EDITOR’S NOTE: With a delay between writing and publishing, the Whitby Warriors defeated the Toronto Beaches for the OJLL Iroquois Trophy, winning the first two games of the best-of-three series and capturing the trophy on home floor. Both teams will now take a break and prepare for the Minto Cup later in August.
On the eve of the Iroquois Trophy Finals between the Whitby Warriors and Toronto Beaches Tuesday night, here is a look back at the Ontario Junior Lacrosse League (OJLL) playoffs so far with Ten Takeaways.
- Home Floor Advantage
The four teams ousted in the first round (which included sweeps of Mimico and St Catharines) went a combined 1-8 at home. By comparison, the final four lost just twice on home floor for a record of 15-2 with both Toronto and Orangeville’s home losses coming in the first round.
On the season, Whitby is now 14-1 at Iroquois Park Sports Centre. Toronto’s home record includes a perfect 3-0 semi-final away from Ted Reeve (one win in Brampton, two in Pickering where they will play the final series). It’s no surprise with these records, that the teams able to win at home, wherever that home is, are the ones left standing.
- League Parity
Eight teams made the OJLL playoffs. Three of those tied for seeds six through eight. Two tied for second and third. It was even competition throughout the season. It should be no surprise the competition was even in the postseason as well.
The playoffs included the first ever eighth seeded sweep of a one seed, and just the second ever one seed sweep in OJLL history (1958). Burlington, who pulled off the feat, nearly took out Toronto as well. The sixth seeded Orangeville Northmen knocked off the third seed Oakville Buzz.
Throughout the regular season and playoffs, nearly every game was close proving unparalleled parity.
- A Rivalry Renewed
How can one bring up this postseason without dissecting the latest installment of the Orangeville Northmen / Whitby Warriors rivalry?
Orangeville only joined Junior A in 1991. This was the 10th meeting between the two clubs. And it was a war.
Tensions reached a fever pitch in game three with 136 minutes in penalties. But the series also saw incredible goaltending, highlight-reel goals and smothering defense. Many fans referred to it as “old school lacrosse” and compared it to the 2017 battle between Mimico and Brampton, which was also for a Minto Cup berth.
(Despite the series loss, Orangeville still holds the all-time series record 6-4.)
- The Innocence of Youth
Speaking of Orangeville, how many Northmen teams in the past have featured 10 or more graduating junior players? Not this year’s team. They saw only four players go overage. This means the majority of their team, including star goaltender Chris Origlieri will be back in black next season. So will their three offensive leaders – Jameson Bucktooth, Koleton Marquis and Trey Deere.
- Three-Headed Offenses
This leads to the fourth takeaway: the number of three-headed offenses in the league. Orangeville was one of them, but stealing most of the headlines was the historic season of Whitby’s Brock Haley, Adam Poitras and Parker Pipher.
Yes, every offense has five main players, but to qualify here teams need three players where there is no distinguished leader (see Mimico’s Finlay Thomson, Toronto’s Willem Firth or Oakville’s Will Sheehan). Sprinkle in Burlington’s Greg Elijah-Brown, Coltrane Tyson and Braedon Saris or even St. Catharines’ Keaton Zavitz, Gavin Howard and take your pick – Jackson Webster or Clay Scanlon. Safe to say, the three-headed offense is back.
- Big Beaches Boys
In saying that, the Toronto Beaches take a much different approach to offense. No doubt, it starts and ends with Willem Firth. He may be an undersized forward but he can score from anywhere and has incredible vision, drawing loose comparisons to Jeff Teat.
Couple him with the big bodies of Jacob Hickey, Matthew Collison and the playoff highlight reel David Anderson, the possibilities are endless for the Beaches offense.
It’s an offense that almost overshadows the incredible season of New York Riptide draft pick Will Johnston. He allowed just one power play goal in the playoffs with a 9.38 goals against average. But, he was not the only star goalie in the postseason.
Already mentioned was Origlieri who was dynamite, especially late in games, for the Northmen. Peterborough’s Deacan Knott deserves honourable mention here for nearly single-handedly stealing the Lakers’ series against the Beaches. And Burlington’s Mitch Dunham stopped over 50 shots most nights keeping the pesky Chiefs alive.
- Alumni Watch
Look at any bench in the league, playoff team or otherwise, and you will find countless alumni returning to help their teams.
The Orangeville Northmen have been the gold standard in this department for years. Their bench now boasts Rusty Kruger, Andrew Suitor, Phil Sanderson and Rylan Hartley and was assembled by Nick Rose. Peterborough has Robert Hope at the helm. Despite being a relatively young junior franchise (joining in 2015), the Mimico Mountaineers added Riley Hutchcraft and Matthew Sykes to their staff. In Whitby, Joel Watson was an assistant coach this season.
These are all great signs for the future of these clubs and the league.
- Iroquois Trophy
And now, only two teams remain: the Whitby Warriors and Toronto Beaches.
Each feature high-powered offences. Each very good at home.
This could very well come down to goaltending. It was one of very few question marks for the Warriors throughout the postseason. However, when it mattered most in the series clinching game five, Kaleb Martin allowed just four goals in a standout performance.
- Minto Cup Bound
Whatever happens, both teams are headed to the Minto Cup.
The last time Ontario hosted (2017), Mimico and Six Nations both automatically qualified and went through the motions of the Iroquois Final (won by the Arrows 2-0 when the series was shortened from a best-of-seven to best-of-five, and eventually best-of-three).
Everyone understands the Minto Cup is the ultimate goal. With that comes the understanding no one wants to risk an injury, give away plays, etc. Fans all just hope both teams have the integrity to play out the OJLL finals before they get there.
Following the final series, the OJLL will take a break for the U21 World Championship in Ireland before the Minto Cup begins August 22nd through 29th.