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Shamrocks open with exciting WLA win over defending champion Thunder

Victoria travels to Maple Ridge on Sunday
Shamrocks forward Bennett Smith fires a shot on Thunder goaltender Kyle Mooney during WLA action at The Q Centre on Friday night. (ADRIAN LAM, TIMES COLONIST)

The Langley Thunder were like the guests who arrive late for dinner and then try to steal the cutlery on the way out of the house. But being stern and less-than-accommodating hosts, the Victoria Shamrocks made sure that didn’t happen in a 12-11 victory to open their Western Lacrosse Association season ­Friday night at The Q Centre.

Travel delays caused the Thunder to arrive half-hour late for the scheduled game start inside a sweltering arena. That caused the first 10 minutes of the game to be played in straight time and for period breaks to be reduced to five minutes to allow the Thunder to catch the final ferry out of Nanaimo.

It was worth the wait for the capacity crowd of 2,224 in a frenetic-paced game that hung in the balance right to the end as Cole Pickup scored the winner at 18:51 of the third period.

It was an impressive result against the overwhelming 2023 season favourites from Langley, who came within a Game 7 loss last year in Peterborough, Ont., of winning the Mann Cup Senior A national championship.

Victoria had built a 10-7 lead early in the third period only to see the defending WLA-champion Thunder race back into contention. But in the end they could not solve Shamrocks goaltender Pete Dubenski, who was flying all over the crease with some outstanding stretch saves in a 39-save performance to be named first star.

The Shamrocks have embarked on a near-wholesale rebuild. Showing the best among the new additions was Naniamo Junior Timbermen-graduate Thomas Vaesen, who was all over the floor in a fine two-way effort with two goals and three assists for five points to show why he is already a National Lacrosse League pro with the Albany Firewolves.

Patrick Dodds, a NLL pro and Shamrocks rookie considered a foundational piece for the future, had a goal and three assists for four points. Returning Jacob Ruest had two goals and two assists for four points in being named the game second star. Liam Phillips added two goals with Jake Foster and Davis McCulley also scoring on two-point nights.

The cagey veteran all-time great and former NCAA Final Four player, Curtis Dickson, showed those flashy stick skills haven’t eroded. He had two goals and six assists for eight points for Langley, which opened the season with a 20-5 dismantling of the Burnaby Lakers on Wednesday night.

The Shamrocks travel to Cam Neely Arena to meet the host Maple Ridge Burrards on ­Sunday.

The Nanaimo Timbermen, who made the WLA final last season for the first time since 1968, opened with a 15-6 road loss Thursday night at Queen’s Park to the New Westminster Salmonbellies. The T-Men are in Coquitlam to face the Adanacs tonight.

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