August 21, 2014

Grant, Pannell, Harrison in MLL MVP Mix

by Phil Shore | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter

Before the most prestigious team trophy in Major League Lacrosse is played for, the most prestigious individual trophy will be awarded: the league's Most Valuable Player. The league will name the winner Thursday.

MLL may have had the most talent it's ever had this season so there are plenty of deserving candidates.

Ohio went from a two-win team in 2013 to a playoff team in 2014. The Machine also was the only team to score 200 goals. The team has a number of young players, but it was the veteran leadership of newcomer Kyle Harrison that head coach Bear Davis says was instrumental to the Machine getting as far as they did.

Harrison had 27 goals and six assists and his 33 points had him in the top 20 in the league in scoring.

"There's no question in my mind he is very instrumental in our team dynamic. He protects the panic button. He stands by it and doesn't let anyone push it. He's a calming presence," Davis said. "He's very confident. ... He's been a huge piece to the puzzle."

He may have been the leader for the team in the locker room, but he didn't lead the team in scoring on paper. He was actually only fifth and as invaluable as his leadership was, Harrison was part of an offensive unit where any one of six guys could put up big numbers.

A player's case for MVP gets a strong boost when you've already won the All-Star game MVP, and that's what New York's Rob Pannell did. He didn't just put up numbers in that contest as a member of Team USA (one goal – including the game-winner—and two assists), but he's done it all year.

The Lizards improved from four wins in 2013 and 144 goals scored to nine wins, a playoff appearance, and 177 goals scored in 2014. Pannell scored 33 goals, tallied 23 assists and was second in the league with 56 points, which is an improvement on his already impressive 42 points from his rookie season.

"I think Rob started to figure the league out," Lizards head coach Joe Spallina said. "He found the importance of getting his teammates involved early. He's seen that getting his teammates involved opens up things for him. He's found that every time he scores it doesn't have to be with a stick around his neck or end with him on his back. He's learning to feed off his teammates. The way he's playing right now is at an all-world level. There's no coincidence our offense is playing better and Rob getting better."

Pannell's push for the MVP award a year after being Rookie of the Year is legitimate. There is one man, however, that stands between him and the award and that's legendary player John Grant Jr.

Grant was brought to Denver for his experience and championship pedigree. He's helped Denver reach the MLL championship game and is having his best year since his last MVP award in 2008. Grant is third in the league in points (54) thanks to his 28 goals and 26 assists. He also broke the MLL record for career goals scored.

Grant has been on a tear at the end of the season, when his team needed him most. In the last four games of the season Grant recorded point totals of six, nine, eight and three. In the July 31 win against the Bayhawks, when the Outlaws had lost three of their previous four games, and were without faceoff specialist Anthony Kelly, and Brent Hiken went 6-for-34 from the faceoff X, Junior put the team on his back and scored four goals and added four assists. Going into the fourth quarter tied at 12, Grant had two goals (including what would be the game-winner) and added two assists.

"John's able to do a lot in terms of scoring. He looks for his teammates. He's a very creative player," Denver head coach B.J. O'Hara said. "The biggest thing John has brought to us is that championship experience and the leadership in the dressing room. He's a lot of fun to be around. He has a playful personality. But when it's crunch time he knows it's time to get serious. He'll be calm. He'll be reassuring."

There are a number of guys that have proven valuable to their teams, but Grant has contributed all year and has gotten even better as the season has carried on. It's very possible that Grant could be the the first three-time MLL MVP.

PROJECTED MLL ALL-PRO TEAM

Greg Gurenlian led the league in faceoff win percentage and ground balls and is the odds-on pick for the All-Pro team. (Marc Piscotty)

Attack: Casey Powell (Florida), John Grant Jr. (Denver), Rob Pannell (New York)

There have been so many great players at attack this year that more than three are deserving of being All-Pro. Heck, even Rattlers head coach Tim Soudan says week in and week out that he has trouble picking three players to start at attack on his own team. But while many are deserving, three players certainly stand out above the rest. With Powell you have the league's leading scorer and Offensive Player of the Year. With Pannell you have the second leading scorer in the league and the All-Star MVP and league MVP candidate. With Grant you have the third leading scorer and potential MVP candidate.

"I'm pretty predictable in what I do. I'm mostly a draw and dump guy from behind," Grant said. "The benefit I have is I pass the ball to these shooters [Eric Law and Chris Bocklet], who put the ball in at a high clip. It makes my job pretty easy."

Midfield: Paul Rabil (Boston), Peter Baum (Ohio), Jeremy Sieverts (Denver)

Rabil finished tied for third in the league in points and could've been even higher had he not broken his foot and been ruled out of the final game of the season. Rabil tallied at least two points in every game he played this season.

Kieran McArdle may have set records for goals and points by a rookie, but it was Baum's first MLL season as well and Baum actually scored one more goal and had one more point than McArdle, finishing sixth in the league with 50 points. He was tied for the team lead on the highest scoring team in all of MLL.

Sieverts was a steady presence for the Outlaws all season long, playing in all 14 games and finishing 10th in the league in scoring with 48 points.

Defense: Joel White (Rochester), Mike Manley (Rochester), Lee Zink (Denver), Joe Fletcher (New York)

Manley recently won Defender of the Year and his team allowed the fewest goals, Zink had won it the previous two seasons and talk to Lizards coach Joe Spallina and he'll tell you Fletcher could win the award next year. These three are all shutdown defenders and they did their job brilliantly this season.

White, a long-stick midfielder, led all non-faceoff specialists in ground ball pick-ups. Teammate Kevin Leveille said White doesn't always get the credit he deserves.

"He's stepped his game up over the past year and a half," Leveille said. "You can tell a difference in him when he was playing MLL and working towards USA tryouts to when he wasn't invited. At that point his game went up a whole 'nother notch. He's maintained it and getting better with it."

Goalie: John Galloway (Rochester)

For the No. 1 seed Rochester Rattlers, defense was the key. They led the league in fewest goals allowed (161) and orchestrating it all was 2014 Goalie of the Year John Galloway. Galloway was one of the elder statesmen after the offseason saw the team trade Ned Crotty, and Matt Striebel and he was the most consistent goalie in the league.

"He's a general down there. He gets everyone in the right spot," Leveille said. "I'm glad he got the goalie of the year award."

Faceoff specialist: Greg Gurenlian (New York)

The Beast once again had the highest faceoff winning percentage in the league. He also led the league in ground balls, with 101. Gurenlian had two goals and led all specialists with five assists and seven points.


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