Warriors Keep Playoff Hopes Alive

04/14/19 Vancouver-   The Vancouver Warriors returned home for the first time in nearly a month to face to Philadelphia Wings. The Wings who play in the eastern conference were playing the Warriors for the first and last time this season.

The Warriors have certainly struggled this season, but did not look it on Sunday in their massive win. Although they are unlikely to make the playoffs, the victory did keep them in contention. However, despite missing the playoffs again, they have had a better season than last and have seen growth both on and off the pitch.

On the field they have five wins, up from two last season, and have seen noticeable growth from a number of players. Mitch Jones has been a stud offensively and has almost single handedly carried the team throughout the season. The problem with that is that he is the Warriors only goal scorer above 30 goals heading in to the game, and that has meant Vancouver ranks last in the league for goals scored. Goaltender Eric Penney has also been a pleasant surprise for the Warriors this year. After being demoted to the bench to begin the year, he was given a chance and took it with both hands. He has been reborn this season and is second in the league for goals against average, while sitting fourth in save percentage.

Off the field, the Warriors and Vancouver lacrosse as a whole have taken massive strides in 2018-19. After playing to dismal crowds at the Langley Events Centre under the “Vancouver Stealth” brand, the teams move to downtown and rebrand have launched the team into relevance. Last year the club barely sold out the much smaller Langley Events Centre, and this season they have averaged over 7000 playing out of downtown’s Rogers Arena. With the move and newfound attendance success, the Warriors have also built a media presence; with their games all broadcast on Sportsnet 650 radio, and a weekly review show on Sportsnet TV.

Going in to Sunday’s matinee affair with Philadelphia, there was still a slim chance that the warriors could make the playoffs, however for that to happen Colorado would have to lose two games and Vancouver would have to win out the rest of their schedule. Long shots to say the least.  Sundays game was also lacrosse heritage day, where all the players wore their jerseys from their childhood, and were announced as members of their junior clubs.

The Warriors returned home after  a road trip where they lost two games, making it a three game losing skid heading into Sunday’s game with the Wings. Philadelphia on the other hand have not been much better. They were 3-13, coming off a Saturday night loss to Saskatchewan and are a dismal 0-7 when playing away from home. The Wings came in to Vancouver only looking to play spoilers for, as that’s really the only reason for them at this point in the season.

In a battle of bottom feeders, Aaron Bold and Doug Buchan were in between the pipes for their respective teams. While the game certainly did not affect the standings much it did effect the NLL record books.

The Warriors who have had problems starting games and Sunday was no exception. Just 15 seconds into the game, the Wings strolled through Vancouver’s loose defense and got on the board with the opening goal from Blaze Riorden. The lead and good times didn’t last for long though, as the Warriors would open their scoring with a solo effort from Mitch Jones, who would follow that up with his second of the game mere minutes later. After Jones’ two goals, the Warriors continued their run of good play as they controlled most of the possession and added another two tallies as a result of good teamwork and passing. Halfway through the quarter, the Warriors were leading the bottom feeder battle by three goals. The offense never stopped for Vancouver in the first half, they continue to score at an incredible clip. Outshooting their east coast counterparts 24-10 and launching themselves to a 9-1 lead. Their offensive breakout in the opening quarter led many to wonder where this has been all season for the NLL’s lowest scoring team.

Philadelphia again started the second quarter strong, opening the scoring; although much like the first half they quickly fell behind again. After making it 9-2, the Warriors would add to their lead quickly. Launching themselves back to an eight goal lead at 10-2.  At the end of the half, Vancouver held a massive 11-2 lead. The largest they have had at any point this season. The Warriors took well advantage of a tired and not very good Philadelphia team in the first half.

The second half kept the good times a’rollin for Vancouver. Keegan ball opened the third quarter scoring a  minute in with his fourth of the game, and Jordan Mcbride extended the lead to 11 goals also with his fourth. The Wings would get a mercy goal to cut the lead down to 10, as they tried to dig themselves out of their big hole. Vancouver would not let up, quickly regaining their 11 goal lead. Following their 14th goal, tempers began to flair. Mitch Jones scored, and teammate Jaan-Luc Chetner  was attacked by Wings forward Eric Shewell. The two engaged in a heated fight, as the Wings tried to reinvigorate their lost team.

The fight failed to do much, although the third quarter did see the Wings put many more shots on goal, crawling back to keep pace with Vancouver, and they actually led the shot count 51-47 after the third.  Despite the shots coming more often, the goals failed to follow as Aaron Bold continued to stand tall in net for Vancouver. The third quarter also presented a piece of NLL history, as Wings centre Trevor Baptiste moved into second all time in faceoff wins in a single season, breaking Bob Snyder’s record of 319 in 2012.  The Philadelphia side was significantly better throughout the third quarter, however with such a big hole to dig out of, it was too little too late. The third ended with Vancouver having a nine goal lead, a very dominant position heading into the final quarter.

The final quarter saw yet another piece of history made. Aaron Bold set a personal record for most saves in a game, eclipsing his previous record of 59 set last season. Sunday was one of Bolds most outstanding performances of the his career.

One has to wonder, if Bold were to have been as dominant all year, and the offense as potent. Would the Warriors be a playoff team? Hindsight is 20/20 but it is an intriguing prospect.

The record for most saves in a single game in NLL history is unknown, but Bold may have eclipsed that as well. Although the fourth quarter was not as dominant by Vancouver, and was largely controlled by the visitors; the Warriors held on to win 19-11, keeping their playoffs hopes alive.

After the game,  Bold was pretty blunt and determined when asked about Vancouver postseason chances. Saying “We definitely still have a chance, If you’re doubting us, I say, ‘bring it on.’ We’ll definitely use that to fuel our fire.”

While the formula and determination is admirable, the Warriors playoff destiny remains out of their hands. They caught a break this weekend with Colorado losing in overtime, however if the Mammoth find a win in either of their final two games, that would spell the end of the Warriors season.

Keegan ball had a career high 14 points in Sundays match, and stressed about how the game plan has to be the same going into the final games, if Vancouver is to have any hope of making the postseason.

The Warriors have two more games this season. First up is an away match against the Rochester Knighthawks, before closing their season at home against the Toronto Rock.

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