July 19, 2011

Boston Wants Best of Both Worlds

by Mark Medina | LaxMagazine.com

Jordan Burke supplanted 2010 MLL Goalie of the Year Kip Turner in the Cannons' cage three games in and has provided consistency to the position, leading the league with a .614 save percentage.

© Marc Piscotty

The wins keep piling up, but the Boston Cannons are making little of it.

The team's previous postseason shortcomings continuously remind them tougher tests await, but they don't talk about it.

These two storylines, however, continue to define the Cannons' 2011 Major League Lacrosse season. With a league-leading 6-2 record and four games remaining, Boston needs just one more win to clinch a playoff berth. The Cannons missed a chance Saturday by letting Long Island out of a 5-0 hole and losing to the Lizards 12-11. They will try again this Saturday at home against the Hamilton Nationals (4-4).

The Cannons only have to point to their history, however, to explain why they will react with a collective shrug once they do clinch playoffs. Boston remains the last original MLL team still standing that does not own a title in a fledgling league that has seen five organizations fold. It's a noticable smudge in the Cannons' 10-year history.

Boston's offense could not outsmart goalie and championship game MVP Greg Cattrano in the Cannons' 13-11 loss of the 2004 Steinfeld Cup to the former Philadelphia Barrage. Boston has lost seven times in the playoff semifinals, making its 2005 division championship and its first-place tie for the league's best record in 2009 rather pointless. And the Cannons' trade in 2007 that sent Connor Gill and Ryan Curtis to the Bayhawks for Mikey Powell, Ben DeFelice and a 2008 conditional draft choice handcuffed the team in consecutive seasons without a playoff appearance.

Bill Daye, the Cannons' head coach since 2006, said he's "not a big guy who pulls up the past," but that's because apparently everyone else on the team already has. "It's definitely something we've thought about," Daye said. "We're quite aware of it."

That's why Daye has continually stressed to his team not to lose focus and feel satisfied with having the league's top record.

The Cannons received a reminder of the difficulty in maintaining success with Saturday's loss to the Lizards. Daye said the MLL's plan to add two expansion teams next season in the Charlotte Hounds and Ohio Machine will make winning a title even more challenging. It's a "good chance this is the last time we'll have this group of guys together," he said.

And with the Cannons boasting the league's top scorer (midfielder Paul Rabil with 37 points), the league's best statistical goalie (Jordan Burke leads with MLL with a .614 save percentage) and the league's best faceoff unit (57.6 percent overall), Boston seems ripe to end that championship drought.

"We all feel we have a pretty complete team," Burke said, "and a chance to make a run come playoff time."

But the Cannons insist on not looking ahead to the postseason, a reason Daye repeatedly mentioned the team's upcoming game with the Nationals. That approach also coincides with the team rarely feeling complacent.

Burk is on the forefront of that effort, as he replaced 2010 MLL Goalkeeper of the year Kip Turner just three games into the season. The decision stemmed from Daye's preseason conversation with Turner and Burke in which he emphasized consistency. In Turner's case, he followed a 21-save performance in the Cannons' 15-12 season-opening win over Long Island with conceding four unanswered goals en route to a 13-12 loss to the Denver Outlaws.

"There were some things Kip didn't do well when we played Denver," said Daye, who declined to go into further detail. "So we felt it was a good opportunity to give Jordan a shot. He paid his dues and hasn't looked back."

Burke, whom the Cannons selected 16th in the second round of the 2009 draft, jumped at the opportunity. He has since ranked second in the league with a 10.15 goals against average to go with his top-ranked save percentage.

"Kip and I are great friends on and off the field," Burke said. "With me playing now, I know that from a competitive standpoint, I know he's pushing me. I know if I slip up, I'll be ready to go. From a teammate standpoint, I knew he cheered me on just as I was cheering him on when he was in there. It's sort of the best of both worlds."

It's also the best of both worlds for the Cannons' offense. Rabil is considered an MLL MVP candidate and received ringing endorsements from Daye and Burke as the league's best player for both his skill and infectious work ethic. But the Cannons define their offense more on how they make defenses pay for double-teaming Rabil than just on his scoring. The Cannons feature four of league's top 10 goal scorers, including Rabil (20),  2010 MLL MVP Matt Poskay (20), Max Quinzani (15) and Brad Ross (14).

Moves made in the offseason helped set up Boston for success. The Cannons added former University of Denver coach Jamie Munroe as a volunteer to aid with their scouting and tape preparation. They also acquired defenseman P.T. Ricci and a 2012 fifth-round pick from the Chesapeake Bayhawks for Justin Smith. Daye said the move proved to be a "great pickup" because Ricci, Brian Farrell and Kyle Sweeney have provided a formidable combination at long stick midfield. They combined for seven points in a 17-10 win June 25 against the Bayhawks.

The Cannons, however, hardly feel satisfied. Rabil immediately fired a Twitter message following Boston's loss to Long Island, in which the Cannons scored just one second-half goal: "We had an off-shooting night, and let that game slip. Time to get on the cage harder than ever." Burke said he does not take his starting role for granted. And Daye  lamented that the team's 3-1 trip ended with a "sour loss."

Boston might be just weeks away from holding championship hardware for the first time in franchise history. But the Cannons are forcing themselves not to think about it. Doing so, they fear, would only continue the organization's history in letting that title slip away.

"It's sort of been our team motto from the beginning," Burke said. "We all feel pretty confident going into the season, but we also have a lot to prove."

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