CLUTCH: (Wikipedia definition) Clutch performance in sports is the phenomenon of athletes under pressure, usually in the last minutes of a game, to summon strength, concentration and whatever else necessary to succeed, to perform well, and perhaps change the outcome of the game. It occurs in basketball, hockey, football, other sports and esports.
A season is not defined by any one game, but the Langley Thunder came up clutch heading into an eight-day mid-season break and they hope the victory can spark a second-half surge.
Facing the Western Lacrosse Association-leading New Westminster Salmonbellies on Wednesday night at Langley Events Centre, the Thunder came through with their most impressive performance of the season, a 9-7 victory.
The win improved Langley to 4-6-1, while the Salmonbellies dropped to 7-2.
Heading into the senior A contest, head coach Rod Jensen had bemoaned the fact his team had mixed stretches of solid play with lapses in their consistencies. This time, however, they delivered a fairly-consistent 60-minute effort.
“We stuck with it, even when they got ahead of us,” he said. “Even when we fell behind, our guys were pretty calm.”
Jensen was referring to what could have been a couple of turning points.
The first came in the second period when Langley surrendered three goals in 50 seconds, to see a 4-2 lead disintegrate into a 5-4 deficit after 40 minutes. The second time was in the final period as twice Langley tied the score only to have the Salmonbellies respond to re-take the lead.
But Tyler Pace scored to tie the game and then Brodie Porter shook off a defender in transition to beat Tye Belanger and Pace added an insurance marker to close out the victory.
There were still three minutes remaining after that last goal, but Jake Sundar stood tall in goal, turning aside the rest of the New West opportunities. He finished with 50 saves and the game’s third star.
The Salmonbellies entered the contest averaging a league-best 12.88 goals per game.
“New West is an unreal team and our D played really well,” Sundar said. “It just seemed like every shot was hitting me and our offence stepped up and put the ball in the net.”
Goalies talk about being in the ‘zone’ and for Sundar, he said the ball looked like a beach ball at points during the game.
This was just Sundar’s second start of the season, and he has won them both. He has appeared in five of Langley’s 10 games, going 2-2 with a 9.15 goals against average and a .830 save percentage, ranking fourth in both categories among all WLA goaltenders.
Jensen said his goalie was steady and gave the team the big save when they needed it. He also liked his team’s hustle, pointing out they came up with their fair share of loose balls against what he considers the league’s top loose ball team.
He also gave a big assist to Dane Dobbie, one of the only veterans on the team. Dobbie had a goal and four assists in the victory, but when the team was beginning to lose focus, he was able to get them back on track.
“It looked like we were going to teeter, guys were complaining about the refs,” Jensen said about Dobbie’s words to his teammates. “It is good to hear from a player (sometimes) because a coach can only say so much.”
The Thunder are now off until Friday, July 6 when they play in Victoria with a game the following night in Nanaimo.
“We need to use this to set the tone. There are a lot of good teams in the league and this shows we can compete as long as we all play together and stick together,” Sundar said.
And Jensen said confidence plays a big role in a team’s psyche.
“For us it is big because these guys, no matter what I say, are second guessing their abilities, their ability to play as a team at this level, in this league, so I am hoping that is going to help us in the right direction where we can go into a building and win if we play well.”
The game’s three stars were Pace, New Westminster’s Mitch Jones and Sundar.
Langley was led by Pace’s two goals and four assists, Dobbie’s goal and four helpers, two goals from Brandon Clelland and a goal and two assists from Connor Robinson. Aidan Milburn, James Rahe and Porter had a goal apiece.
Jones led the ‘Bellies with two goals and two assists while Daniel McQuade and Lyndon Bunio both had a pair of goals.