August 27, 2011

Five Things to Watch in the MLL Championship Game

by Corey McLaughlin | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter

"Paul Rabil is not somebody you can guard with one guy. It's going to be kind of a team defensive effort," Brodie Merrill, the six-time MLL Defensive Player of the Year for the Nationals, said of Rabil, the two-time league MVP. Boston faces Hamilton at 3 p.m. Sunday for the MLL title.

© John Strohsacker/LaxPhotos.com

MLL Semifinal Saturday

* Five Things to Watch in the MLL Championship Game
* Hamilton Sends Denver to Another Early Exit
* Quinzani Goal with 1.2 Seconds Left Lifts Boston
* MLL Championship Weekend Played Through Hurricane Irene

The Major League Lacrosse championship is set between the first-seeded Boston Cannons, who rallied to beat the Chesapeake Bayhawks, 14-13, and the third-seeded Hamilton Nationals, who jumped out to a five-goal lead on Denver and held on to win, 11-9, in the thick of hurricane-force rain and wind Saturday at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, Md.

The final is scheduled to start at 3 p.m. Sunday. After Saturday's decision by the league to play through Hurricane Irene, it's likely the championship game will occur regardless the conditions. But the forecast looks decent: 80 degrees, partly cloudy with some wind and a 10-percent chance of rain. Here are few things to watch heading into championship Sunday, besides the weather.

Does Boston feel the pressure?

Early in the Boston-Chesapeake semifinal, it looked as if the Cannons were on their way to a second straight disappointing loss to the Bayhawks in the playoffs. Fourth-seeded Chesapeake went up 3-0 with a three-goal spurt that didn't even span a minute. Were these the same old Cannons, getting ready to bow out early of the postseason?

"They came out and punched in the mouth early again," said Boston attackman Max Quinzani. "It was a little déjà vu at first. But we rode; we picked up ground balls."

The Cannons weathered the storm, rallied to take a 9-8 lead, and managed to win on Quinzani's goal with 1.2 seconds left. They face a largely young Hamilton team -- albeit one sprinkled with veterans like Casey Powell and Brodie Merrill -- that may not know any better than to come out guns blazing in the MLL final. Boston should be the favorite, having beaten the Nationals, 13-8, in the second-to-last week of the regular season. That was Powell's first game back in the MLL since 2008.

All season long, the Cannons have made it clear priority No. 1 is to win the MLL championship. They are the only remaining active Original Six franchise to have to yet to hoist the Steinfeld Cup. With an expansion draft looming in December, this might be the last real shot for this group of players to achieve that goal.

How does Hamilton defend Rabil and the Cannons' offense?

"They have a very dynamic offense," six-time MLL Defensive Player of the Year Brodie Merrill said in the Nationals' victorious postgame locker room Saturday (as Katy Perry's "Last Friday Night" played from a set of speakers). "Paul Rabil is not somebody you can guard with one guy. It's going to be kind of a team defensive effort. They've done a nice job of sharing the ball. Guys like Quinzani, Boyle and Brad Ross, they can beat you in a lot of different ways. It's going to be a huge challenge for us."

Eck's factor

Boston's Chris Eck and Chesapeake Alex Smith each won 15 faceoffs Saturday, but Eck gave the Cannons several key possessions in the third quarter, winning the first five draws of the quarter to help Boston take its first lead of the game at 9-8 with just under a minute remaining. Eck will draw Hamilton's Geoff Snider on Sunday. Eck was out nursing a rib injury in each of the Cannons' two games against Hamilton this year, so Sunday will mark the first Eck-Snider matchup of the season. Snider won 16 of 24 faceoffs against Denver Saturday.

The Powell factor

When Casey Powell was added to the Nationals late in the season, there were two schools of thought: 1) "He's Casey Powell, of course he will make the team better," or 2) "He's Casey Powell, overall great player, but will his addition somehow stunt the development of all of Hamilton's young guns?" It appears if you picked situation one, you were correct. Powell again played his role to perfection, putting up one goal and three assists while letting rookies David Earl (two goals), Jeremy Boltus (one goal, one assist) and Kevin Crowley (one goal) get their touches. "Hamilton is a scary team with all the weapons they have," Quinzani said. Powell has made them that much better.

Hamilton's goalie situation

Scott Rodgers had cemented himself at the Nationals No. 1 starter, and hadn't split much time with Brett Queener the second half of the season. But Queener relieved Rodgers at halftime of Saturday's semifinal against Denver. Rodgers had allowed six goals and made just three saves in the first half. Queener finished with three saves as well, but only saw six shots. Nationals coach Regy Thorpe said the decision to switch goalies was made by assistant Brian Hobart and supported by the Hamilton staff.

"It was his call," Thorpe said. "We supported it. Brett came in and gave us a little bit of energy. He came in and closed the door."

Queener had replaced Rodgers the last time Hamilton played Boston Aug. 3. Rodgers suffered an ankle injury and Queener's play in that game kept Rodgers sidelined. But Thorpe said there's no goaltending controversy. Rodgers will start Sunday.

And a quick bonus...

In his own words, Max Quinzani on his last-second goal to put Boston in the final. Quinzani, with his back to a defender and the net, controlled a soft bounce pass off the wet turf from Ryan Boyle, then turned his right shoulder and got a lefty shot past Bayhawks goaltender Chris Garrity with 1.2 seconds left.

Said Quinzani: "I said 'Force it in to me.' Luckily, Ryan couldn't get enough oomph on the pass. He was all wrapped up. So it bounced in front of me. I think it was Bray Malphrus behind me, checked me, but it was mistimed because I was mistimed. I picked it up and just scuttled it in. It was an ugly one, but I'll take it. One second left, any way it can go in, I will take it."


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