Strathcona County – The unbeatable St. Albert Miners are on the verge of a fourth-consecutive President’s Cup appearance as the reigning national senior B lacrosse champions.
The 20th win in a row this season was 14-8 against the Calgary Mountaineers in game two of the best-of five Rocky Mountain Lacrosse League provincial final Sunday.
“This was supposed to be a rebuilding year, that’s what everyone thought, and we weren’t going to take that. We’re going to keep going and keep moving forward, and try and get to another national title,” said netminder Matt Hiebert after backstopping the Miners to back-to-back victories at Strathcona Olympiette Centre.
The series opener was 8-5 Saturday.
The final shifts to Optimist Arena in Calgary for game three Friday at 9:30 p.m. and game four, if needed, Saturday at 4:30 p.m.
Game five would be staged Sunday at 3 p.m. at Moyer Recreation Centre in Josephburg.
Nationals are Aug. 26 to Sept. 1 at Kahnawake, Que.
“We’re not looking too far ahead. We’re definitely taking it one step at a time,” Hiebert said. “Today was a big win and we’ll look forward to Friday.”
“We’re going to go into it just like another game: work hard and play unselfish as a team,” added Matt Kristiansen, an offensive gem who lit up the Mountaineers for five goals Sunday.
The result was the 107th win in 114 games in the RMLL regular season and playoffs, plus nationals, for the winners of three-straight President’s Cups after losing the 2015 provincial final.
As great as the Miners are, they showed marked improvement in the second of the two playoff contests against the team they beat 11-6 and 14-9 in league play while finishing with five more wins and 10 more points in the 16-game schedule.
“Offensively we weren’t really happy with that last game. It was really low scoring so we have our defence to thank for that and our goalie,” Kristiansen said. “Today we set a goal to try and get 15. We did get 14 so we almost hit that goal, but all in all we’re happier with today’s game.
“We still haven’t played our 100 per cent best yet, but we’re definitely a lot better as far as offensively and defensively doing our strategies,” Kristiansen noted. “We’ve got a few new guys as well going into playoffs so after a few games together under our belts we're working better as a team.”
Game one in the third provincial final in five years between the Miners and Mountaineers ended with two goals by Graedon Cornfield 2:10 minutes apart after the visitors scored with 9:13 remaining to trail by one. Cornfield’s last goal, the hat-trick marker during a five-point night, was slotted on the power play with 6:31 to play.
Brett Baron, a newcomer with offensive flair, made it 6-4 halfway through the third with his second of the game and the team’s first power-play goal.
In the middle fame, the Miners outscored the Mountaineers 3-1 to go up 5-3 with one period to go.
Darren Kinnear tallied twice in the win, Kristiansen recorded one goal and added three assists, and Carson Barton, another promising first-year Miner, had three helpers.
Special teams for the Mountaineers accounted for a shorthanded goal to close the gap to 5-4 in the third and in game two notched a shortie in the first to trail 4-2 and the first of two with the man advantage in the second knotted it at six, with six minutes gone in the period.
It was 5-3 Miners after the first and Cornfield’s power-play goal early in the second left the Mountaineers scrambling down by three. However, that advantage turned into a 7-6 deficit with 12 minutes left in the second before an offensive surge restored the lead at 10-8.
“When we went down by one that kind of lit a fire under our ass so everyone kind of focused up. There was less talking and more doing. It just came down to outworking them, but when it comes right down to it we have the skill to do it,” Kristiansen said. “We were facing adversity and usually we haven't gone down too many times this season so hopefully that will pay off if we go to nationals if we win one more, but we’ve got to get past these guys first.”
Kristiansen pulled the Miners even at seven by faking a shot before cutting around a defender to rip one with 8:33 to go in the second. The goal opened the flood gates as Baron (go-ahead goal off a low drive), Derek Burak (seconds after a strong penalty kill by the Miners that saw Barton nailing the post off a breakaway pass) and Barton (finished off a rebound off Baron’s shot) connected, while the Mountaineers found the back of the net with 50 second left for their last goal of the match.
“It was just a battle in the first and second periods. They’re not going to give up and they definitely made it harder for us in the second,” Hiebert said. “Anytime you get an away team that’s coming in, and they've lost the night before, they want to push back so they definitely came out flying. They wanted to make a statement so we weathered the storm. We never got down on each other; we just kept battling and kept working hard.
“We just bear down. We never take a step back, we always take a step forward.”
A pair by Kristiansen and singles by Dawson Reykdal and Jason Williamson (empty-netter) rounded out the third.
Baron wound up with a pair and five assists, Barton added four assists, captain John Lintz potted one and drew three assists, Tristen Friestad also scored and Williamson and Cornfield had two assists apiece.
Kristiansen’s six-point performance included a pair on the power play in the opening 20 minutes.
“Once I got those two in the first I kind of got in a zone and just kept going after that,” said the righty with a dangerous shot on the left side.
Kristiansen, 27, is the top RMLL playoff scorer with 29 points and is tied for second in goals with 13, after placing second behind teammate Richard Lachlan’s 85 points with 75 (35 goals and 40 assists) as the league’s leading scorers in the regular season.
“We have a lot of depth offensively so honestly it could be me one night, it could be G (Cornfield) the other night, it could be anyone. It’s just good passing from our guys,” said the second-year Miner, who attended St. Francis Xavier High School, competed at Shorter University in Rome, Georgia on a lacrosse scholarship and spent time playing transition with the senior A Langley Thunder in the Western Lacrosse Association.
On the defensive side, Hiebert was making his fourth playoff start after picking up wins in the first and third games in the best-of-three semifinal sweep of the Beaumont Outlaws.
“Today I struggled a little bit, but I still felt it was a good game all around,” Hiebert said. “Defence stood on their head in front of me and I tried to do the best I could.
“Yesterday, I was a little more calm during the entire game, where today I had a couple of points where I was getting a little frustrated. They were going into the crease a little bit, but that’s adversity and that’s just maturity so I tried to take a deep breath and move on from it.”
The Mountaineers are no slouches offensively with Jordan Getz (12-14-26) and Zach Foster (13-5-18) leading the charge in the team’s six playoff games.
“They've got some good shooters. They shoot around screens and they’re cutting right on the crease, which makes it tough obviously. Anything in tight is tough for a goalie to make a stop because it gives a lot more options so we cleaned that up in the third period and we're going to try and feed off that, and move into the next game on Friday,” said Hiebert, 28, who grew up in Nanaimo, B.C., and has roots in Edmonton.
“This year I was able to take on the starter’s role from day one and I worked really hard in the offseason,” said the seventh-year Miner, who scored his first career goal in game one against Beaumont. "This year is important for me to be the best I can be and now we're one game away from going back to nationals.”