Saturday, September 12, 2015

Shamrocks finish off Mann Cup victory with 12-6 win over Lakers in Game 6

Corey Small was named the Mike Kelly Award winner as the Mann Cup MVP as the Victoria Shamrocks downed the Peterborough Lakers 12-6 in Game 6 to take the series 4-2. (Photo: Kevin Light Photography)

The Victoria Shamrocks are the 2015 Mann Cup champions after downing the Peterborough Lakers 12-6 Friday night to win the series 4-2. Dan Dawson had 8 assists and Mike Kelly MVP award winner Corey Small a hat trick and an assist to lead the Shamrocks in a game they largely controlled from the outset. Jesse King and Karsen Leung each added a pair of goals for Victoria. Six different players scored for the Lakers. Aaron Bold made made 31 saves on 38 shots for an .838 save percentage to earn the win.

Victoria came out of the gates with a burst of energy and controlled play almost throughout the first period. They got on the board on yet another outside shot from Small. A pair of transition goals from Leung opened the spread. Both times Leung broke out of the Victoria end, the first receiving a breakout pass from Bold and the second taking off with a picked off pass. He bounced a shot past the right foot of Matt Vinc on the first and ripped one past Vinc's left shoulder on the second.

The shots at one point were 13-6 and those numbers were representative of the flow of play. Victoria was pushing the pace and creating scoring chances at one end of the floor with crisp ball movement and a solid screen game.

At the other end of the floor, the Shamrocks' defence was playing even better than their offence. They were spreading out high to pick up the Lakers well away from their goal, which is a risky approach against a team with as much talent at Peterborough. Victoria made it work, though, because their defenders played athletic, tenacious one-on-one D while employing an alert and cohesive slide game.

The Lakers finally started to find some lanes late in the period, but weren't able to beat Bold when they did get shots off. Brock Sorensen got Peterborough's first really good scoring chance on a transition break with about five minutes to play in the period but missed the net on his shot. Shawn Evans was eventually able to find some seams in the Victoria defence but either missed the net or was stymied by Bold.

The Lakers shifted the momentum early in the second; Curtis Dickson took a pass from Turner Evans and executed his patented step back shot to perfection for a goal 35 seconds in. Peterborough seemed to be energized after the goal and kept the pressure on, creating some chances in transition but couldn't cash in. The tide turned when Scott Evans scooped a loose rebound and attempted to fling the ball back to a teammates at the point. It flew over everyone and was grabbed on the run by Victoria defender Bradley Kri, playing in just his second game of the series, who flew down the floor and fired a goal over Vinc's shoulder.

Chad Tutton is starting to establish himself as a transition threat after focusing on his defensive zone play at the behest of the Lakers coaching staff earlier in the season. He showed his stuff again to keep the Lakers in it, running hard down the floor, putting his shoulder into a defender and tucking the ball home. The Lakers needed another goal and they got it from Evans, who picked up a rebound, drove to the net and bounced a low to low shot home.

The Lakers defence was also finding their rhythm, working better together to keep the Shamrocks outside and forcing turnovers. Peterborough appeared to have a turnover coming as Mark Farthing and Tutton worked over Dawson, but the big man managed to hold onto the ball as he went to the floor and made a cross-floor pass to Small, whose quick shot caught a piece of Vinc but trickled through to make the score 6-3 with seven and a half minutes to play in the second.

Farthing picked off a pass in the Lakers end and sprinted up the floor. He had Brad Self running ahead of him on one side and Shawn Evans coming off the bench on the other. With the Shamrocks' pair of players watching those two, Farthing fired an overhand shot that bounced in for Peterborough's fourth goal with a little over a minute to go in the second.

King got the Shamrocks off on the right foot in the third. With Wenster Green serving a too many men on the floor penalty against the Lakers, King cut through the middle and quick-sticked home a pass in the first minute. He got the next goal as well, four minutes later on a similar shot. Victoria kept pouring it on; Scott Ranger scored on almost a mirror image of the King play just 35 or so seconds later.

Turner Evans scored one of the best goals of the series to slow Victoria down. He drove to the net as Dickson shot, grabbed his rebound and whipped a behind the back shot into the bottom corner all in one motion.

“Amazing. All the hard work paid off,” said Shamrocks' defender Ryan Dilks, who along with Greg Harnett led a defensive effort for the ages by Victoria. “Peterborough's no easy team, with all the all-stars on that team, to beat that team was such a great feeling, such a team effort, it was amazing.”

One of the keys for Victoria was keeping Dickson in check. “The ball was on the right for most of the time, so we had our slides ready,” Dilks said. “We couldn't let Dickson shoot and not get touched. We had to finish our checks on him so hopefully he'd wear down. The guy's such an amazing player that we have to try to slow him down somehow.”

Head coach Bob Heyes enjoyed finally winning the Mann Cup as a coach after losing the last two years to the Six Nations Chiefs in six games each time. “I've won two Mann Cups as a player and to be honest, this means more,” Heyes said. “My coaching staff make me look good, they do all the hard work. I'm just happy for the organization. We pride ourselves on being a first-class organization.”

The Shamrocks are worthy champions and the Lakers acknowledged their respect for the Victoria team. But Peterborough also showed their frustration with officiating that was shockingly one-sided. The Lakers were called for six penalties while the Shamrocks received none. Peterborough was frustrated by the lack of calls to curtail Victoria's strategy in the series of trying to intimidate and contain the Lakers with hyper-aggressive physical play.

“The officiating was gross. If you're a fan of this game and you were watching this game not with green-coloured glasses, you could see how gross that was,” said Lakers head coach Mike Hasen. “It was atrocious. Our guys didn't deserve that by any means. Possession calls, too many men calls four to zero, faceoffs, it was gross. We stressed this 10 days ago when we got in here in the first meeting that you can't have certain people that have worn this uniform before referee in the deciding game, and look what you get.”

Lakers forward Scott Evans didn't see any point in lingering on the officiating after the series. “It's over and done with now. It's a hard pill to swallow,” Evans said. “We've got 25 guys that battled their ass off for six games and we came out on the short end of the stick this time. We'll get the hunger next time. We saw them hoisting the cup, we'll remember that feeling and hopefully come back stronger next year.”

The Lakers certainly have a valid argument that they didn't get a fair shake from the officials, but that doesn't mean the Shamrocks aren't deserving of the win. They put together an excellent team and worked together to make the most of their talent. Small was a good choice for MVP, although either Dilks or Harnett would have been a great selection.

The MVP wasn't really a big deal, though, because it took such a team effort for Victoria to win the championship. From an excellent performance by Bold to suffocating play by the defence to opportunistic finishing from the offence, the Shamrocks came into this Mann Cup determined to do what they had to do to finally break the nine-year hold that MSL had held on the trophy. They are great champions and they should be in a good position to challenge for more titles down the road.