When the Six Nations Chiefs stepped into Bear Mountain Arena for Game 1 of the Mann Cup two weeks ago it was a culture shock.
The barn was alive with a pulse the Chiefs’ hadn’t experienced before, thanks to half a dozen drums beating in unison. On top of that were nearly 3,000 people screaming for clover.
The Victoria Shamrocks won that tightly-checked first game, 5-4, on an heroic third period effort from call-up Jesse King.
King, an NCAA player who has yet to play in the National Lacrosse League, the melting pot where most of the Chiefs’ and Shamrocks’ players play with and against each other, was the one of many surprises for the Chiefs. They didn’t know to watch for King, and they weren’t ready for the Shamrocks’ speedy game, or the Rocks’ intensity and hunger, born from its recent Western Lacrosse Association championship.
The Chiefs weren’t even sure about the drums – a feature of fan support they don't have back home. But slowly, and surely, patience and will turn the series around. When the Shamrocks’ rode an early 6-1 lead in Game 3 and went up 2-1 in the best-of-seven series, the Chiefs became “desperate,” and went on to win Games 4, 5 and 6 and its first Mann Cup since winning three straight in from 1994 to 96.
“It’s tough playing in a barn like this but when you’ve got the support we have, all the drums and our native brothers and sisters that came to support us, it’s not home but it feels like home,” said the Chiefs’ Cody Jamieson, named the Mike Kelly Memorial Trophy award winner as the series MVP.
As for the Shamrocks, nothing could mask their pain as they left the floor. Matt Vinc sat the longest, as the goalie who played brilliant in net for the Rocks watched his former team celebrate.
Bill Baker stood, drum in hand, with his fellow drummers and other members of Vancouver Island’s First Nations communities on the floor of Bear Mountain Arena on Friday night, sharing in the post-game celebration with the Chiefs and its entourage of fans who made the trip out from Ontario.
“The drumming is tradition,” said Baker. “I live in Nanaimo now but I’m from the Squamish Nation and for 47 years I’ve been (drumming) and watching at North Shore Indians games.”
The North Shore Indians/Thunder have been without a WLA team since moving to Langley in 2004 but the Indians continue to play in the senior B league.
The orchestrated beats were clearly rehearsed prior to the games, but no practice was needed, Baker said.
“It’s tradition, tradition, tradition.”
“At points it didn’t feel like we were on the road,” Chiefs coach Rich Kilgour said. “I know not everyone liked the drums but it let us know there was a couple of people on our side. I don’t think Peterborough our Brampton would have got the support we got.”
Some of the First Nations fans there to cheer were the same who support Kilgour and his brothers Travis and Darris when they led the 1990 St. Catherines Athletics to the junior A Minto Cup championship here in 1990, Kilgour added.
The Chiefs embraced the drums as a symbol unity between the local First Nations and the majority of the Chiefs’ roster, coaching staff and administration. And when Shamrocks' fans spurned it, even if it was just a few "bad apples" speaking out of turn, it divided the stadium.
The drums were for the Chiefs. The Shamrocks had to settle massive goal celebrations which, as grand as they were, came far less often than the constant drum beats.
Shamrocks’ nation, to its credit, applauded gracefully as the Chiefs took home the coveted trophy.
How the west was won
“The first period of Game 3 turned into our battle cry, from then on we kept saying ‘We’re down 6-1, we’ve got to play with desperation.’ That was the turning point, we took it to them after that,” Jamieson said.
The Chiefs outworked the Shamrocks to win the final three games. Each game had its own story lines: failure by the Rocks to produce a dangerous attack; adaptation by the Chiefs by adding speedster Tom Montour to their transition in Game 4 and from then on; and the stonewalling of the Shamrocks’ by goalie Brandon Miller, who finished with a 4.45 goals against average. In a sport where 10 goals against is considered strong, 4.45 is unheard of.
The Shamrocks had a chance to win Game 6 and take the momentum into Game 7 with a run of three-straight goals and a 5-4 lead to end the second period of Game 6. But the Chiefs’ defence held tight and, when Kasey Beirnes scored with 10 minutes left to tie it 5-5, the Rocks’ desperate offence, as good as it was all tournament, couldn’t break through Miller.
“We outworked and imposed our will and (the Shamrocks) didn’t lay down,” Kilgour said. “We were 10 minutes from Game 7 when we tied it (5-5). When (Beirnes) scored that goal, I felt our team get wind back in the sails.”
Jamieson is currently the most decorated player in all of lacrosse. He has won the NLL’s Champions Cup with the Rochester Knighthawks twice in the past 16 months, and was named the MVP of both wins. Now his name is on the same list as Gary Gait, who own the award with the Mann Cup champion Chiefs in 1995.
“We wanted this bad,” Jamieson said. “Our reserve hasn’t seen it since 1996. I watched the Chiefs those years, from ’94 to ’96, and it feels good to put a stamp on Chiefs’ history.