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Bellies battle but fall short against Chiefs in thrilling Mann Cup match

"One game at a time:" New West Salmonbellies' down 3-0 to Six Nations Chiefs but still confident they can win
New Westminster Sr. A Salmonbellies goalie Zach Higgins, shown during game one of the 2023 Mann Cup, was the team's Player of the Game in Game 3.

The New Westminster Salmonbellies battled back from a four-goal deficit – but it wasn’t quite enough to stop the Six Nations Chiefs.

The Bellies and Chiefs kept fans on the edge of their seats right down to the final buzzer in feisty Game 3 of the Mann Cup finals.

Bellies goalie Zach Higgins made a big stop in the first 20 seconds of the game, but Six Nations quickly came back and scored its first goal just 47 seconds into the opening stanza. By the 13-minute mark, the Chiefs had taken a 3-0 lead.

Will Malcom put one past Chiefs’ goalie Doug Jamieson to narrow the gap, but the Chiefs scored two more – ending the first period with a 5-1 lead.

In the second period, New West outscored Six Nations 6-2.

Scoring goals for the Salmonbellies were Ilia Gajic, making his 2023 playoff debut in the Bellies’ lineup, Malcom with his second of the night, Keegan Bal, Kevin Crowley and captain Mitch Jones. Midway through the period, D-man Jeff Cornwall had the Bellies’ fans on their feet when he scored a beauty on a breakaway.

At 13:58 of the second, Bellies defender Mike Messenger was ejected from the game after receiving a game misconduct.

It was around that then that Bellies’ fans began showing their dissatisfaction with some calls by the referees, with chants of Refs You Suck alternating with Go Bellies Go.

With the scored tied 7-7 at the end of the second, intensity built in the third period, when the two teams sought to take a lead.

With 5:2 left in the third, Thompson notched his second of the night, to give the Chiefs an 8-7 lead. Earlier goals for the Chiefs came from Eric Fanell and Randy Staats, each with two, and singles coming from Dhane Smith, Ben McIntosh and Lyle Thompson.

After taking a timeout with 48 seconds left on the clock, the Bellies gave it their all trying to tie the game, but their efforts were thwarted by Jamieson.

Higgins, who had 48 saves in Game 3, was the New Westminster Salmonbellies Player of the Game. Lyle Thompson, who had two goals and three assists, was the Chiefs Player of the Game.

Game 4 in the best-of-seven series is Tuesday, Sept. 12 at 7:30 p.m. at Queen’s Park Arena. Six Nations leads the series 3-0 after wins of 10-7 in Game 1 and 13-11 in Game 2.

“We know we are facing a very difficult task of winning the next four games but as everyone can see, the games have been extremely close,” said Bellies general manager Ray Porcellato. “So we are still confident we can beat the Chiefs, one game at a time.”

The Six Nations Chiefs topped the Major Series Lacrosse regular season with a record of 22 wins and three losses. In playoff action, the Chiefs lost only one game, before winning the MSL title and heading west to play for the Mann Cup.