Dynasties are hard to break.
The Coquitlam Adanacs’ superiority on the junior A lacrosse circuit continued after they defeated the New West Salmonbellies 11-6 on Sunday, advancing to the Minto Cup tournament on the strength of a 4-2 series victory.
There was no resignation on the face of the ’Bellies players, who pushed the Adanacs but ran up against a standout performance from goalie Christian Del Bianco, as well as some shrewd defensive schemes.
Throw in Coquitlam’s well-rounded offence, and you can understand the wall New West had hoped to climb. With just eight goals tallied over the final two games, the ’Bellies chance of succeeding was squeezed to the limits.
“It’s tough. We knew the range of goals we needed to work with, goals for and against, that would get the job done,” noted New West coach Rich Catton. “I think it puts pressure on the offence to score more, it puts pressure on the defence to hold, and it puts pressure on (goaltender Erik) Kratz to keep it at the levels we need to be successful.
“That’s the game – everyone knows what their job is, and I thought we had a positive room going into the game (Sunday). … We got good stops, we got good shots but just didn’t win.”
Coupled with a demoralizing 13-2 setback in Game 5 – where a 2-2 game late in the first period unfolded with Coquitlam scoring five times in the span of 3:33 – and the end result made Sunday’s target all the more distant.
They led briefly after Will Malcom and Erik Maas tallied back-to-back powerplay goals before the game was eight minutes old. But the Adanacs, who are heading to their 10th straight Minto Cup tournament, tied it up on Adam Fulton’s shorthanded effort 23 seconds later. It was part of a four goal-run that included tallies by Chase Scanlan and Jalen Chaster just six seconds apart.
That was the kind of wave New West had to withstand, as well as find some space behind Del Bianco.
Possible? Sure, but not on this night.
“The turning point was that first period, where they went up 5-2, with the repeated goals,” remarked assistant ’Bellies captain Keegan Bell. “Coquitlam would score and score again right after. We’d answer, and they’d score right after that. It was pretty tough to keep everybody up after that.”
New West twice pulled within three in the third period, including Malcom’s third of the night, but were stymied in every rally attempt.
Del Bianco, who was named the playoff series MVP, turned aside 32 shots and finished the post-season with a .880 save percentage.
For Bell, the past year was a great opportunity to pace the floor of where his father, former 'Bellie Bob Bell, once played.
"It meant a lot for me to be a ‘Bellie," he said. "My dad played for the Salmonbellies, and to wear the same jersey as he did was special. I think I represented it to the best of my abilities. It’s absolutely a world-class organization, any player that could have a chance to play for New West is having something special every time you walk on the floor, to see all the banners. Just putting that logo on your chest, there’s no word on how special that is, for me and everyone in that dressing room."
New West was without the services of captain Carter Dickson, who missed all but two games of the team's nine-game playoff run. His absence due to injury was a significant hurdle, noted Catton.
"You miss your captain, for sure. He’s led up all year long. You take away one of our top lefties, a top O-guy and it makes a difference," the first-year skipper remarked. "You have to play through that and the guys did very well. Looking back, we’re reflecting in the coaches' room and we’re going, ‘Where did we go wrong?’. I think the concensus is (Coquitlam) had an outstanding goaltender. That’s the real truth of what happened in this series.
“In the end, their goaltending was fantastic – I’m not saying Kratz didn’t play well, but I think (Del Bianco) was the difference in a couple of the games. When got it within 9-6 (Sunday) I felt a little momentum, but it wasn’t quite there. We asked a lot of our boys to come in the last few games and work hard and they did that, but we just didn’t seem to get the bounces, it seemed."
As to next season, while the likes of Bell, Dickson, Kratz and Ryan Wilkinson are graduating, there is a solid core in which to continue the drive for a Minto Cup, Catton said. The other positive is that the Adanacs won't have Del Bianco, expected to be the No. 1 pick in next winter's Western Lacrosse Association draft.
“We have all their names on the board. We’re saying goodbye to our ‘97s now, Wilkinson, Kratz and the fantastic players we had in that room for a long time. But we have a lot of great righties and lefties coming through the organization. (The Minto Cup) is here next year and we’re already looking at the board, working on next year. That’s the way it is. There’s no Del Bianco, and the Del Bianco era is over."