Sea Spray edge Grizzlies, claim ALL West Championship

by Gary Ahuja

The Sea Spray defeated the Grizzlies for the inaugural Arena Lacrosse League Western Divisional Championship at Langley Events Centre. Garrett James Langley Events Centre photos

In what very well could be the biggest goal he has ever scored, Keegan Bell admitted he did not see the ball go into the net.

With the score tied, just over a minute remaining to play in game three and the shot clock winding down, Bell whipped the ball at the Grizzlies goal, truthfully hoping to either just earn his team a shot-clock reset and another possession or to prevent the opposition from getting the ball and quickly transitioning down to the other end for a scoring opportunity.

But the sudden shot from down low beat goaltender Brandon Humphries and put Bell’s Sea Spray ahead with 63 seconds to play. The Grizzlies would have two possessions over the final 1:03, but could not muster the tying goal, falling by a 2-1 score on Sunday afternoon as the Sea Spray won the inaugural Arena Lacrosse League Western Division Championship on Sunday afternoon at Langley Events Centre.

“It was all about trying to get a reset. We knew it was crunch time … just trying to get a reset off the pads. Luckily my stick saw more than I did, and it found the back of the net,” Bell admitted. “If I am being completely honest, I didn’t even see it go in. I saw the (Grizzlies) fans put their hands on their heads so I figured it went in.”

The teams were forced to play a 15-minute mini-game shortly after the Sea Spray’s John Hofseth scored in sudden-death overtime in game two for the 14-13 victory. The Grizzlies had won game one on Saturday 9-8 when Steve McKinlay scored with 33 seconds remaining.

The Grizzlies raced out to a 5-2 lead in game two after one quarter before the Sea Spray pulled to within a goal, 7-6, at the half, and then went ahead 11-10 with a quarter to play. The Sea Spray led by a pair with 6:04 to play but Grizzlies captain Mitch McDole marked his return to the line-up with a pair of goals 73 seconds apart, the tying marker coming with just 50 seconds to play.

Tyler Kirkby led all players with 10 points – all of them assists – for the Sea Spray while Hofseth’s overtime winner was his fifth goal (and eighth point) of the game. Nick Preston (four goals, three assists) and Bell (four goals, one assist) both had four-goal games while Rob Hofseth finished with a goal and two assists.

In goal, Matteo Tack made 32 saves for the Sea Spray while his counterpart Brandon Humphrey finished with 61 saves as his team was outshot 75-45. Offensively, Erik Maas led the Grizzlies with four goals and seven points and Aidan Baker scored three times and set up one other. McDole and Harrison Smith both scored twice and Andrew Joseph and Austin Robinson had a goal apiece.

Game three began with Preston opening the scoring at 1:12 before Maas tied the score just over seven minutes later, setting the stage for Bell’s decisive goal.

Kirkby – who led the league in assists over the regular season with 49 – set up both Sea Spray goals, giving him a dozen assists on his team’s 16 goals scored on Sunday. Tack stopped eight of the nine shots in game three while Humphrey – who was named the ALL West Most Outstanding Goaltender – made 10 saves on a dozen shots.

“Humph played great this whole series, unbelievable,” Bell said. “It was just about staying confident. The fact that we got 75 shots on net is unbelievable for us as an offence. We knew what we were doing was working. Humph was staying big in there, so we just had to make sure as we moved forward into the late areas of the game, we are staying tough, keeping those shots going – he can’t stop all of them.”

“It was tooth and nail, no one gave in an inch. It was just a battle and a huge goal by Keegan Bell to pull it out in the end,” said Sea Spray coach Russ Heard. “You couldn’t get two teams who were more evenly matched.”

Heard said the message to the team ahead of game two on Sunday was simple.

“Not a lot of times in sports do you get a redo. Today we had a redo. Let’s figure out what went wrong yesterday and let’s fix it,” he said.

The Sea Spray were the top team in the regular season at 9-3 and boasted a +44 goal differential while the Grizzlies were in third place after losing their last five games to erase a 5-2 start and finish at 5-7.

“I couldn’t ask for anything more from this group. They are young (and) there was a little bit of a dip, but it was more a learning process than it was an issue with their ability. We believed in them,” said coach Rob Williams.

“Sometimes (losing) is just the way it falls. I don’t think you can ask anything more from the players – overtime in the first game and 2-1 in the second one. It was a great series, great for the league.”