Week three marks the beginning of the next phase in the evolution of your favorite Major League Lacrosse franchise: With the NCAA tournament underway, some of the rookies you’ve been waiting for are on their way to join their respective teams. Tommy Schreiber is one of those players.
Your favorite college team’s loss (or bunch of losses, poor strength of schedule, whatever) is your favorite MLL team’s gain, and it all starts this weekend.
New York Lizards @ Rochester Rattlers
In an odd bit of scheduling, our first game of the weekend is a rematch of a game we saw in week one, which was a back-and-forth offensive exhibition that resulted in an 18-15 Lizards victory.
Sure, it was only two weeks ago, but you shouldn’t necessarily expect such a ridiculous performance this time around, especially when you consider: a) The Lizards were shooting freakishly well, taking 44 shots and only missing the cage eight times, and b) Rochester now has two games’ worth of film to analyze. Not saying they’re going to get shut out or anything, but 18 is a lot of goals, especially in this cold, post-grippy ball world in which we’re forced to live.
Rochester’s Mike Manley is the reigning defensive player of the week, but he was covering the Boston’s attack (I’ll explain that more in their preview); and this weekend is going to be a bit more difficult. Head coach Tim Soudan regards Manley as one of those upper-upper-echelon defenders you don’t need to slide to, and Rob Pannell is really happy he feels that way: in three career games against Rochester, Pannell has scored 13 goals on 43 shots.
Rattlers, I’m sure you guys know this, but I’ll say it anyway: if you’re going to let Rob Pannell get 14 shots off every game, you’re gonna have a bad time. Maybe they should try taking a page from Chesapeake’s book, and do whatever they can to make sure Rob passes the ball: in those three career games, he’s got a grand total of two assists.
New York won’t have Steve Holmes (injured reserve) or CJ Costabile (traded to the Bayhawks earlier this week for a second-round pick in the 2015 collegiate draft) to support their defense, but they also won’t have any surprises this time around. Now that they realize Justin Turri is handling a greater offensive role (from 30 shots last season to nine shots in week one alone) than he did with the Outlaws, and that Dan Hardy showed up in a time machine from 2008 or something, they’ll have to adjust their plans accordingly.
Chesapeake Bayhawks @ Charlotte Hounds
It’s a rematch of last year’s championship game, and match ups between these two are almost always good for an instant classic. The Bayhawks are looking to build some momentum after their OT win against the Lizards last weekend, but they’ve hit a snag, having lost two defensive midfielders during that same game. Ben Hunt has been placed on the IR, and Jeff Reynolds will miss at least one game with an injury as well. Both players are key contributors, and you obviously never want to see someone hurt, but it’s good news for a Charlotte midfield that could definitely use the help.
Also ready to help is Towson’s Tom Denapoli, who was activated by the Hounds on Wednesday. Denapoli chipped in 36 points with the Tigers this spring and can play both attack and midfield, which is good because a) it kind of seems to be Charlotte’s thing, and b) the Hounds midfield has been ice cold this season. Granted it’s still early, but Mike Sawyer and Jake Tripucka are shooting 12.5% and 15.4%, respectively, and it’s time for someone to take that next step the team was counting on when they traded Peet Poillon in the offseason.
Speaking of Poillon, he’s expected to make his Chesapeake debut this weekend, with Drew Westervelt suiting up for the Bayhawks as well. Westervelt’s return most likely means more midfield runs for Matt Mackrides, which means more short sick coverage, and, well, the whole thing could mean bad news for a Hounds team that’s still missing their starting goalie.
Denver Outlaws @ Boston Cannons
After giving up only nine goals to the Bayhawks in week one, and eight to the Rattlers the following week, Boston now faces their toughest test to date, an Outlaws squad that just keeps finding ways to win. John Grant Jr has flat-out steamrolled the Cannons in recent years, but was kept in check (by Junior standards) once Kyle Sweeney took over coverage duties in the second Cannons-Bayhawks game of 2013.
If Sweeney & Co. can shut down the likes of Junior, Chris Bocklet, Jeremy Seiverts and the rest of the Denver offense, it might be time to officially break out this “Boston D Party” moniker I’ve been hanging onto until they proved themselves worthy. I know, that’s a good one, right?
No matter how good their defense is, the Cannons are still going to need to put some points on the board. The attack vanished last weekend, and on paper, it’s not looking good for this weekend either. Boston head coach John Tucker has faith in Jack Rice (“He’s a guy who could explode for four or five,” Tucker said on the coaches’ conference call this week), but he shot the ball nine times last week, and only two of those shots found the cage.
Fellow attackman Ryan Boyle has shot the ball only once this season, and dating back to last year, he hasn’t scored a goal in his past five games. Now, before you say “That’s a dumb thing to bring up, he’s a feeder,” I have to point out a few things. 1: I’m not crazy about your attitude. 2: 149 of Boyle’s career points are goals, so that’s a still a pretty decent amount of goal-scoring, and 3: Prior to this drought, Boyle had never gone more than two games without scoring a goal. He’s always been capable of putting up goals (which draws the slides that free his teammates; you know how it goes), but the ball seems to be spending much less time in his pocket these days.
With all that in mind, it’s going to be interesting to see how Denver handles their defensive assignments. Will Manny has only faced the Outlaws once, but it was his debut game, and he certainly wasn’t drawing their top defender yet. Does he get Lee Zink this time around? Michael Simon, who made a name for himself while covering Paul Rabil in the 2012 playoffs, was traded to the Outlaws this past offseason; do you put poles on both Rabil and Kevin Buchanan (or Stephen Berger), or try the Bayhawks’ strategy from week one and put a short stick on Rabil since you know he’s going to draw a slide anyway?
John Tucker conceded that salary cap issues have cause difficulties when setting his lineup, but somehow, someway, Boston may need to load up on midfielders for this one.
Ohio Machine @ Florida Launch
It’s the third consecutive home game of the year for the Launch, and now that they’ve played the only undefeated and winless teams, a chance to see where they really rank at this point of the season.
So far, things seem to be going fairly well, especially considering all the roster turnover, and should only get better as Kevin Crowley makes a greater offensive contribution in the future (although something can be said for a team that wins a game without having to rely on the reigning MVP), but if Florida is going to beat the Machine, they’ll need to focus on two things: reducing the amount of shots they allow and clearing the ball effectively.
Ohio’s ride game has been downright ruthless this season, and we all know how Brett Queener gets down once the save is made. If Queener runs the point smoothly, the Launch will be in great shape. If he tries doing too much, however, he might end up looking like a gazelle in a nature doumentary; juke all you want, buddy, you know this ain’t ending well.
For the Ohio Machine, the big story heading into the weekend is the addition of two major pieces of their puzzle: not only is Logan Schuss (who led the team with 35 points in 2013) making his season debut, but Tewaaraton finalist and first overall collegiate draft pick Tom Schreiber joins the team. Schreiber just wrapped up a career where he tallied 200 points from the midfield (that’s right, bold, italics and underline) at Princeton, and is expected to make an immediate contribution to an already thriving Ohio midfield. If Schuss picks up where he left off in his rookie campaign, and Schreiber’s game transfers to the next level, this Ohio roster could be a serious problem.
Will the Hounds avoid the 0-3 start? Do the Outlaws have an answer for Boston’s defense? Which former Tiger named Tom will have the greater rookie debut? We’ll find out very soon; the games begin Friday evening with the Lizards and Rattlers kicking things off on CBS Sports Net. Good luck to your squad, and check back next week for more MLL coverage.