Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Peterborough Lakers forge 2-0 series lead with 7-6 win Tuesday in Six Nations

Cory Vitarelli reacts after scoring for the Lakers in their 7-6 win over the Chiefs in Game 2 of the MSL finals.
(Photo: Tim Prothero)
The Peterborough Lakers took a 2-0 lead in the best of seven Major Series Lacrosse championship series with a 7-6 win over the Chiefs in Six Nations Tuesday night. 

The game was webcast by JVI Sports Network and can be viewed in their YouTube archives. Anyone interested in sponsoring a game webcast can contact Stephen Stamp via email at

Peterborough got an early lead on an unusual power play goal. With Six Nations controlling the ball in the offensive zone, they pulled goalie Dillon Ward to place a fifth runner in the neutral zone. It's a common tactic that teams employ; when the penalty expires, the player from the penalty box steps to the bench so the goalie can return to his crease. Meanwhile, the player in the neutral zone steps in to join the offence with a full 30 second clock.

This time, however, the move backfired when Ryan Benesch was pressured into a turnover near the restraining line and no other Chiefs player had run to the bench to let Ward back on the floor. Brad Self scooped up the loose ball and launched a shot from his own side of centre that bounced into the empty net for the game's first goal.

Six Nations stormed back, though, controlling much of the play and blanking Peterborough the rest of the way while scoring three times, including a pair of power play markers by Dhane Smith. That made the score 3-1 for the Chiefs for the second straight game in the series.

Peterborough bounced back in the second. Holden Cattoni took a breakout pass from Ian Llord and buried a bench transition goal then Mark Steenhuis ripped home back to back power play goals. Dan Dawson evened things up with three minutes to play in the period and 4-4 was the score after 40 minutes.

Dawson got the next goal as well, on a sidearm floater that eluded Matt Vinc 2:22 into the third. It didn't take the Lakers long to respond. Cory Vitarelli created some space for himself with a perfect pick and push just above the crease, received a well-time pass from Chad Culp and beat Ward from close range.

“Cory's a veteran player. He knows how much he can push and not push and he plays that to the max,” said Lakers assistant coach Bobby Keast. “This is the finals. Referees do let a bit more go now than they would maybe earlier in the season. Cory knows that.”

The goalies and defences ruled the floor for the next 11-plus minutes. Suspense was building in the crowd of about a thousand fans as neither team was able to break the 5-5 deadlock.

“I think we wouldn't expect anything different. We both have systems that executing. It's just one of those one breakdown at either end, it may go in the net,” Keast said.

From his team's perspective, they were glad to have been able to go to school on what happened in Game 1. “We were really fortunate to be able to watch some game tape from the other night and make some minor adjustments, and that's all we needed to do, minor adjustments to not need to go to overtime and pull out a victory,” Keast said.

When someone was finally able to score, it wasn't much of a breakdown they took advantage of but a flashy shot that was used to achieve the feat.

Vitarelli again was on top of the crease, but thi time with David Brock right on him. None the less, Steenhuis was able to thread a pass through and Vitarelli whipped home a behind the back shot that would have made his offensive coach, recently minted NLL Hall of Famer Tracey Kelusky, proud with hits quick release and accuracy.

The Lakers had pulled ahead and there were about four a half minutes to play. A one-goal lead is never safe against Six Nations, though, and Peterborough proved they realized that by continuing to push for more. They were eventually rewarded when Cattoni scored off a lovely pick and roll play with Vitarelli at 16:44.

Six Nations started pulling Ward for the extra attacker and it paid off when Brier Jonathan found himself with plenty of room on the left side. The defender who has been playing up in the absence of injured Chiefs' lefty forwards was hesitant in Game 1. He looked more comfortable taking shots when they were there in Game 2 and he made this one count, sneaking a hard shot through Vinc's five-hole as the goalie dropped.

The Chiefs only had 39 seconds remaining to try to complete their comeback and weren't able to find the equalizer. That left them one goal short for the second straight game and facing a 2-0 deficit in the series.

As Chiefs head coach Rich Kilgour pointed out, though, Peterborough led last year's final 2-0 as well and Six Nations came back to win the next three games, so his team is far from hitting the panic button at this point.

They will head to Peterborough for Game 3 Thursday at 8 pm confident that they have what it takes to get back into the series. It will be challenging without three of their four regular lefty forwards. Cody Jamieson and Jordan Durston both have knee injuries that look like they'll keep them out for the rest of the summer and Johnny Powless had recurrences of his post-concussion symptoms in Game 1.

Peterborough, on the other hand, is almost entirely healthy, which itself is an unusual situation at this point in the season. They are, of course, missing defenders Andrew Suitor, Brock Sorensen and Mark Farthing, but they've been without that trio all season and have adjusted to playing without them.

Peterborough will get John Grant Jr. back for Game 3. He was in Denver for his job at Valor Christian High and missed Game 2.

Ryan Benesch sneaks a ball past Matt Vinc on the short side during first
period action Tuesday. (Photo: Tim Prothero)
With Junior returning, it will be interesting to see if Cattoni gets to play. The rookie has sat in favour of Grant, Vitarelli, Culp and Adam Jones on the left side when everyone's available and none of them are easy to unseat from the starting lineup, especially given the range of styles and skill sets they bring to the table.

For Six Nations, a big question relating to the lineup is where Dhane Smith will play. He has spent much of his time in the series, as well as in the semifinal victory over Brooklin, playing transition. He is very dangerous in that role. He often came out the back door then ran the ball up and stayed for offence in Game 2. He was also on the first power play unit, where he scored both his goals Tuesday.

Cattoni was just happy to get a chance to play and to make a contribution. Has he ever scored a bigger goal in his career? “No, I don't think so, not to date,” Cattoni said. “It was a good quality win for our team. Glad I could do something for us.”

While Cattoni was in junior lacrosse last summer, he spent time with the senior Lakers down the stretch and played a couple of games in the Mann Cup. He knows that it would be a mistake to get too comfortable just because they hold a 2-0 series lead.

“It definitely gives us a cushion but the next game's even bigger,” Cattoni said. “It either puts them one game closer or gives us a nice cushion so we can hopefully close out the series. Three games up would be better than two.”