Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Chiefs win 9-7 again, take 3-1 lead in increasingly intense Mann Cup finals

Ben McIntosh (left) and Billy Dee Smith were central figures in Game 4, which Six Nations won 9-7 to take a 3-1 lead in the 2016 Mann Cup. (Photo: Tim Prothero)
For the second straight game the Maple Ridge Burrards held a 7-6 lead in the third period and for the second straight game the Six Nations Chiefs scored the final three goals to win 9-7. Now the Chiefs have the Burrards on the ropes, leading 3-1 in the 2016 Mann Cup and with a chance to close out the championship in Wednesday's Game 5.

After a blowout in each direction in the first two games, a pair of tight matches have resulted in the intensity ramping up as you'd expect in a best of seven series. That intensity resulted in some chirping between the teams across the centre line before each team headed off to its own dressing room after the game.

The teams have a good hate on for each other. As Chiefs defender Billy Dee Smith, one of the central characters in the post-game drama, said, “Just chatting it up, sharing some unpleasantries,” Smith said with a smile. “Guys are starting to get sick of each other. That's the way it should be. I don't like them right now.”

Not surprisingly, Maple Ridge head coach Rob Williams wasn't quite as lighthearted about the squabbling. “I will say there were some classless things said, we'll leave it at that. I'm sure it can be said both ways. That's what happens in a seven-game series played this tight and this tough,” said Williams.

The teams clearly don't like each other much, but they also clearly respect each other on the floor. Smith missed the first two games but has been a critical component of the Chiefs ability to limit the Burrards potent offence to seven goals in each of the last two games. He said keeping up with the Maple Ridge forwards has been a demanding challenge.

“It's definitely a grind. It's what you like to think the Mann Cup is about. No team's blowing out another team, every shift means something,” Smith said. “I think it shows at the end of the game, both teams are exhausted.

“When a team moves as well as them it just comes down to communication,” Smith said of the Burrards constant cutting and picking. “The second you're not talking, someone's not letting you know what's going on, the ball ends up in the net. They definitely have the best offence we've seen this year and they're definitely here for a reason.”

Both goalies were excellent again. Dillon Ward made 44 saves for Six Nations and Frankie Scigliano 41 for the Burrards.

Six Nations led 3-2 after a hard-fought first period but Ben McIntosh tied things up just 16 seconds into the second.

It's been the nature of this series for each team to answer everything the other does. Maple Ridge responded to Game 1's Chiefs blowout win with one of their own, then responded with a goal each of the first six times Six Nations scored in Game 3. The Chiefs, of course, replied with a goal to force overtime when the Burrards were finally able to forge a Game 3 lead then took the game with a pair of goals in the extra frame when Maple Ridge ran out of time to provide an answer.

So it's hardly surprising that Six Nations answered McIntosh's goal with a pair of their own from Dhane Smith and Randy Staats, or that Maple Ridge turned that around with goals from Connor Goodwin and Jarrett Davis.

Randy Staats ties the game 7-7 in the third period. (Photo: Tim Prothero)
Very few goals came easily; both defences continued to make forwards pay for venturing inside but both teams' forwards continued to do so. When they got good looks, both goalies continued to make some big saves.

Ryan Benesch scored on a back-door quick-stick with 4.8 seconds to play im the second while Ward was on the bench for an extra attacker to make it four on three thanks to a series of penalties. The Chiefs almost extended their lead to two goals when Brodie Merrill was sprung for an open look right off the ensuing faceoff but Scigliano made a clutch save.

Dan Taylor tied things up with the Burrards second shorthanded goal of the game 1:05 into the third then McIntosh's hat trick goal gave them the lead at 2:47.

Maple Ridge couldn't make that lead hold up, though. The Chiefs scored a pair—Randy Staats and then Dan Dawson—less than two minutes apart, the second coming at 8:06.

The Burrards had chances to tie it up; they outshot the Chiefs 16-10 in the third period, but Ward made the lead stand. With Maple Ridge pressuring with the extra attacker in the dying seconds, Billy Dee Smith jumped from a scrum to grab a loose ball that had bounced out of it. He sprinted up the boards past both benches, absorbing a check into the boards but hanging on to the ball.

When Smith tossed the ball towards the empty net from near the restraining line, it didn't really matter if it went in because there were only seven seconds to play, but it created a celebratory roar from the stands and the Chiefs bench when it did hit the mesh.

Chiefs head coach Rich Kilgour said it was fitting that Smith got the insurance marker with a rare goal because of his strong efforts despite a painful calf injury.

“Billy got the game ball,” Kilgour said. “It's probably his first goal in three or four years. JT [offensive coach John Tavares] was teasing him that he's 100% because that was his first shot, first goal. It was great having Billy get that one at the end because he's another guy that's banged up but said, if you guys need me I'm ready to go. The calf can wait till the series is over.”

That's the approach both teams are taking: there'll be time to deal with the assorted aches and pains after the series. For now they're both battling hard to try to win lacrosse's holy grail.

The Chiefs have an edge in experience but Burrards alternate captain Jarrett Davis, who has won the last two Champions Cups with the Rush, said Maple Ridge has youth and desire on their side.

“It doesn't hurt them to have that experience,” Davis acknowledged. “I think our hunger plays to our strength. There's a lot of young guys trying to make a name for themselves. I think the experience is great for them but it's probably not the deciding factor in the series right now.”

Davis agreed that discipline is important but said it's not always easy to edge up to the line without crossing over it.

“That's the fine line that's hard to stay on the right side of. Hopefully we'll stay in the moment and just focus on doing the right things,” Davis said. “Our strength is just to come out and play as hard as we can. Hopefully we'll stay on the right side of that line but it's easier said than done sometimes.”

Kilgour, meanwhile, emphasized that his team isn't thinking the series is over by any means.

“We haven't won anything yet. Three wins doesn't get you the Mann Cup,” Kilgour said. “They're cliches for a reason, because they're true and they're tried and tested. The fourth game's the hardest. I'm going to do my best to have them ready for tomorrow night and let them know you don't get the fourth win easy. We'd better be ready to do it.”

Game 4 goes Wednesday night at 8 pm and can be seen live on JVI Sports Network's webcast.