They owned South Okanagan in the regular season and finished first in league standings, nine points ahead of the second-place Flames.
The Kamloops Venom, 6-1 against the Flames during the campaign, must have been smelling blood, a scent that may have strengthened when the Penticton-based Flames were displaced in time for the post-season, forced to play in Oliver Arena when ice covered the floor at Penticton Memorial.
Neither recent history nor the Oliver twist has fazed the Flames, who lead 2-0 in the best-of-five Thompson Okanagan Junior Lacrosse League championship series, which returns to Memorial Arena in Kamloops on Tuesday.
The Venom must win to stay alive. Game time is 7:30 p.m. in the Snake Pit.
“They’re pretty hungry,” Venom general manager Martin Gardner said of the Flames on Monday, a day after South Okanagan earned a 12-9 victory in Oliver, its second come-from-behind win of the series.
“But we are plagued with injuries right now. We lost arguably our best player (Kordell Primus) to a broken collarbone in Game 1. We’ve got two guys out with concussions. We’ve got a couple guys travelling.”
There is good news for Kamloops on the injury front, with Jordan Bunce expected to return for Game 3 on Tuesday, according to Gardner. Bunce had 24 points in 15 regular-season contests.
“Most of our starting players are banged up,” Gardner said. “It’s kind of been a perfect storm for us, so far.
“But we’re expecting to come out and take the win tomorrow night and that changes the landscape of the series. We’re pretty motivated.”
South Okanagan trailed by three goals late in the third period in Game 1 at Memorial Arena on Friday, but mounted a spirited comeback and scored in double overtime to win 16-15.
Kamloops held a 7-4 lead at the start of the second period on Sunday and the game was tied at 9-9 near the halfway point of the third period.
The Flames, playing in the TOJLL final for the first time in the league’s 20-season history, scored timely goals late in both games.
“It could be 2-0 for us easy enough,” Gardner said. “We had a couple tough breaks in the last couple of games. Maybe reffing wasn’t necessarily in our favour, took some untimely penalties. And they were just better when the game was on the line.”
Gardner appealed to local fans, suggesting a lift from the Snake Pit faithful may boost his squad’s chances of staying alive on Tuesday.
“South Okanagan is playing in Oliver,” Gardner said. “Last night’s atmosphere didn’t give them home-floor advantage.
“Everything is on the line tomorrow night and I expect our boys are going show up and the fans are going to show up to support the boys.
“Our boys perform well when there are people in the crowd.”
Lacrosse down under
Drew Bannister and Adam Gardner, both of whom belong to the Kamloops Venom, are playing field lacrosse in Australia for the American Pride team, which consists mostly of U.S. talent.
The duo landed down under on July 4 for a tour that will pit American Pride against squads from Australia and Japan.
Bannister registered 39 points in 13 games for the Venom in the 2019 regular season.
Gardner broke his ankle earlier this year and returned to the Venom’s lineup in time for one game before leaving to Australia.