The Richmond Roadrunners are proving it’s not how you start the season but rather how you finish it.
After opening the inaugural campaign in the B.C. Junior “B” Tier 1 Lacrosse League with a 1-7 record, the Roadrunners have won four of their last five games to climb right back in the playoff picture. They completed a two game road sweep in a 72-hour stretch with a dominating 10-4 win over the Delta Islanders (4-7-0) on Wednesday night in Ladner to improve to 5-8-0. They are now sitting in a post-season position with six games remaining and still can finish as high as third.
The key through the early season struggles was just how competitive Richmond was in almost every outing. Three of those losses were by just a single goal.
“Those were good signs. We implemented a system that has worked before and we tweaked a bit of things on defence to make the guys feel even more comfortable,” said Roadrunners head coach Neil Doddridge.
Richmond opened up a 6-2 lead after 20 minutes and the Islanders could only muster two more goals the rest of the way including the final minute of play. The Roadrunners’ defensive scheme worked to perfection, keeping much of Delta’s shots out on the perimeter and making it an easy night for impressive goaltender Riku Jokela.
The Finnish import was brought over to Canada by Doddridge who also happens to be head coach of the Finland’s national men's team that is competing in the world championships in Israel next month.
“In the last two years, I have never seen a player improve so much,” continued Doddridge whose extensive coaching resumé includes plenty of junior ‘A’ success with Coquitlam and Delta. “He is also a high level hockey player who played in the same age group as (Winnipeg Jets star) Patrick Laine. His older brother Roope is actually the best lacrosse player in Finland.
“I thought this could be a good team, but honestly, after the first couple of weeks of practice I didn’t think we would be this good. They have really bought in and it’s a tight team.”
The Roadrunners feature plenty of multi-sport standouts, led by team captain Josh Bourne who is fourth in league scoring with 77 points. The 19-year-old will be heading to Nanaimo in August for his second season in the B.C. Hockey League with the Clippers. Ryan Jensen, who has 36 points in just seven games, is off to the University of Regina to play football for the Rams this fall.
Two-way standout Ian Ryder, 17, is among the top young judo athletes in Canada who will be headed to the Pan Am Championships in Argentina next month.
“How I sell it to the boys is it’s a race to 10 (goals),” added Doddridge. “Tonight we got to 10 and they didn’t. It’s about winning each period as well. You win the battles then you end up winning the war.”
Stuart Ahara paced the winners with a hat trick. Liam Birch and Jensen scored twice. Brock Jung, Jordan Roberts and Ryder had the others.
A 13-9 victory in Burnaby on Sunday saw Jensen lead the way with five goals and one assist. Bourne also enjoyed a six point night with a couple of goals. Birch and Jung notched two each. Roberts and Ahara also scored.
Richmond returns to action when the PoCo Saints (6-5-1) visit Minoru Wednesday for another key late season battle at 8 p.m.