August 22, 2009

Fluky Goal Sends Toronto to MLL Title Game

by Matt DaSilva | Lacrosse Magazine Online Staff | Game Blog

Brodie Merrill carries the ball in transition Saturday. Merrill and the Nationals advanced to Sunday's MLL championship game with a 14-13 win over the Lizards.

© John Strohsacker/

ANNAPOLIS, Md. -- No one really knows who scored the most important goal in the Toronto Nationals’ young history as a Major League Lacrosse franchise.

MLL officials have it that Merrick Thomson last touched the ball in the scrum for a rebound in front of the cage. The Toronto locker room insists it was Geoff Snider. Reporters say Long Island hit it into its own goal.

Replays proved inconclusive.

Either way, Lizards goalie Brian Dougherty admitted, he should have had it.

A weak Joe Walters offering landed in front of Dougherty, and neither he nor any of the three Lizard long poles crowding the crease could corral it. Snider and Thomson snuck inside to pursue the rebound, which someway, somehow found the back of the cage for the game-winning goal, as the Nationals advanced to the MLL championship game with a 14-13 victory over the Lizards.

Second-seeded Toronto (8-5) will face top-seeded Denver (10-3) for the Steinfeld Cup at 1 p.m. Sunday (ESPN2).

Snider, who won 17 of 30 faceoffs and also scored a third-quarter goal, was happy to claim credit for the game-winner.

“The ball came out in front of the crease. I just went after the ground ball and literally swung my stick at a pile of sticks. It either went off my stick and in, or somebody else grabbed it and I hit it out of their stick and in,” he said. “It was trash, probably the worst goal of all-time.”

To that end, Dougherty, who’s not used to being the goat in postseason play, agreed.

“It was a weak shot that I should have caught,” he said. “It somehow bounced off my stick and guys pounced at it. It went right over my shoulder. One of our guys hit it.”

Toronto trailed Long Island by three, 12-9, after the third quarter, which included a 30-minute lightning delay. Walters, who sparked the Nationals’ fourth-quarter rally with back-to-back left-handed goals, said he had no doubt who capped it.

“It was Geoff Snider,” Walters said.

Toronto won despite a slew of penalties early on -- including five in the first quarter that led to three Long Island power-play goals -- and an off night from star John Grant Jr.

Grant, guarded closely by Lizards defenseman Brian Spallina, was held without a point.

Thomson and Walters picked up the slack, however, as they have all season. Thomson, who finished just behind Boston’s Paul Rabil in the MLL MVP race, netted three goals and was credited for a fourth after the game-changing scramble. Walters added a hat trick.

The game was delayed due to lightning at the 5:29 mark of the third quarter, just after a Stephen Berger goal put the Lizards up 11-8. Downpours continued when the game resumed 30 minutes later. Thomson and Long Island’s Stephen Peyser exchanged goals to make it 12-9.

Walters quickly made it a one-goal game with consecutive goals in the first three minutes of the fourth quarter. Toronto then tied it at 12, thanks to Brodie Merrill's seamless transition abilities. Following a near-miss by Peyser, Merrill carried the ball to the opposite end, drew a slide and found Jeff Zywicki naked on the crease for a goal.

Shawn Williams gave Toronto its first lead since the first quarter by finishing a feed from Delby Powless, putting the Nationals up 13-12 with 7:55 remaining.

Long Island answered with Matt Danowski, who got top side to score on Nationals defenseman Joe Cinoski for his second goal of the game, which tied it at 13 with 3:48 remaining.

It set up the free-for-all finish that no one could quite decipher afterward. Merrill even thought Zywicki could have chipped in the finisher.

“I think we’re good in unsettled situations and we’ve got some great finishers around the net,” Merrill said. “The rain and sloppiness of the game really worked in our favor. It’s tough for them (the Lizards) to lose that way. I feel for them. But it’s a break, and we’ll take it.”

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