Think back to the final week of pretty much any NFL regular season… at this point, we all know it as the “week of the season where some teams don’t even bother trying to win”. You’re sitting on the couch, watching some third-string guys run around the field, and meanwhile, your favorite player has been sitting on the bench joking around with his teammates since the first quarter. Sound familiar? Sure it does. Well this is the MLL, and that ain’t happening.
In the MLL, every game matters, and thankfully for the fans, the last weeks are actually the most important! It’s the final week of the season, and we’ve got four huge games; three teams still fighting to get to Championship Weekend, and only two spots left. Let’s check out this week’s matchups:
Denver Outlaws @ Chesapeake Bayhawks
Let’s start off with the main event, the heavyweight title fight of the weekend. It’s a battle for the number one seed, and (depending on who you ask) could be a preview of the championship game. It’s the highest scoring offense against the league’s most dominant defense, a team that’s 5-1 on the road traveling to play a team that’s 5-1 at home. Someone simply has to break.
The Bayhawks have a great defensive roster, but they’re going to need to pay attention to Peet Poillon if they want to win this game. Even though he’s averaging almost 3.5 points per game over the past month, teams insist on trying to cover him with a short stick for some reason. Since they’ve got Matt Abbott, Chesapeake’s chances at pulling this off are better than most, but the Outlaws still have ton of other weapons on that roster to worry about.
Since Denver has scored at least 17 goals in each of the past five games, and Chesapeake has done that three times all season, I’m going to say this one more week: you don’t step in the ring and trade punches with the Outlaws. Chesapeake needs to control tempo and possession (and definitely stay out the penalty box) and try to make this a 13-12, or maybe even a 10-9 sort of game. Going over 14 goals is dangerous.
By the way, think this one doesn’t matter since both teams have clinched? Bayhawks coach Dave Cottle says getting the number one seed is important because the one seed plays first on Championship Weekend, meaning they get the most res, AND one more chance to scout the competition. When you consider that only one team has won the championship after playing in the second game on Saturday, you can see why these teams will be taking this one seriously!
Rochester Rattlers @ Charlotte Hounds
Of the three teams left in the hunt, the Rattlers are the only ones who can’t get to Championship Weekend if they lose. And after the 14-5 beating they took in Rochester earlier this season, the Hounds would love to be the ones to keep them out.
The biggest news from Charlotte is that Geoff Snider is back and will be suiting up this weekend. I’m not sure if he’s in game shape, and how much he’ll play, but since Jerry Ragonese went 50% in the last Rattlers-Hounds game, Charlotte should get their possessions either way; the question is what they’ll do with them. Rochester’s transition game looked to catch the Hounds off-balance last time, and Charlotte’s turnovers while trying to match the pace helped put the game out of reach.
They still need to find someone to replace some of Jeremy Boltus’ offensive production (especially since John Galloway saved 14 of their 19 shots on cage last time), but if the Hounds are going to get some payback, I think it’s going to come down to their close defense. When these teams played earlier this season, Rochester’s attack line of Boyle, Crotty and Leveille had two goals each. Adam Ghitelman’s been playing very well since that game, and if the poles play well in front of him, the Hounds (who average three more goals per game when they play at home) could have a chance at an upset.
LI Lizards @ Hamilton Nationals
When these teams met on Long Island earlier this season, the Lizards won 19-12, highlighted by Tommy Palasek ‘s six goals on six shots. That was only three weeks ago, and Hamilton hasn’t won since then, so you wouldn’t expect things to go much better this time around.
Don’t totally count the Nationals out, because Cody Jamieson (out with an injury the last time they played) is back in the lineup, which also means Joe Walters can return to midfield. This might put a few more points on the board, but the bigger problem is going to be stopping a balanced Long Island offense. I’m not predicting another six goals from Palasek, but Hamilton gives up the second-most goals in the league (Charlotte has given up one more goal), and the Lizards bring high scoring potential from both the attack and midfield positions.
We’ve all had our theories about what’s going on with the Nationals right now, but isn’t there a chance that a lot of their players are getting worn down from playing in the MSL (Canadian box league) at the same time as the MLL? Right now the Brampton Excelsiors (featuring Joe Walters and Joe Resetarits) and The Six Nations Chiefs (Rhys Duch, Cody Jamieson, Stephen Keogh etc.) are battling each other in the MSL playoffs. They’ve already played twice this week, so are those guys supposed to be completely fresh by Saturday, and could the MLL be taking a backseat to the MSL now that Hamilton is out?
Boston Cannons @ Ohio Machine
The way the Cannons played their last two games, it’s surprising to see that they still haven’t clinched a spot in Championship Weekend. They’re still fighting though, and this weekend they head to Ohio to play the Machine for the second time in as many weeks.
The Machine jumped out to an early lead last weekend, but the Cannons eventually figured them out and won 19-13. Boston probably hasn’t forgotten much in a week, and if they’re going to change anything, they’ll probably improve their defense by putting Kyle Sweeney on Connor Martin (who had two goals and put six shots on cage last week) right away.
If the Machine are going to pull off the upset of the year, I’ll go out on a limb and say they’ll need to win more than 25% of their face-offs this time around. Let’s start with that. After that, they’ll need to focus on stopping Ryan Boyle, who had five assists to four different people last week. Paul Rabil is going to get his points either way, but Boyle’s the quarterback who opens things up for guys like Matt Poskay and Kevin Buchanan, who combined for seven goals last weekend.
Now that we’ve looked at this weekend’s matchups, here’s the reason I saved the this game for last: if you haven’t heard, Ohio Machine defenseman Brett Hughes has announced his retirement from Major League Lacrosse, and this will be the final game for the MLL All-Star and Ohio native. With his non-profit organization, Lacrosse the Nations, Brett has helped to Grow the Game not only throughout America, but in places like Nicaragua and Costa Rica as well. Along with his other non-profit work, he plans to continue and expand Lacrosse the Nations, and I wish him the best of luck.
For more information on Lacrosse the Nations, be sure to check out www.lacrossethenations.org or @laxthenations on twitter.
This should be an exciting weekend of MLL action, and only after all the games are played will we know what the playoffs truly hold. Two more teams will join Chesapeake and Denver at the end of August in Boston. Who’s it going to be?