Minnesota Major League Lacrosse – it’s a wonderful thing. Usually I write about MLL and put my “fan” thoughts to the side. This week I wrote as a fan of MLL, because they played a game in my backyard. Well, not my backyard per se, but in Minnesota!
While I write about Major League Lacrosse and try to stay unbiased, I have also been a hardcore MLL fan since the beginning. Some friends and I went to the first Summer Showcase game back in 2000 in Columbus, Ohio and I have been hooked ever since. However, I have always had to travel long distances to see the games as MLL has never been closer than a flight or 13 hour car ride form me.
When the league announced it was coming to my backyard I was ecstatic.
I was one of the first people in line to buy tickets. No, really, I set an alert on my phone so I could stand in line right away. And I did. In fact, I bought as many as I could and gave out tickets to anyone I knew was interested in the game. I was determined to make this event a success. I had no plans to cover the event and didn’t even want to write about it. I was going to spend this time as a fan.
Of course that changed quickly.
Game week rolls up and we find out we will be getting Charlotte and Ohio as the teams coming here to play. This was great as I know many of the Machine players personally and have contact with several of the Hounds. I get to see people I know play in Minnesota? Awesome. On top of that, I was contacted by the Machine staff and asked for some help with a few things.
I was able to talk Bear Davis into letting my family and some kids coming to the game with us to have lunch with the team. The players were super friendly and talkative with the kids. Test market games really show the character of these players as they go even further to make fans happy as ambassadors for the sport. Every time you meet an MLL player they go way above and beyond to make the experience great, especially for children.
The kids were in shock and didn’t know what to say. It was a moment every parent dreams of, even if the kids had no understanding of how special it was to get to have lunch with the players. Down the road, experiences like this will pay off big. On a side note to Charlotte – I am sorry Hounds, I ate John Grant Junior’s lunch and I’m guessing that’s why he was so angry at the game.
Speaking of the game… we get to the stadium early and hit the vendor village.
Now it’s not like you might see in a place like Boston, because Minnesota isn’t exactly a hot bed for lacrosse superstores, but they had a nice selection. I was let down several of the big companies made no effort at all to come. Still, Epoch and Warrior had great booths showcasing their top tier products. If you have never seen the National Sports Center, which is in beautiful Blaine, Minnesota (www.nscsports.org), it’s a sight to behold. It’s really a sports compound, which has 2 square miles of sports fields. The stadium is perfect for MLL.
Fans started rolling in and the excitement got to me very quickly. I had hoped for a huge turnout. Announced attendance ended up being just over 4,100, which, for an out of market game to me is somewhat of a disappointment. The MLL got 4,100 people to come out to a game with no advertisements, no solicitation. Nothing more than a mailing from US Lacrosse Minnesota chapter and some social media blasts.
A fan and coach commented that his players didn’t even know about the game until well after they had made plans. It was not an uncommon comment. They could have easily swelled attendance to 6,000+ with a more concentrated effort. The people who did come out were MLL hungry fans who would surely support a local team. So actually, 4100 isn’t all that bad.
Ok, really, I’m getting to the game now.
The ref places the ball and we are off, and right away I notice that Scotty Rodgers is on. He is making saves that he makes look easy but are clearly not. He has been on another level all season. Rodgers would go on to break the spirits of the Hounds’ shooters all game long. Despite the barrage of shots he faced, and the bleeding from his nose, he was still the last one into the locker room post game.
Rodgers’ energy is infectious, and really the only disappointing thing about Scotty is that he doesn’t flex when he points to things. Aside from that, he is a 1st class guy all around. The same can be said for all the guys really, Holman, Harrison, Baum, Place, BK, Mangan, and all the others I was able to meet. Special thanks to Coach Delia also.
Ohio’s defense as a whole looked fast. Jackson Place went step for step with Joey Sankey all game long except when Sankey went Superman through 5 defenders, but that was his lone goal. Dylan Donahue and Kevin Crowley were able to manufacture shots off ball and get some great looks but for every goal they scored Rodgers took at least one away. The rest of the Hounds’ offense was out matched and out gunned clearly missing John Haus their emotional leader and spark plug up top.
On the other end of the field stood John Grant Jr. We now know that both Denver and Ohio got better when Junior was traded and that’s crazy. In Denver, moving Junior made room for some youth that’s clicking, while in Ohio he has clicked with Marcus Holman and that has ignited a spark deep inside him. The power and speed combo the Machine now have cut through the Hounds’ defense with ease and Charlie Cipriano did his best to stop it, but he was bailing out a leaking ship with a Dixie cup. It was funny how the oldest player on the field was the one that had the fans jumping. People went crazy when Junior hit that underhanded one hand shot.
The Hounds lost every statistical category that mattered in this game. The game wasn’t as close as I’d hoped but it was a great game and a great experience. I hope it was enough to get another test game in Minnesota and maybe one day even a team.
A huge thank you from all the Minnesota fans to both teams for being great players and great men. A very personal thank you goes to the Machine guys for everything. I can’t thank you guys enough for the smiles and memories you gave my children. You are the reason the sport has come as far as it has. Thank you for helping me justify 16 years’ worth of fanaticism.