The team to beat just got beat, and the new team to beat might not even make the playoffs…
And that pretty much sums up this year in the MLL – not only has it been unpredictable, it’s been unpredictable on a weekly basis. Keeping up with the theme, this column is a bit different: a closer look at week 13 immediately followed by what’s going down in week 14. It’s the extremely rare Major League Lacrosse Super Post.
Outlaws 18, Bayhawks 16
As if things in Chesapeake weren’t bad enough as is, former Bayhawk John Grant Jr returned to Annapolis last weekend for the first time since he was traded in the offseason. Four goals and four assists later, the Outlaws secured their ninth win of the season, holding off a strong second-half rally by the defending champs.
With Anthony Kelly out of the lineup with an Achilles injury, rookie Brent Hiken was thrown into the deep end and forced to take the majority of faceoffs, winning only 6-34 against former Outlaw Stephen Robarge.
Denver adjusted their faceoff strategy and switched to Dillon Roy late in the game. With a two point lead and time running out, Drew Snider grabbed the ball from the scrum and ran to safety, at which point the Outlaws played keep-away until about 11 seconds remained in the game. Significantly underestimating the amount of time left (or the exact strength of the Earth’s gravitational pull), a Denver player tossed the ball in the air, putting it back in Chesapeake hands with about five seconds left. The Bayhawks advanced the ball and set up for the game-tying shot, but time ran out while they passed the ball around.
Thanks to the especially tempestuous nature of this season, there’s been rampant discussion during Bayhawks broadcasts as to whether head coach Dave Cottle will return to lead the squad next year. While no formal announcement has been made either way, one thing’s for sure: If he is going out, he’s going out like a G, giving a piece of his mind to any authority figure in sight a la Scarface in “Half Baked” when he quit his job. For the second time in as many weeks, Cottle picked up an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for debating a bit too heavily with the officials, once again forcing poor Ben Rubeor to sit in the penalty box for something he had no part of.
As you may imagine, there are consequences to this sort of behavior, and the ramifications can be tremendous. While Denver only converted on two of their six extra-man opportunities, both of those goals were scored while the Bayhawks served unsportsmanlike conduct penalties. Making matters worse, the first of the goals was scored when Chesapeake led 3-2, and kicked off a string of seven unanswered Denver goals. Considering they lost the game by exactly two goals, you have to wonder what might have been if only the Bayhawks kept their mouths shut (or, perhaps, if the refs stopped being babies; I don’t know exactly what was said).
Lizards 12, Hounds 11
You wouldn’t think it was possible with the names on this roster, but the New York Lizards aren’t getting their fair share of attention these days. While everyone’s being entertained by the Machine and the Rattlers, or debating the current state of affairs in Denver, the Lizards have been minding their business and quietly winning five of their last six games. Conversely, with the bad kind of spotlight firmly affixed to the Bayhawks, the Hounds have quietly dropped four games in a row.
Charlotte’s Ryan Young saw his 30-game scoring streak come to an end, thanks largely to the defensive works of Joe Fletcher, although some credit goes to Lizards head coach Joe Spallina, who successfully challenged a potential Young goal in the fourth quarter. Not only did Fletcher shut down his opponent, he scored a goal of his own, the first of his career.
The Hounds defense was treated to some outstanding rookie play as well, with Pierce Bassett putting on a tremendous performance in goal. Bassett finished with 20 saves and turned away eight of the first nine shots he faced, helping the Hounds build an early lead.
As you can imagine by the final score, the game remained fairly close throughout, with the Hounds leading as late as the third quarter. A Tommy Palasek goal as time ran out tied things up heading into the fourth, and following the previously mentioned Ryan Young no-goal, the Lizards opened up a lead, scoring three unanswered goals (two courtesy of Rob Pannell) before a Mason Poli two-pointer brought the Hounds within striking distance for the final time.
Cannons 16, Launch 15
The Boston Cannons hung on to win their half of the home and home matchup against the Launch, staving off elimination (for at least one more week) in the process.
Boston got out to an early start, with Paul Rabil sprinting through the Launch defense and dishing to Stephen Berger after only 17 seconds. The Boston onslaught steadily continued, and halfway through the first quarter, once Kevin Buchanan tossed his third goal past Brett Queener (currently leading the league in “Times looking like he’s going to flip out and murder each and every one of his teammates”), the Cannons lead had ballooned to six goals.
The Launch fought back in the second half, thanks in part to goals from less-offensively inclined teammates such as Chris Lapierre and PT Ricci. With Rabil suddenly out of the Boston lineup (we’ll get back to that in a minute), Buchanan, who scored five points in the first half, received additional defensive attention and was held scoreless for the remainder of the game.
Ultimately the Florida comeback came up a bit short, with Jordan Burke stopping a point-blank Kieran McArdle shot as time expired.
The biggest story from this game, aside from Florida’s postseason elimination, was the news surrounding Paul Rabil’s season-ending injury. Rabil suffered a fracture of the fifth metatarsal bone, which you may remember from such fractures as “Rob Pannell’s Senior Year at Cornell,” and “Max Seibald back in 2013.” While the news was confirmed by the Cannons website on Sunday evening, Head coach John Tucker ruled Rabil out of the week 14 lineup during his postgame interview, an act of stunning transparency in what is traditionally a fairly poker-faced league.
Since Vegas isn’t getting a lot of action on MLL games these days, there’s far less external pressure for coaches to cough up the truth regarding player availability, aside from the fact that people who write about the league greatly appreciate it. As a result, a guy could get his leg bit off by an alligator and some coaches would still say “We’re going to see how he feels at practice” during their weekly media call. Thanks for the heads up, coach.
