The Boston Cannons are your 2020 Major League Lacrosse Champions. Regardless of the circumstances of the event and the path to the title game, the Steinfeld Trophy is in their hands.
Boston waited all week for their offense to come together and play a complete game, and while neither team scored in the entire fourth quarter, the deck they had to play with did what it took to win it all. At the of the eight day event, Commissioner Sandy Brown passed the hardware off to captain Mark Cockerton and the season was over in a blink of an eye.
It truly appeared the better team rose to the top. Denver was the No. 1 seed heading into the postseason and playing at a step ahead of the field all week. From top to bottom, the Outlaws were loaded and uncovering talent all week as veterans led by filling the stat sheet to keep the team at full speed. The team hit their first hiccup on Friday night against the Cannons, being served their first loss of the season, but it still didn’t feel like a premonition of this afternoon’s contest. The Outlaws were purposely short-handed, resting John Grant Jr. and limiting reps for all-star Max Adler at the midline.
Stepping into the final arena with a full-strength lineup, the Outlaws were looking to be the clear favorite against the Cannons, who had five players remove themselves from competition before game time due to COVID-19 concerns.
From the first whistle to the final horn, both teams found enough fumes left in the tank to play a full speed back-and-forth contest for the entire run. Boston opened up the scoring with the first John Uppgren goal three minutes into the game and at that point, no one knew Uppgren would become the hero of season. The DIII star from Tufts put together one of the greatest performances in MLL Championship history, racking up five goals and an assist in the showdown.
Not only was Uppgren working his tail off, the balls were bouncing to the Cannons game all day long. No more of an example of this was a Mark Cockerton shot attempt rejected by goalie Curtis Knight, rebound grabbed by Cockerton and fed back into the stick of Knight. The ball went right back to Cockerton where he could connect eyes with Uppgren crashing the crease. With perfect flow, Uppgren was finding every last gap in the Outlaws defense, shrugging off hard slides and hold attempts like nothing could stop him from being a champion.
The mistakes of the Outlaws defense were costing precious possession time and throwing too many looks the the goaltending duo of Knight and Nick Washuta. The defensive group was not timely on doubling or putting poles on the right bodies, giving Boston that opportunity to click they’ve been desperate for all season. As a team, the 24 turnovers were a plague that amounted to a miserable experience for an Outlaws team.
Daniel Bucaro was the first to break the tension for the Outlaws and put together a highlight reel of his own in the final stand. Bucaro unveiled himself a nightmare matchup for the long sticks of the MLL and a completed hat trick in the first seven minutes could have convinced anyone the game was in the bag. Off the dodge. Off the cut. Off the roll. Right hand. Left hand. He’s perfect. Bucaro can move from attack to middie fluidly and it’s had the Boston heads spinning in the first half.
Bucaro’s human highlight cohort Ryan Lee had the exact opposite showing in the championship and his lack of effectiveness on the scoreboard was devastating to the Outlaws. After an unbelievable week, Lee was hog tied and completely blanked by the Cannons defense. Showing his frustration in the fourth quarter snapping his stick over his knee during a break, it was clear this was not the performance Lee expected of himself after scoring 18 goals over the four priors games of the week.
There were times the Outlaws were shocked to life, like a little run started by Chris Aslanian, matched by Max Adler (14-of-25) popping the next face-off to himself and running it right down Main Street. Aslanian finished the little series with his hat trick qualifier with three beautifully orchestrated tallies getting the score to 13-10, but it would stay at the same split for the remained of the contest.
In what could have been the G.O.A.T’s final professional lacrosse game, John Grant Jr.’s first goal was a smooth catch and release from a blazing Adler, looking like plenty of magic was in the future. As Junior stood with arms in the air, Adler turned around and walked back to the midline, focused on doing it again. Like Adler, the audience was left assuming the same, but goaltender Nick Marroco (.526) had a different plan for the future Hall of Famer.
Not everything was working the the Boston Cannons game plan, but stellar individual stands from guys like Marrocco were the X-factor. Marrocco was a star for Boston, stoning Junior three times with this lower body to keep the game’s greatest nearly ineffective for maybe the first time in his MLL career that spanning back to 2001.
Only six Cannons shooters were required to get in on the action to chip in to the instant classic perfromances that Uppgren and Cockerton were putting together. While highlights like Cockerton’s one handed ground ball snatch, dangle on Knight for a bury will be replayed through MLL history. Cockerton’s goals weren’t all flashy, but the right goals at the right times. Chipping in another notch that made all the difference was defenseman Justin Pugal rearing back and letting a 2-point bomb soar that brought a massive boost of energy to the Cannons heading into the half. The long stick’s first ever points were the pair of goals that would put Boston up on Denver to which the Cannons would never turn back.
At the end, Bryce Wasserman was selected at the 2020 MLL MVP and receipt of a giant check for $5,000 for his 15 goal, 6 assist, 10 ground ball effort over the six games, one goal and one assist coming in the championship.
Now that it’s all said and done, Boston are MLL Champions for the first time since 2011, their only title. The circumstances of a shortened schedule will always be an asterisk in the history books, noting the massive variance from a summer-spanning campaign. It only took Boston five games, three wins, to earn a championship bid and one more strong showing to hoist hardware. While it seems easy to diminish the accomplishment, coach Sean Quirk assembled a group of 25-men for a week long marathon of lacrosse and crossed the finish line with 20.
No games ever finished further than a three goal separation and the parity of the top MLL proved that the challenge would come easy to no one. The Cannons came together in one week’s time like a college team going through a year’s worth of adversity and finished the marathon with enough reserves to sprint to the finish line.
The Boston Cannons met the requirements of the format with a gritty, hard-earned team effort and proved how exciting the mental aspect of lacrosse can be. Not always does the best team have to fill the highlight reel of the Twitter feed. The best team needs to play their best game when it counts and the best team answers the call for every small challenge along the way.
In 2020, the Boston Cannons were Major League Lacrosse’s best team. Congrats to the champs.