Early-season results suggest the three-team Thompson Okanagan Junior Lacrosse League will be parity-filled.
The Kelowna Raiders folded prior to the 2018 season and the Armstrong Shamrocks followed suit this year, leaving the Kamloops Venom, Vernon Tigers and South Okanagan Flames of Penticton to vie for league supremacy.
“They’re both really good,” said Liam Hagerty, the Venom’s head coach. “The skill has been condensed.”
Armstrong was 2-9-1 in 2018. In 2017, the Raiders were outscored 206-52, forfeited three games and finished 0-16.
South Okanagan, which won one of 12 games last season, earned a 17-15 victory over defending champion Vernon in Penticton on April 29, with help from displaced Kelowna runners.
The hometown Tigers edged the Venom 10-8 on May 4. Kamloops dispatched South Okanagan 12-11 on Monday.
“There are no easy games this year, no write-offs out there,” Hagerty said.
Shamrocks’ castoff Mykl Drabiuk joined the Venom and is enjoying a stellar start to his graduating campaign, tied with Flames’ runner Cairo Rogers for the league lead in goals, with eight after three games.
“He’s been outstanding,” Hagerty said, noting both Kamloops and Vernon have snared a few former Shamrocks.
“He’s an absolute workhorse, takes a beating every night and draws the other team into a lot of penalties. He scores goals. We were lucky to get him.”
Kamloops product Callum Gorman leads the league in points (20) and assists (14).
“He’s got a mind for the game like no one else on the team,” Hagerty said.
The Snakes’ bench boss is in a pickle between the pipes, where the problem is sweet for the team, but sour for the goaltenders.
Veterans Ethan Milobar and Troy Cuzzetto and rookies Reed Watson and RJ Gerow are pushing each other for minutes, but there are not enough to go around.
“We’ve had three goalies start and they’ve all played extremely well,” Hagerty said. “Reed started his first game [on Monday] and had an outstanding game.
“It’s a good problem to have, but it kind of sucks for them because they don’t get as much playing time.”
Kamloops (3-1) will play host to two games this weekend, with the Flames (1-2) coming to town on Saturday and the Tigers (1-2) arriving on Sunday.
Game time is 7:30 p.m. both nights at Memorial Arena.