Just imagine if the Peterborough Lakers and Six Nations Chiefs face-off in the first round of the MSL playoffs.
What a series that would be. But with such a tight race in the MSL, opponents won’t be known until the final regular season buzzer goes on July 28.
The perennial powerhouses played each other Thursday night at the Peterborough Memorial Centre. It was the highest attended MSL game of the season. 3824 lacrosse fans watched their Lakers ride a strong third period to a 10-7 win over the Chiefs. The Lakers won the season series 2-1-1.
The Lakers and Chiefs met in the MSL final in both 2014 and 2015. The Chiefs won in 2014 and subsequently won the Mann Cup on home floor. The Lakers won in 2015 and lost the Mann Cup out in Victoria, BC. Both series went to seven games with each team winning the final game in the other’s barn. While all four playoff teams this season are strong, it will be no surprise if the most exciting series is the Lakers versus the Chiefs, whether it’s in the first round or the final round.
Thursday, fans got a taste of what a future series will be like. Like their previous three 2016 meetings, the first forty minutes were gritty, low-scoring efforts before the teams really began trying to one-up each other in the third.
Craig Point had a first period hat trick for the Chiefs. Cory Vitarelli replied for the Lakers who trailed 3-1 after the first.
Lakers goaltender Matt Vinc looked shaky as the game started, allowing two goals in the first 4:13. He settled down after that and was the difference in the game, even getting in on the physical play typical of a Lakers-Chiefs game.
“Vno came up huge for us,” Lakers defenseman Stephen Hoar said. “He made a lot of big saves. We just try to give up the shots that we want them to take, sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. We were lucky enough that Vno played well tonight and got some saves for us.”
With less than a minute left in the first, Vinc ran into the corner to meet Cody Jamieson and crunched him along the boards. Moments after, Vinc slammed Steven Keogh into the boards behind the net as he chased a loose ball. Keogh tried to get at Vinc but was intercepted by Bryce Sweeting and the rest of the Lakers defense.
Since the Alex Buque incident, the lacrosse world has been somewhat divided on goaltender hits. Vinc, though, was still close to his crease and was attempting to recover a loose ball. He did receive two minutes for roughing though, as the hit was highlight-reel worthy.
“I went for a ball in the corner and I really mistimed it on Jamieson,” Vinc said. “I was just trying to hold him there… It just happened that a guy ran behind the net. I grew up in junior doing that a lot. I kind of got away from it a bit because of the crease dives in the NLL and it just happened that I got Keogh and got him a little bit higher than I would have liked to, but when you’re playing a team like Six Nations you just try to go out there and work hard and you play on that line. It was right there I think. Keogh plays hard and he knows I do the same. He’s running with his head down and I decided to step up and pop him… I would be shocked if he didn’t come back hard but he’s not a dirty type of player or anything like that. I didn’t try to dirty him, I just tried to play hard and I think he knows that.”
The Lakers rattled off three straight goals in the second for a 4-3 lead. Mark Steenhuis sandwiched an Adam Jones power play marker before Cody Jamieson tied the game at four. Jones scored again to put the Lakers back up 5-4.
Typically the Lakers and Chiefs have runs in the third period against each other. It’s all about momentum; whoever has the best run wins.
Stephen Hoar started it for the Lakers, giving them a two goal cushion 3:47 into the period slipping a shot between Hill’s shoulder and the post on transition. Point scored his fourth goal of the game on a power play but the Lakers then scored three goals in less than two minutes for a 9-5 lead. John Grant put a bounce shot in. Nick Weiss tied up Dhane Smith chasing a loosie which allowed Brad Self to scoop up the ball and fire a wrist shot past Chiefs goaltender Warren Hill. Jones scored on an overhand shot.
“Once we score and the crowd starts going that’s motivation enough,” Vinc said of the run. “Tonight we really fed off our fans and the atmosphere. 3800 fans, it’s tough not to get pumped up and get into the game.”
Here’s where the game deviated from the norm. A minute after Jones’ goal, Vaughn Harris finished a two on one with an athletic jump shot over Vinc. That could have signalled disaster for the home side – the Chiefs are hard to stop once they get going. Not this game, though. Just a minute after Harris’ goal, Josh Currier parked himself on the Chiefs crease and slammed home a quick-stick pass from Jones. It was a statement goal – the Lakers stopped the Chiefs comeback attempt in their tracks with more than ten minutes left to play.
“Every goal is huge that we get against them,” Hoar said. “We got up three and they came back with one, that’s when Currier got that goal back. If we can keep a little bit of that cushion and try to stifle their momentum – they have such great shooters, lots of great talent, every guy on the floor can score at any time – so no lead is safe. We’re not safe with 11 or 12 minutes left so to keep that bit of a cushion and stretch the time out as much as we can is huge. “
Ryan Benesch put a sidearm roller past Vinc at 17:59 with Hill on the bench but the game was over.
Chiefs head coach Rich Kilgour knows the Lakers and Chiefs are evenly matched and that every game is anybody’s game.
“I’m not too displeased with the effort, it just wasn’t our night,” he said of the Chiefs play. “Vno made some big saves for [the Lakers] when it was a tight game. They have a really good team; I don’t want to act like Vno was just standing on his head but there were a couple of points where if we got a goal we could have put them on their heels a bit, but we didn’t get a goal, and we stayed on our heels.”
The Lakers lost Wednesday night to Brooklin but their defense was a highlight in that game (the Redmen only won 6-4) and Thursday’s. The mix of veterans and youth on the back end have gelled very well, limiting shots and scooping up rebounds, and are heading into the playoffs on a high note.
“I feed off the defense,” Vinc said. “I was fortunate enough see the ball. When I saw it, I felt pretty comfortable and square. They have a great offense but our team did a great job limiting their transition. Our offense put up 10 and that’s all we can ask for.”