The Langley Thunder's twoyear reign as the Western Lacrosse Association champion ended Thursday in Victoria.
The Victoria Shamrocks beat the Thunder 8-3 at Bear Mountain Arena to complete a four-games-to-two victory in the best-of-seven WLA championship series.
The Shamrocks will now host the Mann Cup national championship against the Ontario titleholder.
The best-of-seven Canadian senior A championship starts this Friday, Sept. 6, with the Shamrocks hosting the Six Nations Chiefs at Bear Mountain Arena for Mann honours.
The Shamrocks are on a quest for a ninth Mann Cup triumph.
"It means a lot to the organization, to the owners, to Jim [Hartshorne], who has invested a lot of time and a lot of money into the team to get us here," Shamrocks head coach Bob Heyes said of the opportunity.
"It means a lot to the WLA to have us host it, and I know we'll do a bang-up job," said an elated Heyes, who has been to four Mann Cups, winning two. "I never thought I would have an opportunity to be in a finals as a coach, to even have a chance, so I'm trying to just be focused."
For a Thunder squad looking to make its third consecutive Mann Cup appearance, it was a bitter pill to swallow.
The Thunder led the series 2-1 after a 12-10 win Aug. 21 at the Langley Events Centre, but then ended up dropping the next three contests.
Langley represented the WLA in the 2012 and '11 Mann Cup series, losing to the host Peterborough Lakers last September, and to the visiting Brampton Excelsiors at the Langley Events Centre two years ago.
The Thunder topped this year's WLA regular season standings with an 11-5-2 record.
The Shamrocks finished second with an 11-7 mark.
Both teams were coming off sweeps in their respective bestof-seven semifinals.
The Thunder defeated the Coquitlam Adanacs in four straight games while the Shamrocks dispatched the Burnaby Lakers in identical fashion.
The Shamrocks took control of the series-clinching contest during the second period.
The hosts racked up five unanswered goals in the middle frame to turn a 1-1 tie into a 6-1 lead.
Langley's Athan Iannucci scored the final goal of the second period as the Shamrocks entered the third frame leading 6-2. During the final period, the Shamrocks sandwiched goals between a marker from Langley's Garrett Billings to win by a five-goal margin.
The Thunder actually outshot the Shamrocks 37-34 but the 'Rocks made the most of their chances.
Thunder starting goaltender Nick Rose was relieved by Brodie MacDonald in the nets after Victoria's Rhys Duch scored to make it 4-1 at the 4:47 mark of the second period.
MacDonald stopped 12 of 16 shots the rest of the way.
"The fat lady has sung," Thunder head coach Rod Jensen said. "Give Victoria credit. From [my view on] the bench, they looked like they had the energy we had a couple of years ago. We just couldn't pull it together. They [the Shamrocks] closed it out like champions do."
The Thunder simply couldn't find a way to get quality shots on Shamrocks' goaltender Matt Vinc.
"We had a strategy to get inside Victoria's defence, but we didn't get to the spots we needed to, to beat this goalie," Jensen said.
The Thunder loaded up for another Mann Cup run just prior to the playoffs, adding a pair of talented attackers: Mark Matthews (from Ontario's Brooklin Redmen) and Dane Dobbie (from the Coquitlam Adanacs).
They also solidified their already stellar goaltending with the acquisition of Rose, the 2012 WLA MVP, from Coquitlam.
"On paper we had the strongest team we've ever had," Jensen said. "Our two goalies were world class and we buffed up our front end."
Jensen noted that missing key attackers Joel McCready and Lewis Ratcliff from the lineup left "a big hole up front."
Looking ahead to next year, Jensen believes the Thunder will likely have to make some changes to its roster.
"We'll have to revamp a little bit," he predicted. "We have to be a little more gritty and athletic up front."
In Jensen's opinion, momentum swung in Victoria's favour on Aug. 23 at Bear Mountain Arena, where the Shamrocks edged the Thunder 4-3 in overtime to knot the series at two games apiece.
"We win that game, we're up 3-1 and we have a good chance of closing out the series," Jensen said.
- Mario Annicchiarico is a reporter with the Victoria Times Colonist
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