The San Diego Seals handed the visiting Vancouver Warriors a decisive 15-10 loss on Saturday, dominating the second half from start to finish. The game was brutally physical and that comes as no surprise considering what was on the line for these two divisional rivals. With the win, the Seals move to 4-6. They lock up both the season series and a tiebreaker over the Warriors, who are now last place in the West Division.
The game saw former Warrior forward, Casey Jackson, explode once again in his first month back on the active roster. He notched 5 goals with 1 assist and continues to remind us why he was the Seals’ leading scorer last season. On the other side, the big story was Mitch Jones’ lack of scoring. The league’s leading points scorer only managed 2 goals and 1 assist against a San Diego team that had some early struggles and did some goalie shuffling before settling in and playing quality defense.
The game began as most have for the Seals, who seem to love getting off to a slow start. Vancouver took full advantage of that tendency and played a near perfect first quarter.
Warriors forward Riley Loewen (3g, 1a) got the party started with two consecutive goals: the first was an easy loose ball pickup right on Nick Damude’s doorstep and the second was just a minute later on a nice dodge, drawing the double and slipping the bouncer between the defenders to make it 2-0 Vancouver. Between the two goals, Warriors face-off man, defenseman Bob Snider, went down with an apparent knee injury and was unable to return. His absence may very well have decided the game as San Diego absolutely had their way with Vancouver on the center line, going on to win 23 of 28 total face-offs throughout the day.
Following those first Vancouver goals, the Seals were given a power play opportunity, with the best scoring chance coming on a pretty move by Zack Greer, who slipped underneath his defender with a neat toe drag but was unable to finish as he put the shot off the post.
Forward Logan Schuss (2g, 2a) kept it rolling for the Warriors with an outside shot that was initially stopped by Damude but trickled in. The ball got underneath the keeper and meandered into the goal, despite his effort. Mitch Jones notched his first shortly after, finishing a cross-crease feed to make it 4-0 Vancouver. At this point, San Diego opted to give rookie goalie Nick Damude a breather to bring in their usual starter, Frank “The Tank” Scigliano.
“We had a slow start obviously,” said general manager and head coach Patrick Merrill. “We were a little bit tight to begin the game and [Vancouver] came at us right off the bat.”
Seals forward Wes Berg managed to bounce in a second chance opportunity to finally stop the bleeding and bring the score to 4-1, but only after Austin Staats took a huge licking trying to handle a feed on the crease. The Seals didn’t take the hit very kindly and the result was 8 minutes of some of the most physical lacrosse exhibited thus far this season. The violence would continue the whole way.
San Diego played sloppy on the offensive side of the field through the beginning of this game. A turnover gave Vancouver the ball with 20 seconds left. They took a timeout to pull Eric Penney out of the goal and set up their 6-on-5 offense. Sure enough, forward Keegan Ball (1g, 4a) managed to power a bouncer past Scigliano to make it a 5-1 game with just three seconds left on the clock.
Casey Jackson responded right away in the second and gave the Seals a little life with a worm burning 5-hole goal through Penney that made it 5-2.
Vancouver had answers, though. The first coming in the form of Mitch Jones, who scored a textbook goal, utilizing a double screen to put a lefty bouncer past Scigliano at what looked like changeup speed. A few minutes later, Logan Schuss would tack on another with a carbon copy of the Jones goal, extending their lead to five and bringing the game up to 7-2. The Seals opted to sub Nick Damude back into the game at this point and the young goalie stood on his head the rest of the game.
“I mean it wasn’t really anything with me,” said Damude. “…really just a great team effort.”
What was to follow is unlike anything most National Lacrosse League fans have had the privilege of witnessing.
It began with about eight minutes left to play in the second. Casey Jackson swam his defender on the left wing, beat the slide, and dove across the crease to beat Penney for the score. A few minutes later, he stepped into time and room off of a feed from forward Jeremy Noble (1g, 6a) and let it rip to cut the Vancouver lead to three at 7-4.
“It feels great. I mean this is my old team so it was kind of nice to get a little win against them, and a little revenge, I guess you could say,” said Casey Jackson.
Then it was Noble’s turn, who slipped one in with a minute left to play in the half, cutting the lead to two and sparking a little wrestling match between Warriors defenseman Chris O’Dougherty and Seals forward Zack Greer (1g, 2a). The goal would take the game into the halftime break, Vancouver leading it 7-5.
The third quarter is one that the Vancouver Warriors would very much like to forget. They didn’t get a single quality possession through the first fourteen minutes of the second half while the Seals went to work, unleashing an offensive onslaught that saw the Seals not only take the lead, but run the score all the way up to 7-12 on ten unanswered goals. Nearly a quarter and a half of this game elapsed without a Warriors goal. At one point, with five minutes left to play in the fourth quarter, the Seals were on a 12-1 run.
The physicality of the game, combined with the lopsided scoring, finally reached its boiling point in the fourth as Seals defenseman Eli Gobrecht and Warriors star Mitch Jones dropped the gloves and went at it. Jones managed to land a few solid shots before the two wrestled each other to the ground and were broken up. A shirtless and bloodied Eli Gobrecht strutted excitedly off the field to a standing ovation from the San Diego crowd.
The real story of the fourth quarter, however, was that of Seals captain and future hall of famer Brodie Merrill, who scooped his 2,518th loose ball, making him the National Lacrosse League’s all-time loose balls leader.
“I couldn’t be happier for Brodie,” said brother and head coach Patrick Merrill. “I’m his biggest fan. The key thing about that stat is that it’s a hard working stat. When you pick up loose balls, you control the game. With his ability, his grit, and his determination for all these years, I’m really happy he was able to accomplish that, especially with a big win.”
With only a few minutes left in the fourth, the game was simply too far out of reach for the Warriors, but they fought valiantly nonetheless and managed to crawl back with a few late goals to make the final score a respectable 15-10 with San Diego on top.
The significance of this win for the Seals really can’t be understated. They’ve dug themselves out of last place in the West Division and are only a few games back from first heading into the back half of the season.
The Seals head to Calgary next week for a February 29 appointment with the Roughnecks, another West Division team in extremely tight contention with both San Diego and Vancouver at 3-6 on the year.