Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Lakers down Rock 14-12 to pull ahead 2-1 in MSL semis

Evan Kirk and the Peterborough Lakers upended Mitch de Snoo and the Oakville Rock in Game 3 of the MSL semifinals. Kirk made 46 saves and Adam Jones and Mark Steenhuis each scored 4 goals for Peterborough. (Photo: Dave Fryer)
For the first time in the Major Series Lacrosse semifinals, both the Peterborough Lakers and Oakville Rock found their rhythm on offence. The result was a highly entertaining 14-12 win that gave the Lakers a 2-1 lead in the best of seven series Monday night at Oakville's Toronto Rock Athletic Centre.

Oakville got out to a 2-0 lead with the second goal being a rare one from defender Billy Hostrawser. He certainly didn't look out of place in the offensive zone, though, spinning and whipping a low backhand past Evan Kirk from the side of the crease. It was a goal that would have made any forward proud.

Cory Vitarelli got Peterborough on the board just 26 seconds later at 8:25. Vitarelli did a great job of getting inside position on a defender to accept a pass as he stepped into the slot then took a few methodical steps towards Nick Rose before zipping a shot just off of Rose's arm into the net.

Six minutes later the Lakers went on a run that gave them a lead they would never relinquish, although not for a lack of effort from the Rock.

Mark Steenhuis started the run then kept it going with a power play goal, followed by an Adam Jones marker in transition that made it three goals in exactly two minutes and a 4-2 lead for Peterborough after one period.

Things started happening fast and furious in the second. Vitarelli scored a pair of goals 14 seconds apart to extend the lead. Just five seconds after that, Steenhuis took a penalty. Wes Berg scored six seconds into the power play. That's how things went in the middle 20 minutes, during which each team scored six times.

Steve Fryer replaced Rose after Peterborough's ninth goal, an over the shoulder floater from Joel Matthews. Fryer gave the rock a boost with his pads and his stick. After making a couple of saves, Fryer lobbed a pass that Bryan Cole took the length of the floor and fired past Kirk. Fryer had been in the game less than a minute at that point.

A couple of minutes after that, Fryer ripped a laser of a pass to Brad Gillies, who had snuck behind the entire Peterborough team. Gillies' goal pulled Oakville to within 9-7. It was 10-8 after Jones and Stephan Leblanc traded goals late in the period.

Peterborough's Jake Withers (right) and Oakville's Bradley Kri battled in
and out of the faceoff circle in Game 3. (Photo: Dave Fryer)
The game was physical but less chippy than the previous two matches and that trend continued in the third as the teams generally focussed on playing lacrosse rather than trying to rough each other up. They combined for 33 shots in the third period, part of a remarkable 119 between them for the whole game.

Steenhuis and Jones, who each scored 4 goals for Peterborough, had the first two of the third to seemingly put Peterborough in the driver's seat with a 12-8 lead. Oakville had no intentions of going down quietly, though.

Fryer started yet another rush with an outlet pass to Bradley Kri, who sent Damon Edwards in for a goal at 10:23. Just 27 seconds later, Leblanc came off the bench as the extra attacker and fired an outside shot home. A rebound a minute and a half after that bounced straight to Dan Lomas on top of the crease. His shot hit Kirk, who had fallen backwards after the previous save just enough that the ball was across the goal line. In 2:05 of playing time, Oakville had fought back to within a goal at 12-11.

With six minutes to play, Steenhuis was hanging on to the ball as the shot clock ticked down to its final few seconds. With a quick step back and release, he found a spot between Fryer's foot and the post.

The defences and goalies were able to crack down on the scoring after that, holding both teams off the board for over five minutes. Then, in the final minute, Oakville had the goalie pulled for an extra attacker and was applying plenty of pressure. A rebound landed on the carpet and rolled around for a bit as players from both teams battled for it.

Except for Bryan Cole, who had an exceptional game in a transition role for the Rock. Rather than trying to pick it up, Cole whacked the ball along the floor. When it rolled in, Oakville was back within one at 13-12.

Rookie Jake Withers has been sensational on faceoffs for Peterborough this summer and he came away with the ball on the ensuing draw. He passed it to fellow rookie Zach Currier. The speedster escaped a double team along the boards and ran around behind the net. There he found himself facing another double team without nearby prospects for a pass. Alertly, though, he noticed his brother Josh Currier up the floor and bounced a pass to Josh well inside the Oakville restraining line.

Josh Currier ran to meet the ball then turned towards the net. Fryer was sprinting back into position but didn't have time to get set for Currier's shot, which sealed the win for Peterborough.

Lakers offensive coach Tracey Kelusky was happier with his group's effort in Game 3. “The ball was a little bit stale the last time we were here so we just wanted to keep everybody involved and that's what we ended up doing, a hot ball and moving our feet so it was good,” Kelusky said.

“I think at times it's a mindset, just the willingness to come out and be better. A lot of it has to with preparation as well. Maybe after the 8-3 first game we took them a little lightly. At the end of the day it woke us up. They're a very good club over there. The guys realized that and said, hey, we've got to bring it.”

The Rock's offence had by far its best game of the series, as well. Oakville couldn't get much going in their 8-3 Game 1 loss and seven of their 12 goals in Game 2 came in transition. Monday night, they started to create more opportunities.

Wes Berg escaped Peterborough's defence for 2 goals and 4 assists in
Game 2.  (Photo: Dave Fryer)
“We found a way to get inside a little more and get better chances,” said Wesley Berg. “We're still a really good transition team so we want to keep doing that but five on five we've got to find goals like we did today.”

Berg pointed out that it can be difficult to find goals in MSL so the Rock were pleased with the offence they were able to create and acknowledged that staying with the Lakers when the visiting team brought more energy than they had in Game 2 was a positive sign, even in the loss.

“We definitely gave it our all. There's maybe a couple of mental mistakes we made but as a team effort and our overall will to win, it was there,” Berg said. “Just a couple of things on execution that we gave that game away, so a little bit disappointing. But it's a long series and it's one game. We can get that one back.”

Steenhuis and Jones each had 4 goals to lead the Lakers while Vitarelli had a hat trick and Shawn Evans added 5 assists. Berg led Oakville with 2 goals and 4 assists and Leblanc added 2 goals and 3 assists. Kirk made 46 saves, giving him a total of 107 saves in the series.

Games 2 and 3 were both in Oakville because the Lakers don't have access to their Memorial Centre home during the Peterborough Exhibition. That means the Lakers have a chance to end the series with a pair of home games this Thursday and Saturday.