Airdrie’s senior B men’s lacrosse team overcame a sluggish start to the 2021 box lacrosse season, making it all the way to their league’s championship finals before bowing out against the St. Albert Miners.
Playing the perennially strong Miners Aug. 14 and 15, the Knights fell 11-8 and 13-6 in the best-of-three series to determine the Rocky Mountain Lacrosse League’s (RMLL) senior B champion for the abbreviated 2021 season.
“It was a good series, with back and forth games,” said Knights head coach Gareth Barley. “At the end of the first period of the first game, we were up 5-3. They went on a bit of a run and momentum switched in that second period, and we were down by four.
“It was an 11-8 final, so…the game could have gone either way. They were missing some of their star power and we were missing a few players as well.”
Playing in the do-or-die game at the Ron Ebbesen Arena on Aug. 15, the Knights couldn’t hold back the strong St. Albert offence, who put 13 goals past the hosts’ goaltender to claim the 13-6 victory.
The win marked the Miners’ fifth consecutive RMLL Senior B title – the St. Albert side has won every league championship since 2016. The Miners also won the senior B national title three years in a row, from 2016 to 2018.
While Rockyview did not oust St. Albert from their RMLL championship streak, Barley said there were many positives to take from the series against the Miners, who ended the season with an unbeaten 8-0 record.
“[The Miners] have been on top for the last four or five years, but there are teams below them that are coming for them that have added some pieces,” he said. “That final game in Airdrie, we hit nine posts that game. If one or two of those go in in the first period, it’s a different game and the momentum could have swung our way.”
The Knights had started the 2021 campaign in poor form, losing their first five games of the regular season. Rockyview finally put their first win on the board on Aug. 5, overcoming the Beaumont Outlaws 10-1 to cap off the regular season with a 1-5 record.
“We started the last game of the regular season and knew we were in rock bottom and needed to win,” Barley said. “We came out and played a complete 60-minute game against the Outlaws and it was a 10-1 final, with them scoring late in the final period.”
Winning their final regular-season game gave the Knights some much-needed momentum, according to Barley, who said the Airdrie squad was full of confidence heading into the RMLL’s post-season.
Finishing in third place in the four-team league also meant the Knights did not have to take on the Miners in the semi-finals.
Instead, the Knights opened their RMLL playoffs against the second-place Calgary Mountaineers – one of Rockyview’s closest rivals. Employing a strong defence and transition, Barley said the Knights managed to play their best lacrosse of the season to sweep the Mounties in the best-of-three series, winning 6-4 and 8-7, respectively.
“It’s always a battle when we play them, and it doesn’t matter where we are in the standings,” he said.
“The guys don’t like each other, and we see them…every year, four or five [times]. There’s the competitive nature there and there’s the dislike between a few of the players, so they’re always battles. They’re a tough team and put together well.”
While their 2021 season is officially over, Barley said the Knights’ coaching staff have already started to think about 2022, and the RMLL’s upcoming draft. He said he expects most of the team’s roster to still be in place next summer.
“We were disappointed with the start of the season and how our record ended, but coming into the playoffs, we beat the Mounties in the first round and moving into the finals, it just showed we were starting to come together at the right time,” he said.
“Yes, it took us a little longer to gel, but we came together at the right time, which is excellent to see, moving forward.”