Mitch Vellner was not about to let a separated shoulder slow him down in the biggest game of his lacrosse career.
The graduating Red Deer Rampage player scored three times and added an assist in the Rocky Mountain Lacrosse League Junior B Tier I Provincial championship to beat the Calgary Chill 11-3 for the franchise’s first title.
Davis Reykdal and Reid Swier also had two goals and an assist for Red Deer, while Connor Hartley had one goal and three assists, Ryan Beatson one goal and two assists, Cole deFraaf one goal and an assist and Pearce Just one goal. Spencer Lee added two assists.
Jake Foster scored twice and Joe Geib once for the Chill.
The win punches the Rampage’s ticket to the Founders Cup — the Canadian Lacrosse Association’s junior B national championship — in Halifax from Aug. 18-24.
“It was a goal we had four years ago,” said Red Deer head coach Ron Just of when he came on board with Scott Gresham.
“We’ve always felt that Central Alberta turns out some of the best lacrosse players in the province. We’ve always felt that we had the talent and the ability to win it all. It’s taken us a year or two longer than what we hoped but we fully expected this year’s team was fully capable of what we did last night. It’s just a good feeling, it’s good to see them achieve what we always knew they were capable of.”
The Rampage advanced to the final by sweeping the round robin portion of the tournament in Calgary.
They opened with a 12-9 win over the Saskatchewan SWAT on Friday, then came back to beat the Calgary Jr. Mountaineers 11-7 and the Chill 7-6 on Saturday.
The three wins gave Red Deer a bye into the final while Chill played the Jr. Mountaineers in the provincial semifinal, winning 11-10 on Sunday afternoon.
The Chill had just three hours of downtime between the semifinal and the final, and the Rampage took full advantage.
After a close opening 20 minutes, Red Deer leaned on the Chill hard over the final 40 minutes and took over the game.
Red Deer goalie Rhett Baldwin was outstanding early and earned player of the game honours in the final.
“It was a close first period, but we knew if we could pressure them and if we could start to build a lead, we were pretty sure they would break, because it’s awfully tough to be playing a second game on the day,” said Just. “The way we played Friday and Saturday, we earned that first place spot, then we took advantage of it.”
Key to the Rampage though, was Vellner’s production in the deciding game.
Vellner had two goals and two assists in the opening game, but just one assist in their win over the Mountaineers. He bounced back with a goal and two assists in their final round robin game before dominating in the title-deciding tilt.
“We needed him to break out for us and score from the other side of the floor,” said Just,
“He had been playing with a bad shoulder for the last couple of weeks, it’s really been bothering him, and he had a great game for us.”
Now the Rampage have two weeks to prepare for the national championship.
For one, the team will be looking for financial support to get to Halifax. While they will receive some money from the RMLL, the Alberta Lacrosse Association and the Red Deer Lacrosse Association, it will not cover all of their costs.
“For some of the guys on the team, a trip to Halifax is a big financial commitment, so we are going to be working hard this week to make that as manageable as possible for all of these guys,” said Just.
No Red Deer junior B team has ever made it to this stage of play, but they do have an idea what is in store for them at the Founder’s Cup.
The tournament is usually dominated by Ontario and the Six Nations entries, but Just is confident a top three finish is within reach.
“The Alberta representative usually does well, they’ve typically medalled, they’ve been in the gold medal game quite a few times, and we know that’s a team that we could have beat the last three years,” said Just, referring to the Mountaineers run of success at the Cup. “We know we’re at that level. Our expectation is we want to be in that gold medal game, we want to give ourselves a chance to bring gold back to Alberta for the first time in five years.”