It took until the very last night of the MSL regular season for the 2015 MSL playoff match ups to be determined, but we’re finally set as the Six Nations Chiefs, Peterborough Lakers, Oakville Rock and Brampton Excelsiors have all secured playoff berth’s. A late season surge by the Brooklin Redmen forced the Oakville Rock into a must win game against the Brampton Excelsiors, on the last day of the MSL regular season, a game in which the Rock would emerge victorious, not only claiming a playoff berth, but sliding past the Excelsiors into the third playoff seed in the process. With the back to back Mann Cup Champion Six Nations Chiefs claiming the top seed, they head into the first round of the playoffs set to take on the fourth seeded Brampton Excelsiors. Meanwhile the start studded Peterborough Lakers finished second in the standings, setting up a match up with the third seeded Oakville Rock, who will be making their first playoff appearance since the club moved from Ajax to Oakville.
Many have suggested throughout the MSL regular season that this league was a two team league, and that it was a given we would ultimately see the Six Nations Chiefs and Peterborough Lakers square off in the MSL final for the second straight season. An while it does remain likely that we will see Six Nations and Peterborough dual is out for the MSL crown, the likes of Oakville and Brampton each have formidable rosters that should be taken seriously, as both teams have the depth and skill to pull off an upset over one of the league’s two powerhouses.
1) Six Nations Chiefs Vs. 4) Brampton Excelsiors
Season Series: 19-5 Six Nations Win, 9-6 Six Nations Win, 22-14 Six Nations Win, 13-11 Six Nations Win
Heading into the opening round of the MSL playoffs the Six Nations Chiefs have one thing on their mind, “Three peat”. The last team to win three consecutive Mann Cup titles where these same Six Nations Chiefs back in ’94, ’95 and ’96 when a young John Tavares, Darris Kilgour, Paul Gait, Randy Mearns and Duane Jacobs dawned a Chiefs jersey. This modern day version of the Chiefs has all the ability to make a run at a third consecutive Mann Cup title, as they are arguably the favorite heading into post season. However a young and talented Brampton Excelsiors squad that is built from the net out, should be a handful for the veteran laden Six Nations Chiefs, despite the Chiefs sweeping the four game regular season series in rather effortless fashion at times.
In goal the Chiefs possess two of the best netminders in all of lacrosse in Brandon Miller and Dillon Ward. Miller is coming off a 2014 MSL season where he was named MVP of the Mann Cup, once again proving his big game pedigree. While Miller hasn’t been at his sharpest throughout the MSL regular season, he has always come through in the clutch, and should be expected to raise the level of his game as the playoffs open. If we are to see Dillon Ward tend goal for the Chiefs at times throughout the MSL playoffs, the Chiefs will still be in good hands as Ward went 11-1 with a 7.08 goals against average in 12 starts for the Chiefs this regular season, placing him first in the league in wins and second in the goals against average category. Meanwhile the Excelsiors will counter with Tyler Carlson, who back stopped the Excelsiors to their first playoff appearance since the 2012 season. The Excelsiors where a totally different team when Carlson took his place between the pipes as Carlson was the goaltender of record in five of Brampton’s seven wins, and sports an impressive 9.37 goals against average. If Carlson is on his game, he has the ability to steal games, as we saw on a few occasions this season. Carlson comes with a bunch of recent playoff experience haven been part of the 2013 and 2014 Peterborough Lakers squads who went deep into the MSL playoffs. Still despite Carlson’s impressive play throughout the 2015 regular season, you have to give the powerhouse Chiefs the edge in goal, as their depth and big game experience will likely prove to be a factor throughout the MSL playoffs.
