Ian MacKay’s late 2-pointer lifts Chaos over Archers, 11-9, for 4th win in 5 games

By Andrew Crane | Aug 14, 2021

In a span of eight seconds to open the fourth quarter, the time it took for Max Adler to snag a faceoff and dart toward the Archers’ cage, two months of gradual improvements surfaced for the Chaos. After losing 7-of-10 faceoffs in the first half, and losing more than half throughout the season, Adler flipped the results and won six out of the next 10. It was a baby step, one that might seem insignificant if it leads to more once the playoffs start, but that’s exactly what Chaos needed.

Stephen Kelly, Adler’s counterpart at the faceoff stripe, whacked one final time at his stick before he sprinted out of reach. The Archers didn’t slide, and Adler buried his shot into the right corner past Adam Ghitelman — giving the Chaos an 8-7 lead and extending a stretch that, by the time everything settled in the fourth, turned into a 4-0 run. 

Adler’s teammates mobbed him after the ball that left his stick stopped bouncing in the cage. One slapped his back. Another slung an arm around his neck. He teetered between the shoves of Chaos teammates — the offensive ones and the pieces of an evolving faceoff unit — before settling in and returning to the middle of Tom & Mary Casey Stadium for another round against Kelly. Back on June 13, the last time these two teams met, a 6-1 Chaos lead evaporated by halftime and turned into a loss after Kyle Gallagher won just 32% of faceoffs. Adler stood on the sidelines, replaced by Gallagher in his first PLL start, and a search for consistency at the stripe followed.

And after an 11-9 win over the Archers on Tuesday, this time erasing an early multi-goal lead instead of blowing it, Chaos won for the fourth time in five games since that pivotal loss, turning a once-drifting season into one destined for the playoffs, and maybe a deep run at that. They’ve started to find that consistency, bottle it up and make it last across multiple games. Chase Fraser and Josh Byrne scored three goals in the first and third quarters, respectively, and Ian MacKay’s 2-pointer, his third this season and third against the Archers, served as the game-winning tally in a game that ended at 1:10 a.m. due to a weather delay in the doubleheader’s first game.

“We're hoping that our team's best performance is coming up this weekend in Albany for two games,” Chaos head coach Andy Towers said on Monday, six days before his players took the first step toward that point. “And then ultimately, hopefully, for three more games down the stretch of the season.”

Because for seven weeks, that’s exactly what Towers did: Hoped that the trends of an 0-3 start could be reversed like they did in 2020. Hoped that injuries and Visa problems could be resolved with enough time to weave a cohesive unit together. Hoped that the depth he’d started to collect stayed that way. Perhaps the biggest step toward that point, before the win on Friday night, came when they bolted out to a 7-2 lead against the Chrome in Colorado Springs and maintained their grasp on that advantage. Adler won his faceoffs. Defensive midfielders vacuumed up 50-50 ground balls. They scored goals off the ride.

Those moments flashed all the pieces of a team starting to click at the right time, but a quick burst from the Archers threatened to extinguish that momentum. Connor Fields, playing at his college stadium, caught a pass from Marcus Holman, swung his shoulders and whipped a low shot past Blaze Riorden through his open window less than three minutes in. They closed the opening quarter with a goal from Tom Schreiber and used seven saves from Ghitelman to create a 3-1 lead. 

But the offense, while clicking at times, also contributed to the 11 turnovers the Archers had in the first half, providing Chaos extra opportunities to sneak shots past Ghitelman. Fraser notched his hat trick, at the time the only three goals his team had, when he pump-faked and paired a swim move with a face dodge to navigate past his defender, and rookie Ryan Smith even the game at 4 when he dodged from X on Jeff Trainor and flipped it backhand toward the upper-right corner of the cage.

Fields scored his second of the game on a sequence that mirrored his first goal, but that, along with a Tre Leclaire overhand goal, was nearly all the offense the Archers managed until the fourth quarter. That allowed Chaos to make their run. Additional errors and turnovers by the Archers injected life into that burst — they finished with 21 turnovers, five above their season average — like when Schreiber attempted a skip pass intended for leading-scorer Will Manny, who went scoreless, and Chaos sprinted off in the other direction. Or when Riorden knocked aside Graeme Hossack’s transition opportunity and Chris Cloutier turned it into a goal at the other end. 

Eventually, Chaos held a 9-7 lead, one that back-to-back goals from Holman erased until MacKay raced across the midfield line with three minutes left, cradling the ball on his left side and eyeing what the Archers’ transition defense would give him. They couldn’t slide to him right away, at least not until the substitution coming off the bench settled into place. They couldn’t force him to pass either, especially when a trio of Archers defenders didn’t stray from their matchups. 

So that left MacKay an open shooting lane, and as many steps as he wanted, to attempt a shot on Ghitelman. He paused just outside the arc, his left foot toeing a nearby hashmark and stick cocked behind his back. And then came the shot, the game-winning shot, not one — or a pair — that opposing second-half runs could mitigate. This time, MacKay made sure his was the final dagger, the one that propelled the upward trajectory of Chaos’ season just a little bit more.

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