July 27, 2010

Poskay for MVP? Boston's Cannon Makes Case

by Theresa Smith | Special to Lacrosse Magazine Online

The move from midfield to attack has paid off for Boston's Matt Poskay, who leads the MLL in scoring a year after testicular cancer surgery.

He’s learning a new position, regaining his health and wreaking havoc on Major League Lacrosse goalies.

Thirteen months removed from testicular cancer surgery, Boston’s Matt Poskay is leading the league in scoring with 39 goals, 16 ahead of the second-best scorer, the Machine's Kevin Leveille.

A former midfielder, Poskay is playing attack, boosting his catch-and-shoot opportunities from close range off passes from Ryan Boyle, who operates behind the net.

With fleet, hard-shooting Paul Rabil also leading the MLL’s top-scoring offense, the Cannons are tied with Denver for the league lead at 7-3. Both teams have clinched playoff appearances.

Following a break for the World Championships in Manchester, England, the Cannons resumed play Saturday with an 18-10 win over Toronto. Poskay became Boston's all-time leading scorer with five goals in the victory and continues to make a case for MLL MVP, which Rabil won last year.

“We are happy where we are, but not satisfied," Poskay said. “Our goal is to get to championship weekend and to get better each week. We want to play our best lacrosse come the end of August. We are taking it step-by-step and game-by-game."

The Cannons' stellar offense was made even better when coach Bill Daye decided to give Poskay more scoring opportunities by moving him from midfield to attack. It was a move in the making after Poskay scored 34 goals in 2008, including three game-winners.

“It's something we talked about prior to training camp last season, but then Matt was diagnosed, so it never materialized," Daye said.

Poskay missed five games due to surgery, and then played seven despite weekly radiation treatments.

“I was pretty beat up and pretty tired all week, but I basically would try to save up energy all week to just play," Poskay said. “It was a way to get out and go do something, compared to just being tired all day. It was fun to get out and get to play. I was nowhere near 100 percent. I’ve got to give credit to the coaches for getting me in there."

Six weeks after surgery, Poskay scored four goals against Chicago.

“It was like he never missed a beat," Daye said.

The energy-zapping effects of the radiation were quite visible prior to a July 4, 2009 game at Denver, however.

“Matt was exhausted when he got off the plane," Daye said. “I think he slept for over 12 hours, but the treatment and travel definitely got the best of him. Nevertheless, he got our there and played pretty well considering the circumstances."

Indeed, Poskay scored 15 goals in seven games.

After Denver eliminated Boston in the semifinals, Poskay focused on his assistant coaching job at Drew University in Madison, New Jersey, and began to regain his health, strength and conditioning.

Proclaiming himself at 100 percent, Poskay receently said: “Being healthy means more than any scoring totals."

Scoring was always a given for Poskay, even at a young age.

At Arthur Johnson High School in Clark, N.J., he set a national high school record with an eye-popping 362 goals. At the University of Virginia, he helped the Cavaliers win two national championships.

Along with trying his professional career-high goal total with two games remaining, Poskay’s shooting percentage is off the charts.

He has the MLL's best shooting percentage (.459) of any player with at least 20 shots.

“I really emphasize putting the ball on the cage," Poskay said. “And when I go to shoot, taking a peek at the cage and seeing net. I look for the black net and shoot the ball hard enough and precise enough to that part of the net and beat the goalie to that spot."

Another key is his quick release, a skill that earned him the nickname, “Shooter.’’

“I really try to be ready to shoot, not have to catch and wind up and give the goalie time to reset his feet or reset his body," Poskay said. “Once it comes in my stick I get it out of my stick as quick as I can. I want the shot on top of the goalie almost as the pass is coming across."

Poskay, 26, is also adept at moving without the ball, getting open in prime shooting areas.

“A lot of times you’re able to do that in transition, and if you’re on the field, obviously as an attackman you can do that, find open lanes and open seams where guys can’t guard you yet because they’re still getting in the defensive end trying to match up with guys," he said. "So I try to get an open net, benefitting from the labor of other guys who are beating their guys. I’m the beneficiary at the end, putting the ball in the back of the net."

Third-year midfielder Rabil is also a factor, due to the attention defenses accord him.

“I try to be the beneficiary, helping Paul if he can’t get his shot off," Poskay said. “And Ryan Boyle, behind the cage, is a great assist guy. They do a lot of the work. I seem to be up in the stat category, but they deserve a lot of credit for doing their job. I do my best, working for the team goal more than anything else."

Poskay’s extra practice sessions are a factor too.

“Matt shoots every day," Daye said. “He’s always working on his shot and trying to improve it. He has a very deceptive release and it changes planes a lot, which can throw a goalie off."

Practice and perseverance -- it is all part of the Poskay package.

MLL Weekly Awards

Long Island's Stephen Berger, Boston's Kip Turner and Denver's Conor Martin earned MLL accolades for their performances over the weekend. Berger was named the Offensive Player of the Week for hios five-goal performance -- including a clinching two-pointer from near midfield -- in the Lizards' 14-11 win over Chesapeake. Long Island has won three straight to get back to .500 (5-5) and can clinch a playoff spot with a win over Toronto this weekend. Turner was named Defensive Player of the Week. He made 17 saves in the Cannons' 18-10 whalloping of the Nationals. Martin scored three goals to earn Rookie of the Week honors and lead the Outlaws, depleted by those playing in the world championships, to a 15-11 comeback win over the Machine.

Goettelmann Guns for Greatness

Long Island Lizards attackman Tim Goettelmann is three goals shy of eclipsing Jesse Hubbard as the MLL's all-time scoring leader. “I’m excited,” he told majorleaguelacrosse.com. “I’m thinking about it now because it’s so close.” An MLL original, Goettelmann has 245 career goals and can break the record Saturday against Toronto. Goettelmann is already the league's record holder for games played. He has played all 10 seasons with the Lizards. “I started with Paul and Gary Gait and I ended up with Matt Danowski," Goettelman said of his teammates over the years "So I’ve played with a lot of really good players.

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