The Toronto Beaches Junior A lacrosse club has not hosted a playoff game in eight years. All season long players have been talking about the prospect of finally bursting that bubble. Sitting two points back of the final spot, and without the tie breaker, the Beaches found themselves in “must-win” mode Sunday night against the Kitchener/Waterloo Braves. Beaches forward Allister Warren said even though the final games are important, “It’s been do-or-die for a couple weeks. We’re thinking about ‘how do we make that playoff spot'”. With the way the season has gone, beating Orangeville in their final match seems unlikely which makes the home-on-home series against the Braves that much more important.
Despite this, Toronto did not look like a team that wanted a win early. Their defence was incredible and goaltender Michael Lalani had arguably his best start of the season. The Braves peppered Lalani with nineteen shots in twenty minutes but he only allowed one goal – a missed defensive assignment as Drew Barfoot cut to the net. Barfoot’s goal would be the only one of the period.
The second started with a similar goal by Kitchener’s Alex Lubczuk to give the Braves a 2-0 lead. Toronto would then take control starting with a goal by Jackson Hubert as he was pushed through the crease and shot while falling. Gregory Davidson tied it picking up a missed pass and firing as he charged off the bench. The play started off a Too Many Players possession call against Kitchener which was iffy at best. Head coach Brian Beisel was none too pleased. In the final minute Toronto’s leading scorer Jordan Robertson put the Beaches ahead with his thirty-fourth goal of the season. Toronto led 3-2 after two.
A relatively uneventful game started to pick up in the third as both teams hit multiple posts and scored goals with their first five shots. At the halfway point Toronto led 5-3 after a picked off pass sprung Matt Spanger for a breakaway goal. Head coach Bruce Codd lined the entire roster on the defensive door as everyone knew late collapses have been Toronto’s Achilles heel this season. With Toronto on the powerplay Lalani made a brilliant cross crease save to keep the score where it was. He couldn’t stop Chris Cloutier from scoring with the teams four-on-four, however. The goal was Cloutier’s second of the period (more from him in a moment). Robertson restored Toronto’s two goal cushion on the powerplay with another disputed Too Many Players call, this time as the Beaches weren’t called on the same play the Braves were caught earlier. The goal put Toronto up 6-4.
As mentioned, Toronto has been prone to late collapses. Also as mentioned, Cloutier was not finished. He would score on the crease to pull within one and after Tom Masterson tied it on a delayed penalty, Cloutier potted his fourth of the period on the breakaway. Kitchener scored two more, including one in the empty net, to complete a five goal run and another late game collapse. Davidson scored while his netminder was out but that only pulled Toronto as close as 9-7. The Braves not only hand Toronto their thirteenth loss, but also put the Beaches in a situation where they must win their final two without having St Catharines win any of their remaining three.
Down the stretch Toronto has now lost in overtime to Peterborough 14-13, and had a late game collapse against Burlington. Don’t forget the tie with Brampton earlier on. Any one of these games could’ve helped the club. Warren said after the game, “the team is learning from these losses. We’re all working hard, and we’re getting better.” The biggest game of the season still has to be the Peterborough matchup, says Warren, saying, “Everyone can see we can play with a team this strong.” He admitted, “It’s a tough league to make the playoffs but our goal is still to crack the top eight.” It’s an uphill climb and whether it’s this season or sometime in the future, Toronto will be there.
With the win Kitchener/Waterloo has nine wins total on the season and is comfortably in the post-season. They came into the game tied with Burlington for the sixth seed.
Earlier in the season Toronto traded Mike Triolo to the St Catharines Athletics. Earlier this weekend Triolo was dealt to the Braves. Sunday night was the first game back home for Triolo.
In other OLA Junior A action Sunday the Barrie Lakeshores, who were down 2-0 to winless Mississauga at one point, stormed back to trounce the Tomahawks 13-4. Mississauga drew sixty-three penalty minutes in the game including three ten minute misconducts and two game misconducts. Also in action were the top two Ontario teams, the Six Nations Arrows and the Minto Cup Champions, the Whitby Warriors. Despite Whitby winning the night before, the Arrows managed a 13-7 victory at the Iroquois Lacrosse Arena. They are now just one point back of top spot. Both teams have clinched playoff berths and Whitby will be guaranteed a spot in the Minto Cup as the host city.