Alex Marinier remembers watching the 2019 Ontario lacrosse final between Burlington and Orangeville. Though he was cheering for his brother Matt and his hometown team, he couldn’t help but marvel at the skill and speed of the Orangeville team that would go on to take the series on its way to capturing the Minto Cup at the national championships.
“I just couldn’t imagine that ever happening,” he said.
Four years later, he didn’t have dream about it. Marinier and the Burlington Blaze scored six unanswered goals to defeat the Coquitlam Adanacs 12-7 Saturday in Edmonton to bring the city its first Canadian Jr. A lacrosse championship.
The Blaze won all five of their games at nationals, including a two-game sweep of Coquitlam in the final.
In the crucial opening game of the final, the Blaze trailed 8-6 with five minutes to play, but as they did all season, found a way to win. Will MacLeod scored twice to force overtime and then after Coquitlam tied the game with 54 seconds left in overtime, Braedon Saris responded with the winning goal just 14 seconds later.
“Our guys were just conditioned to fight through, stay in every single game and play to the very end,” said general manager Sean Gillies, who won the Minto Cup as a player with Orangeville in 2008.
Over their final eight games (all wins), including the last three of the Ontario final, the Blaze outscored their opponents 45-40 in the first two periods. But in the third and beyond, Burlington had a whopping 33-18 advantage in goals.
“It never mattered what the score was, our guys had a weird sort of confidence,” said Blaze coach Dan MacRae.
Marinier said a mid-season trade with Peterborough in which the Blaze acquired Zach Thompson, Ben Trumble and goalie Deacon Knott was a pivotal moment.
“We were a very good team, but that showed us we were all-in on winning this year,” said Marinier, who led the Blaze with 11 goals at nationals while Thompson contributed eight. “We strung together a lot of big wins after that.”
The Blaze faced their share of adversity during the season and got hit with some more prior to the tournament when their flight to Edmonton was cancelled. They arrived a day late but still in time for their opening game, though weren’t particularly sharp.
Still, Ty English delivered a four-goal game to carry the Blaze to an 11-7 win over the hosts. A five-goal third period and hat tricks by Marinier and Saris gave Burlington an 8-6 victory over Calgary. Then, in a preview of the final, the Blaze beat Coquitlam 10-8.
After the overtime win in Game 1 of the final, Burlington found itself trailing 7-6 early in the third period of Game 2. MacLeod tied the game and with less than nine minutes to play, Chuck Rawson gave the Blaze the lead. Twenty-five seconds later a huge hit by Alexis Simard set up a behind-the-back goal by Brooks English.
The Blaze added three more unanswered goals while Knott stopped 18 of 19 shots in the period as Burlington pulled away.
Suddenly, what once seemed impossible was a reality, as Marinier laid his hands on the Minto Cup.
“It’s almost as old as the Stanley Cup. A lot of great lacrosse players have won that trophy,” he said. “It’s a brotherhood that’s very special, and I’m lucky enough to be in that now.”
For MacRae, who like most of the Blaze coaching staff are Burlington alumni, it was just as much a win for everyone that came before them.
“You look at all the people who have put so much into this team. Bill Macintosh was the equipment manager when I played for Burlington (from 2007-09),” he said. “Pete Bowers has been with the team 20-plus years. It’s incredibly rewarding to win it for them, and for all the alumni.”
“This is the best way to end a junior career,” Marinier said. “The feeling of accomplishment and all the hard work; there’s no better feeling. I know the guys from out of town are just excited to win, but there’s something special about winning it for your hometown, especially when it’s never been done before.”