LumberJax barge their way into playoffs

At least one of Portland’s professional sports franchises is playoff bound. In just their first season the LumberJax had already clinched a playoff spot before their matchup with the Edmonton Rush on Friday night. However, the Jax took care of business anyway, defeating the Rush handily by a score of 11-7 and dominating all facets of the game. On the following night the Jax wrapped up the Western Division title with a 13-8 win over the Minnesota Swarm, improving their overall record to 11-5 for the regular season.

On Friday night, deemed “Fan Appreciation Night,” the Jax provided the 11,408 fans that packed the Rose Garden with plenty to cheer about with jaw-dropping passes and amazing goals. Edmonton may have the worst record in the National Lacrosse League, but on this night they brought the best out of Portland and the LumberJax.

On the field, the Jax illustrated why they had already clinched a playoff spot by beating Edmonton with their usual brand of disciplined, athletic lacrosse. However, in the final home game of the season the Jax’ successful lacrosse failed to offer the best indication of how far this young franchise had gone in a matter of months.

Instead it was the appearance of the stands encircling the turf field that gave the best indication of the growth of the young franchise. The stands were so important because they were completely full of knowledgeable lacrosse-loving fans that call the LumberJax their team, which isn’t exactly the scenario the Jax faced at the beginning of the season. With the playoffs just a week away, Portland has completely accepted the Jax as a legitimate team.

“The crowd was awesome,” said head coach Derek Keenan. “We have been up and down a little bit with the crowds but we were aware it was going to be a big one and we were pretty excited about that and they did a good job supporting us.”

The near-capacity crowd was certainly a thrilling outcome for the Jax, which may have allowed them to elevate their game to the next level. Portland never trailed during the of the game, jumping out early with a coast-to-coast Ryan Sharp goal with just 2:14 expired in the first quarter for a lead they would not relinquish.

The Jax offense was running on all cylinders as they had eight different players participate in the scoring frenzy, including all three of the Morgan brothers. Of the three brothers, Peter Morgan had the best statistical game, adding two goals and three assists, including one goal that was reminiscent of a basketball player posting up his opponent and spinning in for the score.

A couple of other repeat offenders were Mike Hominuck and Shawn Cable, who accumulated two goals each to provide Portland with multiple scoring threats. Aside from scoring, Cable supplied the Jax with a source of pure intimidation when he locked up in a brawl with Rush forward Jim Quinlan. All and all it was a pretty even fight with Cable getting the majority of the power shots in early and Quinlan finishing the battle strong with a few blows.

One Jax player didn’t score a goal against the Rush but proved to be a vital component of the team with his passing ability alone. Jax forward Ryan Powell dished out three assists on the night, including a magnificent behind-the-back pass to Hominuck from behind the goal during the third quarter.

“I don’t do it a lot, that’s for sure, but that was a good situation to do it in,” Powell said. “This is a good spot for us to be in right now. We have great team chemistry and in sports if you have team chemistry you can come together and do unbelievable things. Guys are definitely stepping up.”

While the night couldn’t have ended any better there was one point of concern, the health of their star goalie Dallas Eliuk. Eliuk ended the first half with 15 saves and only allowed one goal, but due to an injury that he sustained during the first 30 minutes he didn’t play in the second half. He was replaced by third-string goalie Aaron Bold, who finished with 19 saves and six goals against.

“For Dallas it was just a little body twinge, nothing serious, but we have the playoffs next week,” Keenan said. “We have confidence in all three of our goalies. We felt we could put Aaron in there and he did a good job.”

The LumberJax closed out their weekend by making the trip to Minnesota to face off against the Swarm at the Xcel Energy Center on Saturday night. In a seemingly effortless fashion the Jax were victorious by a score of 13-8 in their final game of the regular season. With the win Portland not only guaranteed a home playoff game but also won the Western Division title and secured a tie with Buffalo for the best record in the league, at 11-5.

In just their first season, the expansion Portland LumberJax are turning heads by not only being playoff bound but also winning their division, becoming the first expansion team to win the division title. The Jax have home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, which will begin next Saturday when they host Arizona at 7:30 p.m. at the Rose Garden.

“It’s pretty unbelievable,” Keenan said. “We expected to have success this season but certainly not to this degree, but it’s just a credit to our guys and their character.”