Machine 17, Rattlers 15
The Machine won their fourth game in a row, not only bringing them one step closer to owning the fourth playoff spot, but handing the Rattlers their first home loss of the season. Marcus Holman led all scorers with eight points (including six goals; both numbers are career-highs), and Kevin Cooper (seeing increased opportunity with the injured Tom Schreiber out of the lineup) contributed a career-high four points of his own.
Dana Wilber initially drew the responsibly of covering Rochester’s Jordan Wolf, who took all of eight seconds to score the first goal of the game. Bear Davis then began assigning short sticks to cover Wolf, first Dominique Alexander (who has regularly covered attackmen over the previous weeks), then Dan Groot. The strategy paid off well, as Wolf never scored another goal, and was held to only two points on the afternoon.
Just like every other game this weekend, the matchup remained close, with back to back Steele Stanwick goals proving to be the difference in the fourth quarter. By the way, have you noticed that Stanwick’s been playing out of his mind lately? Said it once before, but it bears repeating: Prior to week 12, Steele was shooting 3-27. For the record, that is not very good. Not everyone can put up Eric Law numbers, but still, 3-27 is good and terrible. Since week 12, however, we’ve seen a complete transformation. Suddenly Stanwick, aka “Mr. Steele Yo Girl” aka “Steele Team 6” (nicknames courtesy of various teammate twitter accounts) has been lights out. In his two most recent games, Stanwick is shooting a combined 7-10, generating his own shot, finishing via off-ball dodges, and overall producing at a level we’ve never seen him play in the pro game.
Preview – Week 14 & Playoff Picture
We’re headed to the final weekend of the regular season, and there’s still plenty to be decided. In fact, there’s so much at stake we’re going to scrap the traditional big picture recap and head straight into a week 14 preview. We’ve got four games this Saturday, and all could have major repercussions, so here’s a quick look at what’s on the line.
Outlaws @ Lizards
The Rattlers have already claimed a top-two finish, meaning one of these teams will secure home field advantage this weekend (which could be very important, considering no team has a winning record on the road this season). It would be convenient to say “Winner gets home field advantage,” but this is Major League Lacrosse, so you know it can’t be that simple. Here’s a chart of possibilities (thanks to the MLL and their respective website, because there’s no way I could keep track of this mess).
If DEN wins: They’re the #1 seed. Congrats, fellas.
If NY wins by four goals or less and ROC wins: #1 ROC, #2 DEN, #3 NY
If NY wins by five or more goals and ROC wins: #1 ROC, #2 NY, #3 DEN
If NY wins by four goals or less and ROC loses: #1 DEN, #2 ROC, #3 NY
If NY wins by five or six goals and ROC loses: #1 ROC, #2 DEN, #3 NY
If NY wins by 7-10 goals and ROC loses: #1 ROC, #2 NY, #3 DEN
If NY wins by 11 or more and ROC loses: #1 NY, #2 ROC, #3 DEN
The Denver offense has looked especially sharp as of late (they missed the net only seven times against the Bayhawks), and they clearly demonstrated last week that faceoffs aren’t everything, but possession and momentum are always a concern, especially in a game where point differential, not just winning or losing, is so important. If Brent Hiken went 6-34 against Stephen Robarge, how many should Denver expect against Greg Gurenlian? What’s the conversion rate there, exactly? In case things get out of hand again, head coach BJ O’Hara has plans B-Z already taken care of, with everyone from Dillon Roy to Justin Pennington to recently-added rookie Jeff Froccaro all lined up as potential candidates.
Rattlers @ Cannons
If the Cannons win and the Machine fall to the Launch, Boston returns to postseason play after watching from home in 2013. These teams met in the season finale last year as well, the Rattlers winning 24-13 behind three two-pointers from then-Rattler and now-Cannon Matt Streibel. This year, the Rattlers are even better, and the Cannons have a new problem of their own: finding a way to produce without Paul Rabil in the lineup. With Rabil watching from the sidelines, look for Kevin Buchanan to consistently draw the top midfield assignment and for Brent Adams to receive the increased offensive role he’s recently proven more than capable of handling.
Hounds @ Bayhawks
In order to avoid making this their worst year (from a win-loss standpoint) thus far, the Charlotte Hounds need one more win, and they’ll need to get it against the team that defeated them for the Steinfeld Cup last year. With both teams looking towards the future, expect to see a cast of unlikely characters getting some playing time, along with some familiar faces sitting out. Dave Cottle has already confirmed that Brendan Mundorf will be sitting out, and that he’d like to see Loyola’s Jack Runkel suit up in goal for at least a half.
Although they’re both camped out in the basement, jobs are on the line, so you’d have to expect both teams will come out wanting to win. Meanwhile, you know who really wants the Bayhawks to win? That’s right, the Florida Launch. You see, back when they were the Hamilton Nationals, the Launch traded Josh Hawkins to the Hounds in exchange for Josh Amidon and Charlotte’s first round pick in 2015. Oh. Goodness. While the Hounds have been trying to pull out of their four-game nosedive, the Launch front office has surely been glued to their screens, tapping their fingers together and cackling like Monty Burns.
Launch @ Machine
For the Ohio Machine, it’s simple: win and they’re in, on their way to (TDB) for their first run at the Steinfeld Cup. Meanwhile, the Launch have been eliminated, but could boost their “Hater of the Year” resume by potentially dragging the Machine down with them and bringing their thrilling run to a sad conclusion. Lastly, while it’s certainly not the reason they play, but one more productive game out of Kieran McArdle and Casey Powell could certainly help sway voters when deciding the end-of-season awards.