September 16, 2016

Reflections on Six Nations Chiefs' Mann Cup Win

by Neil Stevens | Twitter

HAGERSVILLE, Ontario — Lingering thoughts after watching the Six Nations Chiefs win a third Canadian championship in four years:

• There is not a lacrosse player in the world who makes scoring a goal look easier than Ryan Benesch. He potted four in a 14-6 victory over the Maple Ridge Burrards on Wednesday night that finished the annual best-of-seven East-versus-West showdown in five games. It was still a game in the second period when Benesch accepted a cross-crease pass and instantaneously fired the ball into the open side of the Burrards net on a power play. He broke free a minute and a half later for a clear path to the net, faked shooting not once but twice, and buried another one to give his team an insurmountable 8-2 lead. What a player.

• The Chiefs won because they had a lineup of international and NLL stars but, just as important, they would not allow the young and athletic Burrards to outwork them.

“It was a tough series,” said captain Sid Smith. “They’re a hard-working team. We knew if we matched their work ethic we’d be alright.”

In the end, the Chiefs had as much grit as they had talent.

• Want to talk about grit, talk about Cody Jamieson and Billy Dee Smith. Their left knees are damaged and surgical repairs are required. But there they were dripping sweat and hoisting the gold trophy. Billy Dee was his usual abrasive self on the back end and Jamieson scored two goals to help put the Burrards away.

“We showed a lot of resilience and got some real character efforts from guys like Cody Jamieson playing on one leg,” said checker-transition runner Brodie Merrill. “A lot of guys stepped up. It was a fun group to be a part of. It feels awfully good to finish the journey off with a win.”

• Austin Staats was outstanding on the left side of the Chiefs’ attack after being called up from the Six Nations Arrows Jr. A team when their season ended.

“It’s unreal for me,” he said amid the handshakes and hugs. “I would never have expected to be playing for a Mann Cup this year.

“I didn’t think I’d be picking up a stick again this summer. But I’m fortunate enough to wind up playing for the Chiefs and winning a Mann Cup at 18 years old with a lot of good vets. I guess I did a good enough job to get back into the lineup every night.”

Guessed right. His penchant for physical play was as jaw-dropping as his scoring.

• Six Nations has a roster deeper than an ocean, and all the players placed team above self. The Chiefs had guys sitting out who are NLL stars. When the lineup was juggled after the Game 2 loss, Stephen Keogh was deleted. He never got back into the series. This is the same player whose scoring exploits helped the team overcome a 0-3 series deficit against Peterborough in the Ontario final _ and that fact was not overlooked after the Mann Cup was presented because player after player mentioned Keogh and others not on the floor when it ended.

“We battled through a lot of stuff this season,” said forward Craig Point. “We knew we had to keep our composure through this whole series, and we did. Offence played well and defence played awesome, too, along with our goalie.”

Dillon Ward saved his best goaltending performance for last in earning his first Mann Cup triumph.

“I had to be at my best and my defense in front of me gave me the opportunity to be my best,” Ward said. “It was all-around just a great game.”

• The goaltending of Frankie Scigliano made the Burrards a serious contender for the Mann Cup.

• There is no better leader than Dan Dawson. He captained Canada to a world championship a year ago and he won the Mike Kelley Award as this year’s Mann Cup MVP.

“Dan Dawson was a class act from start to finish,” said Burrards coach Rob Williams. “He’s a great leader.”

The Chiefs’ trading deadline acquisition from Brampton of brothers Dan and Paul Dawson gave them lineup depth other teams could not match.

“It’s always a bit nerve-wracking when you come to a team that’s already established but we’re happy it worked out, and thankful to Brampton for giving me and my brother the opportunity to come to a great organization like this and have the opportunity to win a Mann Cup,” Paul said.

• Burrards coach Rob Williams was impressive throughout the series with his calm and collected demeanor behind the Burrards bench and with his intelligent comments during interviews. This was his first year in the job, yet, he conveyed the impression he’s been doing this for many years. He was so proud of his players.

“This was an amazing season by a bunch of young players,” he said. “It was a great learning experience for us. We’ve got probably another 10 years of competing for it. Who knows when you get back to it but at least we’re on the right track. That (Game 5) wasn’t indicative of the series. We competed. This feeling, losing, sucks but we opened some peoples’ eyes, for sure.”

• Everybody knows how good Ben McIntosh has been in his two-year NLL career helping the Rush win two straight titles. Multiply that by three and you’ll get the drift of what fans who watched this series think of him now. Great scoring touch. Never retaliates when roughed up. Class act.

• Wondering why scores were lower than in NLL games? Easy answer: NLL nets are 4  feet 9 inches wide, while Canadian summer league indoor nets are 4 feet 6 inches wide.

“You can see the difference just by the scores of games,” says McIntosh. “It’s not rare to see a 17-16 game in the NLL. Here, it’s not rare to see a 5-4 game. It’s a lot harder to score. A big factor, too, is the (goalie) sticks. Goalies here are using big wooden sticks. There’s not a lot of room down low whereas in the NLL they have smaller sticks and there’s more room at the pipes so the goalies’ stances are wider. It makes a big difference. You can tell by the scores. You’ve got to be diligent with your shots and put them in good spots if you want the ball to go in.”

• Has a better defense corps ever been assembled for a Mann Cup series? Doubtful. Among Chiefs checkers Wednesday were NLL captains Sid Smith, Billy Dee Smith and Dan Coates along with Brodie Merrill, Paul Dawson, Jeremy Thompson and David Brock.

“We all looked in the mirror,” said Brock. “We were getting tired and banged up so we knew we had to do it (Wednesday) or it might be a struggle.”

“We didn’t change anything,” said Billy Dee Smith. “We just kept our feet on the gas pedal. We stuck to our systems and things worked out better than in the previous three games. I think we wore them down. We were physical, we banged, and offensively we moved the ball. We tired them out. I’m excited for the boys. It was a lot of hard work but well worth it, obviously.”

• The players prefer the seven-game format over the best-of-three final now in use by the NLL.

“Winning with Team Canada was unbelievable and this was just as good if not better,” said star forward Dhane Smith. “I’m thankful.”

“The Mann Cup is one of the hardest championships in lacrosse to win,” said Thompson. “The biggest thing you can focus on is we, as in team.”

• A lacrosse stick is a third arm for a lot of these players. Merrill played in three leagues this year: the NLL with Toronto, the MLL with Boston, and the amateur summer loop with Six Nations.

“I’m looking forward to a little bit of time off,” said a huffing and puffing Merrill as he and his Chiefs teammates celebrated.

In his weekday job, he coaches lacrosse at his father’s school, The Hill Academy, north of Toronto. Rumor is that the only time he doesn’t have a lacrosse stick in his hands is when he takes a shower.

• NLL teams now assess the damage. Among NLL players injured during summer play were Cody Jamieson, Billy Dee Smith, Johnny Powless, Robert Hope, Rob Hellyer, who will miss the entire 2017 NLL season rehabbing from August knee surgery, and Jesse King. John Grant Jr. also had surgery to repair accumulated damage. 

“It’s for the love of the game,” Six Nations head coach Rich Kilgour replied when asked why NLL stars play on summer league teams. “(NLL teams) can’t stop them.

“If they paid millions of dollars, yes, I could see them saying, ‘You’re not doing that.’ But no one in the winter makes enough to make that their only job. It’s not enough to pay all the bills. I’m sure some of the (NLL) teams get mad when their guys get hurt in the summer but the summer leagues are what made the NLL so pay them more money or so sad, too bad.”

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