It came down to the second last day of the regular season for MSL playoff matches to be decided and what an August it will be! With the Mann Cup pushed back to September 9, teams have until the 18th to settle their first rounds. Brampton and Cobourg are the two teams on the outside looking in while Peterborough, Brooklin, Six Nations, and Oakville are now all fighting for the chance to host the Mann Cup.
Peterborough Lakers (1) vs Oakville Rock (4)
Nobody really wants to play the Peterborough Lakers in the playoffs (especially the first round) but the Oakville Rock are probably glad they aren’t facing the Brooklin Redmen after they ended their season on a three game losing streak, including two in a row to the Redmen. Peterborough and Oakville will meet in the first round for the second consecutive year. Last year Peterborough prevailed in five games, Oakville winning game three in their own barn. Like last year, the series will start game one in Peterborough but shift to Oakville for both games two and three due to the Peterborough Exhibition taking over the Memorial Centre. Last year it wasn’t an advantage for the Rock, but with a more cohesive squad in 2016 they should be looking to do some real damage at the TRAC and take a series lead back to Lakerland.
Stephan Leblanc led the Rock with 59 points. Leblanc is a dependable player but he still has games where he doesn’t capitalize as much as he should. However, he’s backed up by Jeremy Noble and Wes Berg who also hit the 50 point mark this season and Berg led the league in goals scored with 32. Production falls off after that with Brendan Thenhaus and Dan Lomas the only other active players reaching 20 points or more. Oakville is missing a key player in Rob Hellyer due to injury. He missed the latter half of the season and still finished fifth in team scoring.
Shawn Evans led the MSL with 82 points. Overall the Lakers had nine players with 20 points or more this season including Cory Vitarelli who finished second in goals scored. Evans, Mark Steenhuis, Adam Jones, and Josh Currier also had over 20 goals on the season. The Lakers offense doesn’t lack for much and when you add in their dangerous transition players like Brad Self and Zach Currier, they look even scarier to face.
Oakville’s defense is pretty good and they should worry the Lakers a little bit. A healthy Damon Edwards paired with Dan MacRae is a fearsome combination and youngsters Mitch Desnoo and Challen Rogers have had a great summer for the Rock—Desnoo was a rookie for Buffalo last season and Rogers is projected to go high in this year’s draft. Jason Noble and Bradley Kri are tough to play against as well. Billy Hostrawser will need to keep his emotions in check—he grew quite a rivalry with several Lakers in last year’s playoffs which resulted in suspension time for Hostrawser and ultimately didn’t add anything to Oakville’s game.
The Lakers defense is the best they’ve been in years. Led by Scott Self, the Lakers are happy with the mix of veteran and youth on their backend. Robert Hope and Nick Weiss are two of the best young defenders playing the game. Bryce Sweeting, Jake Withers, and Zach Currier have been the best graduating juniors the Lakers have seen in years. Withers and Currier, as well as new acquisition Dylan Evans, also have the Lakers nearly unbeatable in the faceoff circle. You can’t say enough about how much Ian Llord has also steadied the ship this season, often being the best defender on the floor although he does his job so well you barely notice him.
When Nick Rose is hot, he’s hot, but dating back to January he’s been hot and cold and the Rock backup goalie is Steve Fryer, who despite his longevity in the sport hasn’t ever really seen solid time anywhere. The Lakers have two solid threats in between the pipes in Matt Vinc and Evan Kirk. Vinc is a three time NLL goaltender of the year and wants his first Mann Cup really badly. Kirk’s coming off his best NLL season with New England and has challenged Vinc for the starter’s role in Peterborough. The Lakers coaches are completely comfortable with either of them in net.
Prediction: Lakers in five
Brooklin Redmen (2) vs Six Nations Chiefs (3)
One point separated second and third place this season. One point. These two teams are so closely matched that the series will probably be a bloodbath as they each try to gain an advantage. This series starts Wednesday with Brooklin holding home floor advantage, and with the annual Ontario Lacrosse Festival in town, the Redmen will look to take a series lead with the stands packed with hundreds of minor laxers. Brooklin missed the 2015 playoffs but reloaded and rebounded and are ready to host the Mann Cup in their 50th season. Six Nations won the Cup in 2013 and 2014 and would love nothing more than to bring the championship back to the ILA. Last year they disposed of the Brampton Excelsiors in five games but ultimately lost to the Lakers in game seven of the final.
Cody Jamieson led the Chiefs with 69 points, second in the MSL. Johnny Powless and Randy Staats were their usual offensive powerhouse selves. Rookie Jordan Durston had an impressive campaign recording 19 goals and 21 assists and in fact was the only runner to suit up in all 18 regular season games. Ryan Benesch was able to rack up 34 points in just 12 games, and Dhane Smith had 17 points in just six games as he missed most of the season due to injury. The Chiefs acquired Dan Dawson at the deadline and he was a solid add to the lineup and a great leader for younger players like Vaughn Harris who had a breakout season with 28 points.
Brooklin has just as much star power as the Chiefs although the Chiefs get the edge because of the Jamieson factor, as well as a healthy Dhane Smith. The Redmen, though, have Shayne Jackson who had a breakout season with 52 points. Rookie Austin Shanks was second in team scoring with 46 points, followed closely by Dan Lintner with 43. Another rookie, Ryan Keenan, had 40, and is expected to go first or second in this year’s draft. Mark Matthews collected 33 points in just 10 games and will be on fire for the playoffs.
The Chiefs backend isn’t quite as impressive as their flashy offense in terms of big names but the guys they have get the job done well. Rob Marshall and Dave Brock lead the squad and when he’s healthy, Brodie Merrill is the toughest to play against. Rookie Leo Stourous had a great first season. Getting Jeremy Thompson was a huge coup for the Chiefs. After trading Jay Thorimbert, Thompson was able to help Harris in the faceoff circle.
Brooklin gets the edge in defense simply for acquiring Chris Corbeil and Kyle Rubisch at the trade deadline. The Redmen already boasted a great D corps with Derek Suddons, Dan Ball, Kevin Brownell, and Steve Priolo leading the way. Matt and Graeme Hossack are great youngsters playing major roles this season. But defense wins championships and that’s what the Redmen are counting on.
Starters Mike Poulin for Brooklin and Dillon Ward for Six Nations are super familiar with each other facing off in the NLL’s Western Conference. Ward is young and sharp and Poulin is experienced and steady and really are evenly matched. You’d think that Brooklin would have the advantage in backups, stacking Zach Higgins against Warren Hill. Higgins had a subpar season in Georgia but rebounded nicely this summer and actually played more minutes than Poulin and had a lower GAA. Hill is a junior grad but is probably the best graduating junior goalie in years and sported a 4-2 record and an impressively low 7.60 GAA.
Prediction—Six Nations in seven.