Heading into week six, the Sea Spray Lacrosse Club and Grizzlies Lacrosse Club sported identical 4-1 records before the big mid-season showdown between the two clubs. The Sea Spray posted a dominant 16-9 win that day to take the early lead in the Arena Lacrosse League West Division standings with half a season to play.
Since that game, the Sea Spray have continued to motor, winning four of the next six games for the 9-3 regular season record, while the loss was a preview of what was to come for the Grizzlies, with the team winning in week seven before losing five straight games to close the regular season with a 5-7 mark, dropping from challenging for first place to finishing in third spot.
But regardless of how the second-half played out, the Sea Spray and the Grizzlies will compete for the inaugural ALL West Division championship in the best-of-three series this weekend at Langley Events Centre. Game one is Saturday, March 26 and game two goes the following day with a 1:00pm start for both games. Should the teams split those two games, they will play a 10-minute mini-game following the conclusion of game two to determine the first ALL West champion.
Both teams earned the right to play for the title after posting victories on Sunday (March 20) at Langley Events Centre with the Grizzlies defeating the second-place Shooting Eagles Lacrosse Club while the Sea Spray held off the fourth-place Black Fish Lacrosse Club, both by identical 11-7 scores.
Grizzlies 11 Shooting Eagles 7
The Grizzlies entered Sunday’s semi-final game on a five-game losing streak – the most consecutive losses by any of the four ALL West teams – but took control early and lead wire-to-wire in knocking off the Shooting Eagles by the 11-7 score.
The Grizzlies last win came back in week seven in the final week of January and since then, the team was outscored by 26 goals during their five-game losing streak with the losses coming by three or more goals. All through the losing streak, the Grizzlies coaching staff preached how each defeat was a learning lesson for their young team.
“When you start something, you should always start something with an end in mind. The great thing about this league is it allows us to try things, allows us to experience things together and today what you saw was the coming together of all the lessons we learned this whole year,” said Grizzlies coach Tewanee Joseph.
“This is the whole thing we were building towards: the playoffs. For us, it was about being prepared for the moment.”
The Shooting Eagles entered the game averaging 13.75 goals per game, but the Grizzlies and goaltender Brandon Humphrey were up to the challenge, holding their opponent well below their season average.
Humphrey made 45 saves on 52 shots as the Grizzlies were outshot 52-45 and was named the game’s first star. Second star honours went to his counterpart at the other end of the floor as Brody Harris stopped 37 of 48 shots, coming up with several big stops to keep his team in the game.
Humphrey said his teammates did a great job allowing him to see the shots.
“They really made my job a lot easier and that is how we have to play. It is pretty tough to steal games as a goalie – we are not going to steal them very often – so when the team plays as a team, it means I can just do my job and don’t have to do anything extra and do too much, and just let everybody do their role,” Humphrey said.
It also helped that the Grizzlies never trailed, jumping ahead 3-0 in the first quarter. The Shooting Eagles did cut the deficit to 7-6 late in the third quarter before the Grizzlies responded with four of the game’s final five goals.
“We had to stick to our process. A game is a series of adjustments, but we had to stick to our process and what we were doing both offensively and defensively. When you re-check and self-check …when they got close to us, we had to focus in on our process, we had to be more focused on what we were doing,” Joseph said.
James Baker led the Grizzlies offence with a hat trick and six points while Erik Maas (two goals, three assists) and Kieran McKay (two goals, two assists) both had two-goal games. Maas was also the game’s third star. Mitch McDole (one goal, three assists), Brian Smith (one goal, two assists) and Sekawnee Baker (one goal) rounded out the scoring.
The Shooting Eagles offence was led by Mark Yingling’s two goals, while Doug Porter had a goal and an assist. Dylan Laprade, Jake Foster and Justin Digby had a goal apiece.
“When you play team defence and communicate, that is always the big thing for lacrosse team at any level and I think our guys did a great job of communicating with each other. They have great offensive players across the board … so the ability for our team to be able to play team defence was the most important part,” Joseph said.
“We grouped together as a family and started doing the things we were supposed to be doing and committed to them and to each other; stopped playing as individuals and started playing together,” Humphrey said.
Sea Spray 11 Black Fish 7
The Sea Spray scored goals on their first two shots just eight seconds apart in the opening minute and were up 4-0 with a little over five minutes gone. And that four-goal cushion proved to be final margin of victory as they held off the Black Fish by an 11-7 score to book their spot in the ALL West final.
“The difference was just how we came out to start. We had a slow third and fourth, but the lead we had on them gave us that little boost,” said the Sea Spray’s Gordie Phillips, the game’s second star following a two-goal, three-point performance where he also went 15-4 on face-offs.
“You always want to come out and score the first goal and set the pace of the game, and that is what we did. It is a lot harder to fight back then it is to play from out in front.”
The Sea Spray were able to extend their lead by a goal in each of the first three quarters, up 4-0, 7-2 and 9-3 after three quarters to play. But the Black Fish scored four straight in the fourth to cut the deficit to a pair with half a quarter to play.
Phillips admitted there was some uneasiness on the Sea Spray bench.
“Little bit of nerves, lots of talking on the bench. You can say a whole lot on the bench, but you just have to do it, you have to go out there and try a lot harder,” he said.
Despite opportunities to cut into the lead even more, the Black Fish were unable to beat goaltender Matteo Tack again, with Nick Preston making it 10-7 with 2:44 to play and then Zac Christianson scoring into the empty net 59 seconds later.
“We did a good job of when they had their runs, settling down and controlling the game. But the score was kind of scary there until late in the game,” said Sea Spray coach Russ Heard, who was happy with his team’s effort but felt they could have put the game out of reach much earlier.
“We let things slip in the end. Both their goalies played well (but) I think if we had picked our shooting a little bit better today, we could have ended this game a little bit earlier.”
Heard was also complimentary of his opponent.
“That team has a lot of moxie on the other side; when they are down, they constantly find a way to come back. I give full credit to Roddy Jensen,” he said. “Down the stretch, they were one of the toughest teams to play against.”
Both Black Fish goalies saw action in the game with Justin Geddie getting the start and stopping 39 of the 48 shots before giving way to Gordy Bowden, who stopped 19 of 20 shots in 16:48 of game action. For the game, the Sea Spray peppered the Black Fish net with 69 shots on net compared to the 51 goaltender Matteo Tack faced, stopping 44 to earn the game’s first star award.
In addition to Phillips’ three-point game, Tyler Kirkby also had a pair of goals and an assist with Preston (one goal, two assists), John Hofseth (one goal, one assist) and Connor Goodwin (two assists) also having multi-point games. Aidan Ellis, Rob Hofseth, Keegan Bell and Evan Pattison chipped in with a goal apiece.
Chase McIntyre was the game’s third star and led the Black Fish with a hat trick. Ryan Jones (one goal, one assist), Nick Jensen (one goal) and Greg Lunde (one goal) had the other goals for the team.