A few years removed from playing high school basketball, 21-year-old Tommy Dolson wanted to get back into the atmosphere and team bonding that only sports can provide.
But instead of returning to a familiar game, he tagged along with friends Tylor Seabrooke and Colton Boomer to the Kamloops Venom tryouts in March, despite never playing lacrosse before.
On Sunday night, he played in his first Junior B lacrosse game, helping the Kamloops Venom beat the Armstrong Shamrocks 13-12 on what the team dubbed, "Tommy Dolson Night."
"Tommy came to tryouts this year and we had about 30 to 35 guys in camp, so coaches told him early on, there wasn't room on the team," says Venom general manager Brandon Pittman. "He said, 'That's OK, can I still come out and practise?' I was sceptical about it at first; he wasn't bad by any means but the pace of the team, it's hard to keep up. But he's kept practising and gotten a ton better and he just brings so much energy to practice."
"He's earned every stitch he's wearing tonight and it was just a way of rewarding a great kid."
Not only had Dolson never picked up a lacrosse stick, he had never dished out a hit in a game before.
"I've never played a contact sport before," he says. "It's a different mentality out there and this has gotta be one of the roughest sports you can play. It's been just crazy. You gotta have your head on a swivel out there because they're coming from every angle."
Knowing a bunch of players that had come through the Venom, Dolson knew it was an environment he'd enjoy. He never set out to play in a game, he just showed up at every practice, twice a week, looking to get better at a new sport. With the help of coaches, tips from captain Brady Georget, and drawing on his basketball background, he showed enough potential that coaches were willing to sign him for one game.
It wasn't technically his first game action, as he had played a little in a preseason icebreaker tournament. But Dolson says that hardly compared to the real thing: there were no referees and some guys were out there running around in jeans. The fury of Sunday's game was unlike anything he had experienced before.
"I feel like, when we're out there, we hate that other team until the end. You play hard and you can't really unload in practice, so I mean, you can't really simulate an actual game. It was pretty nuts."
Dolson played primarily in the defensive end, earning three trips to the penalty box on the night, but only one was actually a result of his actions.
"A few penalties I had to serve for our goalie Troy (Cuzzetto). He was running his mouth out there, but again, that's what I'm out there for. I'm looking to take those minutes for the team so they can have some better hands out on the floor and hopefully not give up any power play goals," he says.To be fair, one of Cuzzetto's penalties was an odd delay of game call where a clearing attempt of his hit a banner in the rafters.
Had the Venom been able to pull away, Dolson would've been able to have more time in the offensive zone. But after entering the third period with a 12-7 lead, the Shamrocks mounted a furious comeback – aided by a few more Venom penalties – to tie the game.
However, on the heels of a big loss in Vernon the night prior, Kamloops wasn't about to lose two straight. The game had Dolson's name on it, but offensively, it was Trey Dergousoff's night, as he led the way with five goals, including the game-winner with just a few minutes left. Dergousoff was one of four midget call-ups on Sunday along with Owen Barrow, Caleb Campbell and Reed Watson.Seabrooke added a hat trick of his own while Brady Georget, Callum Gorman, Nathan Fraser, Ryan Wightman and Derek Rockvam each added one.
Though it was tighter than expected game against a last-place Armstrong team, the Venom getting the win was the perfect end to Dolson's night, an event celebrating a true team player, even if he isn't on the roster.
"It goes to show how great these guys are and how the team, and how this program works," says Dolson. "It's a really supportive team and we got each other's backs. That was a little way they were able to give back to me and show me some appreciation for what I've been doing this year."
"We have 25 players signed and we can only dress 18 a night, so we always have to sit some players. But there wasn't one player that wouldn't let him take a spot on the team for tonight," says Pittman.
In his final year of junior eligibility, this was likely Dolson's last Venom game as well as his first. It's not the end of his lacrosse life, though; he can see playing men's pickup and perhaps helping out at practices in his future. What started as just jawing with friends has ended with a new passion, and at least one Junior B game under his belt.
"Before the season, whenever we would hang out, I would say, 'I think maybe I should try out this year,' just joking around. Then I was talking to (Boomer) and I was like 'I'll see you at practice, tell your coach I'm coming.' It's pretty funny. I'm happy that I got into the sport the way I did," says Dolson.