ALBANY - The second day of PLL action featured a championship rematch from a year ago, as the Chaos looked to avenge their championship loss to the Waterdogs. Chaos were without key personnel, as six of their regular starters were winning the NLL Championship in Buffalo the night before. Waterdogs enter 2023 with their title roster mostly intact, but having made a free agent splash signing Jake Carraway to step in for the retired Ryan Brown.
One key missing piece for the Chaos was faceoff specialist Max Adler, and the task of standing in for him fell to rookie Nick Rowlett. Zac Tucci established himself as a quality option for the Waterdogs a year ago.
Off the opening faceoff, the Waterdogs looked for early offense, and Zach Currier got a shot past Blaze Riorden to give the Waterdogs an early lead. Matt Whitcher got another to push the lead to 2-0.
Early on, the game had the feel of both games the previous day. Sloppy early, as teams got their first game action and got comfortable. Teams traded possessions, feeling each other out. Chaos would get their first goal of the contest with 3:28 left off an invert look from Will Perry. As time wound down at the end of the first, Kieran McArdle skipped a pass through to Carraway on the back side who fired past Riorden, and the first period would end with the Waterdogs holding a 3-1 lead.
"All the credit in the world to Coach Towers and that team. They gave us everything we could handle. It was going to be a low scoring game with the kind of defense. Theyre obviously missing some of their offensvie personnel with the Bandits winning it last night. I don’t think we played great, but I think the Chaos deserve a lot of credit for that," said Waterdogs Head Coach Andy Copelan.
Teams were able to generate more looks in the second quarter, but goalie play elevated. Matt DeLuca robbed a shot early, and Riorden stuff and Ethan Walker doorstep shot with a kick save to keep the score at 3-1. It took a very high percentage look to beat either netminder, but that’s what happened when Jack Jasinki found Ryan Smith in front. Smith had time to throw a fake on the doorstep to move DeLuca and then put it by him, getting the Chaos back to within one. Waterdogs had an opportunity to answer quickly, as Troy Reh slashed Zach Currier on the ensuing faceoff. Waterdogs couldn’t convert the power play, and then an offsides call on Waterdogs freed up Reh in transition who scored from distance. After review, it was confirmed his foot was on the line, making it a one point goal and tying the game at three.
With 1:37 left, the Chaos were able to force a turnover as Waterdogs tried to clear, and a Smith ground ball turned into an assist on a goal by Bradley Voigt in front. Despite their struggles in 6v6, Chaos held a 4-3 lead, and in transition and unsettled situations looked sharp. Waterdogs got a few looks as time in the first half wound down, but couldn’t find the back of the net. With four seconds left, a penalty on Jack Rowlett sent the Waterdogs to the power play, but most of the time wouldn’t be available until the third quarter.
The Chaos won the faceoff to start the 3rd, eliminating the penalty. As teams traded possessions scoring stayed low. Waterdogs couldn’t put one past Riorden. With 6:45 remaining in the quarter, they finally broke through on the power play, as Connor Kelly buried a high bouncer from two point range to put the Waterdogs up 5-4. It proved to be the only goal of the quarter. An Eli Gobrecht penalty as time expired in the third would give the Chaos a power play for a minute to start the game’s final frame.
Riorden entered the 4th quarter with a save percentage of just under 80%, while Rowlett as over 80% facing off, as the Chaos specialists continued to keep Chaos in the game. Jasinski would score on an inside roll to tie the game at 5-5 with 9:25 remaining, and the Waterdogs struggling to create quality looks against a red hot Riorden.
"Blaze showed why he’s the best player in the world. Nick Rowlett played an outstanding game and gave us a lot of possessions. And I’m proud of the way our offense played. I felt like the frist quarter we were a little anxious offensively, but then it felt like we settled in. But it also felt like we played against a very strong defense as well. I’m very proud of the effort we put forth. Frustrated because it’s not the result we wanted, but we were right there," said Chaos Head Coach Andy Towers.
Kyle Jackson scored his first with 6:35 left to give Chaos their first lead of the second half. With 5:02 left, Sowers got on the board with his first via a power play doorstep goal to tie the game at 6-6. Currier would take, and win, the following faceoff, and then score a goal with 4:04 left to give the Waterdogs the lead back. Currier's impact was felt in a game where Sowers presence was very limited.
"Sowers is an unbelievable player. He’s one of the very best players in the world. But he had a tough matchup today with Jack Rowlett. I’ll take Jack Rowlett covering anybody at any time. His compete level, his athleticism, his physicality, his passion, is unmatched," said Towers.
"It’s just who Zach is. I think the the faceoff shortened clock benefits a guy like Zach, both offensively and defensively, in those situations. He’s just a throwback middie who’s exceptional off the ground and can muck it up. Even at the X a couple times today, I thought he really gave us something. Zach is awesome, I wouldn’t trade that guy for anything, he’s the best," said Copelan.
With just over two minutes left, Christian Scarpello was called for an illegal body check, sending the Chaos to the power play, where Minicus scored his first career goal to tie the game at seven with 1:38 remaining to play.
"Brian Minicus is going to present some problems for teams in this league. The reality is his lateral quickness adn north south explosiveness is truly unique. You can see it from opening dodge, that he was able to create separation against great players. We’re going to be able to use him all over the perimeter," said Towers.
It would hold until overtime, where the Waterdogs would possess the ball first. After running out of time on the 32 seconds, the Chaos had an opportunity, but couldn’t find the back of the net. On the Waterdogs second OT possession, Kelly slipped on the low wing, but was able to get back up and attack along GLE, diving across the crease and beating Riorden low for the game winner.
Riorden finished with 18 saves, while Rowlett went 13-18 facing off. Connor Kelly's three goals led the Waterdogs, while McArdle added three assists.