Friday, September 2, 2016

Game 7 in the offing: Chiefs down Lakers 10-7 to force deciding game Saturday

Austin Staats and Chiefs fans share the joy of Six Nations final goal in their Game 6 win. (Photo: Tim Prothero)
For the third year in a row, the Major Series Lacrosse championship will come down to Game 7 between the Peterborough Lakers and Six Nations Chiefs. Six Nations made sure of that Thursday night by roaring out to a 6-0 lead and hanging on for a 10-7 win, their third straight after the Lakers had won the first three games of the series.

Chiefs head coach Rich Kilgour expressed deep appreciation for what lacrosse fans have seen over the last three finals as each team has won a seven-game series and now each team has three wins in this series.

“It's 10-10 in the past three years and I'd bet the goals are within one or two,” Kilgour said. “They're a great team, I like to think we're a great team. They're well-coached, I like to think I'm a halfway good coach once in a while. It's been great lacrosse. It's been mean, it's been rough. It's been up, it's been down. It doesn't get any better than this.”

This season has seen a strange series. Peterborough overcame a four-goal third-period deficit to win Game 1 in double overtime. The Lakers edged Six Nations by a goal in Game 2. Peterborough extended its lead to a stunning 3-0 with a blowout win in Game 3.

Then it was Six Nations' turn. They put on an historical display of defence and goaltending in an 8-1 Game 4 win and Dillon Ward continued to shine as the Chiefs won Game 5 by an 8-6 score.

That set the stage for Thursday night at the Iroquois Lacrosse Arena and the Chiefs were ready to roll again. Peterborough outshot Six Nations 17-9 in the first period but Ward was perfect while Randy Staats bookended a Stephen Keogh marker with a pair of goals to make it 3-0 Chiefs after 20 minutes.

Cody Jamieson, playing on a knee that will require surgery after the season, scored the first two goals of the second period and Keogh added another to make it 6-0, almost as shocking a development as when Peterborough had gone up 7-0 in Game 3.

Even when Peterborough got things going in th second period with an Adam Jones goal, Dhane Smith replied just 20 seonds later and it was 7-1 before the midway point of the game. Evan Kirk took a turn in the spotlight for the Lakers, making 16 saves in the second period to keep Peterborough from being run out of the rink. When Kirk started a breakout that ended in a Nick Weiss goal at 18:12 of the second, the score was 7-3 and it felt like the Lakers were building some momentum and may just get back into the game.

Turner Evans, appearing in his first game of the series, beat Ward 37 seconds into the third to keep the Lakers comeback attempt on track. A flurry of goals followed a few minutes later. Staats got it going with his hat trick goal at 3:10. Shawn Evans scored 39 seconds after that. Smith finished off a break that started from Ward's stick another 32 seconds later. Then Dylan Evans ripped a sidearm past Ward just 16 seconds after Smith had scored.

The score was 9-6 and the arena was absolutely buzzing. Both goalies put the clamps on the scoring for a while. Ward was far busier as the Lakers peppered him with 22 third-period shots—they outshot the Chiefs 53-38 overall—and he was the major difference in the period. Ward made save after save to deflate the hopes of Lakers' fans.

Those hopes got pumped up again a bit when captain Scott Self finished off a transition chance with an outside shot that snuck inside the post to make it 9-7 with just under nine minutes to play. The Lakers continued to have the better of the chances in the third but Ward wasn't letting them within one goal. When Austin Staats—who again this game went to the dressing room after being banged up returned to the floor—scored at 13:17, it was the final nail in the Lakers' coffin for Game 6.

Dan Dawson, who directed much of the Chiefs offence and wound up with 5 assists in the game, echoed Kilgour's credo that it's important to focus on the journey rather than the destination.

“We're getting back to the basics, doing the little things right. When you do that, usually the big things take care of themselves,” Dawson said. “That's loose balls, getting back to the bench hard and staying out of the penalty box. Those are the things you can control. The other things you can't focus on. We got away from that for three games.”

Dawson suggested the Chiefs won't be overconfident after winning three straight games, just as they didn't lose their confidence when they lost three straight. He said the Chiefs are excited to be going to Game 7 and they'll be ready to play Saturday night at 7 pm in Peterborough.

“This is why you play lacrosse, for these moments, and we're going to be in tough. They've got a hometown crowd that supports them no matter what they do and you know the place is going to be jumping on Saturday night. The best team on that night is going to win that game. It's going to come down to execution, that's the bottom line.”

Eric Shewell and Stephen Keogh exchanged blows in a late-game fight that
captured the tone of the intense battle between the teams.
(Photo: Tim Prothero)
Lakers defender Brad Self said there wasn't a lot of difference between the two teams in Game 6. “A couple of bounces here and there. You saw it on the first goal,” he said of Randy Staats' opening marker on which a shot caromed off the back boards straight to Staats. “We played solid D, they get a bounce and it winds up in the back of our net. That's the game of lacrosse.”

Carrying over the way their effort from the second and third periods will be critical if they want to succeed in finally getting the decisive fourth win in the series Saturday.

“Whether you want to call it momentum or whatever it is, that's the way we need to play. That's the way we played all year long and that's the way we played in the first three games and the end of the Oakville series. We have to continue to play that way and remember how we played and bring the same fire and passion in Game 7,” Self reflected. “We played with desperation. We started pushing the pace a little bit, played hungry and aggressive. It started working for us. We need to continue to do that.”

Dylan Evans said the Lakers weren't pleased with the way they began the game, but the way they finished it helped restore their confidence for Game 7.

“We got off to a slow start. Going down six-nothing is a tough one to come back and we were trying to claw back the entire game,” Evans said. “We feel good about how we finished the game. There's still a lot of things we need to correct along the way. We're looking forward to Saturday.”

The teams aren't the only ones looking forward to the game. Tickets for Saturday are going fast at the Peterborough Memorial Centre. You can get yours online.

If you can't make it to the game in person, you can watch it live on JVI Sports Network's free webcast thanks to game sponsors Arrow Express Sports, the ILA Sports Store and the Dreamcatcher Fund.