Can anyone beat the Peterborough Lakers?
Brooklin Redmen head coach Derek Keenan is wondering that after his Redmen fell 13-7 in game seven of their MSL semi-final series last week despite having the strongest team the Durham Region franchise has seen in years.
The Lakers jumped out to a convincing 3-0 series lead, only to see the Redmen storm back and win the next three. Game seven was tied at six after 40 minutes before the Lakers exploded for a 7-1 third period.
“I think a lot of people counted us out after game three but we only had one bad period the last four games,” Keenan said. “Obviously it was the third and it was disappointing but I’m really proud of our guys.”
For Keenan and six players, it means their 2018 championship count stops at one. Keenan, of course, coaches the NLL’s Saskatchewan Rush, where Redmen Mark Matthews, Curtis Knight, Ryan Keenan, Chris Corbeil, Kyle Rubisch and Adrian Sorichetti also play and won the NLL Cup in June. The opponents in that series were the Rochester Knighthawks, coached by Lakers’ head coach Mike Hasen and featuring six Lakers in Jake Withers, Josh Currier, Ian Llord, Eric Shewell, Cory Vitarelli and Matt Vinc.
Hasen and the Lakers will face the Oakville Rock for the MSL title beginning tonight in Peterborough. The winner hosts the Mann Cup; the Lakers are defending champions.
Hasen said after game five the Lakers were lucky to be up 3-0 and had been playing like they had the lead.
“Hopefully the lesson was learned… that we can’t take our shifts for granted,” he said. “Game seven was probably our best performance of the year. We came out with a lot of energy and a lot of passion and we fought for every inch earned.”
Lacrosse is all about making adjustments on the fly. It took the Redmen three games but in game four they finally figured out how to stymie the Lakers’ high-powered offense, led by Shawn Evans, Kyle Buchanan and Corey Small. With the Lakers not scoring, Brooklin’s core trio of Mark Matthews, Austin Shanks and Dan Lintner showcased their talents instead, especially in games five and six which they won by three goals. Ryan Keenan and Shayne Jackson factored heavily into the offense as well.
“I thought even game three we were probably the better team,” Keenan said. “Vinc was really good that game. We battled hard and guys really, really wanted to win.”
The Redmen haven’t played in an MSL final since 2013. That year, they beat the defending Mann Cup champion Lakers in seven games, but then lost to the Six Nations Chiefs four straight in the final. Prior to that, their last MSL final appearance was 2002 after winning the Mann Cup in 2000.
Things go in cycles in summer lacrosse. The Redmen were strong for a long time. The Lakers have been strong since 2004. The Brampton Excelsiors had a long heyday and the Six Nations Chiefs have been the Lakers’ most recent combatants, though they fell to the Rock in six games this season. The Rock are in their first-ever final.
After having little playoff success in recent years, Keenan is frustrated.
“The summer game can be a pretty crude game. Especially for the guys that play in the NLL, there’s a lot of risk. It’s a bit of an inequitable system, the way the summer game works. The pro game is in the winter, it’s not in the summer but there are some teams that don’t treat it that way and it’s hard to compete against that.”
It’s understandable to be frustrated with a lack of success, but the Redmen were 20 minutes away from reverse-sweeping the defending champs. Another year and they might be able to.
“We have a pretty good young core and we have lots of guys that are developing in senior B and other levels,” Keenan said. “It’s tough to keep kids together in the summer. They don’t get paid like Peterborough does.”
The MSL is a labour of love and you get what you put into it. The Lakers benefit from a large, dedicated behind-the-scenes team that works year-round to promote the team. Other centres, including Brooklin, struggle with promotion and ticket sales in their cities, but they keep building on the floor and they can smell eventual success.
The Lakers and Redmen were evenly matched on the floor. Some of the best players in the game were on each team.
On offense, who do you pick between Evans, Buchanan, Jones, Small, Cattoni and Currier or Matthews, Shanks, Jackson, Keenan, Lintner and Knight?
On defense, Hope, Sweeting, Llord, Tutton and Steenhuis vs Corbeil, Rubisch, Hossack, Sorichetti and Suddons?
Matt Vinc or Mike Poulin?
The only clear area of dominance was in the faceoff circle, where Jake Withers went a perfect 23 for 23 in the final game. Every other area was a toss-up.
“We didn’t have a lot of possessions in the third. It was goal, faceoff win, goal, faceoff win,” Keenan said.
“But all-in-all, our offense is good group. They grinded hard. I really thought we were starting to wear them down going into this game tonight. We had a really good second period. It was just a tough third.”
Maybe it’ll be a better one next year.