August 28, 2014

Rattlers Shattered On-Field Expectations in 2014

by Phil Shore | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter

While the Denver Outlaws exorcised the demons from their past by winning the 2014 Major League Lacrosse championship, a foundation was also put forth for the future of the league.

For three quarters it looked like the Denver Outlaws would once again come up short in their quest for the franchise's first title. That was because after the Outlaws scored 19 seconds into the game, Rochester stifled them right until the final minute of the game.

The Rattlers led 5-1 at the end of the first quarter, 6-4 at halftime and 10-6 at the end of the third quarter. Going up against the defense that allowed the fewest goals in the league all season, John Grant Jr. had only scored one goal in the first three quarters and Eric Law had zero goals and only one assist.

"We still had a little trouble getting it past John Galloway," Denver Outlaws head coach B.J. O'Hara said. "He played a great game, and finally we had his number at the end and hit some big shots."

Galloway finished the night with 11 saves. While Rochester did allow Denver to put up six points in the final quarter – as many as they had allowed the previous three quarters – Galloway still made some point-blank saves to attempt and preserve the lead as the game got close.

He wasn't the only Rattler to shine, though.

Third-year defender Mike Manley was one reason why Grant had struggled all game. Manley used his size and strength to keep Grant close to goal-line extended or behind it, allowing Grant fewer good scoring opportunities.

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Rochester led 10-6 heading into the fourth quarter, but couldn't close it out in an entertaining MLL championship. Given the uncertainty about the team at the start of the season, the Rattlers eclipsed expectations this year. (Kevin Liles).

The Rattlers also got a pair of hat tricks, from second-year midfielders Dave Lawson and John Ranagan. Along with Justin Turri, Rochester head coach Tim Soudan calls the three his "big boy line" because of the combined size and strength. Lawson (6-foot-1, 203 pounds) and Ranagan (6-foot-3, 218 pounds) especially showed why he calls them that as the two seemed to run straight down the middle of the field with the ball and shoot and score even with a defender hacking away at their arms.

Turri (6-foot-3, 215 pounds) added a goal and an assist, as did high-scoring rookies Jordan Wolf and Mark Cockerton. Rookie Miles Thompson also added a goal off an interception of a Jesse Schwartzman clearing attempt.

"Rochester played their hearts out," MLL founder Jake Steinfeld told the media after the game. "Tim Soudan was amazing as a coach."

All year on the coaches' call several coaches said there was no such thing as moral victories in this league, but looking back at the beginning of the year, many outsiders did not anticipate Rochester would even make it this far, or even remain in Rochester because of low attendance numbers.

Despite the time the rookies missed while playing in college and despite finishing seventh in the league in attendance (1,329 average in seven regular season home games), Rochester was one of the most entertaining teams in the league and finished the regular season with the most wins.

The experience is keeping the team hungry for more.

"It's a sour taste in your mouth right, but we have a great group of guys and we're still a family," Rochester long-stick midfielder Joel White said to the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle. "We're all proud of each other. You can't not be excited about what's in the future for the Rochester Rattlers."

In the past we've seen young teams peak before expected only to crash back down to Earth the following season (New York Lizards in 2012, Charlotte Hounds in 2013). However, with the league's Coach of the Year, Defender of the Year (Manley), Goalie of the Year (Galloway), Most Improved Player (Turri), Three All-MLL Players (Galloway, Manley and White), as well as a mix of young stars in the making and All-Star caliber veterans, Rochester could be a mainstay in the playoff picture for years to come.

"I think we've got a bright future. I think we're a team with the core guys that we have, and we're going to be able to stay established in this league," Soudan said. "It really comes down to culture, and each team is different every year based on retirement and work and everything else that goes on. We're just going to try to get better, and most importantly I love these guys, and it was a heck of a year to be involved with, and like I said, I wouldn't trade these guys for nothing."

AN MLL FUTURE IN ATLANTA

After the MLL championship, Matt Bocklet, LSM for the MLL Championship winning Denver Outlaws, tweeted "Atlanta was an unreal venue w/ a great crowd. @MLL_Lacrosse needs a team there!"

He wasn't the only person to say or tweet something along the same lines.

With an attendance of 8,149 people in Kennesaw, Georgia, the Outlaws weren't the only winners the night the MLL championship game was played; Atlanta may have cemented itself as the destination for the next MLL expansion team.

"The future's looking very bright. Very bright here in Atlanta," Steinfeld said. "You see the fans. They get it. They love it. Very few times I'm speechless, but my hands are shaking."

It doesn't come as much of a surprise that Atlanta is in line for a team. Rumors of a team setting up in Atlanta go back to August of 2013, including a LaxMagazine.com in which MLL commissioner David Gross and LB3 Lacrosse CEO Liam Banks spoke about the prospects of the city being awarded an MLL franchise.

The question it seems like now is not if but when?

In that article Banks said he was still targeting a 2014 date, which didn't happen. It looks like the 2015 season won't field a team in Atlanta, either. In an interview on CBS Sports Network during halftime of the MLL Championship game, Gross said that there were no plans for expansion in 2015.

He did say, however, that it was no secret the league had interest in Atlanta as a market and that he and the league were hopeful a deal could be completed in time for the 2016 season.

There is no concrete date set for an Atlanta team to make its MLL debut, if ever, but the city does have the support of back-to-back MLL championship Game MVP Grant.

"I've been playing since the very beginning of this league and this is one of the best venues I've ever played in," he said. "As far as the turf and the fans, it was almost like this place was built for a game like this. Two great teams played a great game, and these fans were on top of it. It was awesome. I'm glad I was here for it."

FIRST EXPANSION CHAMPIONSHIP

As a young league, Major League Lacrosse has had its share of ups and downs. Of the eight teams in the league, only four remain from the league's original six: the Boston Cannons, Chesapeake Bayhawks, New York Lizards and Rochester Rattlers.

All those franchises have won championships.

No team that was an expansion franchise, however, had ever won the Steinfeld Trophy. That was before Denver's victory over Rochester in the 2014 championship game. With the win, the Outlaws became the first team to debut in the league after 2001 and win a championship.


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