August 8, 2009

Guess Who's Back? Grant Lifts Nats over Denver

from press release

In the final week of the 2009 regular season, the Toronto Nationals made a strong statement for their post-season campaign for the Seinfeld Cup by dominating the Denver Outlaws. Bud Light MVP John Grant Jr. finally played up to his 2008 form as the reigning MLL MVP by scoring 5 goals. With tonight's victory, Toronto claims the second seed for this year's New Balance Championship Weekend.

Denver jumped out to a quick, three-goal thanks largely in part to power play goals from Drew Westervelt and Josh Sims.  John Grant Jr. found the back of the net for Toronto's first goal of the night midway through the first, setting off a barrage of goals from four different Nationals players. Shawn Williams, Jeff Zywicki, Brodie Merrill, and Merrick Thomson gave Toronto a 5-3 advantage by the end of the first period.

Kicking off the second quarter, the Outlaw attack answered with two quick goals from Matt Brown and Westervelt, whose goal came off another power play situation. But, in the same way as the first quarter, the Nationals seized control with 5 goals, four of which came from John Grant Jr.'s stick. Denver rookie Max Seibald was able to find the net late in the half, but was unable to spark any sort of comeback from Denver.

Entering halftime, the Nationals extended their lead to 4 goals, with a score of 10-6.

Seibald started things off quickly for his Outlaws by scoring within the first minute of the half. Following almost half a minute later was teammate Dan Hardy. Just as Denver seemed to find some momentum, the Nationals, again, cut off Denver by unleashing a 4-goal streak, including a crucial, short-handed goal from Thomson. Gavin Prout, Stephen Hoar, and Delby Powless combined for the other 3 goals, pushing the Nationals lead up to 6 goals.

Westervelt gave some hope to his teammates by scoring an unassisted two-pointer in the first two minutes of the fourth. That, however, went to waste, as Toronto held the ball for most of the quarter. Aside from two more goals from Thomson, the Nationals chipped off minutes from the clock by smart possessions and play, from both their offense and defense.

Both teams split halves with their goalies, a strategy that has been standard for the Nationals this whole season. Denver's backup Adam Fullerton saw quality minutes, playing for the entire second half and making 6 saves off of 12 shots. Jesse Schwartzman played subpar to what has been a phenomenal season for the All-Star goalie, letting in 10 goals and making only 6 saves.

Toronto's Doc Schneider and Brett Queener played strong halves by each making 10 saves. Queener was given the win, moving his record to 6-3 for 2009. Along with strong performances from Merrill and the rest of the defense, Schneider and Queener were able to hold the Outlaws to a season-low 10 goals.

Offensively, Toronto obviously filled the stat book with 11 players recording at least a point. Aside from John Grant Jr.'s spectacular performance, Thomson turned an equally impressive night with 4 goals and 1 assist. Jeff Zywicki also tallied 5 points after scoring once and assisting another 4 goals. Last but certainly not least, face-off specialist Geoff Snider dominated the draws, winning 18-28 contests at the X.

With the regular season over for both teams, Denver and Toronto have the next two weeks to prepare for Championship Weekend. Toronto certainly made statement to the other three teams with tonight's victory, and Denver will definitely want to hoist up their first MLL Championship trophy. This year's playoffs are already shaping up to be the most exciting in league history.

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