Thursday, July 21, 2016

Redmen win defensive battle with Lakers 6-4

Brooklin's defence kept Mark Steenhuis and the Lakers offence in check throughout the game. (Photo: Kendall Taylor)
To paraphrase the late, great Casey Stengel, good defence always beats good offence and vice versa. Wednesday in Whitby was definitely a night for defence to shine as the Brooklin Redmen beat the Peterborough Lakers 6-4 in an MSL game where scoring chances were at a premium.

Peterborough led 3-1 after the first period as Evan Kirk made 16 saves but the Lakers were able to sneak a few past Zack Higgins. It got awfully difficult for Peterborough to find any holes after that, though, while the Redmen managed to create just enough offence to score.

Redmen forward Shawn Williams said it's a real challenge for the offences to produce in a game like that. “It's unbelievable. Both defences and both goalies played so well,” Williams said. “It's hard for the untrained eye to see, but the lanes the D gets in, the passing lanes and shooting lanes and what they take away from you... People from the stands can see what they want, but it's not there. It's tough going out there and every goal is a huge goal.”

Brooklin got a transition goal from Ryan McSpadyen two minutes into the second period. A long dry spell ensued during which neither team could connect despite a fast pace of play that put heavy demands on both transition and reverse transition players, especially given the humidity in the Iroquois Park arena.

Finally, with less than half a minute to go in the period, Kiel Matisz received a pass that allowed him to cut down the left-wing alley and he managed to bury a shot that tied the game 3-3. With an assist on the play, Willams passed legendary former Laker Johnny “Shooter” Davis for second on the all-time Canadian senior lacrosse scoring list. It was Williams' 2,116th point in regular season, playoff and Macc Cup games.

Two minutes into the third period, Curtis Knight took a pass heading in from the left wing and managed to sneak the ball past Kirk, just grazing off the goalie's left leg pad and in off the far post. It was a perfect shot, the only kind that was successful in the game.

Just after the nine minute mark, Ryan Keenan was under heavy defensive pressure from Chad Tutton. Keenan had his back to Tutton and stepped away from the net, creating a bit of space that the defender came out to close. Keenan expertly spun from the check and took two quick steps towards the crease before firing a shot home. It was a heady play in close quarters that took advantage of a tiny mistake by Tutton in rushing out a bit too precipitously. Again, the offensive player had to be almost perfect to create a goal.

Peterborough was pressing as the period wore on, clearly frustrated by their inability to score but continuing to grind to try to create chances. Cory Vitarelli got one and made the most of it. He slipped into open space and took a cross-floor pass from Mark Steenhuis that was in and out of Vitarelli's stick in an instant, on a rope to just inside the intersection of the far post and crossbar. That spot came open as Higgins zipped across his crease to follow the pass. It was like a quarterback perfectly leading his receiver on a crossing route; the ball arrived at the net just as the hole was opening that allowed it in to make the score 5-4.

With just over three minutes to play, Adrian Sorichetti sprinted off the Brooklin bench to take a breakout pass from Mitch Wilde. It actually looked like Sorichetti had the ball in his stick and was heading towards the net while the defender he was replacing was still a couple of steps from the change box, a call that usually gets made because the early change directly creates a scoring chance.

With no whistle sounding, though, Sorichetti was off to the races. Kirk moved across the crease with him as Sorichetti threw a couple of fakes and eventually leapt to try to dump the ball over the goalie's shoulder. The shot looked like it may have grazed Kirk on its way to the concrete to rebound just across the goal line under the crossbar. It was yet another perfect shot when the goalie had been in excellent position.

Brooklin's Chris Corbeil, in his last game before getting married this weekend and going to Europe for his honeymoon, said the goalies were the stars of the game. “Kirky was great for them and Higgy was good for us. There were some good opportunities. Both defences played pretty well but I really think the goalies played tremendous,” Corbeil said. “Higgy closed the door for us: one goal in two periods is huge. Against that offence, fantastic.”

The Redmen have allowed 132 goals, third-most in the league, but they're getting stingier as the season goes. Adding Corbeil and Kyle Rubisch in a deadline trade with Brampton has been a huge factor. But while the pair are familiar with several Brooklin players from being teammates with the Saskatchewan Rush, there's still an adjustment period, especially with the changing lineups summer lacrosse often sees.

“The problem you run into is every game it's a little bit different personnel. It's not the same 10 or 11 guys back there like it traditionally is for an NLL game,” Corbeil said. “You might have guys away, work commitments, travel, whatever it may be. We're slowly getting there. As we get more and more comfortable and familiar with one another, things start to come more naturally and the defence improves exponentially as that happens.”

Corbeil was brought to Brooklin for what he brings on the floor as one of the best defenders in the sport, but also for his leadership. That is reflected in him being made an alternate captain already, although he wasn't aware of it at first.

“Funny story” he said. “I showed up in Peterborough [last week] and they needed a captain to do the faceoff because [captain Derek Suddons] was hurt. I told [Steve] Priolo, 'You're the only guy I see with a letter on your jersey' and he goes 'Well, you've got a letter on your jersey' and I looked down and said, 'Well, I do have a letter on my jersey.'”

The win was a huge one for Brooklin, who jumped into a second-place tie with Oakville, two points back of Peterborough and one ahead of Six Nations in the jam-packed MSL standings. From the Lakers perspective, it was a disappointing game. Head coach Mike Hasen said his message in the locker room after the game was simple and direct.

“Turn the page,” he said he told his team. “I didn't think we were very good. So on our way home tonight let's just see what we need to do a little bit better for tomorrow. This is going to be real fresh. Let's just be better.”

Peterborough looked a little out of synch, a factor in which may have been adding John Grant Jr. and Adam Jones back into the lineup. Grant had previously been able to make only two games this summer and Jones was away for about three weeks for his wedding and honeymoon. They were prepared for that, though, according to Hasen.

“It's been planned that way for all year long,” the coach said. “So we've got to get used to each other again. It'll come. The good thing is we play again tomorrow night.”

That game is against the Six Nations Chiefs and will have a major impact on the standings. A Peterborough win will virtually assure them of first place at season's end. A Six Nations win will mean the top four teams sit within two points with two games each remaining. It's coming down to crunch time.