Brock men’s lacrosse had a spectacular regular season this year finishing with an 11-1 record, their best record since 2014. Brock had some significant momentum coming off an eight game win streak and having home field advantage heading into the CUFLA Baggataway Cup playoffs, which Brock hosted on Alumni Field. Brock’s impressive performance all season made them one of three teams who were heavily favoured to possibly win the National title, along with the Western Mustangs (11-1) and Trent Excalibur (11-1).
The Baggataway Cup is a do or die tournament consisting of six of the best teams from CUFLA’s two divisions, with the top two seeds earning a first round bye. Western and Trent were given the byes, so Brock would have to successfully win three straight games to hoist the cup. Their first match took place on November 4 as the Badgers would meet the Ottawa Gee-Gees for the quarter final matchup.
It took the Badgers just 14 seconds to get on the scoreboard as Nico Beaudoin easily won the opening face off, sprinted towards the net and put one past Pierre Richardson, the Ottawa goaltender.
The Badgers would struggle to extend their lead in the first quarter of the game, however they dominated the opening quarter with their physicality. The Gee-Gees responded as Ryan Kennedy slipped a weak shot on goal that trickled past a distracted Alex Guiney to equalize the game at 1-1. Brock would continue to play physical all through the first half. The scoreboard, however, did not reflect Brock’s dominance on the field. After goals scored by Nicholas Rybka, Grayson Houghton and Alex Pace, the quarter ended with a score of 4-2 lead for Brock.
The Gee-Gees opened the second quarter with two quick goals tying the game at four. Despite this, Brandon Slade took charge of the game and pocketed a low shot, assisted by Brandon Staal. The impressive play gave the Badgers their regular season confidence back as they would go on to score five unanswered goals. Notable offense came from Connor Ham who opened the scoring in the third quarter earning himself a hat trick. The sophomore player would go on to score two more for a career high of five goals on the day. His last goal in the fourth quarter awed the crowd as he made an agile cut on a defender running to the low left wing releasing a quick shot that would sneak by Richardson’s helmet for a beautiful bar down finish.
After the game, Ham was awarded Player of the Match for his stellar performance. Brock’s dominance on offense was equaled by their time at the other end of the field. Joshua Harris and Parker Baile both made huge stops picking off passes and making smart defensive plays to cause turnovers. Defensively, the Badgers were able to hold the Gee-Gees at only three goals in the last 40 minutes of the game. The final score was a 20-8 blowout victory for the Badgers.
“We do have a young team but we have a lot of depth so we just had to get some of the nerves out,” said Brock head coach Justin Kennedy about his teams slow start. “They scored four good goals at the start but it was on broken plays and transition and it was up to us to settle down, play our game and be defensively responsible.”
For the Gee-Gees, this was their first appearance at the CUFLA National Championships, as they upset McGill to move on to the quarterfinals. The Gee-Gee’s were led by their head coach Callum Crawford, a player from the National Lacrosse League and assistant coach Jordan Weedmark, a Brock graduate.
Moving into the semi finals on Saturday, Brock was heading into a much more competitive match up against the Trent Excalibur.
“Our plan for Trent is the same way we prepare for all of our games,” said Kennedy. “Our game plan is to go out there and play a disciplined game and execute in a broader sense and I think as long as we do that and play for the guy beside us we’ll do just fine tomorrow.”
Before the game could even begin tempers flared between the two teams and they exchanged some physical shoving during the pre-game warmup. This tussle set the physical and emotional tone for the rest of the game as both teams took unnecessary penalties throughout the match up.
The game began with some back and forth action as both teams threatened to score early. Baile drew a one minute penalty for slashing which allowed Trent to set up and fire off a low shot on goal. The shot was rung off the post and picked up by Slade who would score going the other way.
Minutes later, Slade extended the Brock lead on a powerplay goal after Trent was called for a tripping penalty.
Unlike their game against Ottawa, Brock had a fantastic start to the first quarter, as they found the back of the net for four unanswered goals. Guiney was making highlight saves at the Badger’s end only allowing one goal on seven shots in the second quarter. This gave his team not only several turnovers to play with, but also the confidence to extend their lead to 6-3 by the end of the third quarter. The Badger defence helped generate offense as Baile delivered a bone crushing hit on Trent’s Jeff Fernandes. This turned the ball over and allowed Rybka to score off the transition.
The fourth quarter opened with a quick goal by Trent cutting Brock’s lead and making the game uncomfortably close for the Badgers. The momentum began to shift and the paranoia of a comeback became present when Trent successfully pocketed another goal with 15 minutes left in the game and a 6-5 score. Brock struggled to set up their offense as Trent kept the Badgers from taking any threatening shots the entire quarter.
Holding strong, both teams were deadlocked going back and forth for the next 10 minutes. An amazing individual effort from Trent’s Travis Szabolcs equalized the game when he took a bounce shot that went through the five hole of Guiney. Trent would complete their come from behind victory minutes later when Brock was called offside and turned the ball over. Trent’s quick transition caught the Badgers defence flat footed as they scored a go-ahead 7-6 goal with two minutes left in regulation.
The dying minutes of the game were just as dramatic as Trent’s goalie turned the ball over and Brock found themselves on a powerplay all within a minute. Unfortunately, the Badgers were unable to answer when it mattered the most and conceited the game ending their chances for a Baggataway championship.
Brock suffered from a change in momentum starting late in the third quarter. They struggled to create chances on their powerplay and couldn’t connect in their offensive zone. This coupled with a few close offside calls are what ultimately brought down the Badgers.
Brock has reached the semi-finals every year since 2012, but have failed to get to the championship game. The Badgers made the finals in 2010 and 2011, but haven’t won since 2009.
On the other side of the tournament bracket, the Guelph Gryphons were unable to complete their comeback against the Western Mustangs. The Mustangs would hold on for a 10-9 victory which placed them in the championship game on Sunday against Trent Excalibur. Going into the final matchup, the teams were extremely comparable on paper. Both posted 11-1 regular season records with one victory in the Baggataway Cup where they both won by a one goal margin.
Western started off the scoring but the two teams would go back and forth equalizing and keeping the game very close. Western began to widen their gap in the third quarter when Ryan Myles put his team up with five overall goals and one assist to win Player of the Match honours. Another key to the Mustang’s game was goaltender Manraj Nijjar who efficiently killed any momentum from developing for Trent by making huge saves. Midfielder Keagan Croley played shut down zone defense and assisted his team in turning the ball over and setting up successfully on offense.
Unlike their game against the Badgers, instead of increasing their energy near the end of the match Trent began to decline in the fourth quarter. Trent’s sloppy and undisciplined play led to penalty trouble killing any hope they had for a second consecutive comeback.
The Western Mustangs celebrated their 11-7 victory and hoisted their fourth Baggataway Cup in program history. Western hadn’t won the National championship since 2001 as they failed to win in both 2012 and 2015, when they lost to McGill in the finals both times.