Monday, August 22, 2016

Lakers take 1-0 lead in MSL finals after 12-11 double OT win in instant classic

Adam Jones had 6 goals including the double overtime winner as Peterborough took Game 1 of the MSL finals 12-11 over the Six Nations Chiefs Sunday in Peterborough. Game 2 is Tuesday in Six Nations. (Photo: Kendall Taylor)
Adam Jones scored 6 goals in Sunday night's Game 1 of the Major Series Lacrosse championship series. The last one may have just saved a friendship.

The Peterborough Lakers staged a huge comeback, scoring the final 4 goals of regulation time in the last 8:35 of play, to force overtime. They got the first goal of the 10-minute extra period but the Six Nations Chiefs responded to make it 11-11 and send the game to sudden death.

Jones beat Dillon Ward with a low shot just inside the far post to give Peterborough the win. He took a pass from Zach Currier in transition and ignored defender Nick Weiss, who was open on the far side, to shoot instead.

“Zach gave me the ball and set a seal on one of their players,” Jones said after the game. “Nick Weiss was going down the far side. He told me in the dressing room that if I would have passed it to him he would have defriended me on Facebook. But I think the defender thought I might pass it so that gave me some room to shoot and it happened to go in.”

The bulging of the net set off a raucous celebration among the 3,197 fans who were already plenty excited by the comeback and the scintillating first overtime.

Jones led the way for Peterborough with his 6 goals and an assist. Shawn Evans had 2 goals and 3 assists and a jet-lagged John Grant Jr. added a goal and 5 assists. 18-year-old junior callup was sensational for the Chiefs, scoring 4 goals and an assist. Dhane Smith and Craig Point each chipped in a pair of goals for Six Nations.

Evans got the first goal of the game but Six Nations quieted the crowd by stifling the Lakers offence most of the first period and responding with a trio of goals to take a 3-1 lead into the intermission.

David Brock extended the lead when he opened second period scoring with a transition marker. The Lakers scored four times in the period, but each time the Chiefs responded. They were up 8-5 heading into the final 20 minutes.

Staats sandwiched a pair of goals in the first three minutes of the third around a spectacular marker by Currier, who took a pass from Weiss to the net and slammed a bounce shot into the far side at full horizontal extension and just inches before his knee hit the turf.

The outlook was bleak for the Lakers as they trailed 10-6 and wound up facing a 4-on-3 then 5-on-3 Chiefs power play nearing the midway point of the third. Instead, their brilliant penalty kill wound up being a turning point in the game.

It isn't always easy to see when defenders are doing a good job. In this case, though, the work of Robert Hope, Scott Self and Stephen Hoar was cast in deep relief. The trio spent the majority of the PK zipping back and forth to take away passing and shooting lanes from the potent Chiefs power play unit. The tour de force performance raised the energy level of the crowd and clearly inspired both goalie Evan Kirk and the offence, because both picked up their games appreciably.

Kirk had been shaky to start the game but got better and better as it went on. His best moment came down the stretch when Point cut to the middle and got a high-quality scoring chance. The rebound bounced directly to Dhane Smith, naked on top of the crease, and Kirk stoned him. Kirk kept up his sharp play throughout the overtimes to outduel Ward ever so slightly (Kirk wound up with 49 saves on 60 shots and Ward with 50 on 62 shots).

The defensive and goaltending excellence would have gone to waste, of course, if the offence wasn't able to generate 4 goals in the second half of the third period. They got things rolling with a little help from the back end. Hope snatched a loose ball off a missed Chiefs' pass, looked and saw that none of his teammates had made it to the bench yet, so lofted a lob pass that Grant was able to pick up on one hop after waiting for a defender to arrive then stepping off the bench. His shot to the far bottom corner made it 10-7.

Grant had arrived at the Toronto airport mid-morning after a flight from Saturday night's Major League Lacrosse championship game. He rented a car, drove to his parents' house and got a nap in before heading to the Memorial Centre. That gave him a legitimate excuse for taking a while to get going Sunday night. The rest of the team just didn't show a sufficient sense of urgency until midway through the third period.

“I think it was a chess match for most of the night,” Grant said. “We were trying to feel each other out. Sometimes everyone's a little passive.”

Grant made it clear that the guys heading out the back door deserve the bulk of the credit while he and his front-door cohort need to do more as the series progressed.

“Our D stepped up huge and Kirky played incredibly well down the stretch,” Grant said. “We were able to get a couple of balls by Dillon ward. He's an excellent goalie. To go into two overtimes with only a couple of goals scored, that's all defence there. Our offence has to get better and we can't rely on Jonesy getting a sock trick every night.”

They were able to rely on Jones Sunday, though. Grant's Colorado Mammoth teammate took a pass in transition and ripped a high to high rocket to the far corner a couple of minutes after Grant's marker. Less than a minute later, Jones took a pass from Grant, spun inside with a defender on his back and stuffed the ball at Ward, who is also their teammate in Colorado.

