Bean There, Done That: Boston Finally Wins It All
Boston coach Bill Daye, a member of the original Cannons team in 2001, enjoys the celebratory shower after guiding them to their first MLL title Sunday with a 10-9 win over the Hamilton Nationals.
© John Strohsacker/LaxPhotos.com
ANNAPOLIS, Md. – Major League Lacrosse had become known as the professional sports league where the mighty fall and scrappy underdogs rise to the occasion. Think of the old Philadelphia Barrage and Rochester Rattlers, teams so haphazardly strewn together that they disbanded after winning championships. Think of the Denver Outlaws, a model of success in the MLL in all facets except playoff competition.
The top-seeded Boston Cannons finally broke the mold Sunday, holding off the third-seeded Hamilton Nationals for a 10-9 victory in the MLL championship game before 5,027 fans at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.
The Cannons entered the weekend just 1-8 all-time in the playoffs and as the lone remaining original MLL team without a title. Attackman Ryan Boyle, who played for the Philadelphia Barrage team that beat Boston in its only other championship game appearance in 2004, quarterbacked the Cannons' offense with a goal and three assists.
"It was something the media pushed on us. Blame the media," Boyle joked afterward. "When you're around that long and have made that many playoffs and been unable to get over the hump, it's an easy story to write. It was a test of will with the teams we were playing and the weather we faced, and fortunately we were able to get it done."
Boston advanced to Sunday's championship game after attackman Max Quinzani's goal with 1.2 seconds left in Saturday's semifinal pushed the Cannons past the defending champion Chesapeake Bayhawks, 14-13, as Hurricane Irene tore up the eastern seaboard. Afterward, head coach Bill Daye — a goalie for the Cannons when they debuted in 2001 — received a text message blast from Boston's past.
"A great deal of those guys were former Cannons," Daye said. "David Jenkins, Kevin O'Brien, Mike Battista and guys like that."
Hamilton attackman Casey Powell continued his fountain-of-youth playoff performance with four goals, but he injured his right knee in the game's final minute playing defense in a collision with Boston midfielder Paul Rabil. He suspected ligament damage, and was to be examined by a doctor later this week.
"He put the team on his back, kept us in it," said Nationals head coach Regy Thorpe. "That's the type of Casey Powell effort we expected."
Boston Cannons goalkeeper Jordan Burke was named the MLL championship MVP with 24 saves in two playoff games, including nine in Sunday's win. Daye said Burke, the MLL's regular season leader in save percentage (.614), played "with a chip on his shoulder" after being passed over for MLL Goalie of the Year honors in favor of Long Island's Drew Adams.
"The best thing about Jordan Burke is he is so even-keeled," Daye said. "He doesn't show frustrations. He bounces back, and he makes great saves."
Hamilton started sloppy, with two penalties in the game's first minute. Boston capitalized, as Rabil threaded a skip feed to Boyle on the doorstep to put the Cannons up 1-0 just 24 seconds into the game. Boston had been 0-for-10 against Hamilton in man-up situations during the regular season.
The Nationals took advantage of short-stick matchups on goals by rookies Kevin Crowley and Cody Jamieson to go up 2-1, but the Cannons tied it at 2 on a restart following a fast break. Long pole Kyle Sweeney found attackman Matt Poskay on a quick feed from behind on the right flank.
Poskay, who scored three goals despite constant harassment from Hamilton short stick Brice Queener, put Boston back up by one by converting a feed from Boyle as another Nationals penalty expired. He nearly made it a first-quarter hat trick with an apparent dive goal with 3.3 seconds remaining, but an off-ball interference penalty instead gave the Cannons an extra man opportunity to start the second quarter.
Hamilton killed the penalty, and Powell briefly tied the game at 3 in the second quarter on a flat-angled bouncer that befuddled Burke. But the Cannons responded less than a minute later when midfielder Mike Stone scored on a left-handed runner. Poskay then got his hat trick when Rabil drew the Nationals defense down the left alley and found Boyle behind, who fed Poskay over the cage with time and room to shoot.
Boston Cannons goalkeeper Jordan Burke was named the MLL championship MVP with 24 saves in two playoff games, including nine in Sunday's win.
© John Strohsacker/LaxPhotos.com
"He is the essential quarterback of the team," Poskay said of Boyle. "He runs things back there and puts it in places where other guys really have to think about it. He trusts me that when he throws it, I'm going to catch it. And when you have that match and he has confidence in you, you want the ball more, and he finds a way to get it to you."
Midfielder Brad Ross put the Cannons up 6-3 at the 7:36 mark of the second quarter. Ross' goal completed a 3-0 Boston run that could have been much worse, if it were not for 6-foot-5 goalkeeper Scott Rodgers looming large in the Nationals' cage.
Rodgers rebuffed repeated attempts by the Cannons to extend their lead, making 16 first-half saves. But clearing turnovers handcuffed Hamilton's transition game and took their toll on a defense playing on short rest. Boston outshot Hamilton 35-17 in the first half.
Despite Rodgers' first-half performance, the Nationals turned to Brett Queener in the second half, perhaps hoping for the same kind of magic he showed in the 2008 (Rochester) and 2009 (Toronto) championship games.
"We thought we were flat," Thorpe said, especially after Hamilton was saddled on its defensive end for most of the second quarter. "Brett gives us more of a spark."
The Cannons beat Queener with what seemed to be the backbreaking goal midway through the third quarter. Despite being hounded behind the cage on a shorthanded possession, Boyle found midfielder Matt Smalley on the backside pipe. Smalley hauled in the pass with one hand, folded his stick over to the front pipe and stuffed the ball past Queener to put Boston up 8-4 at the 6:52 mark of the third quarter.
But Powell sandwiched two goals around another by Nationals attackman Jeremy Boltus, pulling Hamilton within one at 8-7 with 13:56 remaining in the fourth quarter.
The score remained that way for the next nine minutes until midfielder Pat Heim notched his second goal of the day eight seconds into an extra-man possession to give Boston a 9-7 lead with 4:19 left. The Nationals responded with a goal off the ensuing faceoff, as long pole Brodie Merrill absorbed a hit from Cannons defenseman Jack Reid and fired a shot in from 10 yards out to make it 9-8.
Following a timeout at the 3:48 mark, Boston midfielder Kevin Buchanan scored what proved to be the game-winning goal. He drew Hamilton defenseman Kyle Rubisch up the field to his left, turned inside and put a diving shot past Queener to put the Cannons up 10-8 with 3:03 remaining.
"Thank goodness it went in," Buchanan said. "I just drove hard, Boyle gave me a nice pick, I got a step, Rubisch tried to take away topside, I went underneath and obviously went across the crease on Queener."
Coming out of its final timeout with 39 seconds remaining, the Nationals had a chance to tie the game with a two-pointer. Instead, Cody Jamieson took advantage of the space Boston's defense conceded on the inside and scored to bring Hamilton within one.
But the Nationals would get no closer. Cannons faceoff man Chris Eck (12-for-23) won the last draw to long pole PT Ricci on the wing, and Boston called timeout. The ball went to Rabil on the restart. He swim-dodged a double team by Merrill and Rubisch before colliding with Powell in his path to the cage. Hamilton could not get another shot off before time expired.
"All of us are just so amped," Buchanan said in Boston's celebratory haze. "I don't know if it's settled in for me yet, but it's been a long time coming."
Said Poskay: "People like the underdog in lacrosse. That wasn't us. We were a far way from Boston. But no matter what, if you play as a team, you should end up in the right place."