PLL: Waterdogs, Chaos to meet in league finals

Chaos LC is heading to the PLL final. (Photo credit: Premier Lacrosse League)

The semifinals of the PLL season were live on September 11 from Audi Field in Washington D.C. Two huge matchups were taking place, the first being Waterdogs and Whipsnakes. This would be the third time these two teams faced off against one another this season, with each team having one win apiece. This rubber match would be the most important. Oh, and to make it even sweeter, both of the previous games were decided by one goal. Whipsnakes came in as the number one seed in the playoffs, and Waterdogs were coming in arguably hotter than any other team, along with being the only team to hand Whipsnakes a loss during the regular season.

Enough of all the preludes, let’s get to the game already. It was the tale of two halves, the first going to Whipsnakes, and the second going to Waterdogs. Waterdogs’ defense and goaltending was the story as they beat Whips, 11-10. What. A. Game.

The first quarter was a stalemate, a feeling out process of sorts. Waterdogs drew first blood, as Michael Sowers took the ball around the crease, did a head fake and shot quickly, beating Kyle Bernlohr. There was about a four minute scoring hiatus, until Sowers got his second of the game with a diving dunk shot. Whipsnakes must have sensed danger and needed an answer quickly. Brad Smith received a pass in the slot and fired a cheeky bouncer that beat Dillon Ward. Shortly thereafter, Mike Chanenchuk took advantage of a mismatch defensively and Ward being way up in the crease, and fired a shot that went in shortside. 2-2 after one.

Whips continued the momentum, as Connor Kirst notched his first of the game. On the ensuing possession, Sowers got his hat trick to tie it right back up. Jay Carlson for Whipsnakes and Ethan Walker for Waterdogs, traded goals to keep it deadlocked. With under two minutes left in the frame, Jake Bernhardt and Zed Williams scored two straight for Whipsnakes, to give them a 6-4 lead going into the half.

Head coach of Whipsnakes, Jim Stagnitta commented on the slow start and the team’s ability to pick up the pace in the second quarter. “We haven’t played in three weeks, you have to get used to the game speed.” Stagnitta added, “I think we’re forcing some things, we just need to slow down and play more six on six.”

We’ll never really know what the conversation was in Waterdogs’ locker room at half, but the message had to have been about defense. Whatever it was, it worked. The third quarter started and Whipsnakes’ scoring came to a screeching halt. On the first faceoff of the third quarter, Zach Currier scooped up a ground ball, charged in and fired a shot past Bernlohr. After a five plus minute scoring drought, Matt Rambo scored his first of the game to give Whipsnakes a two-goal lead again. That’d be the only goal they’d score in the quarter. Walker got his second, and Ryan Conrad scored his first to tie it up 7-7 going into the fourth.

The fourth quarter was back and forth with timely goals and even more timely defensive stops and goaltending. Rambo opened the quarter with his second of the game, only to be answered by Kieran McArdle. Whipsnakes rattled off (no pun intended) two straight from Williams and Smith to make it 10-8. With 8:32 remaining, and the way this game had gone to this point, a two-goal lead could be enough. Not today. McArdle got his second and Matt Whitcher got his first, and we’re tied at 10 with 3:47 left in the game. After a few defensive stops and huge saves from both Ward and Bernlohr, Waterdogs had possession with under two minutes to play. McArdle received a slick pass from behind the cage from Connor Kelly, cocked back and fired a bullet past Bernlohr for his hat trick. After a turnover palooza within the final minute, Waterdogs survived. Your final, 11-10 ‘Dogs. For the first time since the inception of the league, Whipsnakes will not be in the finals of the PLL.

Head coach of Waterdogs, Andy Copelan broke his team down before the handshakes. “We’ve all seen Miracle right? I’ll see you next weekend.”

Players of the game for Whipsnakes were Williams (2+2) Smith (2+1) and Rambo (two goals). Bernlohr had a solid game in goal, making 8 saves with a 42% save percentage. As for Waterdogs, McArdle (3+1), Sowers (3+1) and Walker (2+1), led the way. Ward was unreal, making 17 saves, each being bigger than the next, with a 63% save percentage.

