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NCL Weekly Notes: May 4 to 10, 2015

National Championship League Schedule and Results
Mavericks sweep final road trip, shock Eastern Conference to qualify for National Finals.

The 19U Men Mavericks came into the final weekend of the NCL regular season knowing that they were a long shot to qualify for the National Finals. Four games, over three days, in two different cities, with no margin for error. They would have to play each of the three teams ahead of them in standings on that trip and the path was clear. Win and you’re in. Lose and go home.

The gauntlet first fell on Friday night in Longueuil against St-Lambert; the Eastern Conference champions who had not lost a game while playing at their home pool of Cegep Edouard Montpetit all year. A good place as any to start an improbable run, it seems.

The Mavericks did not have the start they would have liked and the long drive from Toronto may have taken a toll. The Mavs found themselves in an early hole, one they would spend most of the game trying to dig out of. Down 7-4 at the half, Toronto would tie the score at 7-7 in the third, but still could not get over the hump. St-Lambert scored to go up 8-7, the Mavericks tied it at 8-8, St-Lambert scored for 9-8, Mavericks responded for 9-9, St-Lambert 10-9, Mavericks answer to tie again. Finally, Alex Bozzo scored to give Mavericks their first lead since held a brief advantage 3-2 back in the 1st quarter. Mavericks extended their lead to 13-11 late in the 4th but St-Lambert showed why they are the number one seed in the East, storming back with 2 goals in 40 seconds to knot the score at 13. In the end, it was the Mavericks’ two best players of the game, Nikita Prokhin and Blake Carnevale who brought home the victory, each scoring their sixth goal of the game in the closing two minutes to earn the 3 points bump.

There was little time to celebrate as the next game was scheduled for 8:40 in the morning against CAMO. While CAMO was the only under .500 team the Mavericks would face in the four games, they were still a dangerous opponent, having a positive +/- despite finishing with 8 more losses than victories. It had all the makings of a trap game, but that narrative was quickly shuttered. The Mavericks scored the first six goals of the game to put CAMO down early and never let them back in the game. Two down, two to go.

Halfway through their trek, the Mavericks focus shifted to the two teams they were battling for the last National Finals spot; Dollard and Ottawa. Dollard was up first with a night game in the cozy confines of AADDO. Both teams’ seasons were on the line, as a loss for either team would eliminate them from contention.

It was a tight contest from the start but the key for the Mavericks was getting the lead early and never letting DDO grab the momentum. Dollard could only string consecutive goals together once. Just like against St-Lambert, the Mavericks were prepared to meet every challenge. In the 3rd quarter, strong team defense and the goaltending of Danylo Mandyuk kept Dollard at bay and a four-goal cushion heading into the final frame was more than enough.

With one game remaining, the Mavericks were now only one point behind the Ottawa Titans for 2nd place. The last game of the regular season would decide everything in a winner-takes-all contest. The game would take place at 9:30am in Gatineau on Sunday, so the Mavericks would have to make the late night drive from Montreal and hope that fatigue did not play a big role in the morning.

Throughout the first three quarters, the game could not have been tighter; there were 3 lead changes, and 7 tie scores. Neither team could shake the opposition and after three, the game was tied 8-8. The season that had come down to the final game, was now reduced to a nail-biting single period of play. 8 minutes of water polo for a shot at the National Championship. After nearly four full games, and hours of travelling, the question was whether the Mavericks had enough left in the tank for one final push. The answer was a resounding yes. Nikita Prokhin added two more goals that book-ended a 4 goal run by Mavericks to start the period that would put the Titans in the rear view mirror.

In the end, the Mavericks put together one of the best weekends of water polo in the NCL all season and their efforts leave them just two victories shy of a National Championship.

Saskatchewan, Calgary Renegades win 16U titles at Western Conference Championship in Calgary

The 16U Western Conference Championship took place in Calgary last weekend, as the eleven girls and boys teams that make up the Western Conference vied for the title of Western Conference Champion and their place in National Finals.

