Chaos LC Powers Past Whipsnakes LC to Win First PLL Title


Chaos Lacrosse Club never forgot about the doubters. Andy Towers made sure of that. The team’s fiery head coach reminded his players of their underdog status every chance he could.

There were certainly reasons to doubt. The Chaos started the year 0-3, spurring early speculation that the squad was in for a lost season. But the Canadian-heavy roster began to come into form as the year went along and border restrictions eased. With additions and lineup tinkering, the group began to show more promise.

A fifth seed in the playoff bracket was perhaps deceptive, but the Chaos were clear underdogs when they pulled off postseason upsets of the Archers and Atlas. They still had a large contingent to win over in the title bout against the two-time defending champion Whipsnakes .

But Sunday, the doubted became the team to beat. Backed by another massive performance from Premier Lacrosse League MVP Blaze Riorden, the Chaos ended the Whipsnakes’ reign with a 14-9 victory at Audi Field. For the first time, there’s a PLL champion not named Whipsnakes.

“This has always been a team game,” attackman Josh Byrne said. “At the end of the day it was about finding what the right combination was going to be. From the minute that we put this group together the boys have just been balling out. It’s as simple as that. We believe in each other.”

Byrne was one of a handful of Chaos players who were able to translate indoor chemistry to the PLL. The team’s top four point producers Sunday were all Buffalo Bandits, led by second-team All-Pro Dhane Smith with six. Chase Fraser, getting his first consistent run this summer in the outdoor game, scored four times to match Byrne and Chris Cloutier in points.

Blaze Riorden made 15 saves to cap off a week which saw him bring home MVP and Goalie of the Year honors.

“I only won one trophy, the championship trophy,” said Riorden, the second field goalie to win a pro lacrosse MVP award. “That’s all I care about. … I said I’m sick of seeing myself on social media, but I’m not going to be sick of myself holding up that trophy.”

A 3-1 run to end the second quarter helped Chaos break a 5-5 tie and give the team a lead it would not relinquish the rest of the way. The victors got out to a 5-2 lead early thanks to five different goal scorers, then weathered a three-goal run by the Whips that tied the game with 9:18 remaining in the first half.

That Whipsnakes response was expected. Towers and his players spoke highly of the Whips, who have become the model franchise in the early years of the PLL. They knew the battle for the crown would be close.

“That a very respectful team,” Riorden said. “When you ask, ‘Who do we want to play?’ we say, ‘Oh, we don’t care who we play.’ At the end of the day, they’ve proven that they’re the best team in this league. To get another shot at them, it’s nothing but respect. We respect them a long way but we also have confidence in this group.”

Dhane Smith had the go-ahead goal with 6:38 remaining in the second, then Byrne and Mac O’Keefe added tallies before the end of the frame to put Chaos up 8-6. The Whipsnakes got as close as one the rest of the way. Mike Chanenchuk scored to open the second half, but an ensuing three-goal run helped keep the Whipsnakes at arm’s length the rest of the way.

Defensively, the Chaos were stellar in quieting Whipsnakes’ two biggest stars. Neither Matt Rambo nor Zed Williams scored a goal, with Williams limited to two assists and Rambo one. Rambo, whom Chaos worked to shut off, had just one shot.

“They’ve done that to Matt before,” Whipsnakes coach Jim Stagnitta said of the Chaos game plan. “It gave us an opportunity to play 5-on-5 up top. We needed to be able to be a little more disciplined, a little more patient. Certainly, Blaze made some saves, which he always does. And they did a nice job covering Zed, forced us into some uncharacteristic shots.”

Others stepped up, with Jay Carlson notching a hat trick and Justin Guterding and Chanenchuk each scoring two goals, but it wasn’t enough.

“We threw a lot of different wrenches at different teams down the stretch,” the Chaos’ Ian MacKay said. “Going into this week, it’s a championship game. They’re prepared for everything. At the end of the day what matters is we came together as a team. We just kind of buckled down.”

Max Adler’s work at the faceoff stripe limited the Whipsnakes’ opportunities at a comeback. After a slow start, he finished 13 of 26 against Joe Nardella, an enormous improvement from the pair’s first meeting this season. Nardella went 72.7 percent against the Chaos in Week 1.

“I’ve never seen somebody prepare like this guy has for a game,” MacKay said. “As soon as we land, he’s dialed in. Even beforehand, when he gets there, he’s dialed in. He’s stretching, he’s rolling out. He would leave our practice or show up to our practice late to go practice with other guys and get reps in.”

The victory helps ease some pain for Chaos from last year’s championship defeat. The squad also led entering the second half in that contest before a monster Williams performance kept the Whipsnakes on top.

The Chaos made serious changes to the roster since then, meaning only about half the team carries memories of that defeat. It served as motivation for those who do.

“Not one of us forgot that feeling at the end of the championship game,” Byrne said.

This time they got their celebration on the field with PLL co-founder Mike Rabil and in the locker room with their teammates. It’s a feeling they aren’t ready to relinquish anytime soon.

“We’re young, we’re hungry,” Riorden said. “Tip your cap to what [the Whipsnakes have] done. That’s a tough thing to do. We’ve won one of them and this feeling is like no other. I couldn’t imagine doing it two times. At the same time, after tonight it’s time to gear up for a second.”

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