MINTO PREVIEW: Shamrocks Look to Avenge Loss to Raiders

by Owen Munro

shamrocks, raiders eye minto finals spot

It has been an exhilarating ride so far at the 2019 Minto Cup at the Langley Events Centre, and it will only heat up more tonight when the Victoria Shamrocks battle the Okotoks Raiders for the right to face the Orangeville Northmen in a Best-of-5 Finals series set to begin on Wednesday night. 

Victoria Head Coach Terry Dennett said after the 'Rocks loss to the Okotoks Raiders on Saturday evening that they would need some help from the lacrosse gods against the Coquitlam Adanacs, and did they ever get it. Victoria came out like gangbusters in the opening minutes and built a 6-0 lead after 20 minutes. The goals kept coming - further outscoring the defending Minto Cup Champs 9-7 over the final 40 - to help ensure the Shamrocks a berth into the semifinal game despite starting the tournament 0-2.

Okotoks more than held their own in the Round Robin, giving Coquitlam a competitive game in the opener before pulling away Victoria in the final minutes. The Raiders were less fortunate against the Orangeville Northmen, which was a theme of its own in the first portion of the Minto. Dennett has said Okotoks is an extremely well-coached team that is playing at a high level, and that's a pretty fair assessment of the Raiders. Alberta teams often battle the expectations of being a Minto minnow, despite it being far from the case, but a win tonight would more than help Raiders begin to erase that image.

GOALTENDING WILL BE KEY

The rematch will be largely dictated by what performances the respective teams get in the net. BCJALL MVP Cameron Dunkerley didn't have his best game against the Raiders, allowing 12 goals on 37 shots for a .755 SV%. The offence began to pick up its feet as the game went along, and with a strong performance in net by 'Dunk', the Shamrocks will feel good about their chances coming into this one. Dunkerley was much better against Coquitlam and also made some timely stops in the opening game loss to Orangeville. 

In the other crease is Jack Bruzell-Friesz, who is playing some of the best lacrosse of his career. In just over 100 minutes of work, JBF has stopped 75 of 95 shots for a .789 SV %, but has also had the benefit of getting some rest during the tournament, with the Raiders spot clinched before Sunday's game against Orangeville. There is definitely some psychology behind that move as well: if the Raiders can take home the win, they will have the added benefit of throwing out a different goalie that the Northmen have not yet seen. The Minto Cup is about finding and exploiting the advantages, and that may very well be one of them. 

TURNING THE TABLES IN TRANSITION

One of the best parts of the Minto Cup so far is the teams that are getting out on the fastbreak and showcasing their elite team athleticism. Both Okotoks and Victoria use it as part of their gameplan, so you'll likely see a lot of running, which over 60 minutes, requires a lot of mental toughness. It's one thing to go end-to-end against an opponent, but it needs to be with smarts while avoiding costly turnovers. That's something that bit Victoria in the rear-end a bit in the first game, with loose ball vacuum Harrison Matsuoka scoring two on the breakaway after a CTO. 

For Victoria, getting the ball down the floor as quickly as possible is half the battle. Whenever they can both catch the opponent on their heels and get their sharpshooters out in guys like Zach Manns and Teioshantathe McComber, they're a dangerous team to play. Not only does it give the Shamrocks the potential to get multiple possessions off the fastbreak, it also helps wear down a D over the course of 60, something the Shamrocks have done all season. 

AIN'T NO MOUNTAIN HIGH ENOUGH

There is a ton of ebb-and-flow and momentum that switches hands throughout a high-stakes game like the one we will see tonight. It's important for both teams to stick to the principles that got them to the LEC in the first place, and not panic in the face of adversity. That's often the true challenge for a champion to overcome, and that's why tonight's game is shaping up to be such an exciting one. You have two teams that have rarely been on this big a stage, and with so much on the line, it may the team who blinks first that finds themselves fighting and scrapping their way back into the game. 

Tonight's game time is 7 PM at the Langley Events Centre.

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