The 2015 NLL Champion’s Cup Finals are set as the Edmonton Rush represent the West Division against the Toronto Rock in the East for a full best-of-three series starting with Game 1 on Saturday in Toronto. Which players came up big in Game 2 and Game 3 of the NLL Division Finals that saw Edmonton take down rival Calgary Roughnecks and Toronto knock off the three-time defending champion Rochester Knighthawks? Find Stephen Stamp’s Three Stars of NLL Division Finals finale below to see who put the teams on their backs.
“If you’ve ever wondered why players, coaches and analysts make such a big deal about experience when it comes to success in the playoffs, look no further than Josh Sanderson’s performance on Saturday night for your answer,” Stamp writes. “Sanderson has never been the biggest or fastest player, but he’s always been among the most determined.”
“On Saturday, he had a huge impact at critical times of both games. In Game 2 he had four assists and scored a shorthanded goal to make it 10-7 moments after a Rochester shot had ricocheted off the cross bar; instead of a 9-8 game with Rochester building momentum it was a three-goal Toronto lead and a deflated Knighthawks squad that never really challenged again.”
Josh Sanderson, Toronto Rock
3 goals, 5 assists
Sanderson’s contributions only picked up as the tiebreaker game got under way. First he tapped home a perfect feed from Brett Hickey for a power play marker to open the scoring just 29 seconds in. Less than a minute later, he took the ball near the goal line extended, slipped below it then fought his way back out through Mike Kirk’s check to tuck the ball past Matt Vinc’s feet. Both of those things are tough to do against such good players, but Sanderson managed the feat to scored a goal that really opened the floodgates as Toronto went on to score seven goals in six and a half minutes. And Sanderson was his typically humble self about the big goal. “Somehow I got underneath there; that doesn’t happen any more. It was nice that that squeezed in for me,” he said. Nice for him and for the team he just led to the Champion’s Cup Finals.
Stephen Keogh, Rochester Knighthawks
It’s safe to say Rochester simply didn’t have their A game on Saturday. They took penalties they don’t usually take, suffered broken defensive coverages we don’t usually see and just didn’t have the feel of the three-time defending champions. Really, about the only reason they were even close in Game 2 of the East finals was Keogh posting six goals. He was scoring from everywhere, single-handedly refusing to let them fall out of it. If it weren’t for his unfortunate roughing penalty 45 seconds from the final Game 2 buzzer that led to Toronto’s tiebreaker-opening power play goal, he might have been even higher on this list. Keogh’s a tough competitor and he’ll likely remember the penalty as much as anything from the evening, but he did a lot of good things that shouldn’t be forgotten.
Brett Hickey (Toronto): 3g, 5a. Hickey just gets better and better. He notched the first two goals in Game 2 on an outside seeing-eye shot and a crease dive. In Game 3, he played setup master, earning five assists in six minutes…Mark Matthews (Edmonton): 2g, 4a. Matthews wasn’t as influential as usual in Game 2, but he scored an exceptional goal driving in from the wing to tie Game 3 and set up Ben McIntosh for an insurance goal…Brandon Miller (Toronto): 48/58, .828 save percentage. Almost the exact same stat line he posted last week; Miller continues to play the best lacrosse of his career and it could lead to a Champion’s Cup and a world championships gold medal this year…Shawn Evans (Calgary): 3g, 5a. The only surprise about Evans’ performance Saturday is that the Rush were able to contain him in the tiebreaker…Robert Church (Edmonton): 3g, 1a. An excellent return from injury for the second-year player, who quietly was one of the top offensive players in the league this year…Stephan Leblanc (Toronto): 4g, 4a. There are so many contributors on…