A decisive victory in the semifinal on Tuesday night propelled the Cowichan Rats into the Victoria Senior Lacrosse League final series in their first season of existence.
The Rats defeated the Wsanec Arrows 8-3 at Archie Browning Arena to set up a battle with the Victoria Blazers for the Bill Munroe Trophy starting on Thursday night.
Cowichan jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the first period on Tuesday thanks to goals by Conor Manahan, Luke Van Huizen and Dan Alger. The Arrows narrowed the gap with two quick ones by sniper Emilio Garcia early in the second, but the Rats added three more from captain Dylan Dewarle, Pete Vanden Dungen and Wes Morris. Alger and Spencer Rooke added third-period goals, while the Arrows managed one more.
Alger added three assists to finish with a game-high five points, while Manahan, Vanden Dungen and Van Huizen each had two helpers to go along with their goals.
Kevin Smith had one of his best outings of the year in the Cowichan crease, stopping 22 of 25 shots. The Rats peppered Wsanec goalie Riley Mangelsen with 44 shots, including 17 in each of the first and third periods.
The result was Cowichan’s second win over the Arrows in the double-elimination playoffs, following an 8-2 decision in the first round on June 22.
The Rats head into the final on Thursday against the defending champion Victoria Blazers, who have won five of the last six VSLL titles. The Blazers went 12-1-3 in the regular season, their lone loss a forfeit to the Rats, who finished the season at 11-4-1.
Dewarle believes his team can take down the Blazers.
“We played well [on Tuesday],” he said. “As long as we stay out of the box, we’ve got a good chance at winning the championship. We’ve improved massively since the start of the year, and we’re looking to take the league title.”
The Rats stack up “pretty well” against the defending champs, and just need to stay focused to find success, Dewarle added.
“We know we can beat them if we’re disciplined and playing as a team,” he said.
The Rats lost their first regular-season meeting against the Blazers in Esquimalt by a 9-1 final score, but the teams tied 4-4 the next time they met at the Cowichan Arena. The Blazers won again 8-2 at Archie Browning, and 9-5 in a playoff game on June 25, the win sending the Blazers straight to the final. Both teams have acknowledged that the games have been closer than the scores would suggest.
All remaining games will be played at Archie Browning Arena. The final series began on Thursday, and will continue next Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. If a third game is necessary, it will go next Thursday (July 11) also at 7:30 p.m.