By Neil Corbett
If it’s true that defence wins championships, then the Maple Ridge Burrards should get an edge over the Burnaby Lakers in their first round, best-of-seven playoff series.
The Western Lacrosse Association post-season begins tonight in Burnaby for the Burrards, and is back in Maple Ridge on Saturday, 7:45 p.m. at Planet Ice.
Anyone giving the edge to Ridge would have to ignore the obviously better record that the second-place Lakers put up in the regular season, when they went 11-7, compared to the 9-8-1 season of the third-place Burrards.
Burrards general manager Daren Fridge said games between the two teams are always close, and he expects that to continue in the playoffs. Their first game was a 12-8 Burrards win on June 15. They met again on June 20, and the Lakers won 10-8 in overtime. Their last meeting was an 8-7 Lakers win on July 10.
This series will turn on just a few key plays that make the difference in each game. That’s why WLA playoffs is a brand of hard-hitting lacrosse with cranked-up intensity.
“The aggression and tenacity in the playoffs is higher,” said Fridge. “You’ve got to earn your time and space.
“It [the series] will have its moments of nastiness,” he predicts.
The Lakers have to be given the nod as the better offensive team – they averaged 8.7 goals per game, compared to 8.3 by the Burrards.
Dave Stevens led the Lakers in regular season points with 58, which was down from 81 last season. He enjoyed a four-goal game against the Burrards. Next was Casey Jackson with 54 points, who racked up 14 points in three games against Ridge. And Robert Church, with 51 points, could be the most dangerous player, according Fridge.
The Burrards had two players in the league’s top 10 scorers. Riley Loewen scored 56, with 26 goals, to lead the Burrards, which was good for seventh in the WLA. Jarrett Davis scored 51 points, which tied him for 10th.
The series could turn on the eventual return of the Burrard’s Curtis ‘Superman’ Dickson, who is expected to miss the first two games.
“He’s so dynamic, he can change the game by himself,” Fridge said.
The Lakers know all about the difference Dickson can make – he lit them up for three goals and six points in the one decisive game between the two teams, that being the 12-8 Burrards win. Dickson was credited with 10 shots in the game.
Dickson is still suffering the effects of a hard hit he took during the world championships in field lacrosse, but his rehab is progressing rapidly.
The Burrards enjoy a more significant advantage on defence, having allowed an average of 6.94 goals per game, compared to 8.44 by the Lakers.
Leading the charge is goaltender Frankie Scigliano, who might be the team’s MVP this year, after leading the league in both save percentage (0.838) and goals against average (6.65).
The defence in front of him is formidable. The Porter brothers, Zack and Colton, are a pair of pitt bulls. Captain Tyler Codron brings every type of intangible – not to mention the tangibles. Garrett McIntosh is big, athletic and physical. Creighton Reid “is a big-game player who works the transition.”
New coach Chris Gill, who will miss the first two games while coaching minor girls lacrosse at the national championships, has put in a new defensive system, and the players have bought in. It forces opponents to make several good plays in succession just to get a scoring chance.
In goal for Burnaby is veteran Tyler Richards.
“His reputation is that he can win the big game,” said Fridge.
He noted that he is supported by a quality defence of “wily vets.”
The Burrards are coming off a 9-3 loss to the New Westminster Salmonbellies in their last game of the season, but nothing can be read into that because Ridge rested its big guns on offence – Ben McIntosh, Riley Loewen and Jarrett Davis – to ensure they are ready for the playoffs.
The Burrards have missed the playoffs for two seasons, and Fridge said he hopes the lacrosse community and local sports fans come out and support the team.
In the other WLA semi-final, fourth-place New Westminster (9-9) takes on the first-place Victoria Shamrocks (14-2-2).