There are only two NLL teams on the west coast. They may share a common love of beaches, boats, and craft beer, but the Vancouver Warriors (3-7) and San Diego Seals (4-4) are anything but west coast laid back on a lacrosse floor.
The Warriors haven’t been involved in a noteworthy rivalry for a while, as playoff matchups usually are the culprit for an unruly one, and Vancouver has played a grand total of one playoff game since reaching the finals in 2013. But as divisional enemies and new brands to the league, the clubs have already battled in two instant classic games this season, and will wrap up their regular season series against each other Saturday night in San Diego.
“Absolutely there’s a rivalry brewing here. They’re a western opponent that we’re going to be battling and fighting for a playoff spot,” said Warriors captain Matt Beers.
There was a lot of talk about a natural rivalry since San Diego was announced as an expansion team entering this season, and even more so when the Warriors moved into Rogers Arena in downtown Vancouver. Two of the most beautiful cities on the planet, now playing the most aggressive and creative sport, both trying to engage new fan bases and claim the pacific coast for themselves.
“From game one we knew it was a must win and every time we play them we’re going to play them as hard as we can. They’ve got some stars and some veteran guys who have been in the league and those guys are in our way to getting a playoff spot,” said Beers.
Their first meeting of the season took place at Rogers Arena and produced the most epic finish to any game this NLL season. San Diego overcame a fourth quarter deficit and a late charge by the Warriors to win 11-10. Mitch Jones was some bad English away from sending the game to overtime when his shot with 00:01 seconds left beat Seals goalie Frank Scigliano but didn’t cross the goal line.
These are the kind of finishes that create rivalries, lead changes and star-players throwing potential daggers in the final seconds.
In the most recent battle the Warriors dominated the Seals 14-6 in their most convincing win of the season, and their best defensive effort since 2014. Vancouver had it’s only 60+ shot game of the season, 6 different offensive players scored and Keegan Bal put the league on notice with a 6 goal sock-trick.
“I’ll call a spade a spade and say Brodie Merrill wasn’t there in San Diego and I think their defense really missed him,” said Beers.
Merrill, San Diego’s captain and a future hall of famer has not played since he left the January 19th game after a captain-vs-captain scrap with Beers. He’s yet to return to action and is questionable again this weekend. The altercation erupted after San Diego took exception to the physical toll rookie Austin Staats was taking to find the net.
“We went in with the mentality that we’re going to make life difficult for him and make him earn everything he gets. There are a few guys in particular who certainly did a job on him but collectively we did a great job taking away his strengths,” said Beers.
San Diego collected their 4 wins all before the end of January, and with the bulk of their offence flowing through 1st overall draft pick Staats. He was averaging a hat trick per game through his first 5 career games before running into the hard sliding Warriors defense who have limited him to just 3 goals combined in their two meetings. San Diego is 1-3 in games were Staats scores 2 or less.
In the pre-season expansion draft San Diego selected two players left unprotected by Vancouver. 29 year old left hander Casey Jackson is second in Seals scoring with 13 goals – including a hat trick against Vancouver, and defender Brendan Ranford who has yet to play an NLL game, and may never will due to his pro hockey commitments in Europe.
The Seals also list 10 BC born players on their roster – two of which were released from Warriors training camp this winter in Brandon Clelland and Evan Messenger.
“I assume they will be a different opponent and it will be a much tighter game this weekend. It’s one of those games where they’re going to adjust to what we did and we need to come out with a win,” said Beers.
Saturday will be the final time the Warriors play the Seals this season with a divisional win going a long way toward securing a playoff spot and the game has the potential to be another instant west coast classic.