By Jim Windle w/notes by Scott Zerr
SASKATOON – It all came down to the Saskatchewan Rush and the Georgia Swarm, a team festooned with Six Nations, Haudenosaunee talent when the National Lacrosse League boiled the 2017 season down to two teams in two, possibly three, games.
The Georgia Swarm took the first game of the NLL Champion’s Cup with a come-from-behind victory courtesy of a seven-goal run in the second half to best the Saskatchewan Rush with an 18-14 victory.
Georgia’s come-from-behind victory was led by Jordan Hall and some stellar defensive work from goaltender Mike Poulin and the equally dangerous Swarm defense.
“That’s the acquisition of the year, man,” Poulin said about trading for Hall during the offseason. “He’s been unbelievable for us. This group — there’s so many different personalities, and Jordan’s come in and fit right in, not just as a piece, but the glue that brings all the pieces together. I don’t know where we’d be without him. I really don’t. He’s been unbelievable.”
That sent the best of three series to Saskatchewan and an arena filled with Rush fans eagerly looking for a three-peat NLL Champions Cup win. But it was not to be, as the Georgia Swarm captured their first Champion’s Cup, winning the National Lacrosse League title by beating the two-time defending champion Saskatchewan Rush 2-0 in the best-of-three final.
Game No.2 ended in dramatic fashion as the Swarm forced overtime by scoring with three seconds left in regulation, and then winning the game 57 seconds into overtime on a goal by Miles Thompson. The game-winner was set up by Lyle Thompson, who scored a hat trick and was named Champion’s Cup MVP.
The game-winner capped a wild ending to the game and the series.
Trailing 10-8 heading into the fourth quarter, the Rush’s offence ignited for four goals in just over three minutes and they jumped ahead 12-10. Robert Church pulled the Rush closer only 29 seconds into the fourth as he stormed towards the Georgia net, fought off a high-stick, and put a shot past Swarm goalie Mike Poulin. Two minutes later, rookie Matt Hossack tied the game for Saskatchewan as he went solo on a fast-break opportunity and hit the far corner with his shot on the run. The Rush took their first lead of the game 43 seconds later when Ben McIntosh notched his hat-trick marker, and Saskatchewan grabbed a two-goal lead only 24 seconds after that when Church blew past a Georgia defender, faked out Poulin in tight and put his shot away.
The Swarm pulled even on goals 1:10 apart on a pair of stellar efforts. Jordan Hall made it 12-11 as he went airborne lunging towards the Rush net and put his shot over the shoulder of Saskatchewan goalie Aaron Bold. Georgia tied it up when Lyle Thompson carved his way through the Rush defense, faked a high shot, and tucked the ball inside the near post.
Georgia re-established a lead when Shayne Jackson’s shot went off Bold’s arm and across the goal line, but the Rush rallied one more time. Jeremy Thompson, playing against his three brothers on the Georgia roster, raced down the floor, screeched to halt in the front of the Swarm net and shifted his way to a shot that beat Poulin with 1:34 to go. Following a clutch faceoff win by Mike Messenger, the Rush went back on the attack again, and only 22 seconds later, Mark Matthews fed a sensational pass across the slot to Adam Jones who tallied his fourth of the game with a shot to the top corner.
The Swarm caught a late break and capitalized. The Rush opted to pull their goalie in the dying seconds to give them an extra runner on the floor but a clearing pass eluded defenseman Chris Corbeil. Georgia’s first shot towards the empty net was blocked by Thompson yet Joel White was able to put the rebound into the gaping goal to force OT with three seconds left in regulation.
“We go 6-on-6, we get the double team and have a guy open,” said Saskatchewan assistant coach Jeff McComb.
“If Corbeil catches that pass, the game’s over. He’s upset with the way it turned out and is devastated. It’s the way we always play it and it’s the first time it’s come back to bite us.”
Randy Staats posted four goals for Georgia in the deciding game. Netminder Mike Poulin, playing in his first season with the Swarm, turned in his second straight terrific performance and finished with 48 saves.
Hall, Miles Thompson, and Johnny Powless each scored twice for the Swarm.
“It’s an obvious understatement that it’s a great feeling,” said Swarm head coach Ed Comeau. “Our effort reflects how hard we worked to win and how hard we worked from the first game of the season. Everyone in the league starts the season for this reason. We got it done and it’s a great feeling. We’re excited and thankful.”
Ryan Keenan rounded out the Rush scoring with a pair of goals, while Bold, who was pulled briefly early in the first quarter, finished with 37 saves.
Randy Staats didn’t waste anytime getting home after the win. He made a quiet appearance at the Keegan Hill Slowpitch Tournament on Sunday afternoon to share the win with his lifelong friends and to remember Keegan.
Johnny Powless scored five goals and seven assists in three playoff games for Georgia, Staats scored nine and assisted on 13 in his four playoff appearances. Miles Thompson scored six and added four assists in his four playoff games, while brother Lyle scored six goals and 15 assists.