Ohio Machine vs. Boston Cannons 2014 Major League Lacrosse
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Digesting Major League Lacrosse: Week 6

Week six of Major League Lacrosse was filled with historic achievements and intriguing developments, but the big story across the league was most certainly the fall of the Denver Outlaws, who hadn’t lost a regular season game since way back in June of 2012. To give you some historical context, the last time the Outlaws lost a regular season game, professional lacrosse was played using a ball with dozens of tiny bumps all over it.

Can you even imagine? Sounds crazy, right? Wonder what happened with that…

mll lacrosse ball by Brine lacrosse
Connor’s best photo ever?

Anyway, time has moved on, every team has at least one misstep, and having strung two wins together, the Rochester Rattlers currently have the longest winning streak in Major League Lacrosse. It was a week of the finest offense and defense the league’s seen in a good while (but definitely not in the same game); in case you missed anything, here’s a closer look at everything that happened in week six.

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Rochester 8, Chesapeake 7 (2OT)

On a warm Friday evening in Rochester, in front of like 28 people, Kevin Leveille broke Major League Lacrosse’s all-time goal-scoring record. But he didn’t just break it, he did so in dramatic fashion, netting the game-winner in the first double overtime game in MLL history.

Tied at the end of each period, and never leading by more than one goal, the teams played hot potato with the momentum throughout the entirety of the game. Why so low scoring? Well, the play was generally sloppy and marred by unforced turnovers, but also featured tremendous defensive performances (is a pass ill-advised because it was picked off, or picked off because it was ill-advised? Often a bit of a chicken-egg situation), from Matt Abbott converting a short-handed goal to rookie John Locasio stripping Brendan Mundorf in double-overtime. Furthermore, both goalies turned in tremendous performances, each turning away four shots in overtime.

Led by Leveille’s three goals, the Rattlers also saw key offensive contributions from Mark Matthews (two goals) and Dan Hardy (two assists), along with John Ortolani, who won of 13 of 20 faceoffs.

As for Chesapeake (exhales deeply and shakes head), the Bayhawks went 37 games without an offensive output as low as their one in Charlotte earlier this season. Just three weeks later, they duplicated it. You can chalk some of this up to missing Peet Poillon and Stephen Peyser if you’d like, but here’s the real kicker: the Bayhawks committed nine penalties, the highest one-game total of any team this season (beating the previous record of seven penalties, set by the Bayhawks last week). Coming into this game, the Rattlers were 1-9 on power plays this season. They were 3-9 on Friday. To recap, Rochester saw as many man-up opportunities in one game as they had in their previous five combined, and were three times as successful. Sure, losing makes you angry, but getting angry makes you lose. It’s a vicious cycle, I’ll admit, but the Bayhawks aren’t doing themselves any favors.

By the way, if you had money on “Unnecessary penalties will doom the Bayhawks in 100% of the games that Brian Spallina doesn’t play in,” please step forward to collect your billion zillion dollars.

Boston 17, Ohio 16

On Saturday evening, both Boston and Ohio brought out their finest offensive performances, along with their worst defensive performances, of the year. Ultimately, the Cannons had just little more offense when it mattered most, as a Ryan Boyle goal in the closing minutes delayed the Machine’s bid for their historically elusive third win.

As you might imagine from a 33-point game, there were plenty offensive milestones to go around; Will Manny led the Cannons with a career-high seven points, Stephen Berger (who scored the game-tying goal and assisted on Ryan Boyle’s game-winner) tied a career-high with six of his own and Logan Schuss tossed in a career-high eight points for the Machine. Oddly enough, Schuss’ previous career-high was six points, which he reached twice last season, both times against Boston.

Defensively? Not so much with the milestones. If someone wanted to see a quality defensive play from in this game, you’re probably best served showing them a clip of Greg Bice hitting a two-pointer in the first quarter, partially because a) some say the best defense is a good offense, but really because b) both teams played defense largely reminiscent of the first three quarters of an NBA all-star game. Partial credit has to go to the dodging abilities of Kyle Harrison, Paul Rabil, et al., but still – wherever you are at this exact moment, there’s a chance you’re currently being covered more tightly than some of the players in this game.

For the first time this season, the Machine used a pure two-goalie system, Scott Rodgers playing the first half and Brian Phipps coming in for the second. Rodgers gave up five more goals than Phipps, but he also saw five more shots on goal, so statistically speaking, the jury’s still somewhat out. Then again, any goalie discussion is based on the assumption that Ohio came into the game planning to use both goalies, so maybe it’s a moot point. We’ll see what happens next week, but it’s certainly something to keep an eye on as the season progresses.

Overall, the game was a slugfest, both sides throwing punches until time happened to run out with a Boston lead, but it’s important to acknowledge two very important things: First, Steele Stanwick and the Machine had a chance to tie the game with a minute left, but the Cannons defense held steady, forced a turnover and ran out the clock. Second, Boston’s offense demonstrated some incredible “looks like they’re on a power play, even though they aren’t” ball movement at times. The Cannons looked like they were running a basketball weave drill out there, and it’s the main reason Boyle scored his game-winner. A Rabil dodge coupled with three passes, all involving minimal cradling, and Boyle was wide open for the finisher.

Florida 11, New York 8

With each passing week, Casey Powell and Kieran McArdle solidify their claim as the rightful heirs to the “Batman and Robin of the MLL” completely meaningless accolade, and week six was no exception. The two combined for nine points, as the Launch took advantage of their matchups to halt New York’s winning streak at two games.

