When the Langley Thunder acquired Mark Matthews via a transfer agreement with Ontario’s Brooklin Redmen in late June, the thought was, the towering, 6’4” left-hander will be a difference maker.
Matthews joined the Thunder June 27 amid a lot of hoopla. He was the first overall pick in the 2012 National Lacrosse League draft by the Edmonton Rush, led the Rush (and all NLL rookies) with 38 goals, was named 2013 National Lacrosse League Rookie of the Year, and previous to that won two Minto Cup (national junior A titles), one with Coquitlam and one with Whitby.
“He’s got some real god-gifted talent,” said Thunder head coach Rod Jensen, who coached Matthews in Coquitlam when the junior Adanacs won the Minto Cup in 2010. “The challenge really seems to get his shot away.”
Jensen added that Matthews has the ability to be a leader.
“He can carry a team,” the coach said. “When he’s going he can put a team on his back.”
Matthews delivered Wednesday at the Langley Events Centre during the opening game of the Western Lacrosse Association championship series pitting the Thunder against the Victoria Shamrocks.
He notched a hat trick, with two of his goals coming in the third period as the Thunder held on for a 7-6 victory.
Matthews’ back-to-back goals, scored 1:36 apart, put the Thunder in front 7-4 midway through the final frame.
The Shamrocks scored the final two goals of the night, including one from Dan MacRae with nine seconds to go in regulation, to make it a one-goal game.
Another factor in the Thunder’s win was crafty right-handed set-up man Garrett Billings, who scored Langley’s first goal of the night and assisted on four others, including all three of Matthews’ markers.
Victoria’s Tyler Hass opened the scoring 12:39 into the opening frame, before the Thunder responded with goals from Billings and Alex Crepinsek to carry a 2-1 lead into the intermission.
In the second frame, the teams traded goals back and forth, to point where it was 4-3 for the Thunder with six minutes and change to play in the stanza.
Dane Dobbie, acquired at the trade deadline from the Coquitlam Adanacs, scored a beautiful goal with 39 seconds remaining in the period to give the Thunder some breathing room after 40 minutes of action.
Victoria’s Jeff Shattler found the net 1:57 into the final frame to make it a one-goal game again.
After that, Matthews took over by scoring twice, his first of the period coming on a powerplay, as the Thunder moved ahead by three.
Athan Iannucci scored the other goal for the Thunder, which was outshot badly, 54-33 by the visiting ’Rocks.
While he let in six goals, Thunder goaltender Brodie MacDonald was outstanding in making 48 saves to pick up the victory.
“We never worry about the shots on goal total,” Jensen said. “The last two years that we’ve won the Mann Cup we’ve taken advantage of our opportunities.”
In Jensen’s opinion, this year’s final has a different wrinkle from the 2012 championship, which the Thunder won by downing the Coquitlam Adanacs.
“They’re a different type of opponent than Coquitlam last year,” Jensen said. “This team is more athletic so we have to be sharp.”
FINAL BUZZER: The series pits the top two teams from the WLA regular season.
The Thunder (which rolled to a league-best 11-5 record) has won the WLA playoff title the last two years running and is coming off a four-game sweep of Coquitlam in the best-of-seven semifinal series.
The Shamrocks (second in the regular season with an 11-7 mark) also swept their first round opponent, the Burnaby Lakers, in four games in their best-of-seven opening round series.
The Shamrocks showed scoring balance in the opener, with six different scorers finding the net.
Jensen said the Shamrocks are an athletic team with an outstanding goaltender in Matt Vinc.
“They have a world class goalie,” Jensen said “Anytime that you have a goalie [of that calibre], he’ll keep you in every game. I think we are going to be fine. We’ve got good depth.”
@ Copyright 2013