Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Six Nations Chiefs win 8-6 to draw within 3-2 in MSL finals

Dillon Ward wasn't unbeatable, but he wasn't far from it for the Chiefs as they won Game 5 8-6. (Photo: Tim Prothero)
The aberration isn't that the Major Series Lacrosse championship series now sits at three games to two for the Peterborough Lakers over the Six Nations Chiefs; the aberration was that one team won three games in a row to open the series.

That was the underlying theme in comments from coaches and players on both sides of the floor after Six Nations took Game 5 in Peterborough Tuesday night to get within a home win of evening the series up. They'll have that chance Thursday night at the Iroquois Lacrosse Arena.

“Before the fourth game I just told them all our goals are still attainable. We wanted to win four games against Peterborough, we can still do that,” said Chiefs head coach Rich Kilgour. “We've got a great group of veterans in there and they echoed the same thing: it's not over till it's over. If we get the first one we go from there. We get the second one, I think they might be feeling a little pressure now. We just line up and play. We don't look behind us, we look forward.”

Dhane Smith led the Chiefs with 2 goals and 3 assists and Randy Staats chipped in a pair of goals while Dillon Ward made 38 saves on 44 shots. Cory Vitarelli scored 3 goals and added an assist to lead the Lakers. Matt Vinc stopped 36 of the 44 shots he faced.

Peterborough started the game with the lead when Vitarelli scored in bench transition on an outlet pass from Chad Tutton then buried another shot on the run later in the period. Smith pulled the Chiefs within a goal heading to the intermission when he had time to load up and rifle a shot past Vinc, who was making the first back to back starts by a Lakers goalie in the playoffs.

Ward continued his strong play. After shutting out the Lakers for the final 41 minutes of Game 4, he held them to just two goals in each period of Game 4. That allowed the Chiefs strong second period to be the difference in them winning Tuesday.

Smith had three straight assists as Cody Jamieson, Staats and Dan Dawson scored, then rounded out the 4-goal run with a goal of his own at the 10:51 mark of the period. The Chiefs were up 5-2 and Peterborough never got closer than two goals again.

The Chiefs put themselves in a position where they didn't have much wiggle room, Ward said. “We dug ourselves a whole so we only had one option, we had to win. It started with our last game at home. We had to take care of our home floor. We wanted to steal one here to take it back home. We're comfortable playing at home. I think we're confident going back into the ILA on Thursday.”

The series definitely has a different complexion than it did after Game 3, when the Lakers had blown out the Chiefs 15-9 to take a 3-0 lead in the series. But regardless of how they got there, Peterborough head coach Mike Hasen says he likes the position his team is in.

“At the end of the day, we worked hard to get home floor advantage and we still have it. We're up 3-2 in a series that we expected to go seven. There's really no panic in the room,” Hasen said.

The coach recognizes that his team does need to get back to what was working for them earlier in the series. “It's simple,” Hasen said. “We've just got to move the ball and move our feet. We've got to pass and get through as opposed to pass and watch and hope it's going to come back to us. That's what we did the first couple of games, kept the ball hot, and we've got to get back to it.”

Vitarelli echoed Hasen's view. “As long as we move the ball and move our feet we'll get good chances. At times tonight we were a little slow-footed,” Vitarelli said.

He added that while it will be nice if John Grant Jr. is back from Denver to play Thursday, as expected, the Lakers believe they can win when he isn't there.

“He's one of the best but we have 20 guys in our room that we count on,” Vitarelli said. “When Junior isn't always here we have guys that are capable of stepping up. It's always nice to get fresh legs in the lineup and hopefully if he's in he can give us a few.”

Austin Staats chipped in to the Six Nations' cause with a goal and 2 assists when it looked a couple of times like his night might end early.

“That kid is a warrior, I'll tell you that much,” said Kilgour. “The trainer came and said he rolled his ankle really well and might not be back. [Staats] said throw some tape on it and he went back out there. Then he dislocated his shoulder again at the end. But he just keeps getting up. The guy's a crash test dummy.”

Six Nations' Paul Dawson and Peterborough's Chad Tutton tried to make each other look like crash test dummies when they squared off in a spirited tilt with four seconds left to play. Shawn Evans and Brodie Merrill were both sent off the floor at the same juncture with roughing majors and 10-minute misconducts.

It was the third straight game where things have gotten rough down the stretch. While all the runners on the floor were entangled, Vinc strolled past centre, apparently looking to engage Ward. Referees Ian Garrison and Chris Williams stopped him and he returned to his net. At that point, Doug Jamieson replaced Ward between the Six Nations pipes.

Mike McNamara and the Chiefs D didn't give Shawn Evans and the Lakers
O much room to move Tuesday. (Photo: Tim Prothero)
Ward responded to some jeering from Lakers fans with a friendly wave. He responded to a question by saying he didn't think anyone was getting under his skin but that he knows where things stand.

“We know where we're at. No one's fooling anyone,” Ward said. “We're still down 3-2 in this series but the fans are going to get at me at the end of the game. I did my part.”

Ward felt like he needed to do his part better for his teammates after they had fallen behind 3-0. There's little question that he has been a crucial part, perhaps the most crucial part, of their success in coming back.

That third game was probably my worst game I've played all a long time. I knew I wanted to bounce back on that,” Ward said. “A lot of credit has to go to my defence. They made my job a lot easier for me, forcing shots to the outside. We know that's where I'm comfortable stopping the ball. A lot of that credit has to go to the defence but I also feel like I've come back on my own.”

The Lakers will try once again to close out the series Thursday at 8 pm while the Chiefs will try to force a seventh and deciding game back in Peterborough on Saturday.