Friday, July 15, 2016

Lakers down Redmen 9-5 to solidify hold on first place

This picture of Cory Vitarelli shooting on Zack Higgins is from two years ago, but the view was similar last night as Vitarelli scored 3 goals, all on quick releases, to lead Peterborough to a 9-5 win. (Photo: Tim Prothero)
It was a battle for 60 minutes, but the difference in the Thursday night's Major Series Lacrosse game at the Peterborough Memorial Centre came down to 96 seconds.

The score was tied 3-3 nearing the final five minutes of the second period. The Brooklin Redmen were
putting pressure on the Lakers, forcing turnovers at both ends of the floor with an aggressive forecheck and backcheck. The tide of the game seemed to be turning in the visitors' favour.

Then the Lakers struck for three quick goals and never led by less than that margin again as they took a 9-5 win that puts them solidly in control of first place in the standings.

The Lakers' run built on an outstanding penalty kill rag by Mark Steenhuis. Under heavy pressure from the king of caused turnovers, Kyle Rubisch, as well as a rotating cast of double team defenders, Steenhuis moved around the floor and controlled the ball through the final half minute or more of Brooklin's man advantage.

Towards the end of the ensuing Peterborough possession, Chad Culp fed Shawn Evans. The league's runaway scoring leader had been kept in check to that point, but Evans loaded up a dead overhand that found its way through Zack Higgins to put the Lakers ahead at 14:54.

Rookie transition standout Zach Currier had had chances all night. He'd been called for being in the crease when he put a ball in on a dive earlier (replays showed it was very close but it appears that referee Blair Ferguson probably got the call right) and had rung a shot off the crossbar. Now he broke down the floor using his blazing speed to create just enough separation to accept a perfectly placed pass from Brad Self over his shoulder.

Adrian Sorichetti can move, too, though and he closed on Currier as the Laker caught the ball and hauled him down to the floor. There would be no need for a penalty call, though, as Currier still managed to sweep the ball into the corner for a two-goal lead.

Goalie Matt Vinc started a breakout off a save moments later, hitting Evans coming off the bench. He threw it across to Cory Vitarelli, who ripped home his second of three goals that probably spent a combined total of about a second and a half in his stick en route to the back of the net. The time of the goal was 16:30.

Brooklin worked hard to try to come back. The previous night's battle against Six Nations in the Iroquois Park sweatbox surely didn't do the Redmen's legs any favours in the third period. Plenty of credit has to go to the Peterborough defence and Vinc, though. They were resolute in playing solid team D to hold Brooklin in check.

Josh Currier, Zach's older brother and an increasingly likely candidate to go high in the first round of this fall's National Lacrosse League Entry Draft, scored a pair of third-period goals to maintain the Peterborough lead. He added a pair of assists while Vitarelli finished with 3 goals and a helper and Evans with a goal and 4 assists. Five different Redmen scored with Dan Lintner and Ryan Keenan adding 2 assists each to their goal to lead the team.

Zach Currier was pleased to bury his critical goal in the game. He's starting to make good on the promise his magnificent athleticism provided as he gets used to the senior game. He said it took him a while this season to feel comfortable at his level of lacrosse.

“There's always a transition period. I don't know if it was obvious, but those first couple of games I was so nervous playing with all these guys I've looked up to my whole life,” Currier said. “Now I've started to find my groove and started to be more calm and play my game.”

The key for him is to worry about his own end first then let his gift for covering a lot of ground in a short time take over. “That's the one thing that [defensive] coach Bob Keast always tells me. Take care of defence and transition will take care of itself,” Currier emphasized. “I've just been trying to stay in our end and focus on that as much as I can. But if I see the ball on the ground I'm running after it cause that's the only thing I've got on these guys. I'm not bigger or stronger, I'm just a little bit faster.”

The game was intense, as games between these rivals tend to be. “They're close to us [geographically], we've played them a couple of times in playoffs over the years,” said Vitarelli. “Everybody wants that edge and the games are mostly like that.”

The important thing is to find the right level of aggression. Vitarelli feels like the Lakers are doing a good job of that lately. “I think there's that fine line you want to walk where you can be a little too aggressive or not quite aggressive enough. We've been able to find our groove lately. We just want to continue to build and keep that going.”

For their part, Brooklin defender Steve Priolo felt like the Redmen may have gone just a bit over that line and it hampered their ability to get back into the game.

“There was a swing there where we got a couple of penalties and the crowd kind of got into it and swayed it,” Priolo said. “We got down by three and were chasing it the rest of the way. Against a team like Peterborough, it's tough to come back. It gets a little chippy and we both got off our games and we forgot about scoring and playing defence and a lot of the stuff that lacrosse is.”

The win gives Peterborough a huge advantage towards finishing first in the league and securing home floor advantage throughout the playoffs. They have a four-point lead over second-place Oakville, who throttled the Brampton Excelsiors 11-4 Thursday night. Since the Lakers swept the season series over the Rock, if Peterborough wins its final two games of the season against the Cobourg Kodiaks as they'll be heavily favoured to, they will clinch first place regardless of the outcome of their next two contests (against Brooklin and Six Nations next week).

The Redmen, sitting in fourth place six points back of Peterborough but only two behind Oakville, aren't giving up on the regular season, though. They still want to get a possible first-round Game 7 back in Whitby.

“It's a huge deal. We're kind of chasing right now, but it's still possible,” Priolo said. “This league is so tight. It's all about making playoffs. That's our first goal. Home field advantage is going to be our next goal and we'll take it from there. So we're just going to keep trying to win. We've got Cobourg on Sunday so those are points that we can't really give up to catch these guys.”

That game in Cobourg is Brooklin's next outing. Then these two teams will reconvene on Brooklin's concrete pad next Wednesday.