Saturday, 26 July 2014

Saints look to rebound after tough game 1 defeat

View from the cheap seats by Homer Bridge

The St. Catharines Sr. B Saints were stung Friday evening in their first playoff confrontation of the year by a capable opponent fully dedicated to knocking all of the confidence, dominance and perceived authority out of the three-time provincial champs. The Six Nations Rivermen were over-whelming early and built themselves an impressive lead by virtue of some solid team play and a physically punishing defense, and ultimately that proved enough to claim a game one victory in this best of five semi-final.

The game started well for St. Catharines when Corey Fowler broke completely free from his check to take a goal-mouth feed that he deposited after a couple of fakes. But the next five goals of period one plus the opening two early in period two would all go the Rivermen's way. The Six Nations were getting good looks inside on starter Dave DiRuscio and on occasion his acrobatic saves would leave himself vulnerable to the rebound from the free-wheeling Rivermen. While the Saints struggled to tighten up their defence, the Rivermen were providing bone-rattling coverage in their zone to keep their opponents at bay. A few of the Six Nations players were armed with woodies, but regardless of their choice of stick, they established control of the front of the net and kept the Saints attack stalled at the perimeter. I'll disagree with Pointstreak tally and say the first period ended with the Rivermen up by 5 to 1.

Six Nations would score two in the first five minutes of period two, both on quick, multi-attacker, multi-passing cavalry charges that left DiRuscio without much of a hope, and the second one coming off the stick of Holden Vyse would knock the goaltender out of the game at 4:55 in favour of Grant Crawley with the score now elevated to 7 to 1.

The game seemed to be getting out of reach for St. Catharines but Crawley's entrance seemed to bring a steadying influence and the Saints noticeably began working hard to make this a game again. While playing four on four, veteran Duey Porter rolled one under the Six Nations goalie after some nice around the horn passing and then a minute later Zac Reid took a looping break away pass from Andy Tober to make it 7 - 3.

Saints defender Brandon Niesink and Nations' Chancy Johnson went at it like cats and dogs at mid-floor that saw Johnson well-weathering all the early aggression from his larger and angered opponent before picking the moment of a quick, counter-strike barrage that suddenly turned the tide his way. And Six Nations would re-establish its six-goal lead with a couple of their own...Wayne Van Every capitalizing after a Saints defender fell down and then Vyze again on a cross-crease, multi-fake sortie while the Saints were a man short. With period two running down, Scott Defranseco would threat the needle on a top-right corner shot and the tiring teams walked off with Six Nations up by 9 to 4.

Both teams were battled and bruised going into the third, and the Saints to their credit continued to try to claw back into this one even as Nations seemed to have things well under control. It was evident that goals would be hard-come by at the Six Nations end, but the Saints showed a willingness to get inside and perhaps the desire to dish back some of the physicality of the Rivermen defenders with some hard picks and blocks and subtle stick work. Defranseco scored while short-handed about six minutes into the third, and then another six minutes later Corey Fowler would be rewarded for his never-give-up attitude to pull the score to 9 - 6 for the visitors.

But while even the Rivermen defenders looked to me to be feeling the effects of a hard-fought battle, they remained vigiliant and controlling, and minimized all the late desperation that the Saints could muster up for them. VanEvery would close the night's scoring on an easier one while goalie Crawley was making the sprints to and from the bench for the extra attacker in the closing moments, and the game would end with a resounding cheer from the good-sized crowd from Six Nations who made the trip to the Bill Burgoyne Arena.

Final score was 10 to 6 in favour of the Six Nations and the Rivermen open up a 1 - 0 lead in this best-of-five semi-final. They were full value for their win and played tough, team-oriented lacrosse all evening long...a team on a mission. Wayne VanEvery (7 points) had his usual strong game as did large-bodied Holden Vyze and Dean Hill. Cory Bomberry zinged a perimeter shot off the cross bar that took me back about a decade ago when he was such an amazing shooter with the Chiefs. AP player Zed Williams was a nice stand-out for the Rivermen and the tall speedster chipped in a couple of goals as well.

The Saints welcomed Joel Matthews and Corey Fowler back to the line-up and both put up solid games, but the team was without the services of Dylan Llord and veteran Jason Henhawk.

Six Nations now with home-floor advantage will host game two on Monday evening while the teams will be back the next night at the BBA.

And that's the view from the cheap seats.