Salmonbellies swept in four games by 'Rocks

Victoria got up 8-1 before eliminating New Westminster 10-5 in WLA final

New Westminster’s last stand lasted less than 25 minutes.

The senior A Salmonbellies fell behind early and could not recover, losing in four straight games to the Victoria Shamrocks following a 10-5 defeat at Queen’s Park Arena last Friday in the Western Lacrosse Association best-of-seven final.

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The win advanced the Shamrocks into the Mann Cup for the third consecutive season. Victoria lost the cup final the last two years to the Six Nations Chiefs.

Victoria beat ’Bellies starter Alexis Buque twice to the blocker side in the opening nine minutes and extended that lead to 4-1 before the first period expired.

First star Rhys Duch led the onslaught with a hat trick in the first 20 minutes, including back-to-back counters less than two minutes apart late in the period.

Cory Conway wasted no time keeping the momentum going, scoring with the team’s first shot on goal with less than a minute gone in the second frame.

League and playoff scoring leader Corey Small then put the visitors up 6-1, tallying the eventual game-winning goal on transition two minutes later.

“We talked about going out and getting a strong start, … but their offence can shoot the ball,” said Kyle Ross, who watched all of the second and third periods from the stands after receiving a game misconduct for fighting with Ben McCullough late in the first period.

Duch, with his game-high fourth goal of the match, and third star Tyler Hass, with a transition power-play goal, drove Buque from the nets with the ’Rocks up 8-1 at the midway mark of the period.

With goalie of the year, Eric Penney between the pipes, New West got two late ones to finish the second frame behind 8-3.

The Record’s choice for New West’s playoff MVP, Keegan Bal, halved the deficit to 8-4 with his second goal of the game, but that was quickly erased on a transition counter by Victoria’s Karsen Leung, who registered a sizzling 0.444 shot percentage from the back end in the playoffs.

Aaron Bold, who had a lot to prove after being left off either of the WLA first and second all-star teams, was named the playoff MVP following a 45-save performance and a .900 save percentage in the final game.

The turning point in the series came in Game 2 at Queen’s Park, when the Salmonbellies surrendered four unanswered goals in the final period to hand Victoria a 10-9 win and a two-game advantage in the series, said Ross.

“If we came out in the third period and got one or two and squeezed that one out, it would have changed the mentality,” Ross said.

But winning a Game 3 on the Island is difficult at any time and with elimination looming in the back of players’ minds, it was no wonder New West appeared to be gripping the stick a little too tightly in the fourth and final game.

In fact, the Salmonbellies appeared too individualistic in their offensive systems at times on Friday.

The team’s lack of goals in the playoffs also revealed a weakness in the Salmonbellies lineup.

New West averaged just 6.5 goals against Bold in the playoff finals and mustered an 8.7 goals/game average in the regular season – the lowest of any of the teams that made it to the post season.

Clearly, this is an area New West must address in the off season and at the 2016 draft.

But Ross maintains the foundation is there for another push for the Mann Cup similar to that in the late 2000s, when the Salmonbellies went to three consecutive Canadian senior A championship finals from 2008 to 2010.

“I think this team is somewhat following the same path we took. The potential is there,” Ross said. ‘They’re bringing the experience we need to push this team.”

Victoria will now await the winner of the Ontario Major League series between Peterborough and Six Nations.

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