Friday, September 18th, 2015 was a day of firsts. The 2015 World Indoor Lacrosse Championship is the first time the Haudenosaunee have ever played host to an international sporting tournament, teams and fans alike are electrified by the energy of game coming home to the Onondaga Nation. The first game of the event was opened by two first timers to the tournament, Israel and Serbia. Both teams have a few NLL veterans whose experience will be looked to by their less-traveled teammates.
Israel will lean on the leadership of Chad Culp and Zach Higgins while Serbia will look to team leadership of the Gajic brothers and Nik Bilic. The kickoff game unfolded with the right amount of passion and intensity fit for the occasion.
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The Israel vs Serbia game proved to be an exciting kick off to the WILC 2015 tournament play as both teams came out hungry to get started and grind it out for all 4 periods. The first faceoff proved to set the tone for the rest of the game as Israel’s Cole McCormack would prove dominate in the circle all game long. Israel started the game with poor handles but tough defense kept their initial momentum and a quick turnover created a breakaway look for an assisted goal by Kyle Bergman to put the first points on the board, 1-0 Israel. Poor stick-work will continue to be an issue for the Israeli team and while they managed to keep possession they couldn’t find the cage.
After the media timeout at 7:00, Serbia worked to maintain possession but turned it over due to a shot clock violation. However, the defense was playing inspired and held tough for another Serbian possession, albeit unsuccessful.
Israel capitalized on an uncontested shot from Chad Culp, a physical NLL player and leader, up top to bring the score to 2-0. Hard fought battles up and down the floor lead to a quick break and shot by Jacob Silberlicht with assist from Culp to bring the game to 3-0 and the end of the first period.
First faceoff of the period gives Israel a short lived possession. Serbia pulls the keeper in exchange for another attacker to run a 6 man offense which failed to convert followed by a 2min slashing penalty on Israel’s Daniel Deckelbaum, allowing Serbia to successfully take advantage of their power play situation. Serbian Captain Ilija Gajic scored a critical goal off a great hookup by brother Aleksandar Gajic, both NLL veterans, putting them on the board, 3-1 Israel with 12:55 remaining in the half. The momentum continued with a quick inside Serbian look and the fans got rowdy as Aleksander Gajic finishes a feed from Ryan Pavic, bringing Serbia within 1! Sloppy Serbian transition caused an Israeli breakaway giving Kyle Bergman his second goal of the night and propels Kevin Harper to get his first, 5-2 Israel, midway through the second quarter.
The face-offs became highly contested and each team was working hard for that critical possession which seem to be going both ways. But Israeli goalie Zach Higgins proves to be a wall, making great saves from all spots, he might just be one of the most underrated players in the NLL. He finished out this game with a 78% save percentage and some acrobatics ones to say the least.
Solid goaltending and tough defense set up another Israeli possession. Culp hit Bergman for his hat trick and Israel pulls away in score 6-2. Less than 30 seconds later, poor Serbian transition leads to another Israeli point blank opportunity and Chad Culp finishes a great unassisted shot, score 7-2.
Israel begins to soften on defense allowing none other than Ilija Gajic to close in, scoring off a topside sweep assisted by Kriss Stevan and the gap edges closer, score 7-3. But Israel will answer right back as Serbian goalie Marko Celic gets hung up on an Israeli shot and allows Zachary Pall to punch one through, score 8-3. With a solid lead, Israel begins playing patient offense, allowing full subs before advancing and working to make good looks. However, the Serbian team is learning, they are getting better every minute of play and they aren’t to be written off. The hard-nosed don’t quit mentality of the Serbian team rallied the crowd with a great goal off a backboard rebound to give Ilija Gajic his hat trick assisted by Ryan Pavic with 8 seconds left in the quarter, he is proving to be a tenacious leader.
Both teams came out guns blazing at the start of the second half with tough defense and aggressive moves to the cage. After a minute of play Serbia’s Brian Gorodetsky will head to the box for 5 minutes, high sticking, giving Israel their power play advantage. Bryan Hopper to Daniel Deckelbaum connection happens twice in the power play, striking a critical blow to Serbia, score 10-4.
Israel’s Zachary Pall delayed the game, catching a 2 minute penalty, but Serbia failed to execute with their power play opportunity, turning the ball over and Ryan Pavic slashes, giving Israel another 2 minute power play advantage. Israel looking to capitalize on the power play, got stoned on a point blank shot, the Serbian keeper comes up huge! Not to miss out, Serbian player Ryan Ferizovic gets on the board with a look from Aleksandar Gajic bringing the score to 10-5. Israel dominate on the faceoff again.
Israel’s offense looked poised, with good off-ball movement creating good offense and making it hard on the Serbian defense who looks tentative. But, the don’t quit mentality is obvious and Serbia came out hungry after a media timeout to bring the score to 10-6 with the last goal quarter by Taylor Yaremovich assisted by Ilija Gajic.
Israel popped off with another dominate faceoff performance by Cole McCormack and quick goal by Bryan Hopper to start the 4th quarter 11-6. Two minutes later Israel’s Jacob Silberlicht picked the ball off and break off down the floor burying the unassisted 1v1 goal for his second of the game extending the lead to 12-6. Serbia had some brief flashes of brilliance through possessions, quick shots, but ultimately struggles to establish offensive unit play. Conversely Israel looked patient moving the ball. Defensively they are talking, aggressive, and seem to have little issue controlling the field.
Israeli keeper Zach Higgens, with 11 minutes left in the game, came up huge with a save leaving his feet; the quick rebound resulted in another quick shot and he stole it away from the top shelf while on his back, unreal! However, this doesn’t deter Serbia who comes back with a quick transition and breakaway goal, Stevan Kriss to Jordan Pavic, bringing the score within 5, score 12-7.
With 7:47 remaining Serbian goalie Marko Celic, goes down hard with cramping in the legs. Milos Pantelic filled the void along with Israel’s Andrew Copeland also coming in to finish the game in cage. Not a minute into the substitution Israel’s Zachary Pall worked the left side and shopped his way to the top with a great shot and goal extending the lead by six, 13-7 Israel. But Milos Pantelic isn’t fazed as he comes up big with back to back break away saves, and the Serbian offense takes advantage, Ilija Gajic finds brother Aleksandar and with 4 minutes left in the game Serbia remained down by 5 goals, with the score 13-8.
Israel slowed the game down and were running a dynamic, patient offense. Bryan Hopper finds Clark Chase on a cut to crease goal, furthering the score to 14-8. The Serbian defense allowed Israel to move anywhere they wanted on the floor and they took advantage of it. A low crease dodge, shot, and goal from Noah Miller, found by Seth Mahler, will end the hard fought game with an Israeli win 15 to 8.
Photo credit: Jeff Melnik/LaxAllStars.com