Founders Cup: Six Nations withstands rally by Akwesasne to win second straight title

Coach Stu Montour motivated his Six Nations team by telling them if 'we run together today, we walk together forever.' The Rebels beat Akwesasne to win the title. (Photo: Casey Vock)
Coach Stu Montour motivated his Six Nations team by telling them if 'we run together today, we walk together forever.' The Rebels beat Akwesasne to win the title. (Photo: Casey Vock)

The Six Nations Rebels won the 2012 Founders Cup, the Canadian Lacrosse Association’s Junior B national championship, with an emotional and intense 8-7 victory over the Akwesasne Indians at the Iroquois Lacrosse Arena Sunday night in front of a packed house. The Rebels, a team that lost roster member Carney Johnson on Aug. 6, never trailed, but weathered a run by the Indians in the final period to hold onto the victory — Six Nations’ fourth win over rival Akwesasne this season after winning the OLA championship series 3-0. Six Nations got out to a 3-0 lead, with two of those early tallies coming from Dallas John, who would finish with three goals on the night. Hank Delisle netted two consecutive goals, including a beautiful, leaping one-timer off a Ky Tarbell feed, before the Rebels’ Wayne Hill would make it 4-2 to end the first period.

John and Jacob Crans put the Rebels up 6-2 in the second, a period that saw the Rebels defense — backed by a tremendous effort from netminder Chase Martin — blank the Indians to extend the lead to four goals heading into the third period.

In the final frame, Brine Rice put the Rebels ahead even further, 7-2, at 5:01. But 24 seconds later, the Indians began their rally, started by a Chad Thompson’s lone goal on the night. It felt as if momentum had swung completely to Akwesasne’s favor, as Kyle Lewis and Derek Hopps scored about a minute apart, putting the score at 7-5. And then Adam Bomberry put the ball on the turf, came up with it and went the distance to get the Indians within one goal.

However, Ian Martin — named Six Nations’ MVP of the contest — scored at 12:43, in what turned out to be the game-winning tally with Zed Williams and Jacob Crans getting the helpers. Akwesasne’s Lewis scored with 3:19 left in the game, but the Rebels’ defense and Chase Martin locked down and made several big plays, including Martin’s late save that kept the score at the 8-7 final.

The win gives Six Nations back-to-back Founders Cup titles and the program’s fifth overall. Chase Martin finished with 38 saves. The Rebels offense was led by John (3G), Zed Williams (5A) and Ian Martin (1G/2A). Akwesasne received two goals from both Delisle and Lewis.

Rebels head coach Stew Monture said that this Six Nations squad is unique in that there was not necessarily a star player who was expected to put the team on his back. Rather, the balanced, hard-working crew saw a different player emerge as a clutch performer or have a hot hand each night.

“In the past we had some top-of-the-league kind of guys,” Monture said. “This year it was all always a team defense, a team offense. There was no one heads-and-tails-above-the-rest stud on the team. Even down to the last game, you wouldn’t have known who our top players were. It was an all-around effort every game. When someone didn’t do the job, somebody bumped in. We didn’t know that at the start. We got into the playoffs, got on a roll. The goaltenders complemented each other well. When Chase was having a tough time, Dono (Donovan Fleischer) jumped in and did well and vice versa. We’d ride them for three or four games, back and forth. And that’s just the sign of a good team.”

Leading up to the playoffs, the Rebels were left reeling from the death of Carney Johnson, who is referred to in a Founders Cup program tribute page as “the heart and soul” of this year’s team. Monture said that the team was absolutely floored by the tragedy.

“That really zapped us,” said Monture, who has become a leading figure in the Six Nations lacrosse community, coaching multiple teams throughout the year. “But, somehow, the really bad part of it, can actually translate into something really good.”

Monture and the Six Nations coaching staff reached out to elders in the community, seeking advice and support in the wake of the tragedy, looking for answers on how to respond to something so heavy at such a crucial time in the season. The group even connected with people on Akwesasne, who also provided assistance and moral support, including “words of wisdom,” Monture said.

“They told us to ‘go and do what you have to do, what Carney would want you to do’, stay with it,” he said. “We got a little complacent in the tournament, but I think everyone was looking to peak at the right time.”

Akwesasne head coach Garrett Cree, who played Division III lacrosse at SUNY Plattsburgh and has also become deeply involved in youth lacrosse in his community, was visibly emotional in the wake of the one-goal loss, saying it was tough to see his players battle to the championship and fall by just one goal.

But he said he understood that Six Nations was playing with an extra spark in working to honor the late Johnson.

“It was almost like they were playing with a sixth man,” Cree said.

With two teams full of players who know each other, the intense matchup was the fourth of the year for the two clubs.

“You prepare all year as a coach, and once you get into these tight games, nothing ever goes as planned,” Monture said with chuckle. “It’s won on the floor and it’s won with all those intangibles that I think maybe (made up) for what we might not have had skill wise: the boys did it with a strong head and strong focus. … Mental toughness is a different kind of toughness. And obviously with what these guys went through, it’s the toughest team I’ve ever coached.”

Six Nations captain Spencer Hill said the Rebels rallied around each other, refocusing on what the team set out to do at the beginning of the season, but with added purpose.

“This means everything to us,” Hill said, saying the victory was without question was won for Carney Johnson. “It gave us extra strength, we all came together and made us stronger. This is what we work for all season. All those months of work paid off.”

Hill and other Rebels players said the teams are more than familiar with each other (with many friends on both sides), and the Six Nations squad was well aware of what the Indians could do if given the opportunity.

“We played them three games already,” Hill said. “We knew what we had, but we knew that they could come back. We just had to put it together, tighten up our defense and score when we could.”

The victory, Hill said, continues to set a high standard for the collection of lacrosse teams on the Six Nations of the Grand River.

“We’ve set the bar,” Hill said. “Now all the younger kids look up to us, and when they get to our age, they’re all going to want to play the same tempo of lacrosse.”

Making the victory that much more memorable, Monture said he believes it might be the first CLA championship that a Six Nations team has won on the reservation, with previous championships won in Brantford and elsewhere.

“We took pride in that. It kind of immortalizes them in the community. I tell the boys, we run together today, we walk together forever. … When we’re 60-, 70-year-old men, we’ll still look back to this season.”

Note: In the bronze medal game, the Calgary Mountaineers downed the Onondaga Redhawks 17-11. Leading the way for Calgary were Dillon Steyck (5G/3A) and Cody Friesen (4G/1A). Onondaga was led by Lyle Thompson’s six-goal, two-assist performance. After the final game, Thompson was named the overall MVP of the Founders Cup, having put up a monstrous 29 goals and 25 assists — 13 more goals than the next closest player and eight more assists than the next closest player on the charts. Ty Thompson (Lyle’s cousin and teammate at SUNY Albany in Division I play) was second in total points with 29.

Based in Central New York, Vock is a freelance journalist covering pro, college and high school lacrosse. A passionate fan of both box and field, he began contributing to InsideLacrosse.com in late 2009. He can be reached at caseyvock@gmail.com.

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