The Mann Cup was a gruelling six-game series over eight days with some wonderfully compelling stories over the stretch. Some were told and others had yet been reached.
The greatest of which was likely Six Nations Chiefs backup goaltender Brandon Miller’s tale, having come in to Game 3 as a backup to Evan Kirk and setting this series on its ear the rest of the way.
It took an illegal equipment call to finally get the Orangeville, Ont., product out of the way briefly in Game 5, but it still resulted in a loss for the Victoria Shamrocks.
Miller turned out to be too strong, likely because he was playing for two men – himself and his brother Kyle, who passed away in June, losing a second battle with osteosarcoma which metastasized to his lungs.
“He missed a month there when he lost his brother,” Six Nations head coach Rich Kilgour said of Miller. “That’s when Kirk went on a little roll and it was tough to take him out when you go 8-0 in the (East) playoffs.
“He (Miller) was biting at the bit, he finally got in there and he made the most of it.”
Miller was incredible, finishing with a 4.45 goals against average and .904 save percentage. He allowed 15 goals on 157 shots (including the first he faced on a breakaway when he first entered the series).
He made 15 saves in the third period of Friday’s series' clinching 8-5 win as the Chiefs battled back from a 5-4 second-period deficit.
All with Kyle on his mind.
My biggest regret was I didn’t get a chance to talk to him. It was a plan I had for the off day on Thursday, but the two illegal equipment checks in a controversial Game 5 got in the way – sadly.
Miller, on his @Bmill35 Twitter account, has always made references to his brother.
Earlier in the week he tweeted: “Wish I was home in @Orangeville_ON for Kyle’s tree planting ceremony. Thanks to everyone who is making it a special one! #MissYouBro #Love.”
Then after the championship game he tweeted: “So many amazing messages, I thank you all! So happy to see the support for my bro, all of you are aware of his vision & that means so much!”
Kyle was first diagnosed with osteosarcoma - which took the life of Canadian great Terry Fox - while playing lacrosse at Cornell University (he had also worn Canada’s colours internationally). After completing university and ending his lacrosse career he became a motivational speaker. His work can be found at www.kylemiller35.com and donations can still be made to fight cancer.
A truly amazing story.
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At the end of such a fantastic series fans, players and media look back at what separated the two teams.
In a nutshell - not much in the 2013 Mann Cup.
“It’s realizing what it takes to get to the next level. We got to this level and there wasn’t much difference between winning and losing,” said Shamrocks head coach Bob Heyes.
Personally, in the end, Victoria’s biggest guns – that being Scott Ranger and Rhys Duch - didn’t have enough pop. Jeff Shattler answered the call time and again and Cory Conway was sporadic, but Duch and Ranger needed to provide more.
Both were battling injuries, however. But both played all six games with Ranger - pictured on the front page of today's Times Colonist - scoring just twice and Duch with five goals (two in Game 2).
The Shamrocks blew a great opportunity in Game 4, having a chance to go up 3-1 in the series and responded poorly.
“That was big, an opportunity to go up 3-1,” admitted Shamrocks GM Chris Welch. “A very disappointing result in Games 4 and 5. I thought we played better tonight (Friday), but things took a turn for the worse in Game 3, despite the win, and spilled over into 4 and 5.”
A victory in Game 4 would have surely sewn the series up – without a doubt. Not many teams battle back from 3-1, certainly not on the road in front of a loud home crowd.
The fans were fantastic throughout the series, including the Six Nations core that travelled west and banged their drums, loudly and proudly.
I have to borrow a line out of Slap Shot here: “Who own da Chiefs? Owns. Ownnnnnns.” Well, it wasn’t the Shamrocks, at least not for a lengthy time. It was simply too sporadic.
Their fans – many of which tinted their hair and beards green for Game 6 - were fantastic over the eight days, besides the clowns that became verbal regarding the Chiefs’ drums. But there are always a few who spoil it for many.
“They put on a great show, packed this house every night and made it a tough atmosphere to play in. It was a great town to play host to the Mann Cup,” said series MVP Cody Jamieson of Six Nations. “They pushed us, a couple of bounces here or there and it could have been a different series.”
The Shamrocks were hoping so, and maybe it would have been with Corey Small in the lineup.
But those are discussions for another day.
It was tough watching Small walk up and down out of the press box, hanging on every minute of every game. His emotions clearly on his sleeves.
Hopefully his knee allows him to play again. He is such a talent and one the Shamrocks could have definitely used.