Waterdogs have solidified themselves as a legit threat in this league.

The second game of the Sunday semifinal slate was no slouch either. Archers took on Chaos to see who punched their ticket to next week’s championship game against Waterdogs. Chaos have a knack for winning big games when they matter most, and Archers look for their elusive first win against Chaos in the playoffs.

Don’t let a 2-8 record fool you, Chaos have turned it up thus far in the playoffs and are 6-1 in the postseason since 2020. This game was no different, with Chaos beating Archers 9-7 in a back and forth contest.

To the action we go. Matt Moore and Archers got on the board first. Moore backed down a short stick defender and fired a shot past Blaze Riorden. On the ensuing Chaos possession, arguably the goal of the game was scored. Chris Cloutier received a pass on the side of the net, worked his way to the slot and fired a side-armed scoop shot past Adam Ghitelman. Gross stuff from Clooch. Want more highlight reel goals? No problem. Chaos gained possession after an over-and-back and the ball ended up in Josh Byrne’s stick. As Archers were setting up their defense, Byrne went streaking through the middle and fired a behind-the-back shot that went in. Someone call SportsCenter, Chaos came to play. Cloutier didn’t let his teammate and buddy have the spotlight for long. Clooch once again, came from behind the net and scored on an insane scoop shot from just ahead of the crease, all the while having defenders draped all over him. Chaos were three-for-three on the highlight reel, and had a 3-1 lead at the end of the first quarter.

The second quarter scoring was a little more modest, as there were only two goals scored, one by each side. The first was by Connor Fields, as he shook a defender and fired a side-arm shot from the slot. The next was at the 8:33 mark, and was Cloutier’s hat trick goal. The big bodied attacker received a pass, backed down a defender, threw about a million fakes and fired a shot into the net. With a few massive defensive stops and timely saves from Riorden and Ghitelman, the quarter would end, 4-2 Chaos.

The always entertaining head coach of Chaos, Andy Towers, commented on Cloutier’s fantastic first half performance. “This guy is ice cold in his veins, steps up in the biggest moments, and here he is doing it again. No surprise to us at all.”

The third quarter started the same as the second finished. This game had it all, highlight reel goals, phenomenal goaltending, and was a defensive slugfest. The defensive slugfest lasted until Kyle Jackson broke through for his first of the game, with 5:14 left in the frame. Archers finally gained some momentum as Marcus Holman and Tre Leclaire notched two straight. A pivotal storyline up to this point was Holman’s goal being the first “assisted” goal in the game. Archers lead the league in assists, so this was going to be huge moving forward. Chaos answered right back with two of their own, one from Mac O’Keefe and the other from Jackson. O’Keefe tried his hand at the underhand scoop shot, and was obviously successful. 7-4 Chaos going into the fourth.

Scoring definitely picked up in the fourth. It was an “every other” type of statsheet. Holman scored his second, and was answered by Dhane Smith on the powerplay. Moore got his second, and was answered by Jackson’s hat trick. The league’s midfielder of the year, Tom Schreiber, got his first of the game, but it just wasn’t enough. If all the stress and action of this game wasn’t enough for you, check this out. Schreiber fired a two-pointer pretty much at the buzzer and no one could seem to find the ball. After an official review, it showed Riorden made the save and the ball bounced up and stuck in his shorts. Insane finish to an insane game. Your final, 9-7 Chaos. Chaos advance to the PLL Championship for the third straight season.

Andy Towers spoke after the game. “This is when it matters, we have one goal and that’s to win the PLL Championship.”

Players of the game for Archers were, Moore (two goals), Holman (two goals) and Schreiber (1+1). Ghitelman did his best to keep his team in the game, making 11 saves with a 55% save percentage. As for Chaos, Cloutier (three goals), Jackson (three goals) and Byrne (1+1), led the way. Reigning MVP Blaze Riorden, looked like exactly that. The goaltender made 13 saves, with a 65% save percentage.

The stage is set. Waterdogs take on Chaos for the PLL Championship, next Sunday at 3pm from Subaru Park in Chester, PA. Chaos look to repeat as champions and Waterdogs look to continue to put the league on notice. Buckle up, it’s going to be a bumpy road to the finish line.