Rory Smith with the Mann Cup.
(Photo: Kevin Light)
The Six Nations Chiefs took the final step up the mountain Friday night, beating the Victoria Shamrocks 8-5 to win the 2013 Mann Cup four games to two. As they have done throughout the post-season, Six Nations dominated the third period to earn the win. They scored the only 4 goals of the final 20 minutes, turning around a game they had trailed 5-4 and in the process securing the first Mann Cup for the Chiefs since their run of three straight ended in 1996.
Head Coach Rich Kilgour was a member of that '96 team, and he said it's been a hard climb to get back atop the mountain. In his previous three years as head coach of the team, they had lost to Brampton in the semi-finals twice and then to Peterborough in the finals last year. “I haven't won one of these since 1996. It was a lot of hard work,” Kilgour said. “I've been here four years and we've had a lot of bitter disappointment up to this point. I think that makes it even sweeter, though, to have a lot of those tough losses along the way. Basically with the same team. There've been a few coming in here and there but basically we've had the same 12 or 14 guys. I kept believing in them and I think they kept believing in me, and that's what makes this championship so sweet.”
Kilgour was quick to give praise to everyone who helped the team reach its ultimate goal. “It takes 25 guys, 3 coaches, a great owner and a whole bunch of support crews. Dave Sowden, Brian Miller, Paula our tee shirt lady...so many more people. No one realizes, that stuff all adds up. You need it all to win a Mann Cup. It's not easy, that's what we've said all year. If it was easy everyone would have one.”
Among the 25 guys, Cody Jamieson was selected as the Mike Kelly Award winner as Mann Cup MVP. He scored 2 goals and 4 assists in the game and led the series in goals, assists and points. Brandon Miller was outstanding again in the Chiefs' net, and if not for Jamieson's brilliance could easily have become the second straight goalie to come into the Mann Cup in Game 3 and earn MVP honours.
Stephen Keogh scored a goal and added 2 assists. The righty forward turned things around after a slow start and scored a series of huge goals in the final three games of the series. “I just was trying to do anything to help the team and luckily those shots started falling,” Keogh said. “Early in the series my confidence wasn't there but once I got one my confidence was back. I was talking to guys like [Jamieson and Colin Doyle] in the room and they said just keep shooting. I'm just happy I could score some big goals to help my team out.”
Keogh is used to winning—he has been a part of the last two Champions Cup winners with the Rochester Knighthawks—but having to play a whole series makes this also a special accomplishment for him and his teammates. “It's unbelievable. This is probably the best lacrosse series I've ever played in,” Keogh said. “Victoria's an unbelievable team. They never gave up. It was a back and forth game. We just wanted to play Chiefs ball and luckily we came out with a victory. It's just a hard-fought series and it's an incredible feeling.”
Miller was excellent in the Chiefs net from the moment he took the floor, but he is quick to acknowledge the work done by Six Nations dominating defensive unit. The Chiefs allowed only 36 goals in the series, an average of just 6 per game. Rory Smith, whose performance in this series should put to rest once and for all any questions that he is an elite defensive player, said it was the first big win of his career.
“It's been a hard series,” Smith said. “I'm a little bit banged up. They gave me the stick all series. I hope I get a little more respect now.” But while he would like to have his own play recognized, Smith said it's all about the team with the Chiefs. “We have a big team. You can't really pick one guy. We go as a group, we play as a group. If one guy's down, we're all down.”
The Chiefs led 2-0 and 4-2, but Victoria kept fighting back and the Shamrocks actually led 5-4 heading into the third period. Six Nations took 9:48 of the third to tie the score on Kasey Beirnes' third goal of the game, but once they did they seemed to control the flow of play and it looked like only a matter of time until they got more. Still, Miller had to make a couple of big saves to ensure the lead was still there for the taking.
Finally, with 3:31 to play, Doyle finished off a beautiful four-way passing play, tapping home a shot from in close for what would prove to be the winning goal. Craig Point and Jamieson added insurance markers and the Chiefs were able to start celebrating the win with about a minute to play.
The celebration kept going for a long time, and don't expect it to necessarily end any time soon, or with just the one Mann Cup. This Chiefs' team is built for long-term success. “If you take Colin Doyle and B Miller away, two guys in their mid-30s, I bet you our average age is 25/26,” Kilgour said. “We have a good feeder system from our Junior A's. We pick up Randy Staats next year. Johnny Powless has a year of junior left but we get him in a year. I think we have a good core here. The guys got a taste of it and they want more. I hope they really enjoyed it, they earned it. In my four years here, these guys really changed the culture and bought in, and that's what it takes to win a Mann Cup.”
The team will make a triumphant return to Ontario, starting the trek Saturday morning after what was sure to become a long night of celebrating.
You can read a full game write up on IL Indoor. More coverage is also available on the Mann Cup 2013 web site.