ALL Western Division preview

by Gary Ahuja

Sea Spray's Tyler Kirkby led the ALL West in assists with 49 in 12 games this past season. Garrett James Langley Events Centre file photo

The two hottest teams to start the Arena Lacrosse League season are the last teams standing in the hunt for the inaugural Western Division Championship.

The Sea Spray Lacrosse Club and Grizzlies Lacrosse Club each shot out to 4-1 records through the first five weeks of the season ahead of their week six showdown, which was won by the Sea Spray 16-9.

The Sea Spray did drop their next two games but rebounded to win four straight to close out the regular season in first place at 9-3.

The Grizzlies second half of the season was a much different story as they bounced back from that week six loss with a victory only to lose their final five regular season games, dropping from being in the hunt for top spot to finishing in third place at 5-7.

Each team was an 11-7 winner in their respective ALL West semi-final game on March 20 with the Sea Spray defeating the fourth-place Black Fish Lacrosse Club while the Grizzlies upset the second-place Shooting Eagles Lacrosse Club.

The teams now play in the best-of-three Western Division Championship at Langley Events Centre with game one on Saturday (March 26) and game two on Sunday (March 27), both at 1:00pm. Should the teams split the two games, they will play a 10-minute mini-game following the conclusion of game two.

Here’s a breakdown of the two teams:

Sea Spray Lacrosse Club

Goaltender Matteo Tack (above) teamed up with Lee Jackman as the Sea Spray allowed just 138 goals against this past season, fewest in the ALL West. Garrett James Langley Events Centre file photo

No team scored more goals (182) or allowed fewer goals against (138) than the Sea Spray and the team did so courtesy of a balanced attack as none of their players cracked the 20-goal mark but nine of them had between 11 and 19 goals over the regular season and six players averaged at least four points per game.

Tyler Kirkby led the team in scoring with 19 goals, 49 assists and 68 points, finishing as the top set-up man in the ALL West and second in overall points. He also led his team with four game-winning goals.

And while Kirkby finished atop the Sea Spray in points, the team’s biggest offensive weapon remain James Rahe, who despite only playing six games (the first was with the Shooting Eagles), the former National Lacrosse League regular finished with 13 goals and 41 points in half a season’s work. That works out to 6.8 points per game which put him on pace for 81 points and would have won Rahe the scoring title.

The Sea Spray also boasted a dynamic one-two punch in goal with both Matteo Tack and Lee Jackman finishing top two in goals against average (11.01 and 11.63, respectively) while Jackman was second in save percentage at .771 and Tack was sixth at .748.

For special teams, the Sea Spray power play converted at a 42 per cent success rate while their penalty kill was good on denying the opposition a goal 68 per cent of the time. The team did average 19.8 penalty minutes per game, most among the four ALL West squads.

Grizzlies Lacrosse Club

James Baker finished with a team-best 18 goals and tied for the team lead with 35 points for the Grizzlies Lacrosse Club. Garrett James Langley Events Centre file photo

While the Sea Spray averaged more than 15 goals per game, no team scored fewer than the Grizzlies’ 129 goals on the season, which worked out to 10.75 per game. What kept them in games was a stingy team offence and stellar goaltending as Brandon Humphrey and Kyle Mooney finished the regular season with identical .770 save percentages, good for third in the league. The duo was also second and third in total saves, stopping 238 and 224 shots, respectively, and Humphrey was third in goals against average at 12.12 and Mooney was right behind at 12.50.

James Baker (18 goals, 17 assists) and Erik Maas (16 goals, 19 assists) shared the team lead in points as each netted 35 on the season.

For special teams, the Grizzlies operated at a 35 per cent success rate while their penalty kill was good on just 52 per cent of their opponents’ man-advantage opportunities. The team also averaged 15.8 penalty minutes per game.

ALL West Season Notes

Six players suited up in both an ALL West game as well as at least one National Lacrosse League game so far this season, while a seventh was on a team’s active roster as the back-up goaltender but did not see any game action that night.

Keegan Bell (Sea Spray, Vancouver Warriors), Dean Fairall (Shooting Eagles, Panther City Lacrosse Club), Justin Geddie (Black Fish, San Diego Seals), Ryan Martel (Shooting Eagles, Vancouver Warriors), Thomas Semple (Shooting Eagles, Georgia Swarm) and Harrison Smith (Grizzlies, Panther City Lacrosse Club) have each spent time both in Langley and in the NLL. The seventh player was goaltender Brody Harris (Shooting Eagles, Vancouver Warriors) who dressed but did not play.

Four others have spent time on NLL practice rosters: Isaac Bot, Nick Jensen and Nick Scott of the Black Fish and the Sea Spray’s Connor Goodwin. Scott was with the Calgary Roughnecks while the other three were with the Warriors.

While Martel and Semple both had NLL experience prior to joining the ALL – and Martel played just a pair of games in mid-January with the Shooting Eagles before sticking with the Warriors, while Semple came to the ALL at the tail-end of the season – Fairall began the season with no prior NLL regular season experience (he had attended four training camps in the past) but earned a shot with Panther City Lacrosse Club after scoring 26 goals and 53 points in eight games with the Shooting Eagles. At the time of his promotion, Fairall was leading the ALL West in goals and tied for second in points. In five games with Panther City, Fairall has scored 11 goals and 25 points, both of which place him fifth on the team.

And Shooting Eagles’ Jake Foster finished first in both goals (30) and points (73) and was second in assists (43).