It’s no secret how strong the Victoria Shamrocks defence has been in helping the team reach the Mann Cup final.
After winning the Western Lacrosse Association championship by eliminating the Maple Ridge Burrards in five games last week, the Shamrocks are off to Ontario today to compete for the Mann Cup national lacrosse championship.
It is the second straight WLA championship for the Shamrocks, who dropped just one game in the playoffs, sweeping the New Westminster Salmonbellies in four games and losing just once to the Burrards.
The Shamrocks mighty offence was consistent throughout the postseason.
Corey Small finished tied for second in WLA playoff scoring with 38 points and newcomer Dhane Smith, a slick pickup for the Rocks this year, led all scorers with 41 points. And with Rhys Duch, one of the greatest shooters of all time, Jesse King and Scott Ranger, yes, the Shamrocks are blessed up front.
But none of those guys won the WLA’s playoff MVP award.
That went to Tyler Hass, a defender.
It’s a testament not just to Hass’ game but a tip of the hat to the Shamrocks’ core of fast, athletic defencemen.
Hass did score nine playoff goals, perhaps making it easier to give him the MVP.
“I was surprised.” Hass said. “Especially since most people know it usually goes to the person with the most offensive numbers beside their name.”
The Rocks are almost always offensively gifted, but in the last two years it’s been a new mindset of relentless attack, particularly on defence, that’s pushed it over the hump. Because if goals are the important thing, then Small has 14 more than Hass. If it’s assists that matter, Smith has 24 more than Hass.
“I always consider there’s an offensive side of my game and I push the ball, I run it, and I get a couple chances per game,” Hass said. “The only difference is lately I’ve just been making it count. The stick is working well, otherwise I’m playing the same way I always have.”
Still, there’s little chance the Shamrocks’ defensive game, which still has its share of rough-and-tumbles, would have won this type of honour four years ago. Back then they couldn’t stop the New Westminster Salmonbellies or Langley Thunder, while they ran speedier defences against the Shamrocks.
“We were young and we had our fair share of playoff losses. We used to play an old style defence and now we’ve modernized with faster, athletic guys than what we used to have,” Hass said.
Making up the formidable Rocks defence are imports Tyler Burton, brothers Jon and Greg Harnett, and Bradley Kri, who mix well with homegrown talents Hass, Karsen Leung and Matt Yager (a forward, but tenacious nonetheless), among others.
It’s a particularly impressive award for Hass, considering he came back to the game at the highest level after giving it up during the most critical stage of his development career to play basketball for the UVic Vikes.
After rising to an all-star level with the Vikes, Hass has clearly figured this game out too. Or maybe the time he’s taken off this year to spend with his wife Jacquie McMorran and 10-month-old daughter Gracia has allowed him to focus.
Now the team looks to do what the Chiefs did last year, and win the Mann Cup on foreign turf.
The Burrards were a tough team, great preparation for what’s coming next, he said.
“Our whole team was ecstatic to finish the Burrards in five games. They’re better than winning one game. They make you work every shift, they make it a grind, and are not a team you want to keep playing.
“Six Nations grinded us out last year, they wore us down a bit, and in the end it worked for them. It served as a good reminder against Maple Ridge, that we have to play through that, don’t let them wear you down, they’ll keep hitting you,” Hass said.
Win or lose at the Mann Cup Hass, and Burton, another big reason for the Shamrocks’ surge, have been reunited on another team, as they’ll suit up for the Vancouver Stealth in the National Lacrosse League with fellow Rocks Duch and Kri.