Redwoods Comeback vs Waterdogs

Redwoods Overcome Early Deficit to Secure Thrilling Victory Against Waterdogs

By Jerome Taylor

Jun 10, 2023

When Redwoods LC took its first timeout against Waterdogs LC with 7:50 remaining in the first quarter, things were getting ugly. 

TD Ierlan was getting beat by James Reilly, who was making his pro debut. The Waterdogs had put up four unanswered goals to start the game. And the ‘Woods’ offense seemed nonexistent. 

Head coach Nat St. Laurent needed to talk to his guys. 

“Sometimes you just got to calm down. We were trying to play fast… and we just got a little out of control and sloppy,” St. Laurent said. “It was just a quick timeout to regroup, recenter and refocus and then go back out there and chip away.” 

For a team that has been so focused on going faster coming into the season, that message to calm down proved to be the antidote for the Redwoods to pull off the comeback in their 10-9 win against the defending champs on Friday night. 

But the change didn't come immediately after the timeout, as the Waterdogs pumped in two more goals to push their lead to 6-0. 

By the 3:32 mark in the first quarter, the Waterdogs had found a mismatch with Arden Cohen defending Michael Sowers, who finished with four points (2 Goals, 2 assists) – all coming in the first frame. And they were hunting it.

Something had to change. 

So Garrett Epple decided to take over the Sowers matchup in the second quarter, and the Waterdogs' offense stalled like a rusty Ford Pinto. Epple acknowledged that Sowers was still getting looks throughout the game. But he credits the ‘Woods defense for making adjustments to disrupt Sowers’ and the Dogs' rhythm.

“As a team, we were more successful. To sit here and say ‘I locked up Sowers’ is pretty hard to do,” Epple said. “During a long career, you learn to play angles a little bit more as a defenseman and try to really contain him more than anything.” 

“If you try to cover everything, he’s just too good, too fast. I’m not going to go out there and try to match feet with him at the end line, he’s just going to burn me every time. But if I can get him going one way… at least that limits his potential.” 

The consecutive stops that the ‘Woods mustered after the switch couldn't have come at a better time. Because the Redwoods’ offense heated up in the second frame, and the rookie-vet training camp roommates powered it: Cole Kirst and Rob Pannell

To start the second quarter, one of the sport’s greatest players went into the phone booth as Clark Kent and came out as Superman. 

First, an assist to John Sexton at the end of the first quarter.

Then Pannell scored off an invert with Jules Henningburg

And finally, he used his patented question mark dodge to cap off the three goals that started the 6-0 run that would eventually tie the game.

“He just has a calming presence throughout the entire game and provides motivation and provides a spark no matter how high or how low we are,” Kirst said about Pannell.  

Kirst provided a spark too.

In his professional debut, the rookie from Syracuse, who was draft night’s most controversial pick, finished the game with three points (2 Goals, 1 Assist). And both of his goals were timely, the first to tie the game at 6, and later in the third quarter, he gave the ‘Woods an 8-7 lead.

“We knew the young man we were getting [on draft night]... what we saw tonight is the same thing we saw all week at practice,” St. Laurent said.

Jack Kelly was having a big night during that offensive run on the other end of the field. His play between the pipes led to a 25-minute scoring drought that lasted from the end of the first quarter until late in the third. 

“When you’re in that situation (down 6-0), it takes one play to turn the game around, one check, one loose ball, one goal,” Epple said. “And that’s what happened. We started getting some juice and momentum, and [the game] ended up bouncing our way.”

Kelly finished with a 67.9% save percentage – well over the team’s goal of 50% – and 19 saves, and the Redwoods used that dry spell to mount their comeback. 

“The shots that they were taking were save-able shots, and Jack [Kelly] just absolutely lit it up tonight,” Epple said. “To play defense knowing that guy behind you is almost in all certainty going to stop the ball gives you the ability to play with more freedom.”

Kelly and the defense’s play also seem to feed into other parts of the ‘Woods’ game because also during that time, Ierlan started to heat up at the stripe finishing 11-20 against Reilly (12-22 overall). 

And to secure the win, last week’s hero, Ryder Garnsey, showed he still had another highlight in him when he used a slick toe drag followed by a smooth face-dodge to get by two Waterdogs’ defenders before tying the game at 9.

With 5:43 remaining, Pannell scored his third goal  (he finished with four total points) of the evening to secure the Redwoods victory and a 2-0 start to the season. 

“We have a room where guys are really seeing what we are capable of doing they’re playing for one another, and they’re understanding the overall mission… we’re going to take any W we can get in this league,” St. Laurent said.

The Redwoods will be looking to push their season-opening winning streak to three against the Whipsnakes in Columbus on June 17th, the last game before the league breaks for the World Games.

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