The Victoria Shamrocks scored five straight goals in the second period of Game 6 on Thursday (Aug. 29) and went on to win 8-3, taking the Western Lacrosse Association over the Langley Thunder.
Langley, which won the WLA title in both 2011 and 2012 and was the top team during the regular season, was up 2-1 in the series. But the second-seed Shamrocks rallied for an overtime win in game four to even the series and then became the first team to win a road game in the series with an 11-8 victory in game five.
The Shamrocks now look to the Mann Cup, as they host it for the first time since winning it in 2005 in Bear Mountain Arena.
“That I’m relieved is one thing to say,” said head coach Bob Heyes. “Watching the clock run down (Thursday), there was a big sigh of relief we’re part way through. We’re there and a there’s a little bit of celebration, but this isn’t the big thing.”
The ‘big thing,’ the Mann Cup, starts with Game 1 on Friday (Sept. 6) at Bear Mountain Arena. Game 2 is Saturday.
Heyes was the Shamrocks backup goalie during its 1997 and 1998 Mann Cup championships. And now in his second season at the helm since taking over from Shamrocks legend Walt Christianson in November of 2011, Heyes can also become part of the club’s legendary status.
The Rocks will face the Six Nations Chiefs, winners of Ontario’s Major Series Lacrosse.
This year will produce the first Mann Cup champion other than the Peterborough Lakers and Brampton Excelsiors since the Shamrocks did it eight years ago. The Shamrocks last visit to the Mann Cup was in Peterborough in 2006.
“(Friday morning) I was already trying to get some online footage from the MSL final as I hadn’t seen any of (that series) yet,” Heyes said.
Unlike the golden days of the Mann Cup, there’s little mystery about who the Shamrocks are playing.
Rhys Duch was with the Chiefs last year and led all scorers with four goals in the final game of the 2012 MSL playoffs, in which the Lakers beat the Chiefs.
Matt Vinc was in goal for the Chiefs the previous season.
“In the past all we had was some (rough video) footage, if any, and some newspaper clippings, but nowadays our guys know them and they know us,” Heyes said.
When the Chiefs will scout the Shamrocks they’ll see a stingy defence that held the top offence in the WLA to an average of four goals per game at Bear Mountain during the WLA final.
“It’s cliche but the defence and goaltending were key for us,” Heyes said. “The big signings we had were all offensive guys, Cory Conway, Scott Ranger and (the return of) Duch, and that’s a big part of our team but we brought (defensive) guys who are athletic and can play different systems, ensuring that was a key part of our game.”
The spread of contributions speaks for itself, with the eight goals in Game six coming from seven different players.
Only captain Scott Ranger scored twice. Up front Duch, Jeff Shattler and Mitch Jones scored and so did Matt Yager, Greg Harnett and Tyler Burton. It’s the fruit of the transition game Heyes has wanted.
“Tyler Hass, Dan McRae and Karsen Leung, those three (transition) guys are the engine that drives the engine that activates the offence, they were key to the strength of how we improved (from Game 1 to 6).”
With Corey Small most likely out of the playoffs due to injury, goals from the defence and transition players has been key.
So has the playoff Jeff Shattler.
“You never know where we’re going to get goals from,” Heyes said.
McRae is the golden example, as the third-year Shamrock from Oakville, Ont., has five goals this post season.
“There’s always been glimpses of what (McRae) can do, but fitting him into the right situation, on the defence that we run now, it suits a lot of our players.”
All this goes without saying that the lynchpin for the Shamrocks agains the Thunder was Vinc in net.
Vinc outplayed Brodie MacDonald, the WLA goalie of the year, in the WLA final. With Nick Rose, the Thunder boasted the top goaltending duo in Canada.
On Thursday Vinc stopped 34 of 37 shots, controlling and gobbling up the rebounds.
When the Thunder called a pad measurement on Vinc in the first period, it backfired, Heyes said.
“We had the gong show in Burnaby (when forward Derek Lowe had to finish the game in goal) so we had addressed it already,” Heyes said. “And it inspired Vinc to be even better.”
With Vinc the players know they can take an extra chance and he will most likely stop the ball the other way, he added.
The 2013 Mann Cup dates at Bear Mountain Arena.
Game 1 Fri. Sept 6
Game 2 Sat. Sept 7
Game 3 Mon. Sept 9
Game 4 Tues. Sept 10
Game 5 Wed. Sept 11 (if necessary)
Game 6 Fri. Sept 13 (if necessary)
Game 7 Sat. Sept 14 (if necessary)