That the Lakers would host the 2018 Mann Cup championship was inevitable, despite never being a certainty, until Saturday night after an 8-7 defeat of the Oakville Rock at the Toronto Rock Athletic Centre. The Lakers took the series 4-2; all except for the final game were won at home.
“We know that the fourth one is the hardest one to win and it’s been hard to win in this arena so tonight our focus was that we didn’t want to go back home until it’s Mann Cup time,” said Kyle Buchanan. “Everyone was winning at home so it was nice to pull one out on the road but our job’s not done. We’ll get rested, enjoy this one tonight but then move forward.”
Zach Currier’s low transition goal at 4:07 of the third period was the game winner. Fittingly, goaltender Matt Vinc was awarded an assist on the goal. Vinc settled in after a four-goal first period to allow only three in the last 40 minutes.
“It felt good to be able to contribute to the team,” Currier said. It was just his second goal of the season. “We had numbers running up there and I had guys setting picks for me. I snuck one past Rosey, one of very few. He played very well tonight so that one felt good.”
Brandon Slade and Holden Cattoni traded the game’s opening markers. Cattoni stripped Luc Magnan of the ball as the Rock ran down to the Lakers’ end and was left all alone to run back in on Nick Rose.
That was followed up though, by a three-goal run from the Rock in a span of less than three minutes. Adam Jones found Cory Vitarelli alone in front to get one back for the Lakers but they trailed 4-2 after the first.
Vinc, who made 38 saves, allowed just one goal early in the second period to Brett Hickey 1:18 in. After that, he did his best brick-wall impression as the Lakers went on a five-goal run that included a natural hat-trick from Shawn Evans, to lead 7-5 after the second.
Andrew Suitor started the run, finishing off a transition break with Matt Gilray, and Cattoni fired an underhand shot five-hole before Evans took over the game. Evans’ second goal was a no-look backhand.
Buchanan, who was awarded the Johnny “Shooter” Davis playoff MVP trophy, recognized that Evans put the team on his back.
“Shawny obviously had an amazing game tonight,” he said. “[The MVP award] is a culmination of our entire offense just working together. I was just trying to be the energy guy that I am so I’m very thankful. A lot of guys in that room deserve it. A lot of guys stepped up when we needed them to.”
Dan Craig scored 2:14 into the third to pull the Rock within a goal before Currier restored the two-goal lead. Tanner Thomson’s goal at 8:42 was the last one the Rock could get as the Lakers’ defense dug in.
Currier, who played his best game of the season, gave credit to the Lakers’ offense as well.
“We shut the door on the back end. Vno played really well. Our defense was playing as a team and our offense was getting up and down the floor for us to eliminate their transition. Our defensive stops in the third period are just as much as the offense’s responsibility as they are ours,” he said.
Nick Rose stopped 58 shots for the Rock, who were led by Craig’s two goals and two assists. It was the Rock’s first MSL finals appearance after defeating the Six Nations Chiefs in six games.
Currier said the Rock weren’t going away easily. The series very well could have gone seven games, but he believes the better team won.
“After game one, thought that was their best but then they kept getting better and it was a lot tougher than expected,” Currier said. “No disrespect to the Oakville Rock but if you look at our rosters on paper I feel like we have a lot more talent on our side, and that just goes to show how hard they work and the dedication they have on their roster.”
The Mann Cup begins on Friday, September 7 at the Memorial Centre against the WLA champion Maple Ridge Burrards, who defeated the Victoria Shamrocks in five games.
Second-year captain Robert Hope, who was a rookie the year after the Lakers last hosted the championship, said the team is excited about hosting it at home, but stressed how serious the team is about winning.
“There’s always a buzz in the city each and every day (during the tournament),” Hope said. “We have to make sure we are prepped and don’t overhype it. It’s another game. Yes, we’re playing for the Mann Cup and this is where we wanted to be at the start of the season.”
More information regarding tickets and times will be released as soon as known.
(Photo by Guido Cattoni, used with permission)