Ring ‘Em: Waterdogs top Chaos to win first PLL Championship
By Austin Owens | Sep 19, 2022
It was a victory 991 days in the making for the Waterdogs Lacrosse Club.
After being announced as the Premier Lacrosse League’s first expansion club back in 2020, the ‘Dogs had to build from the ground up, and after coming up short in the playoffs the previous two years, they took home their first title on Sunday afternoon in Philadelphia, beating Chaos 11-9 at Subaru Park.
“Our guys honestly got exactly what they deserved,” Waterdogs head coach Andy Copelan said following the game. “We wanted to surround ourselves with winners and guys who have won at various levels before. We have that and I love our locker room. When you have your locker room right, everything else tends to fall into place.
“I’ve felt for a while that these guys deserved to win a championship but feeling like you deserve it and actually going out and executing are two different things. But when those worlds come together, it’s a really great feeling.”
Dresher, PA native Michael Sowers took home Championship MVP honors with a two-goal, three-point performance in the victory. Kieran McArdle led the way once again for his team, adding two goals and four points of his own.
Jake Withers had a big game from the stripe once again in these playoffs, winning 57 percent of his draws while scooping up 11 ground balls and causing a turnover. Dillon Ward turned away 13 shots while adding more hardware to his trophy case.
Matt Rees led Chaos in scoring with three points (1G, 1T), Josh Byrne had two goals, and the pair of Chris Cloutier and Challen Rogers had a goal and an assist apiece.
Blaze Riorden had 17 stops in the championship game.
The defending champions hopped out to a quick lead in the first quarter with some quick strikes. Challen Rogers opened the party with a strike from distance before follow-ups from Byrne and Rees to make it 3-0 at the 8:20 mark.
Connor Kelly halted the brief run, but Mac O’Keefe pushed the lead to 4-1 shortly after. But that would be the last goal Chaos saw until the five-minute mark of the second.
Sowers got his first of the afternoon with 25 seconds left in the opening frame, and the ‘Dogs opened the second with a three-goal run of their own – Kieran McArdle had a pair while Ryan Conrad also added a tally.
The 5-1 run daw the Waterdogs into the lead in the dying stages of the first half, however, Byrne got his second of the game to knot it at five going into the locker room.
Physicality was high during the game, and the tone was set early on, as the two foes got into it at the end of the first quarter, with Byrne and Zach Currier in the middle of things.
Coming out for the second half, the Waterdogs continued their hot play. Conrad got his second goal of the game just 26 seconds into the third quarter. Sowers added another and Conrad completed his hat trick before a Jack Hannah marker made it 9-5.
All the momentum was on the side of the ‘Dogs to start the stanza. However, Chaos had an answer.
Rees made a statement with a 2-bomb from deep, skipping the heater past Ward to quickly bring the game within a score. Kyle Jackson capped off the third with a juice goal to give his team some confidence heading into the final 12 minutes of the season.
The teams began to settle in during the back half of the third quarter and into the fourth. In a one-goal game, fans got to see a battle between two of the best goalies on the planet. But on this day, it was the Waterdogs’ netminder who shined brightest, making several key saves on Chaos chances in the fourth to shut the door.
Chaos’ lone goal in the fourth came from the stick of Cloutier, who powered topside and rolled back to the crease to dump the ball over Ward’s shoulder. But Ethan Walker and Kelly were able to bury for their squad to maintain the one-goal advantage in the fourth. Chaos pushed for an equalizer, but another scrum put them on the back foot in the late goings. Chase Fraser and Chris Sabia came together, and both players were given unsportsmanlike conduct penalties – With Fraser’s being a two-minute unreleasable. With 2:35 remaining at the time, the Waterdogs were able to run down the clock and celebrate a championship victory.
“We’ve kind of had that same group of guys that we’ve been with since the bubble. The journey has been a battle. But each year, we got better and here we are. We’re champions,” said McArdle, who took home his first career championship in his ninth pro season. “Dillon Ward is a champion. He wins at every single level and I knew he was going to step up today. Our defense is a well-oiled machine and they don’t get the credit they deserve.”
This was the Waterdogs’ first championship game appearance. They were able to defeat the Atlas in the Quarterfinals before avenging their 2021 playoff defeat to the Whipsnakes in the semi-finals.
After three years of building, the team finally got the chance to taste championship glory, taking out the defending champions in the process.
“What makes our locker room so special is that we could care less about personal stats and accolades. Nothing in our locker room matters from an individual standpoint,” SSDM Steven DeNapoli said. “This is by far the most enjoyable team I’ve been on in all of my years in professional lacrosse. Nobody puts themselves before the team, and I think that’s something that cannot go unnoticed. It is a truly special group of guys.
“Our first season was two weeks. That was our first year of being a team. Our locker room has just been built the right way. I couldn’t be happier to do this with a great group of guys.”