|Kiel Matisz scores a big goal for Brooklin in their 6-4 Game 1 win of the MSL semifinals. (Photo: Tim Prothero)|
Consider the message sent.
If there was any doubt that the Major Series Lacrosse semifinal between the Brooklin Redmen and Six Nations Chiefs was going to be a series, that doubt was removed Wednesday night when the Redmen won a defensive battle 6-4 on their home floor.
The Chiefs have been to the last four MSL finals, winning two Mann Cups in that span. Brooklin missed the playoffs last year. So, says Redmen goalie Mike Poulin, Wednesday night was about “Holding home court and sending a message that we're in this series. I talked to a lot of people and when they asked me who we're playing and I said Six Nations, they kind of gave me the look of death. Winning Game 1 is really just sending the message, we're here to play.”
Even without Chris Corbeil, who was acquired by Brooklin at the trade deadline but is missing the first couple games of the series for his honeymoon, the Redmen's defence put on an impressive display. They limited the Chiefs' scoring chances. When Six Nations was able to create good shots, Poulin was there to make some excellent saves.
None among his total of 38 stops was bigger than the one he made in the dying seconds with his counterpart Dillon Ward on the bench for an extra attacker. Cody Jamieson received a cross-floor backdoor pass that he redirected quickly towards what looked like it would be the tying goal.
“He came from the other side, so I thought he was a righty,” Poulin said of the play. “I wasn't expecting it, to be honest, but I jumped over and was lucky enough to get the leg out so it worked out.”
Luck often is a factor in crucial plays, but Poulin is known as perhaps the quickest goalie in lacrosse from post to post and it paid off on the final save of the game. In fact, it paid off all night as Poulin made many saves look easy with good positioning and quick lateral movement when necessary.
“It felt good. I saw the ball well,” Poulin said. “Our D played fantastic in front of me to create lanes. I made a conscious effort to make sure my feet were moving well tonight. You move your feet and your body follows. That was the game plan for me and we came out on top.”
The biggest goal on a night when goals—and, indeed, scoring chances in general—came with six minutes to play and gave Brooklin its fourth lead of the game but the only one Six Nations wouldn't be able to answer.
Kiel Matisz carried the ball in the offensive zone, moving across the top of the formation to the righty shooter spot and down towards the net. As a defender jumped out to check him, Matisz saw Ryan Keenan stepping into an open spot across the floor. The ball arrived in Keenan's stick just as he planted his feet and he was able to get a quick, strong shot off that found a hole as Ward was tracking the ball across his crease.
“We wanted that last push. We saw they were getting probably a bit tired. We wanted to put everything we had into those last few minutes,” Keenan said. “I just found some room in the middle and was able to get a clean look off. But it was a tough battle. Those kinds of shots were tough to get all game.”
Of course, everyone was getting tired by the late stages of the game. Iroquois Park is known for sweltering heat in August and it lived up to its reputation Wednesday. Fans were sweating copiously just sitting and watching the game. The players and referees had to be conscious to stay hydrated. Whether that was a factor in the dearth of scoring or not, things could be very different in Game 2. As Poulin said, the tight defensive nature of the game helped retain focus despite the tough conditions.
“It just keeps you more into the game,” Poulin said. “It's a funny sport. Saturday we could see a 15-13 game, there's so much talent out here. Both defences played really well tonight. That was the story for this game. It could be the offences next game.”
Chiefs defender Billy Dee Smith made it clear that, while winning Game 1 would have been nice, it's far from time to panic. “They held serve tonight and we've just got to make sure we win at home and steal one up here. I think it was a good game. I think there are more positives than negatives to take out of it. The boys battled, we just couldn't score as many as they did.”
Despite the loss, Smith was happy to be back playing with his teammates after missing all but one regular season game. “It feels great,” Smith said. “I got a scope done. It's for the better, but after I got it done I was kind of thinking in my head, why did I do this? But it felt really good tonight. I was a little bit tentative. I kind of thought I was going to be like that, so I think Saturday will be a lot more aggressive, more like my old self.”
So what was Smith thinking when he hit the floor for the playoff opener? “Don't screw up,” he said with a laugh. “I know what I bring to the table and it's just a matter of practice, just trying to do what I do best which is keeping guys out of the middle and being aggressive when I have to, being a presence. I think the first period, period and a half, was trying not to make mistakes instead of letting the pieces fall where they may.”
That period saw Brooklin take the lead on Matisz' first of two goals four minutes in but the Chiefs respond. Vaughn Harris took a breakaway pass from Smith and raced in on Poulin, who made the first save with some help from a backchecking Mark Matthews. Harris hustled to scoop up the rebound in the corner, though, slipped past Matthews and got a shot off just as he was being knocked down into the crease. The Redmen thought he was in the crease before the ball went in, but the goal counted. A minute later, Johnny Powless put the Chiefs ahead for what would prove to be their only lead in the game.
It seems like half of Dan Lintner's 27 goals in the regular season came on backdoor quick sticks. He got another one on the power play in the second period to tie things up at 4:07. Five minutes later, Graeme Hossack sprung Adrian Sorichetti for a break. Sorichetti leapt diagonally through the air and shot the ball back against the grain and just inside the post for the second and last goal of the period.
For their part, Poulin and the Brooklin D were impermeable in the second. In fact, they held the Chiefs' potent offence off the board for a stretch of almost 27 minutes in total. Jamieson finally broke the spell when he tied things up 3-3 with a power play goal 1:48 into the third. Just a minute and a half later, though, Matisz put Brooklin back in front with a goal that looked much like Sorichetti's.
Ryan Benesch found paydirt to tie things back up at 9:47. That set the stage for Keenan's winning marker—his first MSL playoff goal in his first MSL playoff game—four minutes later. Curtis Knight wrapped up the scoring with an empty-net goal with six seconds to play, just after Poulin's big save on Jamieson.
Game 2 goes Saturday night in Six Nations' Iroquois Lacrosse Arena and Game 3 is back in Brooklin next Monday.