Chaos Ride Riorden From Winless to Championship Game with Win over Archers
By Josh Schafer | Aug 6, 2020
The Archers had a problem. He stood 6-foot tall with a stick in his left hand but looked more like the brick wall version of Superman. Nothing could get by him. The shots came from beyond the arc. They came from near the crease and in between the two. None of it, not even the shots planned to put the sun in the goalie's eyes reached nylon. At least, not consistently enough.
Blaze Riorden has just had that kind of tournament in net for the Chaos and on Thursday night it led his team to a 13-9 victory over the Archers.
Riorden’s 18 saves stifled one of the PLL’s highest-scoring offenses while Josh Byrne (five points) and Curtis Dickson (four points) led a revitalized Chaos offense. After losing four games in the round-robin games, the Chaos has won two-straight games by a combined nine goals. A week ago it looked like the Chaos had flatlined. Then Riorden dared his team not to feel sorry for themselves in a post-game speech. Head Coach Andy Towers benched his best offensive player from a year ago and the only team not to win a game in group play is headed for the PLL Championship.
The Chaos will play the winner of Redwoods-Whipsnakes in the Championship game on Sunday at 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC.
Chaos entered the game after their best performance of the Championship Series. After averaging eight goals through group play, Chaos scored 19 in the first elimination round win against Chrome. The offensive explosion came from a line shift and sitting All-Star attackman Connor Fields, who hasn’t played in the elimination rounds.
Everyone scored for Chaos in the first half. Eric Scott, who entered the game with one point through five games, tallied two goals, including a finish while diving through the crease off a restart at X. Mark Glicini, the shot block specialist at defensive middie, scored a goal in transition, while Miles Thompson, Fields replacement, also added a first-half goal. The latter two goals were a product of efficient ball movement, something that’s improved over the last two games, per Chaos players and coaches.
The highlight-reel plays of the early Chaos lead didn’t come from passes though. Some came on the defensive end, with doorstep save after doorstep from Riorden who denied several scoring opportunities in the first period. They also came from Josh Byrne, who poured in 12 points in the elimination rounds alone.
Byrne only needed one hand for his first goal. While driving down the left alley he moved the stick into his right hand, and in one fluid motion swooped his stick between his legs and placed a shot in the bottom left corner. His second goal was a bit more textbook, a simple paralyzing juke move around the first defender followed by a lefty shot around the sliding defenseman, who served as a screen for the goalie.
“I just blacked out,” Byrne said when asked how he scored the first goal.
In the third period, it looked like Ryan Ambler had the moment, that play that doesn’t win a game but they’d show on the championship highlight tape nine times over. It was a simple jump, a leap really, to block a pass and extend a possession which had previously ended in a turnover. His stick clipped a Chaos outlet pass and Marcus Holman took the equivalent of a hockey wrist shot into the net for a goal.
The Archers ripped off a few goals after that and brought the game within two. But eventually the inevitable happened, the Chaos offense retained possession and that ended as most did on Thursday night. Austin Staats stopped the bleeding first. The first-year PLL player baited his defender to reach for a hanging left-handed release. Staat’s indoor teammate, Eli Gobrecht bought the bait and swiped air. Staats had already brought his stick back in front of him as he charged to the crease for an easy goal.
The goals around the crease kept coming from the Canadian’s on the Chaos offense. The final two goals of the period for the Chaos offense came from Curtis Dickson (3G). Dickson ran around the crease to his right hand and rolled underneath for a goal on the doorstep. His next score came the opposite way as he saw a hole to the left side of the cage, charged up from X, and launched the ball back behind him into the net. It was the last meaningful goal the Chaos scored.
For the entire fourth quarter, The Archers launched shots while Chaos killed clock. The Archers tried to roll around the crease as their opponent had. With just more than five minutes left in the game and the Archers trailing by three, Holman rolled underneath his man toward the crease. But Riorden’s left-handed position matched Holman’s right-handed stick. The goal the Chaos had scored several times was denied and the Archers offensive woes continued.
Even the Archers, an offense that looked so potent in group play, couldn’t break Riorden. They tried it all and none of it worked. After all, it was really just a formality. Throwing lacrosse balls at a brick wall isn’t usually going to work. Because when you throw a ball at a wall it’s more like the Chaos after an 0-4 start. The ball comes back, harder than it hit the wall, and ready for more.
“We didn’t come here to finish second,” Towers said in the post-game huddle. “We have one more game to go.”