(SASKATCHEWAN) – The Georgia Swarm (17-5) won its first-ever Champion’s Cup with a 15-14 overtime victory against the two-time defending champion Saskatchewan Rush (14-8) at SaskTel Centre on Saturday night.
Miles Thompson received the one-handed feed from younger brother Lyle Thompson and shot the ball past goaltender Aaron Bold for the sudden death win in hostile territory. Lyle was named the MVP of the Champion’s Cup Series.
Georgia's victory in Game 2 of the best-of-three series was broadcast over the air on 1230 The Fan 2/106.3FM, the first time that a Swarm game was broadcast live in the Atlanta market. Fans worldwide joined the 14,264 in attendance to watch the Swarm win a championship via a live Twitter broadcast.
“Organizations win,” Swarm Co-Owner and President Andy Arlotta said. “This has been a long time in the making, and we stuck to our plan. We’ve gone through a lot of difficult times to get here. It’s nice to see these guys that have been with us continue to have faith in what we were doing. It’s a dream come true. I’m so happy for my dad and the organization.”
Lyle recorded seven points (3G, 4A), tying with Randy Staats and his seven points (4G, 3A) and assistant captain Shayne Jackson’s seven points (1G, 6A). Mike Poulin earned the last win of the 2017 season by making 48 saves on 62 shots on goal in 61:17 min. of action, good for a 13.71 GAA and a .774 SV%.
“It was pretty exciting,” Swarm head coach Ed Comeau said. “We were right there, but they were good. They played hard, our guys played hard. It was awesome … We knew they weren’t going to go away, and we knew how hard they play and how well they prepared. At this level, when the stakes are this high, there’s no quit in anyone right until the very end. Credit to Saskatchewan and their team and their organization and their fans, it’s a great atmosphere. They gave us all we could handle, and we were really fortunate to come out with a win tonight.”
Staats started off the scoring in the contest for the second game in-a-row and was quickly followed by Johnny Powless. Staats scored again in rapid fashion, and much like in Game 2 of the East Division Finals against the Toronto Rock, Georgia found itself up 3-0 within the first three minutes.
A minute and a half later, Adam Jones would score a power-play goal to put Saskatchewan on the board. Robert Church followed suit nearly six minutes later to bring his team within one, but Lyle responded with a laser from afar and widened the lead back to two goals. Ben McIntosh threaded the needle for his first goal of the night. The Swarm went up on a power play opportunity, and Lyle capitalized. The first quarter ended with Georgia up 5-3.
The physicality was kicked up another notch as both defenses stepped up big, resulting in back-and-forth action that lasted for 6:17 min. until Ryan Keenan scored in transition. A few minutes later, Jones would tie things up at five goals. Staats recorded the hat trick seconds later and widened the lead with a power-play goal, but McIntosh had the last word in the half with a quick retaliation. Both teams headed to the locker room with Georgia still in the lead with a score of 7-6.
Keenan started off the second half with a goal from afar to tie things up for the second time that night. Miles responded with a goal for the Swarm, but the lead was short lived as Church tied things up again for the Rush. Powless pulled Georgia ahead again with a low whip around Matt Hossack, and Jordan Hall—last week’s hero—reenacted Powless’s goal with a similar shot to give Georgia a two-goal lead at the end of the third quarter.
Down 10-8, Saskatchewan came out with a bang. Church got the hat trick 29 seconds into the final quarter, starting a four-goal run for the Rush that he would book-end. Hossack and McIntosh also found the back of the net, Hossack’s goal tying things at 10 goals apiece and McIntosh’s giving Saskatchewan its first lead of the night. Church’s final goal gave the Rush a two-goal lead of its own, the team up 12-10 with 11:24 min. left in regulation.
Sparking a goal streak for Georgia for the second week in-a-row, Hall made a mad diving goal to bring things within one. Lyle utilized some fancy stick work as he wormed himself into the middle of three Saskatchewan defensemen to tie things up at 12 goals. Jackson’s only goal of the night bounced off Bold and into the net to put Georgia up 13-12.
Unfortunately, the Swarm were unable to hold onto the lead again. This time it was Jeremy Thompson who tied the game. Saskatchewan retook the lead again as Jones’ hat trick goal put his team up 14-13. Georgia ended up with possession with 42 seconds left and pulled Poulin to go with the extra attacker. Saskatchewan got the ball and called a timeout with seconds left.
