Playoff grind takes its toll on Victoria Shamrocks, Nanaimo Timbermen

The body says no, but the mind demands yes. It’s what caused Bobby Baun to come out and score that winning goal in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup final on a broken ankle, helping the Maple Leafs eventually claim the Cup in 1964. It is what has kept players going through the playoffs in any sport. “It’s about finding what it takes to win in the playoffs,” said Victoria Shamrocks head coach Bob Heyes.

Both the Shamrocks and Nanaimo Timbermen are hurting heading into Game 4 of their Western Lacrosse Association semifinal series tonight at Frank Crane Arena in the Harbour City with Victoria leading the best-of-seven 2-1. It’s a matter of pushing through it, which veteran Rhys Duch will try to do for the Shamrocks. Duch missed Sunday night’s 11-8 Victoria victory in Game 3 at The Q Centre after scoring the pivotal hat trick in Victoria’s 8-4 victory in Game 2 at Frank Crane. The NLL Vancouver Stealth pro is listed as day-to-day.

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While Duch is an all-time Shamrocks great, sophomore Chase Fraser of the Timbermen is only emerging as a WLA and NLL star. The 2017 WLA rookie of the year is already showing he has the sort of resolve it takes this time of year. Knocked out of Game 2 and questionable for Game 3, Fraser came out and had two assists and eight shots on Sunday at The Q Centre.

“[Fraser] was carted off in Game 2, and there he was going hard to the net again in Game 3. That’s what the playoffs are all about,” said Heyes, about the true grit lacrosse players require this time of year.

“Fraser couldn’t take face-offs, however, which tells you [he wasn’t 100 per cent].”

That was a difference-maker, as Fraser’s dominance in the face-off circle was critical in Nanaino’s 12-11 double overtime win in Game 1 at The Q Centre. Without his presence on the draws, Ben McCullough and Ryan Fournier of Victoria were able to win the majority of faceoffs Sunday before 1,497 fans at The Q Centre.

“This game gets a lot easier when you have possession,” said Heyes.

Another key series storyline is in the crease as Adam Shute of Victoria appears to be outplaying Nanaimo’s Charles Claxton, when many predicted it would be the other way around.

Shute was named the game’s second star on Sunday for his 41 saves while Claxton was chased from the Timbermen nets midway through the second period and was replaced by backup Mike DeGirolamo with Victoria leading 8-4.

“Adam has made the big saves for us when we’ve needed them,” said Heyes, who also touched on the Shamrocks’ depth.

“We don’t need to rely on our goaltending. Goaltending is just one of the parts of our bigger picture.”

Heyes is expecting the third-seed Timbermen, making their first playoff appearance in 11 seasons, to throw everything but the bathtub at the second-seed Shamrocks tonight. And they might even throw the tub, as well.

“I expect Nanaimo to play a slightly more desperate game now,” said Heyes.

“They might gamble a bit more and try to pressure us on their offence by taking chances a little more in transition.”

The Shamrocks play more of a set-up, half-floor game, relying on a starry array of offensive firepower.

“We have different guys who can step up on any given night,” said Heyes.

“On Sunday, it was Casey Jackson who wielded the hot stick [with five goals].”

Rookie Tyson Gibson out of NCAA Div. 1 Robert Morris University of Pittsburgh scored the hat trick for Victoria on a five-point night, while Jesse King out of the Big Ten Ohio State Buckeyes and Toronto Rock NLL pro Rob Hellyer each added a goal and three assists.

Former Junior Shamrocks forward Mason Pynn, out of NCAA Div. 1 Drexel, led the Timbermen with two goals.

Game 5 is Friday night at The Q Centre.

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