Friday, August 12, 2016

Oakville Rock even semifinals with 8-6 win over Peterborough Lakers

The Rock and Lakers are playing a physical, intense series and it's tied 2-2 after Oakville's Game 4 win. (Photo: Kendall Taylor)
If there was any doubt remaining that the Major Series Lacrosse semifinals between the Peterborough Lakers and Oakville Rock is a series, it was erased with Oakville 8-6 win Thursday night in Peterborough that tied things up at two games each.

The teams were tied 6-6 after two periods, just the kind of situation that Lakers fans have gotten used to seeing their team pull out. Thursday, though, it was the Rock who responded to the pressure. They outscored Peterborough 2-0 in the third period with a mix of stingy defence, solid goaltending by Nick Rose and opportune scoring.

What proved to be the winning goal came in a four-on-four situation when Mitch de Snoo found himself up the floor after transitioning the ball.

“I tried to give the ball to Steph[an Leblanc] and I guess he didn't like the shot and he gave it back” de Snoo said. “I happened to get over the top and took a shot. Definitely wasn't my most well-placed shot but it went it and I'll take it.”

It was de Snoo's second goal of the game. His first came in a 3-goal run to open the game. Leblanc started things 44 seconds in when he blew past defender Nick Weiss and bounced a shot past Matt Vinc. de Snoo ran past Scott Self for an unassisted goal 37 seconds later. When Wes Berg ripped a high to high laser home 1:24 later, it was a dream start for the Rock.

The series has been chippy and continued to be Thursday night. The Lakers grew upset when de Snoo laid a crosscheck to the face of Cory Vitarelli. Later in the first period, de Snoo checked a Peterborough player into goalie Nick Rose then jumped on the player and gave him the business. Lakers forward Joel Matthews ran from outside the restraining line to engage de Snoo.

After the tumult settled, de Snoo and teammate Bradley Kri received minor penalties and Matthews a major. That put the Lakers on a power play for tow minutes or less, with a Rock power play to follow.

Matthews coming to his teammate's defence seemed to spark the Lakers. Adam Jones tapped home a backdoor quick stick goal with three seconds to play in the first period. Then the Rock went to the man advantage early in the second but Peterborough still had that spark. Turner Evans cut to the net, took a perfect pass from Jones and buried it to tie the game 4-4 at 1:09.

Less than a minute later, Brad Self picked off a pass at the top of the penalty kill formation and ran the length of the floor. He fought off checks from a pair of Oakville players and somehow managed to slip a shot through Rose's legs to give Peterborough their first lead.

In years past, the Rock may have had difficulty recovering from that sequence and the veteran Lakers may have pulled away. Oakville has built a resilient squad, though, and is putting the experience they've earned over the past couple of seasons to use.

When Jake Fox, a junior callup stepping into the lineup because Shawn Evans was out with an upper body injury, overran a forecheck at the Oakville crease, they made the most of it. It was a minor error, one that often doesn't amount to much, but Brad Gillies pushed the ball to Dan MacRae and he gave it to Jeremy Noble.

Noble is a dangerous sniper and he took advantage of the time and space the unsettled transition situation gave him, ripping home a goal as he came across the top of the formation. There was a seven-minute gap before any more scoring, but when it came it looked eerily familiar as Noble again fired from the top and found a hole.

Jones again scored a late goal, going high to high for the tying goal with 36 seconds to go, setting the stage for a thrilling final 20 minutes.

Oakville head coach Matt Sawyer said his team knows it needs to earn respect, given this is just the second time the franchise has earned an MSL playoff spot, but he said he and his players believe in themselves.

“We've got a great team here and we know what we're doing inside that dressing room,” Sawyer said. “We feel we've earned it to some extent but in order to get it at this level you need to knock off one of the big boys.”

“Our strength all year has been our defence and our goaltending,” Sawyer added. “That hasn't necessarily been the case the last couple of games. We were lucky to sneak one out in Game 2. We realize what we're up against and who we are. We try not to make too many mistakes and to be a tough team to play against. Our defence and goaltending led the way and Nick Rose, he's our MVP and he might be the best player in the league.”

Lakers captain Scott Self said Peterborough's defence needs to be better prepared for what they'll face against Oakville. “Every shift that we go out there, we've got to be ready for anything because they are a little unorthodox,” he said. “They don't really go out and set things up. If they see any kind of a break in our defence they're going for it, no matter who has the ball.”

Self agreed that the Lakers may have been a little overconfident about facing Oakville. “I think maybe coming into the series we were. This was the team we wanted to face out of the other three teams,” Self said. “I think we did maybe undervalue them a little bit. They're here to play and they think they can beat us so we need to be better.”

Matthews said the Lakers didn't want to use the excuse of missing key offensive players because they believe they have the depth to be successful anyway. “We're missing Shawn Evans and John Grant Jr. Those are two amazing players. But it's always, who's next. The next guy, the next guy,” Matthews said. “They just weren't falling for us tonight. You don't like to blame things on the ref but calls weren't going our way, balls weren't falling our way.”

Regardless of what the expectations were going into the series, there's no question that it is up for grabs after four games. The Lakers have a bit of an advantage because Game 5 is back in Peterborough this Saturday and Game 7, if necessary, will be there next Thursday. Game 6 is Monday in Oakville.