Defensively the teams stack up fairly even despite the big name depth of the Chiefs back end. While Six Nations does boast names such as Dan Coates, Sid Smith, Billy Dee Smith, Brodie Merrill and Rob Marshall, the Excelsiors are able to counter with the likes of Chris Corbeil, Sandy Chapman, Ethan O’Connor, Connor Sellars and argubably the best defender in lacrosse today in Kyle Rubisch. The Excelsiors defense is a tenacious and physical one that can push the pace in transition, however the lack of experience as we move past the Excelsiors top five defenders, tends to at times have the Excelsiors having mental lapses in their team defense. Those lapses are things that a veteran laded team like the Chiefs will be able to expose almost all the time, and with the potent offense the Chiefs possess creating more opportunities for them to score on mental lapses won’t bode well for the Excelsiors. Meanwhile the Chiefs defense is sound in nearly every facet of the game. They’re physical, smart, tenacious, fast, they can beat you in transition, wear you down physically and do not allow teams to get inside, forcing low quality shots from poor scoring positions. A big and physical defense like Six Nations should be able to limit the undersized Excelsiors offense, making it hard for Brampton to piece together any string of consistent scoring chances. Brampton did put up 14 and 11 goals in high scoring games against the Chiefs this season, but where also only able to put up 5 and 6 goals in their other two losses to the Chiefs this season. Brampton’s offensive troubles won’t get any easier facing the stout Chiefs defense.
Up front is where there is the biggest discrepancy between the two teams, as the Excelsiors are thin offensively, while the Chiefs have argubably the best offense of any of the teams competing in the MSL or WLA playoffs. Brampton has struggled with their consistency offensively throughout the season, and come into the playoffs really struggling to put the ball in the net, picking up just 10 goals in back to back losses to Brooklin and Oakville to close the 2015 regular season. Joe Resetarits has been excellent for the Excelsiors this season racking up 46 points in just 11 games. When Resetarits has been in the lineup the Excelsiors have been much better offensively as he and Mike Burke have been excellent together on Brampton’s right side. Speaking of Burke, he really came on strong as the season wore on, finishing with 56 points in 15 games to lead the Excelsiors in scoring. Burke has been the unquestioned leader of the Excelsiors offense, using his elite playmaking ability and accurate outside shot to really pick up the slack offensively. Rookie Tyler Ferriera had a strong end to the season, finishing with 51 points in 17 games. However outside of Resetarits, Burke, Ferriera and Mike Melnychenko the Excelsiors struggle to find offense, and both Ferriera and Melnychenko have been easily shut down at times this season. Meanwhile the Chiefs possess three of the top five MSL scoring leaders, including league scoring champ Dhane Smith, who continued his impressive NLL season with an MVP like campaign for the Chiefs this season. Despite the loss of Cody Jamieson, the Chiefs have not skipped a beat, as the addition of Ryan Benesch and full time arrival of Johnny Powless to the Major Series have offset the loss of Jamieson’s production. With the likes of Smith, Benesch, Shattler, Keogh, Powless, Point, Beirnes, Staats and Colin Doyle the Chiefs hold the distinct advantage up front.
While the Excelsiors have battled hard all season and given teams everything they had on many of nights, I believe their storybook season ends in Round one of the MSL playoffs with the defending Champs knocking off Brampton in Five games. Many believe this series will be a sweep, and the evidence may point to that, however the Excelsiors are well coached and boast a ton of heart, skill and compete, which should make for a closely contested series with Brampton pulling out at least a single victory.
2) Peterborough Lakers Vs. 3) Oakville Rock
Season Series: 8-5 Peterborough Win, 9-6 Peterborough Win, 7-5 Peterborough Win, 12-8 Peterborough Win
The Peterborough Lakers haven’t been to the big dance since the 2012 season, as the Six Nations Chiefs have reigned supreme in the MSL for the past three season. However this year the Lakers have added veterans Evan Kirk, Curtis Dickson and Mike Kirk along with talented youngsters Tuner Evans, Chad Tutton and Wenster Green to an already formidable lineup, making Peterborough that much stronger, as they look to claim their first MSL title since 2012. However the pesky Oakville Rock will stand in the Lakers way in round one, as the two teams have seemingly created the MSL’s newest rivalry this season, as all four games have been close, tight checking, chippy affairs, where either team could have came out victorious, despite the Lakers coming away with the four game series sweep during the regular season.
