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MLL Championship Weekend Preview

Championship Weekend is finally here! The best teams in Major League Lacrosse meet in Boston this Saturday and (if they earn it) Sunday to battle for the Steinfeld Cup. By the end of the weekend, one of these things is going to happen:

  1. The Chesapeake Bayhawks will win their fourth championship, becoming the MLL franchise with the most titles.
  2. The Boston Cannons will become the only the second franchise in MLL history to repeat as champions.
  3. The Long Island Lizards will win their first championship since 2003 and third overall, tying Chesapeake and Philadelphia (R.I.P.) as the MLL’s elite franchises.
  4. The Denver Outlaws will end the streak of playoff frustration (three semifinal losses & three championship losses) that has plagued them literally every year of their existence.

Now that we know what’s at stake, let’s get right to it!

#1 Denver vs. #4 Long Island

In this corner, you have the Denver Outlaws. They’ve got the highest-scoring offense in the MLL, a defense that hasn’t gotten half the credit it deserves this season, and the longest winning streak the league has seen since 2008.

max seibald LI lizards
How big will Seibald be? Stats say BIG!

In the other corner, you’ve got the Long Island Lizards. They lost (and put up single-digit point totals) their last two games and made it to Championship Weekend after the Rattlers couldn’t beat the Hounds in the final week of the season. It seems like very few people are giving Long Island a chance to win this one, but don’t forget: right before the Outlaws began their winning streak, they lost 14-8 to these very same Lizards.

Two other things you shouldn’t forget?

  1. In their two games this season, Max Siebald has lit up his former team for a total of seven goals (on fourteen shots) and an assist.
  2. The last time these teams met, Greg Gurenlian was 21-26 on face-offs.

Before we move on, let’s take another look at that face-off issue. True, Gurenlian put on that clinic two weeks before the Outlaws picked up Anthony Kelly, but we don’t know if Kelly will be playing at 100% since he was forced to leave the Denver-Chesapeake game with a “badly pulled” (his words via twitter) hamstring. He’ll be back as the man is a warrior, and the week off will have helped, but how much? Pulled hammies are no joke. Also, for what it’s worth, Kelly was 2-15 going against Gurenlian in the Ohio-Long Island game earlier this year.

mll lacrosse greg gurenlian
Can Greg Gurenlian dominate this weekend?

And then of course there’s goaltending, and Drew Adams. Adams was just named goalie of the year (for good reason), and stood on his head during his last game against Denver, but he’s also coming off of his worst performance of the season, giving up 17 goals and stopping nine shots against Hamilton just two weekends ago. Which Drew Adams is showing up on Saturday? And for that matter, which Lizards team is coming with him: the one that beat the Cannons 14-11 last month or the one that just lost 18-8 to the Nationals?

With the way the Outlaws have been playing, does it even matter? The last time these two met, Denver tossed in eight goals, went 0-4 on the power play and the combination of Brendan Mundorf and Mark Matthews combined for a total of zero goals and one assist. In the six games since that loss, the Outlaws have turned things around nicely; they’re averaging 18 goals per game, are 50% (7-14) with the extra man and Mundorf and Matthews have combined for 50 points. Can the Outlaws continue the dominance for two more games, or will their impressive run be surrounded by losses to Long Island?

#2 Chesapeake vs. #3 Boston

In a rematch of their 2010 and 2011 semifinal games, the Cannons and Bayhawks meet up in the second game of the day. These teams split the season series, but Boston won their most recent matchup with a 16-13 scoreline.

Speaking of 13, the Bayhawks have scored 13 goals or less every game since the end of June, and have scored exactly 13 goals in each of their past three games. Is 13 goals going to be enough? Recent history would say… maybe. In last year’s semifinal, the Bayhawks lost to the Cannons by the score of 14-13. In the 2010 semifinal, however, they beat the Cannons 13-9 before defeating the Lizards 13-9 in the championship game.

When these teams last met, Chesapeake’s strategy was to let Rabil do his thing, make him win the game by himself and concentrate on shutting down the other guys. With all due respect to Mr. Rabil (and with 72 points this season, plenty of respect is due), Ryan Boyle’s the one that Chesapeake really needs to worry about.

Boyle’s dished out 17 assists in the past four games, including six against Chesapeake. Of Matt Poskay’s league-leading 38 goals, Ryan Boyle assisted on 16 of them. In Boston’s five losses this season, Boyle averaged one assist per game. In their wins, he averaged 3.7. What I’m trying to say here, is, you’ve really got to stop Ryan Boyle.

Is it really ALL about Rabil? Perhaps not!

As far as Boston goes, I’m curious to see how they approach John Grant Jr. this time around. We usually tend to focus on his stickwork, but Junior’s not a small dude, and the last time they played, he used his size advantage to push Mitch Belisle around, increasing the angle for his notorious behind the back shots.

When JJ Morrisey got caught covering him coming out of a pick & roll, Junior dropped a shoulder and put him on the ground like Morrisey was taking a charge, only this is lacrosse, not basketball, and taking a charge isn’t a thing. Junior finished with four goals that day; so it’s going to be interesting to see if they switch up the assignments and put a bigger guy (Jack Reid, for example) on Grant to limit his power game and force him into more of a feeder’s role.

When we’re talking about the face-off battle, your guess is as good as mine. We could end up seeing as many as four different FOGOs out there by the time the game’s done. Chris Eck is back from the injury that forced him to miss Boston’s final game, but he’s still not 100%, which means we could see John Ortolani out there in his place at times, or if the injury flares up badly.

Meanwhile, Chesapeake will bring out Adam Rand and Alex Smith, but who knows how much of each one? Will Dave Cottle alternate them consistently or play the hot hand? No clue, but since these teams lead the league in shots on goal, the possession battle is going to be huge. Will Eck be able to play through the pain, or will the Cannons have to rely on Ortolani, who’s played only one game this season?

So there you have it!

The four best teams in the MLL, squaring off on the league’s biggest weekend at Harvard in Boston. Each has their own chance at greatness, and added pressure to win, but only one will earn it by putting their name on the trophy. So, who’s it going to be?