Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Peterborough Lakers pull off 6-5 comeback win to take MSL championship 4-3 over Six Nations Chiefs

Turner Evans scores the winning goal in Game 7 of the MSL finals. (Photo: Tim Prothero)

What a way to turn things around from last year. In the 2014 Major Series Lacrosse finals, the Six Nations Chiefs shut out the Peterborough Lakers over the last 36:43 of Game 7 to win the series and head to the Mann Cup, which they won for the second straight year over the Victoria Shamrocks.

Monday night, one year to the day later, the Lakers shut out the Chiefs over the last 30:16 of Game 7 to win the MSL finals and head to the Mann Cup, where they will play the Shamrocks in Victoria starting Friday night.

Even more oddly, the Lakers at one point trailed by the exact same 5-3 score by which the Chiefs had trailed last year. They didn't match the Chiefs 7-0 run to close out the game, but goals by Chad Tutton, Shawn Evans and Turner Evans were enough to give them a 6-5 win and their seventh MSL championship in 12 years. They'll be looking for their sixth Mann Cup title in that stretch.

Chiefs Head Coach Rich Kilgour said before the game he was thinking about putting Craig Point back into the lineup in large part because of his big shot. He followed through and Point made him look brilliant by scoring a pair of goals on low to high rockets, including the opening goal 35 seconds in that meant Six Nations scored first in each of the seven games.

Ryan Benesch scored in bench transition on a nice drag shot that had Matt Vinc leaning the wrong way just before the midway point of the first period. The Lakers managed to defuse the momentum from that goal when Brad Self stayed up for an offensive shift and bounced a hard overhand shot in off of Brandon Miller's foot just 30 seconds later.

Mark Steenhuis, back in the lineup for just the third game after missing most of the season with a knee injury, buried a pair of goals before the end of the period, including a goal in the final minute on the power play resulting from the only penalty Six Nations took in the game.

Benesch and Dhane Smith put the Chiefs back ahead with the first two goals of the second period. Then, nearing the midway point of the frame, Chad Tutton and Brad Self worked hard on a double team to strip Stephen Keogh of the ball near the boards. Tutton, frustrated by something Keogh had done, took a run at the Chiefs' forward and knocked him down as Self was taking off up the floor with the ball. As is so often the case, the momentary loss of composure wound up coming back to bite the team that committed it. Keogh set up Point for his second goal, a 5-3 lead and momentum for the Chiefs.

Chad Tutton scores a spectacular goal to pull the Lakers within 5-4 in the
second period. (Photo: Tim Prothero)
With a little over three minutes to play in the period, Tutton atoned for his mistake in a big way. He took off with the ball from the Lakers zone and drove to the Six Nations' net through the check of a hustling Chiefs' player. His coaches may have been cringing as he forced a shot while falling to the ground, but the Lakers' erupted and celebrated with him after he somehow willed the ball around Miller's foot and in off the far post.

The play gave the Lakers a huge burst of energy and got their crowd--which consisted of three fan buses full plus numerous others who had driven down--fired up. They were even happier when Shawn Evans took a pass from MSL playoffs MVP Curtis Dickson well outside the dotted shooting line and rifled a shot that tied the game 5-5 at 2:46 of the third.

It remained tied for almost 10 minutes as both defences and goaltenders continued to excel. Shots weren't easy to come by throughout the game--indeed, throughout most of  the series--at either end of the floor. At about the 12-minute mark, Steenhuis tossed the ball to Turner Evans. The rookie had improved steadily through the season but isn't a focal point of the Lakers' offence. He has, however, scored some excellent and timely goals for them.

None has been nicer or more important than the one he was about to score. Evans looked like he was about to get knocked down by a pair of defenders a few steps from the crease. He spun through them, somehow held on to the ball and came out the other side with nothing between him and Miller. A third defender slid down to try to help, but by then Evans had thrown a fake near side, reached out and pinged the ball off the far post and into history.

The Lakers still had work to do with eight minutes to go in the game. The defence remained stout and Vinc came up with several big saves down the stretch, none bigger than turning aside Brodie Merrill on a breakaway with three minutes to play.

Peterborough Head Coach Mike Hasen said the team will quickly shift its focus to getting ready to leave for Victoria Wednesday morning to go for the big prize. He was able to savour the win in what was a hard-fought and extremely well-played MSL final. "It was a great team effort right from the get-go," he said. "We have a lot of banged-up guys and they put everything they had on the floor tonight. The D was good, [Vinc] was great and the offence got enough done."

Dickson, the Maple Ridge Burrards transfer who had three assists Monday and led the playoffs in goals, was visibly excited that he'll get to back to his home province to battle for a national title. "This is unbelievable," Dickson said. "This will be my first Mann Cup. I've never been part of something like this series. It was epic. Getting out 2-0, going down 3-2 and coming back to win. The defensive battle and everything about it. Being able to pull it out here and to head west for the Mann Cup is pretty special."

The loss was a bitter pill to swallow for the Chiefs, who were hoping to repeat their feat of winning three straight Mann Cups from 1994-96. Kilgour stood alone against the boards while the medals, MVP award and championship trophy were presented, looking tired and disappointed. He was as classy as usual when asked for comment, however, giving Peterborough credit for working hard to earn the win and wishing them luck in Victoria.

He acknowledged that many people, including his own team, may have expected the Chiefs to win this series. "Yeah, expected, but you still have to do it," Kilgour said. Game 7 was the fifth time in the series that Six Nations had held Peterborough to six goals. As Kilgour had said after Game 1--which Peterborough won 6-4--when you only allow six you expect to win. "But six was enough for them to win tonight," he said ruefully.

Defender David Brock said the same two teams may well be back here a year from now battling in another epic Game 7. He thinks the Lakers drew on not getting to the Mann Cup since 2012 for motivation. "Watching us for the last two years I think added fuel to their fire," he said. "Peterborough has a lot of pride and I think tonight they just wanted it a little more. They were sick of watching us do it the past two years."

You can find information about the Mann Cup on the WLA's site, including information about how to watch the games live on PlayFullScreen.