In goal its easy to say the Lakers have the distinct advantage as the boast arguably the best two goaltenders in the league and quite possibly the best goaltender in the world in Matt Vinc. However Nick Rose has been a brick wall for the Oakville Rock as they climbed back into the playoff picture and ultimately claimed the MSL’s third seed. Its hard to say who the Lakers will go with in the playoff opener on Sunday night as Evan Kirk has been lights out throughout the regular season after a somewhat disappointing NLL season with the New England Black Wolves, while Matt Vinc has been his usual stonewall between the pipes in his seven appearances. Either way the Lakers should have know issue in goal as Evan Kirk went 7-2 with a 7.35 GAA, while Vinc complied a 5-2 record with a 7.86 GAA. Meanwhile Nick Rose finished the season fourth in goals against average with a 7.49 mark, while finishing the season with a 7-6 record. Given the hot streak Nick Rose has been on to finish the regular season, if you throw history and previous statistics out the window, the Rock aren’t giving up much, if anything in the goaltending department as we should see a low scoring series, despite the offenses the two teams possess.
Defensively the match up is very interesting as the Lakers have done their very best to get younger and quicker on the back end, while still boasting some of the best veteran stay at home defenders in lacrosse. Meanwhile the Rock defense is a young one, with 26 year old Damon Edwards being the eldest defender on the club. Alex Crepinsek, Jason Noble, Glen Bryan, Billy Hostrawser, Mitch De Snoo, Edwards and Brad Gillies form a very athletic and sound defensive unit with recent Junior A call up Ian Mackay also preforming very well for the Rock down through the finally few games of the season. While Oakville is no slouch defensively, they are some what undersized and send to have trouble handling the likes of Scott Evans, Curtis Dickson and Corey Vitarelli as the trio was able to create space with their size and strength during the regular season. If the young, athletic Rock defense is unable to contain the more physical Lakers offense, it could become a very quick series. Meanwhile the Lakers, like the Six Nations Chiefs have a defense that is strong in every facet of the game, their athletic, physical, smart, can push the ball in transition, shut down individual players and can produce offense when needed. Captain Scott Self lead the bunch, while brother Brad Self has been tremendous in transition for the Lakers all season. The addition of Mike Kirk has really solidified the Lakers defense, as he and Stephen Hoar provide with big physical stay at home defense needed to shut down opposing teams top options. Youngsters Robert Hope, Nick Weiss, Brock Sorensen and Chad Tutton have all proven their worth throughout the season and should continue excel throughout the playoffs. With the Rock already struggling to score at times, the stout Lakers defense may be overwhelming for the Rock.
Offensively the Lakers got a major boost with the news Mark Steenhuis will likely be available for game one of the MSL playoffs on Sunday night, while Josh Gillam also recently returned for the last game of the MSL regular season. While the Lakers where sitting just fine with what they had offensively, the additions of Steenhuis and Gillam make the Laker offense that much deeper and that much more potent. Shawn Evans came within one point of capturing the MSL scoring title, after exploding for 11 points in the regular season finale against the K-W Kodiaks, while Curtis Dickson enjoyed his first season in the MSL, finishing fourth in league scoring with 75 points. Adam Jones and Cory Vitarelli where excellent on the left side of the Lakers offense all season long, while rookie Turner Evans made a near seamless transition from the junior ranks to the MSL, picking up 41 points in 17 games. When you add in the likes of Scott Evans, Chad Culp, Matt Crough, Josh Currier and the offense the Lakers get from the back end, its easy to see why the club produced the second most goals for in the league, with 196. Meanwhile the Oakville Rock are no slouch themselves at the offensive end of the floor, boasting the likes of Stephan Leblanc, Brett Hickey, Jeremy Noble, Wesley Berg and Kevin Ross, however still the Rock have struggled to score at times this season. The Rock tried to shake up their offense with the trade of Shayne Adams and Patrick Corbett for Jordan Critch and addition of Allister Warren from the Oakville Titan’s Sr. B club, however still rookie Dan Lomas led the club in scoring with just 38 points in 17 games. The Rock will need to find the type of offense the aforementioned players have shown throughout their professional careers as Noble, Hickey, Ross and Leblanc are all coming off huge NLL seasons, while Wesley Berg is considered the next big offensive superstar just waiting to ply his trade in the NLL. If the big guns for the Rock can find their offense this will be a lengthy series, if they can’t, this one will be over before it even started.
The Lakers and Rock have battled closely in every regular season match up this season, which leads me to believe this playoff series will be an absolute battle. However the depth off the Lakers coupled with their potent offense and shut down ability on the back end has me believing the veteran laden Lakers will pull this one out in four games. Its been a great year for the Oakville Rock and they’ve made some huge strides as an organization but this series really is Peterborough’s to lose at this point.