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Major League Lacrosse Week 9 Recap

What has felt like a forgone conclusion for half of the season is finally official: just like they’ve done in every year of their existence, the Denver Outlaws are heading back to championship weekend, in search of their first Steinfeld Cup. Who’s coming with them? In case you missed anything, here’s what went down in week nine.

Boston Cannons 13 , Ohio Machine 10

Over the past few weeks, the new-look Boston Cannons have done something particularly well: finding that one thing, whatever it is, that they’re far better at doing than their opponent is at stopping. This weekend, they found their advantage in Ohio’s defensive midfield, and once they found it, they used it throughout the entire game. In fact, the Cannons’ first eight even-strength goals were all scored by either driving or cutting against Ohio’s short-stick defensive midfielders (the ninth, a goal from Will Manny, may apply as well, but he was honestly so open I have no clue who was supposed to be covering him).

Thanks to his four goal, one assist performance, Cam Flint was named MLL rookie of the week, which is the second week in a row where a member of the Cannons was awarded the honor (Will Manny was the week eight winner).

Granted a loss is a loss, but the first game in the Bear Davis era started off very well for the Ohio Machine, who scored three goals within the first five minutes (courtesy of two goals and an assist from Logan Schuss, who finished with six points), as they recorded their second double-digit performance in the past three weeks (you’ll recall they didn’t have any for the first six), and remained competitive throughout the game.

Chesapeake Bayhawks 17, Hamilton Nationals 10

The Chesapeake Bayhawks handed Hamilton their first home loss of the season on Saturday evening, effectively ruining Canada Day weekend for the Nationals and the 3,600+ fans in attendance. At least they got to see a lot of goals!

With Barney Ehrmann and Jesse Bernhardt joining Brian Spallina at close defense,  Nicky Polanco bumped up to longstick midfield duties, where he handled a little bit of everything, covering the likes of Kevin Crowley (one point on the afternoon) and Joe Walters, handling wing duties on the faceoffs and even tossing in a goal for good measure, his first since 2007 and third of his career. It was classic throwback Nicky, and made me think of his end to end runs when he played at Hofstra.

In his first game since Matt Dolente was traded to the Lizards, Mike Poppleton (11-28) won four of his first five faceoffs, followed by winning four of his next fifteen, which at least somewhat contributed to a string of eight unanswered Chesapeake goals during the second and third quarter. The Bayhawks were up 10-3 when the first half came to an end, and this was the third time in the past four games where they’ve scored at least ten goals by halftime.

Charlotte Hounds 11,  Denver Outlaws 17

On Saturday night, the Outlaws joined the 2005 Bayhawks as the only teams in MLL history to begin their seasons 9-0. For a little while there, it didn’t seem so certain.

The Hounds came out swinging right away, as Matt Danowski got a step on Lee Zink and scored just 23 seconds in. Unfortunately for Charlotte, their clearing game (which head coach Mike Cerino stressed throughout the week) began to betray them almost immediately, with two of Denver’s first three goals coming off of Charlotte defensive-zone turnovers. Even despite those miscues, The Hounds led the Outlaws after the first quarter, which is something that no other team has done this season (interestingly enough, the Hounds did it in both of their matchups). All things considered, it was still going fairly well.

And then it all fell apart.

A little more than a minute into the second quarter, Charlotte’s Mason Poli was called for a push. Not too bad in and of itself, but Charlotte goalie Adam Ghitleman threw a  body check on Chris Bocklet after the whistle, and Joe Cinosky earned unsportsmanlike conduct and game misconduct calls by arguing with the officials. When the dust settled, the Hounds were three men down with backup goalie Sean Aaron (making his MLL debut) in cage, not the kind of opportunity you want to give anyone, let alone a team that hasn’t lost a regular season game in over a year.

The Outlaws scored twice on the man-up (only once on Aaron, to be fair), which gave them a lead they would never give back. Thanks in part to 11 total minutes of Charlotte penalties (including a second unsportsmanlike conduct, that one on Matt Danowski), the Outlaws outscored the Hounds 6-0 in the second quarter. Although the Hounds kept pace with the Outlaws in the second half (the Outlaws outscored the Hounds 7-6), the early deficit was too much to overcome.

Check out Lance Antoine’s excellent recap for another take on this game.

New York Lizards 10, Rochester Rattlers 13

The Rattlers used a six-goal second quarter of their own, as well as the ability to stay just a bit less turnover-prone than their opponent, to hand the New York Lizards their fourth loss in five games, as well as sole posession of seventh place in the standings.

Kevin Leveille recorded his first hat trick of the season on his way to being named game MVP and Offensive Player of the Week. You’ve seen it less often this season, but Leveille remains among the best in the world at what he does: finding seams in opposing defenses, catching and finishing. Easy to describe, not so easy to stop. Part of his success against the Lizards can be attributed to the fact that the Rattlers put him back in the slot and crease during their man-up opportunities, whereas he’d been previously hanging out above the two-point arc for some reason.

Joel White tossed in his first two goals of the season (possibly in reaction to being left off the All-Star roster), and while John Ranagan (someone finally put a pole on that guy) was held to one goal, fellow rookie Dave Lawson popped up out of nowhere to contribute five points (2g, 3a), eclipsing his previous career-high of… one point.

Despite their offensive production, countless unforced Rochester turnovers left the door open for a late comeback. Ultimately the Lizards committed too many penalties and threw the ball away far too often to capitalize. If you’re looking for a Lizards-related bright spot, Rob Pannell led the way once again with four goals and an assist. Pannell’s fourth goal, a man-up tally with 45 seconds left in the game, was the Lizards’ first man-up goal in 14 opportunities, a remarkable span of futility stretching back to their game against Chesapeake on June 6.

If you’re a team looking for make a playoff push, Denver’s victory over the Hounds was great news. Sure there are only three spots remaining, but let’s be honest: there have only been three spots remaining for weeks now. If you’re a team like the Cannons or Rattlers, not only did you help your own cause, but everything else worked out to your advantage as well. For a team like the Hounds, next week’s game becomes even bigger, but we’ll get into that later. Check back soon and we’ll preview week 10, when this traffic jam in the standings may begin to sort itself out.