Sr. Raiders hold off defending champs

Lacrosse: Okotoks wins home opener 14-12 over rival Calgary

By: Remy Greer

  |  Posted: Wednesday, May 28, 2014 06:00 am

Okotoks Sr. Raider Trevor Howse fights through the check of a Calgary Mountaineer during the Raiders' 14-12 win in their home opener on Friday evening at Pason Centennial Arena.
Okotoks Sr. Raider Trevor Howse fights through the check of a Calgary Mountaineer during the Raiders' 14-12 win in their home opener on Friday evening at Pason Centennial Arena.
Jordan Verlage/OWW

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Nothing like ousting the defending league champions to instil a sense of belief.

The Okotoks Sr. Raiders improved to 3-1 in the Rocky Mountain Lacrosse League by holding off a late surge from Alberta’s 2013 Presidents Cup qualifier Calgary Mountaineers to win their home opener 14-12, Friday night at Pason Centennial Arena.

“They’re the guys to beat from the South side and we have the Miners to beat from the North. It’s pretty incredible to beat those guys,” said Raiders goalie Kane Swartout. “We’re a completely different team to start this year, so much different energy in the dressing room, on the bench, on the floor.”

All the Presidents’ men were in the line of fire from the opening face-off. Okotoks was moving the ball with confidence on offence, forcing shot-clock violations on defence and winning loose ball battles in the transition game in a dominant first-period.

The right-handed attackmen for Okotoks had an opening frame for the ages with debutant Chad Mitchell pouring in four first-period goals along with a pair from Randy Levick, a single from playmaker Casey MacIntyre and one in transition from defender Jason Werschke to put the hosts up 8-3 before period’s end.

“I wasn’t feeling too confident in my stick before the game so I just thought I’ve got to shoot the ball and sometimes it goes in,” said Mitchell, an Okotoks Jr. Raiders alumnus. “It’s my first game back and we just got out there and moved the ball pretty well, took our shots and worked well as a unit.”

A similar script played out in the game’s second act as MacIntyre scored a pair of identical goals to complete the hat-trick and helped set up Tyler Farmer for a tap-in to increase the Raider advantage to 11-4. Garrett Werschke would then score on a delayed Mounties penalty with Levick then securing his third of the game in transition to seemingly put the game out of reach at 13-4.

Not so fast.

The Mounties showed off their championship pedigree in popping two goals past Swartout to cut the lead to seven after two periods.

After Calgary scored two in succession, Mitchell completed a highlight reel marker using his motor to beat a pair of Mounties defenders to the goal on a penalty kill. Calgary answered quickly with three more goals and momentum firmly in its favour to make it a 14-11 game with 2:29 on the clock.

Facing an avalanche of attack from the Mountaineers, Swartout saved his best save for the dying moments of the contest. Caught completely out of position with a Calgary player on the doorstep for a tap-in rebound marker, the Raiders netminder dove across goal for a remarkable glove save to stem the tide momentarily.

“I went forward and was out of position and it was a glove side dive and I threw my stick and everything I had at it,” Swartout said. “It was all or nothing and I got a little bit lucky.”

Calgary would find the back of the net one last time with 40 seconds left, but turned the ball over on its next possession allowing the Raiders to finally exhale after a trying third period.

“You just tell them to stay focused, they start to get distracted, start to get too focused on what the refs are calling,” said head coach Ian MacDonald. “You just need to push hard for the last two or three minutes to make it happen.”

Okotoks wrapped its weekend to remember by trouncing the Spruce Grove Slash by a 16 to 3 count and improve to 4-1 – good enough for second spot in the league.

“After a season like they had last year I am impressed with how focused they’ve been since day one,” the coach added. “To get on a roll and start the season like this, we needed it, we needed it badly for confidence.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do, but we needed that start.”

The Raiders continue their five-game home stand on June 4 in a rematch versus the Mounties followed by back-to-back dates with the St. Albert Miners and Rockyview Knights. All home games are at Pason Centennial Arena.

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