The game seemed to be Saskatchewan’s, but Georgia kept with the extra attacker. Mindful of this, Rush GM and head coach Derek Keenan pulled Bold to give his team an extra man on the floor, giving his team a better chance to keep possession of the ball when play resumed. Play started with a Rush clear, but defenseman Chris Corbeil was unable to get the ball. Georgia found itself with possession. Joel White made a pass to Lyle, but Lyle’s shot bounced off the pipe. White snagged the rebound and shot it past the Rush defensemen in the crease for the goal, tying the game at 14 goals with three seconds left.
“We actually practiced that this morning,” Comeau said. “We had a plan for it. Now obviously our plan didn’t involve them missing a pass, but we had a plan to get the ball in the air and get it out of the guy’s stick.”
Game 2 went into sudden death overtime. A goal for Saskatchewan would force Game 3 and send the series back to The Hive to decide things. A goal for Georgia would earn the Swarm its first Champion’s Cup in its 13 years as a franchise.
Jeremy won the faceoff for Saskatchewan, but the team was unable to score. Georgia’s offense rolled onto the floor. Lyle drew two defenders to himself and made a one-armed pass to Miles. One-on-one with Bold, Miles blistered the ball past the opposing net minder for Georgia’s 15th goal of the night and final goal of the 2017 NLL season. Swarm players mobbed Miles and Poulin as Georgia won its first ever Champion’s Cup with a 15-14 victory.
Miles finished the night with a pair of goals and an assist. Kiel Matisz made five assists, and Powless ended the game with five points (2G, 3A). This also marks Powless’s fourth Champion’s Cup.
Church and Keenan led Saskatchewan with five points apiece, Church netting four goals and recording an assist while Keenan made two goals and three assists. Saskatchewan’s leader in points during the regular season, Mark Matthews, was unable to find the back of the net Saturday night but still made five assists. Bold earned the loss, allowing 15 goals on 52 shots in 58:51 min., highlighted by 17 saves in the second quarter. He finished the night with a 15.29 GAA and a .712 SV%.
After the game, Georgia players surrounded the Cup awarded to them by NLL Commissioner Nick Sakiewicz after he announced Lyle as the Champion’s Cup Series MVP. Exhausted but elated, the Swarm members celebrated the final victory of their Cinderella season.
“I’ll never forget when I met (Swarm GM and Owner) John (Arlotta) seven years ago now and he came for me,” team captain Jordan MacIntosh said. “We had a meeting in Toronto before the draft, and he talked to me about what his vision for the team was and where he wanted us to go. There were some rough times. There were times when people doubted his vision and what we were doing. I played with a lot of different teammates over those years. The one thing I have to give him so much credit for is sticking with his guns, sticking with his vision. When he finally got that team together this year, you could tell it was something special, something special and different than years past. It’s amazing to play this long with a franchise, go through years where you’re 4-14 and there doesn’t really look like there’s any light at the end of the tunnel, and have a year like this. So many amazing teammates—it’s really hard to put into words.”
Play of the Game:
Tonight’s game was filled with incredible goals and saves from both sides, but three plays gave Georgia the win tonight.
First was Staats’ first goal of the night. 58 seconds into the contest, Staats made a fake and dunked the ball into the top left past Bold. Before tonight, Georgia was 5-1 whenever Staats scored first, so his early goal was a step in the right direction for the team.
White’s goal in the final seconds of regulation gave Georgia the extra time it needed for that one last goal. Saskatchewan had pulled its goaltender, too, a smart lacrosse move designed to not give Georgia any extra opportunities to score. Unfortunately for the Rush, it did not pan out as White ended up with the ball. He passed to Lyle, and Lyle made a shot which bounced off the pipe between two Rush defenders in the crease. White snagged the ball out of the air and quickly dumped it past the Saskatchewan players still in front of the goal to tie things up with three seconds left in regulation play.
Finally, there is Miles’ last goal of the night. After Saskatchewan’s unsuccessful possession in overtime, Georgia ended up with the ball. Miles had the ball but was pressed back by Jeff Cornwall. Miles passed to Lyle, and Lyle drew Ryan Dilks and Cornwall to him. With his right arm tied up by the two Rush defensemen, Lyle made an underhand pass to Miles. Seeing a short window available, Miles rushed towards Bold. Brett Mydske moved to block Miles’ path, but Miles got the shot off before Mydske was there. The ball blitzed past Bold, and Georgia swept the two-time defending champions on the way to its first Champion’s Cup in franchise history.
“To be honest, I knew we were going down in time,” Miles said. “I was going to go set a pick for Lyle, but he went over the top, and he drew two guys, which was my defender and his defender, so he turned back towards me. I just started running down. He one-handed a pass to me, and all I saw was goal-side top corner. So that’s what I shot, and after I shot that, I don’t know what happened. It’s crazy.”
Georgia Swarm (17-5)