Monday, July 4, 2016

Lakers overcome slow start to beat shorthanded Excelsiors 9-8

Shawn Evans was quiet early, but scored a pair of beautiful third-period
goals to lead the Lakers to a 9-8 win over Brampton. (Photo: Tim Prothero)
The Brampton Excelsiors had traded away six of their best players two days before they met the Peterborough Lakers at home Sunday. Brampton had only 13 runners for the game and no backup goalie. And yet, they came out and played “probably our best game of the year,” as head coach Paul Stewart put it.

The effort, especially on defence and from goaltender Tyler Carlson, allowed them to hold an 8-4 lead after 40 minutes. It took five almost perfect third-period goals from the Lakers to come back and earn a 9-8 win that keeps Peterborough atop the Major Series Lacrosse standings.

All in all, it turned out to be a much more exciting game than anyone had the right to expect, with outstanding performances in stretches from both teams.

It all started with Carlson for the Excelsiors. The defence took a few minutes to find its form against a Lakers team that had five junior callups in the lineup because players were missing with other commitments. During that time, Carlson made a handful of excellent saves to keep the game scoreless.

Then Phil Caputo scored his first of 3 goals in the game to go with a pair of assists. A few minutes later, Carlson started a breakout with a pass to Matt Spanger, who sent Zac Reid in alone to make it 2-0.

Disbelief gradually grew into excitement as Quinn Powless, the only one of the players Brampton acquired in the slew of July 1 trades who was able to make the game yesterday, scored a pair of goals including a gorgeous behind the back shot in off the post to make it 4-0.

When Josh Currier buried a back door quick stick on the power play and Turner Evans followed with a goal three minutes from the end of the first period, there was a sense that the seemingly inevitable response from the Lakers was underway.

The Excelsiors kept working hard on defence, limiting the Lakers high-quality scoring chances, and Mike Burke extended their lead to 5-2 before the first period ended. If not for Evan Kirk playing well in the Peterborough net, the lead could have been even bigger. The score was not misleading; Brampton had thoroughly outplayed Peterborough through 20 minutes.

As Lakers assistant coach Bobby Keast put it, “We did not play well at the start. I thought Kirky played well all game. Defensively, we were just kind of going through the motions and offensively I think we just thought they were going to roll over and let us score at will.”

The tone changed a bit in the second, with Peterborough creating better chances and limiting Brampton's opportunities, but the Excelsiors still outscored the Lakers 3-2 in the frame. The score stood 8-4 for Brampton. The big question was, could the underdogs with only 13 runners hold off the defending league champions.

The answer would be no, but by the slimmest of margins and only because of a series of near-perfect plays, in particular a pair of goals by Shawn Evans.

Evans didn't start out helping in the third period, though, because he was still in the penalty box after taking a 10-minute unsportsmanlike conduct penalty with four minutes to play in the second. “I know he probably wants to take back the 10-minute penalty because he knows that hurts us and he's developed into a great team guy,” Keast said. “He let us down and he knew and he apologized with his effort in the third.”

Before he could do so, though, a couple of other Lakers got the ball rolling. Jake Fox, a junior playing his fourth game with the senior team this year, created an opening to the net with a lightning-fast first step to the outside and buried a shot to make it 8-5 just 1:11 into the third.

Just past the midway point of the period, Turner Evans cut around a screen and released a quick shot a fraction before Sandy Chapman was able to jump out on him. Carlson had left him very little space but Evans found the spot just where the post and crossbar meet on the far side of the net.

Third-year junior Dylan Hutchison helped Shawn Evans start to make up for his penalty when he got the ball to Evans in the slot. Evans somehow fought through a pair of defenders, got his stick up in a twister position and managed to throw a slight fake to open up barely enough space to drop the ball in over Carlson's shoulder.

It was the kind of goal that's almost hard to believe someone could score. As Stewart said, “Where he put that ball, there's only a handful of guys who could have scored those goals.”

Evans earned an assist on the next goal as Currier cut open and received the ball close to where Evans had scored the previous one. Currier had more time and space available, though, and used it to throw a couple of subtle but effective fakes that froze Carlson just enough to let Currier tuck it past him stick side. The goal came 50 seconds after Evans' and tied the game 8-8.

With 4:55 left to play, the Excelsiors bakers' dozen runners visibly tiring and all the momentum with the Lakers, it didn't look like there was much doubt that Peterborough would come back to win the game. Brampton's squad did all it could, though, and the players should definitely not hang their heads.

At 17:21, Evans received the ball close to where he had scored earlier, again with plenty of defensive attention, and exquisitely placed another twister into a tiny opening.

The game wasn't over, though. Brampton pushed for the final two and a half minutes and had some chances. The best was a quick stick by Mike Burke on top of the crease on a pass from along the goal line. Kirk slid across the concrete crease on his knee pads to make a sensational stop.

“That was a really nice save, that's a game-saver right there,” said Currier.

“It was a really slow start, but we just kept saying stay the course and bounces are going to go our way eventually,” Currier added. “We just kept pushing and eventually came out on top. It was good to see, it was a relief.”

It was the second straight game in which the Lakers found themselves in a hole but fought back, having outscored Oakville 5-1 in the third period last Thursday to pull out a 10-9 win.

“It's definitely a situation you don't want to be in,” Currier said. “But we were in it before, we were in it last week, so we knew what to do. It's just nice to come out on top, there.”

It was a big win for the Lakers to maintain their lead atop the standings, albeit one that was much more difficult than anyone anticipated before the opening whistle.

For Stewart, the effort in the loss reinforced his belief in his team's potential. “Obviously a lot's happened this week, but we came together and we're sort of feeding off it,” the coach said. “Part of the reason we did what we did [in trading away half a dozen players] is so that guys will have a chance to play and they stepped up. Some of the guys had their best games of the year. We're rallying behind it and it's brought us together as a team.”

Chapman had said before the game that it had been a strange year for the Excelsiors, that where in the past they would seem to be able to bounce back from momentum swings, this year they just couldn't seem to overcome them. Still, he saw positives in the loss.

“It was a good effort. We were talking before about the whole momentum thing.” Chapman said. “Again, we just can't hold it in the third period. Hopefully these younger guys can learn and hopefully we take a little something out of that, but right now it's definitely frustrating.”

Chapman didn't feel like Brampton's defence “was that much worse, it's just that they hit a few shots.” He did suggest the team may have backed off a bit with the lead and being short players.

“It came down to, on defence we've got to make our stops. But we don't play to just win 8-7 or 8-6,” he said. “If we had of scored a couple, which really has to be our mantra...keep on going on offence, keep pushing in transition even though we're tired. We've got to keep on going, keep on playing the way we did to get there.”

With seven games left to play, Chapman sees growth on the horizon. “As a group, we have guys here who are committed and guys who know our defence, particularly,” he said. “Guys on offence are going to start clicking. You saw some of them working together real well out there. As these games roll on and we kind of play out the string, hopefully we develop some chemistry and maybe get a few wins here.”

The teams have a rematch this Thursday in Peterborough at 8pm.