August 11, 2011

MLL Week 12: Nationals, Lizards Vie for Final Playoff Spot

by Corey McLaughlin | | Twitter

Scott Rodgers left last week's game against Boston in the second quarter because of injury, but expect him to start in goal Saturday against Long Island, with the MLL's final playoff berth up for grabs.

© John Strohsacker/

Entering the final weekend of the regular season, one spot remains up for grabs in the four-team Major League Lacrosse playoffs. And the two teams eligible for the last berth, the Hamilton Nationals and Long Island Lizards, play Saturday night on Long Island.

Hamilton (6-5) clinches a postseason berth if they win, and possibly if they lose. Long Island's situation is a tad bit more complicated. Because of tiebreaker rules, the Lizards (5-6) will be in the playoffs if they beat the Nationals by seven goals or more. Long Island can also make the playoffs by winning by less than seven, but only if Chesapeake also loses at home to Denver. If that scenario doesn't play out, Hamilton can lose by six goals or less, and still make the postseason with a 6-6 record.

Simply, both teams will try to win; Hamilton outright and Long Island by at least seven goals.

"Our view has to be we still control our own destiny," Long Island coach Jim Mule said.

"We're focusing, like Long Island. We gotta win," Nationals coach Regy Thorpe said. "We don't want to leave it to chance. We need to win, we want to win. The guys are excited for the challenge."

Beyond that, story lines abound in the game itself.

Casey Powell, the league's all-time points leader, will continue his MLL comeback and play in his second pro outdoor game since 2008, when he won a league title with the Rochester Rattlers. Powell had two goals and two assists in his 2011 debut, a 13-8 loss to the first-place Boston Cannons. Powell played mostly midfield, but saw some time at attack.

"He hasn't played in a couple years, but it was same old Casey, hustling off and making everyone around him better," Thorpe said. "Unfortunately we ran into a hot goaltender in Boston [Jordan Burke, 24 saves]. But Casey had a real solid return. We're looking for him to keep getting better."

As one veteran gets his footing with the Nationals, another seasoned pro, John Grant Jr., whom the team traded away earlier in the season, will suit up for Long Island. It will be Grant's second game against the Nationals since being traded. The other game coming in Hamilton just two weeks after the trade; a game in which Mule said the attackman was pressing too much looking to get revenge against his former team. He finished with two points.

"We're not going to win if John doesn't have a good game," Mule said of the rematch. "I'm expecting that he comes out and plays the way he knows how to play. That should all be behind him now. I know that was difficult for him that first game. It was there, up in Hamilton. Now that he's played a bunch of games with us hopefully he feels much more like a Lizard and not somebody from their team, and that makes him relax a little bit more. We need him to have a good game."

Nationals goaltender Scott Rodgers sustained a lower leg injury in the second quarter of the Boston game when Cannons midfielder Pat Heim collided with him in the crease, and Rodgers left the game and did not return. But expect Rodgers to get the start in goal Saturday against the Lizards. The native Long Islander was healthy enough to have returned to the game last week, Thorpe said, but his replacement Brett Queener was playing well (he finished with 10 saves) so the Nationals staff stuck with Queener to finish the game.

Stephen Peyser has also had an all-pro type season for Long Island. He leads all Lizards midfielders with 31 points, and has six two-point goals, including three in a July 28 game against Rochester.

Chesapeake-Rochester Rivalry Brewing?

Make of rivalries what you will in a six-team league, but the league does have a few matchups that typically lead more than usual misconduct penalties, player fines, or suspensions. Long Island-Denver is one, Long Island-Boston another. Add Chesapeake-Rochester to the list for next year? Maybe, if the Bayhawks take listen to what Rattlers coach Tim Soudan said about a play at the end of the third quarter of last Saturday's game between the two teams.

As time expired on the quarter, Chesapeake goaltender Chris Garrity sent the ball upfield from his own crease with Crotty standing right in front of him. Garrity, with his stick, wacked Crotty in the left side of the helmet at full strength on his follow through. Crotty fell to the turf, and later walked off the field on his own power. Garrity was called for a 1-minute slash. He started the fourth quarter in the penalty box, and Brian Phipps ended up playing the fourth quarter.

Asked about the play on a conference call Wednesday, Soudan said he didn't see it directly see it, but said it was "a cheap shot," and thought of the play as a continuation of the Bayhawks' game plan to injure Crotty.

"The way they approached the game with Crotty is they were just trying to injure him," Soudan said. "I'm glad he's healthy. He didn't sustain any injuries."

Crotty had just scored his first goal of the game with 32.6 left in the third to pull Rochester within 11-8.

Chesapeake coach Brendan Kelly had another take, calling the slashing penalty a "tough call" on Garrity.

"A forward pass into an attackman is usually a penalty on the attackman," Kelly said. "I don't think it's a good or a bad call. I think it's a tough call. The penalty is all the eye of the beholder."

Scoring Title On the Line

Paul Rabil and Crotty, the two players in the running for the league's regular season scoring title, will play on the same field when the Cannons take on the Rattlers at 7p.m. Saturday. Crotty leads the MLL with 45 points on 26 goals and 19 assists. Rabil has 44 points on 25 goals and 16 assists. Boston attackman Matt Poskay leads the league in goals with 28.

Long Range Cat

Rattlers attackman Grant Catalino has set the MLL single-season record for two-point goals by a rookie with four this season. The previous record was three two-point goals, by four different players.

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