August 10, 2009

MLL Playoff Teams Anchor in Annapolis

by Clare Lochary | Lacrosse Magazine Online Staff

Top-seeded Denver will face fourth-seeded Boston, which fell on the short end of a tiebreaker with Long Island, in the first of two MLL semifinals Aug. 22.

© Kevin P. Tucker

The Major League Lacrosse championship weekend begins a three-year tour of duty in Annapolis, Md., Aug. 21. Thanks to its prime Mid-Atlantic location and top-notch lacrosse facilities, Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium has snagged the event through 2011.

“It’s a great stadium, and it had all the amenities we were looking for — locker rooms, video boards, and room for our fan zone,” said MLL public relations director Rachel Spates. “We really feel that Annapolis is a good destination city. It’s a good place for people who are looking to make a vacation of it.”

Besides the on-field action at the semifinal doubleheader Aug. 22 and the title match Aug. 23, the weekend will feature a youth tournament for under-13 and under-15 players with an expected 36 teams participating. There also will be a clinic with MLL players for the first 400 youth to register.

The MLL Fan Zone features activities for fans young (the Monster Energy-Warrior Lacrosse “Chop Shop,” a barbershop that does extreme dye jobs and haircuts) and old (Bud Light lounge, a 3,500-square foot entertainment venue with flat screens and an interactive green screen).

Monster Energy will roll out its Ninja Motorcyle Stunt Team, and musician Avery Watts (supplier of the music for the MLL’s ESPN broadcasts) and Canadian band Mobil (winner of the 2007 Juno Award for New Group of the Year) will perform throughout the weekend.

With a built-in audience from the youth tournament teams, in addition to Annapolis’ ability to draw fans from both Baltimore and Washington, D.C., the MLL hopes to break the championship weekend attendance record (16,547) set at Harvard Stadium last year, when the Rochester Rattlers defeated the Denver Outlaws, 16-6, for the title.

“That’s what we’re really trying to do with the three-year commitment, to make championship weekend a destination event for people that time of year,” said Spates.

Championship Weekend Pairings Set

Following an exciting final weekend of regular season play, the fourth and final team qualified for the 2009 New Balance MLL Championship Weekend and the pairings have now been determined. The Denver Outlaws (9-3), Toronto Nationals (7-5), Long Island Lizards (6-6), and Boston Cannons (6-6) will travel to Annapolis and take the field at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.

Denver was the fist team to secure a spot in the postseason and holds the top overall seed due to their league-leading 9-3 record. Boston and Toronto had also already qualified for the playoffs as well, but the final seedings were not determined until the fourth team was known.

On Thursday, the Washington Bayhawks extended their playoff hopes into the weekend by mounting an impressive fourth quarter comeback capped by rookie Peet Poillon's game-winning goal with 3.5 seconds remaining in regulation to defeat the Boston Cannons 14-13. However, their hopes would be dashed, as Long Island held on to defeat the Chicago Machine 13-11 in a close, back-and-forth game at Soldier Field that sealed the Lizards' playoff berth.

Despite their identical 6-6 records, Long Island gained the No. 3 seed over Boston by virtue of its three wins over the Cannons this season.

Thus, top-seeded Denver will face fourth-seeded Boston in the first semifinal Aug. 22 at 12 p.m. Eastern. The game will be broadcast live on ESPN2HD, with Joe Beninati and Quint Kessenich calling the action. 

The second semifinal will begin at 3 p.m. and will feature second-seeded Toronto against third-seeded Long Island.

The winners  advance to the New Balance Championship Game at 1 p.m. Eastern on Aug. 23. The championship game will also be broadcast live on ESPN2HD.

Grant Returns in Grand Fashion

Playing in his first MLL game since hoisting the Steinfeld Trophy in the 2008 championship game, John Grant Jr., the league’s reigning MVP, proved he still has game.

Grant scored five goals in just one half to lead his Nationals to an impressive 16-10 victory over the Denver Outlaws. After scoring a goal early in the first quarter, Grant lit up Denver for four of Toronto’s five second quarter goals. Grant, on the mend after a series of knee surgeries, sat out the second half, watching his team close out the regular season with a big win over the league’s top team.

MLL Weekly Awards

For his efforts, Grant was recognized by the Monday as its Offensive Player of the Week. Also winning weekly awards were Long Island's Nicky Polanco (Defensive Player of the Week) and Washington's Peet Poillon (Rookie of the Week).

Long Island clinched the fourth and final playoff spot after a big victory over the Chicago Machine. While Long Island’s offense only scored 13 goals, it was enough for the win, thanks in large part to defensive efforts of Polanco.

Guarding Chicago attackman Kevin Leveille, Polanco held the Machine’s leading scorer without a point in the contest. It was the first time that Leveille has been blanked since 2004, thus ending the longest scoring streak in MLL history at an impressive 65 games.

Washington, which also had hopes of attaining the fourth playoff spot, did all that it could to earn a postseason appearance. In just the second regular season game of his career, Poillon tallied a hat trick, bringing his MLL career total to seven goals. The rookie played a critical role in the Bayhawks victory by scoring both the game-tying and game-winning-goals, to cap off a six-goal run during the final quarter. Thanks to the near last-second heroics of Poillon, the Bayhawks defeated Boston 14-13.

Long Island’s victory over the Machine on Saturday eliminated Washington from playoff contention, however.

While Poillon will have to wait until next year for his chance to play in the postseason, it would certainly seem as though the Bayhawks have discovered a new offensive weapon.

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