Thompson brothers Taylor and Evan Rtichie played a part in making a little lacrosse history in Calgary this summer when the Manitoba Blizzard junior lacrosse team won its first Rocky Mountain Lacrosse League junior B title with an 8-6 win against the Calgary Chill in the finals.
The Blizzard went 7-1 through the playoffs after a team record-setting 15-5 regular season and ended it in storybook fashion, beating the only team to defeat them in the championship tournament round robin to claim the title.
“We started off up 2-1 at the end of the first period,” Taylor Richie says. “Both teams battled hard but we were playing good. I felt pretty confident and then at the start of the third we got two quick goals and I was kind of thinking, ‘Holy, we might actually win this whole thing,’ and then they got two goals and it was tight again but then, our third period, we played really strong defensively and put the ball in the net when we needed to and pulled it off.”
The game was tight right down to the wire.
“It was 7-6 with two minutes left and then we scored with 1:55, I think it was, to make it 8-6 and then that was it,” said Taylor. “We were able to hold it down.”
For the older of the two Thompson brothers, the victory was doubly sweet after being on the other end in the championship game with the Blizzard in 2015.
“We lost in the final game actually [last year] to Saskatchewan and we beat them throughout the season and we should have won that game but we couldn’t pull it together,” Taylor says. “We had a lot of guys on the team this year that played last year so before the game we knew that feeling, what it feels like to lose and we didn’t want that again, so it was definitely a second chance for a lot of us.”
Evan’s rookie season could hardly have gone any smoother.
“Things couldn’t have gone any better,” he said. “It was a real good experience. I wasn’t expecting that much out of it.”
On a personal level, Evan said he felt his game really improved throughout the year.
“I got more responsibility as the year went on,” he said. “I got to have some time on offence and defence and by the last game I probably had my best game of the year in the finals.”
Blizzard coach Trevor Anyan, who took over in January after moving to Manitoba from Orangeville, Ontario, concurs with Evan’s self-assessment.
“Evan evolved quite a bit over the year,” said Anyan, noting that Evan was one of 10 new players on the team. “He went from being an early season healthy scratch. He became an integral player in the end. That final weekend we played five games in that championship series tournament and Evan played in every single one of them and got some important minutes, certainly, and especially even in the final game. He got a regular shift.”
Both the Thompson brothers helped the Blizzard limit the number of goals that other teams scored against them, the coach says.
“They were two very important guys to our defence which was really kind of a core strength for our team,” he said.
The team will soon be off to the Founder’s Cup national junior B championship in their coach’s old hometown and Anyan’s son is one of the players on the host team. Taylor, who played in the Founder’s Cup championship last year, is hoping the Blizzard makes a little more Manitoba lacrosse history.
“We went to Founder’s last year and we competed every single game with every single team,” Taylor says. “Manitoba’s never medalled there before so that’s our goal this year, to medal on the A-side, and I believe we can do it so we’re looking forward to that.”
Evan is happy to have the chance to play more high level lacrosse before the season is over, after having played mostly hockey and little lacrosse over the past few years.
“I’ve still been playing competitive sports but nothing at that level for sure,” he says.
The Blizzard will have an even more pronounced Thompson presence at the national championships with Tyrel Charlton and Justin Paulic having been picked up to fill in for players who were with the team all year but couldn’t make the financial commitment necessary to travel to Ontario.
“Our Manitoba boys will be in tough of course playing the elite in Ontario but are excited for the opportunity,” said Anyan, noting that at the junior level it’s different than in minor lacrosse nationals. “When you play Team Ontario versus Team Manitoba in a youth scenario it’s the best 15 boys from Manitoba versus the best 15 in Ontario. The Ontario boys are now distributed through 28 different teams so we’re not going to be playing an Ontario all-star team. We’re playing one town’s team who happens to be the champion. We still are the best 15 guys in Manitoba so we still have that going for us. It’ll be a lot closer competition than some of these boys might have been used to when they were younger and playing in those national championships.”