Canadian Junior A lacrosse fans went 18 months without lacrosse. And then they were treated to all the lacrosse.
The Ontario Junior Lacrosse League returned from their pandemic-caused hiatus with a vengeance featuring a new brand, new commissioner, 22-year-olds, and a packed schedule of 47 games spread over three weekends (six playing days) at the Toronto Rock Athletic Centre.
The schedule also featured two divisions – East (Whitby, Mimico, Toronto, Orangeville and Peterborough) and West (St Catharines, Brampton, Burlington, Six Nations, Oakville and Kitchener-Waterloo). Each team played eight games, all within the division. The format allowed for exciting games throughout the tournament-style season. At one point, there was a possibility for a four-way tie for first in the West – with only two teams able to qualify for the semi-finals. As it was, an overtime loss was the deciding factors keeping Burlington out of the West Division semis, and Toronto from the East playoff.
Such was the gameplay of the OJLL tournament/season. Many tight games, tons of excitement. Despite a winless record, even Kitchener-Waterloo was in nearly every contest. The same can be said for the 1-6-1 Peterborough Lakers; one of their losses came from an overtime penalty shot against Orangeville.
The usual suspects sat atop the stats table with Thomas McConvey from Mimico capturing his second OJLL scoring title – 43 points in seven (!!) games, nine ahead of second place Alex Simmons of St. Catharines who played all eight. But then there were the breakout performers – Sam English from Burlington (19 goals in eight games – second in the league), Tye Kurtz from KW, 20-year old Brock Haley’s 29 points and All-Star game hat trick, or Chayton King’s impressive eight games for the Six Nations Arrows.
When it came time for the semi-finals, the Brampton Excelsiors locked horns with the Whitby Warriors. Whitby’s offense, which had been firing on all cylinders throughout the season, suddenly went silent. Credit, in part, to Steven Orleman, a stifling defence and blistering transition who all meshed to lead 3-0 after the first. Both teams went relatively back-and-forth the remainder of the game, save for a late four-goal run led by Sean Westley. It was not enough, though, as Brampton would book their ticket to the semis with an 8-7 win. Austin Hasen, Kyle Waters and Nathan Grenon all had two goals for the Excelsiors while Ryan Barnable, Adam Poitras and Westley not only had the same, but were the only scorers for Whitby.
The second semi-final was much of the same. Fast transition, shut down defence, solid goaltending from both Cam MacLeod and Devlin Shanahan, and spectacular goals (looking at you Ty Steenhuis!). Of course, there was also the side story of the “Steve Toll Bowl” with the former Mimico Mountaineers’ head coach behind the bench of the St Catharines Athletics. Mimico took an early 4-2 lead after the first period, the teams sat tied through the second, and then St. Catharines put in three unanswered in the third to win 7-6. MacLeod and the A’s held Mimico to just one goal through the final 27 minutes and 21 seconds. Twelve different players scored in the game, all single tallies save for a pair from Carter Zavitz.
The Excelsiors and Athletics played an instant classic of a final game. Tied 3-3 after the first, St. Catharines put a run together in the second that would chase Orleman. It would only be a brief respite, however, as Jacob Slinger allowed a goal off the only shot he faced. St Catharines scored nine times in the frame, to seven for Brampton leading 12-10 heading to the third. The final period kicked off when Seth Van Schepen was sandwiched between two Athletics players, one of them hitting him up high keeping him on the turf for an extended period. Grenon stepped in for his teammate, dropping the gloves with Trent Jackson. Five minutes later, Carter Zavitz let a shot go from the outside late in the shot clock that beat Orleman. An Athletics player on the crease said something to Orleman who responded with a two-handed slash to the leg. The officials discussed and handed the Brampton netminder a match penalty, and an early shower. The goal made it 14-11, and while Brampton would score twice more, they’d get no closer as the St. Catharines Athletics would hang on to capture the Iroquois Trophy, their first since 2003. With a hat trick in the game, Alex Simmons was named league MVP.
Since the tournament, a number of players have signed one-year deals or been invited to NLL training camps putting an exclamation point on a successful season, full of action – quite literally with 47 games in six days spanning two weekends.