Powell finished with two goals and two assists, thanks in part to the Lizards covering him like they’d recently been served a restraining order. Both of Powell’s goals came on pick plays where, instead of keeping Brian Karalunas (he’s on the Team USA roster, you know) on him, the Lizards switched him off to a short stick, which did not work out for the short stick on either occasion.

Although he was covered by Joe Fletcher earlier in the game, McArdle’s eyes lit up once the Lizards adjusted their defensive strategy and began putting two poles on Florida’s midfielders. Granted, there are some big boys running midfield for the Launch, but still: you’re going to want to not put a short stick on Kieran McArdle – it’s not going to end well for you. Three of McArdle’s four goals came while being covered by a short stick, meaning Florida’s next opponent will probably toss that strategy in the “maybe” pile and keep kicking around ideas.

One of the highlights of the game was the epic faceoff battle between New York’s Greg Gurenlian and Florida’s Chris Mattes. The Faceoff Academy co-founders staged a series of “Iceman vs Pyro”-esque clashes at the X, including one to begin the second half that lasted 43 seconds before Mattes could rake the ball out. Gurenlian ultimately emerged victorious, winning 12 of the 22 draws.

Defensively, you’d think Tucker Durkin would take the Rob Pannell matchup, right? Nope, Durkin matched up with Ned Crotty, leaving Joe Cinosky to deal with Pannell all by his lonesome. Well, it worked out just fine, as Cinosky held Pannell without a point for the first time in his career – even yard saled (What’s the past tense of the verb “yard sale,” anyway? Yard sold? Somebody get back to me on that.) the poor guy in the second quarter. As for the Durkin/Crotty matchup? Crotty scored one goal, and didn’t so much as shoot the ball until almost halfway through the fourth quarter. With their attack on lockdown and Max Seibald playing limited runs due to a hamstring injury, the Lizards trailed for the final 56:19 of the game and were held to their lowest offensive output of the season.

Charlotte 18, Denver 15

After 25 regular season games, after almost two full years, The Streak has come to an end. And who else to end it but the team responsible for adding the whole “regular season” asterisk to the streak in the first place, the Charlotte Hounds? And while we’re at it, where else to end it but in American Legion Memorial Stadium, where in every season of their existence, the Hounds have managed to put together a “Bet you wish you’d been here in person” game that catches the attention of the rest of the league.

There was speculation that we could see shakeups in the Outlaws roster, but definitely nothing as major as what took place, as an injured Jesse Schwartzman was pulled from the lineup shortly before the game began. It’s the first game Schwartzman has missed since June 12, 2010, and backup Charlie Cipriano was pushed into starting duties. While Curtis Dickson’s arrival was expected, we didn’t know it would be in John Grant Jr’s place (although the move incidentally kept Junior’s personal nine-game winning streak alive). Dickson had an especially solid MLL debut, netting four goals and an assist.

With only eight days removed from their previous matchup, Charlotte carefully studied what worked and what didn’t work against Denver, then made the appropriate changes. After going 3-11 against Anthony Kelly in his league debut last week, Brendan Fowler was scratched from the lineup, leaving each draw in the hands of Tim Fallon, who finished 18-35. Instead of once again exiling him to midfield, Matt Danowski rotated between midfield and attack, creating all sorts of matchup problems along the way. When Danowski dropped to attack in the fourth quarter, Lee Zink had to switch off of covering Justin Ward. Ward was then matched up with Chris O’Dougherty, who he muscled to the goal, giving the Hounds a 15-13 lead.

Speaking of Ward, as crazy as this sounds (considering he’s been a professional lacrosse player for about ten days), there were occasions where the Outlaws were so preoccupied with him that they stopped paying attention to Matt Danowski and his 253 career points altogether. Danowski, who probably hasn’t been that open on a lacrosse field since seventh grade, cashed in on both opportunities, tallying his second and third goals of the game.

As you’d assume from the score, Danowski wasn’t Charlotte’s only successful player: six different Charlotte players scored two or more goals (welcome to Charlotte, Mike Chanenchuk; welcome back, Ryan Young) and Saturday marked the first time in seven regular season (see, there’s that Charlotte asterisk again) games where Denver trailed at halftime.

While it’s clearly been on every opponents’ minds for quite a while, the Hounds were probably the team that, psyche-wise, least needed to end the streak, having already beaten the Outlaws last season in the semifinals. Their first matchup last year was on April 27, meaning if you’re, say, Mike Sawyer or Jake Tripuka, you’ve now actually beaten the Outlaws more times than they’ve beaten you; what do you care how they play against other teams? Above all else, the Hounds simply needed to win; beating the streak was just gravy.

Major League Lacrosse Big Picture

And just like with your “Walking Dead,” “Game of Thrones,” “Breaking Bad” (I don’t care that it’s over, I’m putting it here because it was awesome), or any other serial you’re into, the weekend came to a close and left us with some serious questions. What happens next week? Where do the Outlaws go from here? Was this merely a loss, or is there blood in the water, one of those Tiger Woods deals where nobody’s afraid of them anymore? With everyone on board, do the Hounds have the momentum and ability to make a run at playoff contention? Is it tougher to bounce back from scoring eight goals and losing, or scoring 16 and losing? Looking at next week’s matchups, there’s potential for a major swing in the standings. If you think you’ve got it in you to make a run at the throne, now’s the time.