The ball hit the goalie as Jones was being checked into the crease by a defender. It dribbled toward the goal line and by the time it had rolled in, Jones had exited the far side of the crease. That's a good goal, so the lead was down to 10-9 and momentum was solidly with the Lakers. They still had some work to do, though. At 17:14, Evans completed the comeback when he spun away from a defender and fired a shot that skipped past Ward's foot and into the net.

Peterborough had a chance to win it in regulation but Ward and his defence stopped them cold. Then Ryan Benesch fired a shot shortly before the final regulation time buzzer that hit the far post, ricocheted up off the cross bar, down to the near post and out the far side. The ball was had beaten Kirk cleanly and was mere inches away from the spot where Benesch had scored a goal on a beautiful shot from almost the same spot on the floor earlier. This time, the shot elicited a gasp then collective sigh of relief from the crowd, but didn't bear fruit.

In the first overtime, Jones connected from the shooter spot, his favourite place to shoot and an aptly name spot for him. “I get a really good seat to watch that guy shoot the ball,” said Grant. “He's one of the best shooters in the game. I'm glad he's on our side.”

About four minutes later, Point let a rocket go from Six Nations' righty shooter spot—and the name is apt for Point, too, because he has a devastating outside shot. This time the iron was a little friendlier to the Chiefs. The ball dinged off the crossbar down to the turf behind the goal line before it spun out of the net. That set the stage for Jones' heroics in the second overtime.

Winning a game in such dramatic fashion can be a big boost for a team. “Lots of teams will say they'd rather win a game like that than a blowout,” Jones said. “It builds character and gives us confidence for the rest of the series that if we're down a few goals late there's always hope that we can come back.”

Across the arena, the Chiefs were disappointed but certainly not despondent. “It's Game 1. They held serve,” Six Nations head coach Rich Kilgour said. “Sure, we had them in a bad spot but we let them wiggle out of it. That's the way it goes between these two teams. Before the game, I was talking with the other guy and we've played 14 games, it's 7-7. They got 15. Regroup, learn from it, move on and get ready for Tuesday.”

Kilgour did say that he felt like he made a strategic error when he moved Dhane Smith up to offence. “I think I made a mistake as a coach. We had Dhane going out the back door. I wanted him up front so he could tranny back a bit more and I think it messed us up,” Kilgour said. It's hard to fault a coach for playing the NLL's new single-season scoring record-holder on offence, but Smith had been highly effective moving back to the transition role he'd played his first couple of pro seasons.

Speaking of effective, Staats is in the lineup because of injuries to fellow lefty forwards Cody Jamieson and Jordan Durston. He was joined up front by Brier Jonathan, usually a defender but pressed into duty as a forward by the injuries. He had been good in his first few appearances; he was deadly Sunday night. Staats gave credit to the veterans for making him feel welcome.

“These guys are a bunch of veteran guys who have been there, been through championship games. They're here to teach me how to play with the big boys and that's what they've done so far,” Staats said. “I feel confident playing with these guys and that's why I was called up, I think.”

He's enjoying the extra bit of space he gets, being on the floor with so many offensive threats. “It helps, with that little bit of room I get to play a little bit more of what I'm normally used to. In junior, I'm just that locked off guy and I've got to work a little harder. Here, I work hard but I still get my opportunities.”

The Lakers will be trying to take a stranglehold in the series when the teams meet again at the Iroquois Lacrosse Arena on Tuesday. They'll have to do it without Grant, who will be back in Denver for a couple of days but is returning for Game 3 in Peterborough on Thursday.

He liked what he saw from his teammates in the comeback and has confidence in them to win in his absence. “It was gutty. We showed a lot of heart,” Grant said of Game 1. “We came back and both sides of the floor had to really step up to get that win. Game 1 is now ours and we have to go and try to get Game 2 on Tuesday.

“That's an incredible offence they have on their side. If you can stop them, especially four on three, that's an incredible job. We needed it. We needed every stop we got. We need to be better. That's a great team across the floor so we're going to step up on Tuesday and the boys will take care of business.”

For his part, Kilgour noted Kirk and Ward both played well, with Kirk particularly shining towards the end, but that the Chiefs need to do a better job of taking away time and space from Jones.

“Even in the first overtime [Kirk] made a couple of big saves. He dove and saved one, our guy got it and had a pretty good look and he saved it,” Kilgour said. “That's playoff lacrosse. He made the big saves when he had to. Ward made the big saves he had to. Jones is a pretty good shooter. We can't be letting him tee it up from the dotted line.”

Recent history suggests that Peterborough/Six Nations series only ramp up in intensity as they go along. That bodes well for a seriously intense and exciting sequence of games leading up to the crowing of this year's MSL champions.