NLL: Thunderbirds move to 5-0 with win over Seals

Kyle Jackson scores. Halifax Thunderbirds vs San Diego Seals – Scotiabank Center, Halifax, Nova Scotia – January 18, 2020. (Trevor MacMillan/Halifax Thunderbirds)

Stephen Keogh scored a hat trick in the last six-and-a half-minutes of the game to lift the Halifax Thunderbirds to an 8-5 victory against the San Diego Seals on Saturday night at Scotiabank Centre in Halifax.

Halifax was down 5-4 with eight minutes left in the fourth quarter. Kyle Jackson scored with 7:47 left to tie it, and then Keogh scored three straight to propel Halifax to victory.

Even being the hero and the game’s first star, Keogh didn’t make a big deal about his performance and gave credit to the whole group about his last three goals.

“It was offence by committee, everyone was moving their feet and moving the ball, cutting and opening it up,” said Keogh. “Jammer (Cody Jamieson) is one of the best passers in the league and he was finding me.”

Jackson started the scoring for Halifax in the first. He had the ball at the right corner, but San Diego did not pressure him. Jackson took advantage of the free space. He ran towards the net and dove across the crease while shooting to score.

Ryan Benesch also scored for Halifax three minutes later and Zack Greer and Connor Fields answered for San Diego.

Both teams scored two goals in the second and third quarter. Mike Burke scored two for Halifax and Zack Greer and Jeremy Noble scored for San Diego. The game was tied 4-4 heading into the fourth.

Even though the game was close on the scoreboard, it wasn’t close in shots. San Diego outshot Halifax 62- 41 in the game, and Warren Hill stood on his head to keep the ball out. He made 57 saves and was named the game’s second star.

“Tonight, he made some unreal saves and kept us in the game when (San Diego) could have opened it wide up, so Warren has been outstanding,” said Halifax’s coach Mike Accursi.

“To be honest, I didn’t mind it,” said Hill. “A lot of shots doesn’t give you time to think about the game, and a lot of those shots I have to give credit to my defence. They gave me a lot of looks that I wanted to see.”

Greer completed the hat trick a minute into the fourth quarter. Brandon Clelland went on a breakaway, but Hill stopped him. Greer followed up on the rebound and scored.

Jackson tied the game and then it became the Stephen Keogh show.

His first goal came with six and a half minutes left. There was an unintentional wall of players between Keogh from the goal, but he managed to find a shooting lane and score. Keogh scored again with a minute left from a clean shot from just outside the interior. His third goal came 30 seconds later when he managed to score from his knees.

“Offensively, we were sloppy, we were bunched up,” said Keogh. “Towards the end, we kind of spread out, cut through the middle and it just kind of opened us up.”

San Diego had two great chances to score during Keogh’s hot streak, but Hill made crucial saves. Greer got in alone and shot the ball through Hill’s arm but the goalie dove back and kept the ball from crossing the line. On another chance, Hill squeezed his legs to make the save but fell over into the net. San Diego challenged to see if the ball went in but it didn’t.

“Kudos to San Diego over there, they pushed us to our limit,” said Hill. “Right now, obviously, their record isn’t what they want it to be, so they’re treating every game like it’s a playoff game. We knew what we were going to get tonight and it’s definitely good to have those games like that.”

The crazy quarter didn’t end with the goal. San Diego’s captain Brodie Merrill and Halifax’s Scott Campbell dropped the gloves and fought to end the game. There could have been a few more fights but the refs broke them up.

The win keeps Halifax’s undefeated season alive, as they are now 5-0. They have mostly won in high offensive scoring games but in this game, they proved they could win low scoring games.

“Good teams find different ways to win different games,” said Accursi. “You know we have blown teams out this year, we have come from behind this year, so this is a game where it is a chess match and I think we won the chess match tonight.”

Mike Burke, Ryan Benesch and Kyle Jackson all had three points for Halifax while Cody Jamieson had four assists. For the Seals, Connor Fields, Wesley Berg and Jeremy Noble had two points. Frank Scigliano stopped 33 out of 41 shots.

Halifax’s record improves to five wins and no losses while San Diego drops to one win and five losses. Halifax plays Calgary next Saturday while San Diego is on the road again to face New York.