By Adamo Marinelli
Dominant could be a word used to describe the Nepean Knights’ play in the final game of the Ontario Jr. B Lacrosse League’s championship last Thursday.
They finished a sweep of the Windsor Clippers, winning an Ontario title to cap a provincial season in which they cruised to a first-place finish in the eastern conference with an 18-2 regular season record, and a scoring differential of 242-105.
Matt Firth, the Knights’ head coach, attributed their success to several things this season, including strong team chemistry and game planning.
“Some of these guys have played together since they were seven or eight years old,” Firth said. “They all love and trust each other. They know each other’s strengths and they’re all best friends.”
In explaining the team’s play-style, Firth said they rely on an up-tempo pace and speed, which other teams struggle to keep up with. Their strong transition game is key, he added, allowing them to push play and rotate players quickly.
Firth said his son Sam, a Knights alumnus and former eastern conference MVP who now plays for the Las Vegas Desert Dogs of the National Lacrosse League, was a big help on the bench. In particular, he brings a breadth of knowledge on how to break down a defence, helping the team immensely.
“We’ve been relying on the expertise of our coaching staff, (and) the players who buy in to our system and are able to execute it and we get good results,” Firth said.
Even with their dominance, the Knights’ season had its challenges, Firth said.
Their starting goalie, Thomas Kiazyk — “one of our best players and the best goalie in the league,” according to Firth — missed three weeks due to an injury.
“We had to lean on our strong defence and our second-string goalie who is also very good. There was a lot of adversity to overcome in those three weeks and a lot of game plan modification,” the coach explained.
Another challenge was the length of their playoff run, Firth said. Even though they swept their way to the provincial championship, going 12-0, the coach said it required “stamina, resilience, resolve” and a commitment to their game plan, since games and series become tougher as they go on.
The Knights’ journey to the OJBLL finals included 3-0 sweeps of the Orillia Kings, the Halton Hills Bulldogs, and finally the Akwesasne Indians, who they defeated to win the Colby Hancock Memorial Trophy. Windsor ended up as their opponents in the OJBLL finals after winning the league’s western conference.
Firth said playing the Clippers was “very difficult,” since eastern and western conference teams don’t play each other during the regular season. “We were entering into unknown waters,” he added.
“But we grinded it out. We got some separation in Game 2 and when (we) came back to (our) own building, (we felt) really confident,” the coach added.
As Game 3, the clincher of the provincial championship, went on last Thursday, at Ottawa’s Howard Darwin Centennial Arena, the Knights’ nerves settled, Firth said.
It took 17 minutes for them to score, after which they added a quick second goal. Firth said the game’s turning point was when the Knights killed a two-man disadvantage that overlapped from the end of the first period to the second. The Knights then exploded in the second for five goals and then scored another in the third to win the title with a dominant 8-1 victory.
Cameron York, Sam Parent, Jared Downey and James Donnelly had two goals apiece for the Knights. To Kiazyk’s credit, he stopped 38 of 39 Clippers’ shots.
The Knights are now turning their attention to the Founder’s Cup, the national championships of Jr. B lacrosse. Its opening ceremonies were held Monday, and games begin Tuesday. It’s being played this year in Brampton.
“We’re going to be playing a bunch of teams from outside of our conference who we don’t know — teams from British Columbia, Alberta, and Saskatchewan — so you just have to trust your own game plan,” Firth said.
“We have a lot of confidence in our style of play, and our strengths from our goaltender up, so we aren’t going to deviate from the plan too much.”
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