prince George teams.
“Good,” Bryston Waffle said, with a big smile, to describe the feeling of being league champions as loud screams and laughter came from his teammates in the dressing room.
In the championship game Saturday afternoon in Prince George, the Wildfire stayed away from retaliation penalties, especially late in the game and played a strong team game to earn a 13-9 win and the championship banner.
Wildfire coach, Matt Gook, obviously pleased for his players, was clear about the importance of the league championship.
“We get to exorcise the demons from the last time we played this team and we get to bring home a banner to hang in the rafters,” he said.
Although the blue-jerseyed Prince George Posse had an edge in play during the first period, the Wildfire seemed like they might runaway with the championship game, as they staked themselves to a 3-0 lead after 20 minutes of play.
As he has done all season, Wildfire captain Levi Robertson went coast to coast seven minutes into the opening frame to put the Wildfire on the board.
“It’s his [Robertson] speed, he can explode,” Gook said to explain Robertson’s prolific scoring.
“He can leave people in the dust.
“He loves the game, he practices four times a week and plays with the midget team as well.”
The Wildfire went up 2-0 on a goal by Waffle and then 3-0 on a goal by Lawlor who converted a nice cross-crease pass from Dylan Cathcart.
A large part of the first-period success was the play of Wildfire netminder T.J. Reistad.
“He made some big saves,” Gook said of Reistad’s play in the first period, including several saves in close on Posse sniper Todd Bredo.
Reistad, 13, who also tends the twine in hockey during the winter, has been playing lacrosse for three years and said it is the speed of the lacrosse that he enjoys most.
“It’s much faster than hockey,” he said.
“I love the fast pace.
“You have to constantly keep your eye on the ball.”
By any measure, the second period was a tough period for Reistad and for Liam Miller tending the Posse net.
The second period proved to be a shootout as both goaltenders were peppered with shots from everywhere and each team scored six goals to bring the score to 9-6 in favour of the Wildfire heading into the final frame.
The Posse turned up the heat in the third period as they hacked and whacked at the Wildfire players, hoping to draw retaliation penalties from the Wildfire.
The strategy proved the downfall of the Posse as they collected six penalties, which allowed the Wildfire to maintain control of the game.
Getting banged around and not retaliating, was an important key to the win, Gook explained.
“It’s playoffs, it’s a little more intense,” he added.
One of the players receiving more than his fair share of attention was Robertson.
“He’s [Robertson] not afraid of getting banged around,” Gook said
“But he’s a little tired, sore and battered up.”
The blue-jerseyed Posse, on the other hand, were a little to intense in their checking and picked up 13 penalties, giving the Wildfire plenty of opportunities to capitalize on the power play.
With Robertson banged up and being shadowed, Gook was pleased with the way his players stepped up as a team and used good ball movement to open up some shooting seams.
One of those players that really stepped up was Lawlor, who found the back of the net four times with a very simple strategy.
“Getting it on net and shooting it hard,” Lawlor, who admitted to being nervous, said was the key to his success.
As for winning the championship, Lawlor’s big smile betrayed his understated response, “It feels pretty good.”
Waffle was another player who picked up his game.
“He had been quiet the last little while,” Gook said.
“It was nice to see him get a couple and add a few assists.
“We really had to focus on moving the ball this game because we couldn’t rely on anyone pumping in a bunch of goals.”
Despite being one of the smaller players on the team, Waffle, with a smirk, said one of his favourite parts about playing lacrosse was taunting the other team.
But Waffle, who said the key to trash-talking was not to get caught, also backed up the trash talk with a few goals of his own.
Although the Wildfire took the championship game by four goals, it was not an easy win.
“The injuries were mounting,” Gook said.
“But everyone else stepped up and spread the ball around really well.”
Other goal scorers for the Wildfire in the championship game were Reid Goodwin with a pair, and Ian Jarvis and Travis Gook each added a goal.
The Wildfire earned the right to play in the championship final with a convincing 14-6 win over the red-jerseyed Posse in an early Saturday morning game.
With the memory of their only loss being a morning game, Gook admitted he wasn’t sure what to expect, but told his players exactly what he expected.
“We have to show up,” Gook told his players before Saturday morning’s game.
“We don’t want a repeat of what happened at home.”
The Wildfire squad took the words of caution to heart and before the first period was over they had a 6-2 lead.
“We came out right from the get go, took an early lead and stayed with it,” Gook said.
Stay with it they did, despite a short bench.
“The kids played hard, we only had two lines, they had to work the whole time,” Gook explained.
“Our powerplay was unstoppable.”
“We scored 10 seconds into almost every powerplay.”
The semi-final match was over after 20 minutes of play as Wildfire captain Levi Robertson stepped up for five of his game-high eight goals to help lead his team to a 6-2 lead after 20 minutes of play.
The red-jerseyed Posse and the Wildfire each picked up three goals in the second period to extend the score to 9-5.
The Wildfire picked up another five goals in the third period, whereas Prince George could only manage a single tally for a final score of 14-6.
Also scoring for the Wildfire were Dylan Cathcart and Ian Jarvis, each with a pair of goals. Lawlor and Brandon Webb each added a goal.
Now the Wildfire are headed to Calgary to take part in the 35th Annual Canada Day Box Lacrosse Tournament, July 1 – 3 and test their mettle against teams from western Canada, Ontario, Colorado and California.