ALL West Championship Final Preview

by Gary Ahuja

Will the Shooting Eagles lay claim to a second consecutive Arena Lacrosse League West championship, or can the upstart Black Fish pull off a second straight upset?

That question is set to be answered this week as the two teams battle in the ALL West Championship Series on March 27 and 28 at Langley Events Centre. Both games begin at 7:00pm and should they each win once – as has been the case the previous two years – the two squads will immediately square off in a 10-minute min-game following the conclusion of game two to determine the 2024 champion.

Both teams were one-sided winners in their respective semi-final games as the No. 1 seed Shooting Eagles won 18-5 over the fourth-seed Grizzlies and the third-seed Black Fish prevailed 19-6 over the No. 2 Sea Spray.

During the regular season, the Shooting Eagles were the top squad in the four-team ALL West, finishing with a record of 10-5 while the Black Fish came third at 7-8. Head-to-head, the season series was 3-2 in favour of the Eagles, although the Black Fish outscored them 71-69 over those five games.

Shooting Eagles

No team was more prolific offensively as the Shooting Eagles averaged 14.7 goals per game. Conversely, they also allowed a league-worst 13.9 goals against (209) but still had a league-best +11 goal differential.

The team has relied on a balanced attack with no player in the top 3 for any offensive category, although they did have six players with 20 or more goals (no other team had more than four). Mark Yingling was tied for fifth in goals (28) and assists (42) and fourth in points (70) while teammate Spencer Bromley – the 2023 ALL West Most Valuable Player – was fifth in points with 67 and tied with Yingling in assists (42).

Joining them with 20+ goals were Garret Winter (25 goals, 39 assists), Coady Adamson (26-37), Dylan Lacroix (24-26) and Declan Fitzpatrick (20-17). Fitzpatrick and Lacroix both also boast impressive shooting percentages converting at .351 and .329, respectively.

The Eagles also benefit from extra possessions thanks to face-off man Tyson Johnson, who has gone 240-99 on draws this season, a 0.708 winning percentage.

In goal, the team has the tandem of Alex Buque and Colin Jeffrey. For the regular season, Buque sported a 14.39 goals against average and a .719 save percentage while appearing in three games and going 2-0. Jeffrey was 3-1 with an 11.67 GAA and .766 save percentage in the five games he dressed in. In Sunday’s semi-final win, it was Buque who got the call, saving 33 of 37 shots (.892).

Black Fish

The Black Fish struggled at both the start and conclusion of the regular season, going 2-6 over those eight games, but were at their best in the middle portion of the schedule with five wins in seven games – including two wins over the Shooting Eagles – to finish 7-8.

Offensively, the Black Fish scored 199 goals (13.3) while allowing 207 (13.8) with Laszlo Henning leading the division with 36 goals – a new ALL West record – and an incredible .414 shooting percentage.

Connor Watson was tops on the Black Fish in both assists (52) and points (80) and those numbers were both good for second in the division, while he was tied for fifth in goals with 28 (alongside the Shooting Eagles’ Yingling).

The Black Fish also have eight players with double digit goals with Brian Gillis (22 goals, 30 assists), Ethan M’Lot (17-45), Chase McIntyre (15-27), Josh Mills (21-16) and Temeke7 Gottfriedsen (11-9).

Brandon Humphrey – the two-time ALL West Most Outstanding Goaltender – has carried the bulk of the duties in net, posting a 12.21 GAA and a .765 save percentage, both of which rank him second among eligible goalies. Humphrey does lead in saves (401), wins (6) and minutes played (609:13) as he has played more than 200 more minutes than the closest goalie. He also leads all goalies with dozen assists.

Joining Humphrey in the crease is Dave Mather, who had a 13.94 GAA and .737 save percentage.

Special Teams

The Shooting Eagles hold the advantage in both power play and penalty kill, successfully scoring on 57 percent of their man advantage chances – compared to 48 for the Black Fish – while killing off 52 percent of their penalties. The Black Fish PK checks in at a 43 percent success rate.

Adamson and Henning led their respective teams in power play goals with nine and eight, respectively. The Shooting Eagles did score 15 times while playing a man down, compared to 10 for the Black Fish.