Mann Cup Preview: Thunder look to dethrone champion Lakers
by Gary Ahuja
Playoff spot? Check.
Western Lacrosse Association championship? Check.
Mann Cup? To be determined.
Two goals are done and all that remains to be seen is if the Langley Thunder can complete their checklist by bringing home the ultimate prize for Canadian senior A men’s lacrosse teams: the Mann Cup.
Doing so with be no easy task however, as the Thunder are up against the three-time defending Mann Cup champion Peterborough Lakers. The Lakers claimed their record 27th Major Series Lacrosse title with a six-game victory over the Six Nations Chiefs while Langley was a five-game winner in the WLA Finals over the Nanaimo Timbermen.
The Lakers will host the best-of-seven Mann Cup championship at the Memorial Centre with the first four games set for September 9, 10, 12 and 13. If necessary, games five through seven are scheduled for September 14, 16 and 17 and all are being streamed for free at the MSL YouTube channel.
This will mark the second-ever meeting between in the Mann Cup between the two teams as back in 2012, the host Lakers dropped the first two games before winning four straight to defeat Langley in six games. The Thunder are also aiming to break a long-drought as no WLA champion has won the Mann Cup in Ontario since 1986.
The Thunder know they are heading into a hostile environment as they chase their sport’s ultimate prize.
“It is going to be intense. I have been in three Mann Cups – this is going to be my fourth – so I know what it’s all about. Having (played in Peterborough) in 2018, getting swept with Maple Ridge, that was a tough go, so I know it is a tough barn to play in; it is going to be a packed house and those are knowledgeable and passionate fans. (But) we are looking forward to the challenge,” said the Thunder’s Curtis Dickson who was on the Peterborough team in 2015 and 2017, winning the Mann Cup in the latter try.
This is Dickson’s first season with Langley after he was acquired in 2020 and he has been as good as advertised, finishing second on the team with 27 goals and 68 points in 14 regular season games and then 26 goals and 55 points in 11 playoff games. His points total were both second on the team to Dane Dobbie (37 goals and 80 points in 15 games followed by 24 goals and 62 points in 10 playoff games) while Dickson’s 26 post-season goals – which included five of the team’s eight game-winning goals – were first.
“On paper, the whole league knew we had some strong offensive players. Our defence was young and obviously Frankie (Scigliano) is a world-class goalie,” said Thunder coach Rod Jensen. “People (thought) that we are just going to walk in and clean the league out; we had our struggles but towards the end of the season, we started pulling it together … and started making things happen and it worked out for us.”
The team opened with three wins in their first four games but then stumbled with three consecutive losses to fall to 3-4. The team strung together another three wins in four games to get their record to 6-5 before suffering a huge loss in New Westminster, which left them with an 8-6 record and a tough closing stretch, needing a minimum of three wins in their last four games to qualify as the Salmonbellies held the tiebreaker should they finish with identical records.
What followed was two of the team’s most impressive wins of the season as they held the playoff-bound Coquitlam Adanacs to a single goal in a 9-1 home win and then a gritty 13-12 win in Victoria over the Shamrocks. That latter game saw the Thunder have six call-up players in the line-up, goaltender Steve Fryer made just his second start of the season and back-stopped the team with a 48-save performance against the league’s top offence.
Jensen said that win energized the team as they won twice more – 14-8 in Burnaby and 11-8 at home to Victoria – to finish 4-0 and not only earn a playoff a spot, but also first place overall for the WLA playoffs.
Langley then eliminated the Shamrocks in six games in the opening round and defeated the Nanaimo Timbermen in five games to win the WLA title for the first time since 2012, earning a plane trip to Peterborough to face the Lakers.
“I think it just took us– a little while – as cliché as it sounds – to build that chemistry. Offensively we are clicking and defensively and Frankie, have been absolutely lights out through basically the entire season and the playoffs. We have all just found our stride at the right time and that is what it takes to win in these leagues. We are playing well but that means nothing if we don’t go back east and do the same thing, so we have to carry that over,” Dickson said.
While this is Dickson’s fourth Mann Cup appearance, for many of his teammates, this is their first crack at winning the championship.
“Just enjoy it. You don’t know how many of these you are going to get to; there are guys who have played their entire careers and never played in a single Mann Cup so just enjoy the experience and don’t take it for granted. Don’t try and do too much; we are here for a reason and playing in this Mann Cup for a reason. Everyone knows their job and we just have to go out and do it,” he said.
“It is an absolute privilege (to play for a Mann Cup). I think for a lot of us, we have been watching for a long time … since we were little and now getting the opportunity to play is an absolute honour to finally get a chance ourselves and we are going to relish this opportunity,” said Reece Callies, who anchors the Thunder defence.
The players know they are in tough against an opponent looking to become just the second four-peat Mann Cup winner.
“We are playing a pretty dynamic team in Peterborough. They have an unbelievable line-up top to bottom, goaltending, offence, defence, face-off guy, everything, so it is going to be an absolute battle for us,” said Langley’s Robert Church, who was acquired from the Burnaby Lakers ahead of the season.
“I don’t think many people are giving us a chance, but we have some belief in our locker room and if we play our best lacrosse, we are hoping for a good series.”
Langley’s 12-6 record saw them finish with a +25 goal differential before they went 8-3 in the playoffs with a +20 goal differential. They averaged a combined 10.48 goals per game while surrendering 8.93 goals per game.
The Thunder power play was 42-for-91 (.462) in the regular season and 25-for-47 (.532) in the playoffs while the penalty kill went 30-for-83 (.639) and 12-for-48 (.750), respectively.
Peterborough was 7-5 in the regular season with a +10 goal differential and then 7-4 in the Major Series Lacrosse playoffs, outscoring their opponents by +17. They have averaged 10.35 goals per game while allowing 9.17 goals per game.
The Lakers power play was 18-for-55 (.327) in the regular season and 17-for-50 (.340) in the playoffs while their penalty kill went 15-for-65 (.769) and 19-for-48 (.604).
INDIVIDUAL PLAYOFF STATS
Dane Dobbie was the playoff MVP following his 24 goals and 62 points, averaging 6.2 points per game, while Curtis Dickson led the team with 26 goals and was second with 55 points. Other top scorers in the playoffs included Connor Robinson (16 goals, 41 points), Chase Scanlan (14 goals, 38 points), Dylan Kinnear (10 goals, 23 points) and Robert Church (9 goals, 21 points).
Frank Scigliano finished with an 8.79 goals against average and an .832 save percentage.
Goaltender Doug Buchan was the MSL Playoff MVP as he went 6-0 with a 9.62 goals against average and .844 save percentage. Offensively, the team was led by Joe Resetarits (20 goals, 42 points), Thomas Hoggarth (27 goals, 39 points), Holden Cattoni (13 goals, 35 points), Cory Vitarelli (10 goals, 29 points), Mark Matthews (10 goals, 29 points), Kiel Matisz (five goals, 25 points) and Shawn Evans (10 goals, 21 points).