On the girls’ side, the Calgary Renegades had already qualified for the Finals as the host squad, so the other four teams were left battling for one spot. The semi-finals featured Fraser Valley vs Saanich on one side, and Calgary vs. Saskatchewan on the other. The 2nd seeded Renegades put 4th seeded Saskatchewan in an early hole and spent most of the game with a comfortable four goal cushion. In the 4th quarter, Saskatchewan made their run, scoring three goals in a minute and 20 seconds to get within two. There were still three minutes left on the clock but the rally would come up just short, as a last second goal by Saskatchewan could only bring them within one.

With Renegades in the final, that meant the winner of the other semi-final would automatically qualify for the National Finals regardless of the outcome of the gold medal game. Fraser Valley has had Saanich’s number all season and once again that would be the case as the girls from the mainland would run out to an early 7-2 lead over the islanders, effectively ending the game before it really got going. The final score was 15-10 Valley.

The gold medal final was one of the games of the year, as Fraser Valley and Calgary would battle back and forth all game. There were 7 different lead changes with no team leading by more than two goals all game, or more than one goal for the whole 2nd half. In the end, it was Nina Ceklic who made the difference for the Renegades. Nina was the leading goal scorer in the game with six goals, the last of which came with just 9 seconds left and send the hometown crowd into a frenzy. Final score: Calgary Renegades 13 - Fraser Valley 12.

Saskatchewan won the bronze, coming up with a 14-7 victory over Saanich.

The boys’ category would feature more of the same tight, nerve wracking contests that highlighted the girls’ tournament. The all-important semi-finals were #4 seed Fraser Valley vs the #1 seed Saskatchewan, and #2 Seed Pacific Storm vs, #3 seed Calgary Torpedoes.

Fraser Valley may have been the 4th seed entering the tournament, but all the coaches recognized that they were a dangerous opponent with a roster that features some strong and tall players. The task fell to Saskatchewan to try and prevent the upset. A 3-0 lead after one looked promising but Saskatchewan could never put the BC boys away, and in the middle of the 4th quarter, Fraser Valley had finally caught up to tie the game at 8. A penalty shot goal by Jake Morris gave Saskatchewan the lead again and then all-star goalie Brody McKnight shut the door the rest of the way as Saskatchewan would prevail 11-8.

In the 2nd semi-final, Calgary faced Pacific Storm and the leading goal scorer at the 16U level, Reuel D’Souza. D’Souza scored an amazing 100 goals in just 18 games. Reuel can be a one man wrecking crew at times, and unfortunately for the Torpedoes, this would be one of those games. Reuel scored an incredible 12 of his team’s 14 total goals in what would be a 14-13 victory. Calgary was able to close within one in the closing seconds, but never got the chance to tie the game and force a shootout.

Because the Calgary Torpedoes had already qualified for the National Finals as the host, the gold medal game between Saskatchewan and Storm would also determine who the 2nd entrant from the west was for the National Finals. The story line of the game wrote itself as it would be a battle of the phenomes. Top goal scorer Reuel D’Souza versus top goaltender Brody McKnight.

The game was a physical affair from the start and there would be plenty of power play opportunities for each team. Neither team was particularly successful on their power plays as Saskatchewan went 2 for 12 while Storm was 1 for 8. The missed opportunities on the PP were especially haunting for Storm as beating Brody McKnight at regular strength is no easy task. In the end, Saskatchewan’s defense and goaltending held D’Souza to three goals, and Storm to eight total, while their balanced offensive attack led by Jake Morris, Bryden Goosen, and Tyler Grieve scored enough to earn the victory, 11-8.

In the 3rd place game, Fraser Valley won the bronze winning 11-10 over Calgary.
It was an amazing weekend of games, with 5 of the 15 games being one goal contests. Congratulations to all the teams on a great season, and especially to the medalists and the teams who qualified for the National Finals.


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