June 29, 2012

Gibson Favorite For Rookie of Year at MLL Halfway Mark

Long Island first-year attackman Matt Gibson (Yale) has been named MLL rookie of the week twice and is third on the Lizards in points with 20 at the midway point of the season.
© Lee Weissman

by Corey McLaughlin | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter

With the annual Major League Lacrosse All-Star Game set for Saturday night at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, Fla., its time to hand out some mid-season awards.

All of the below individuals, except for the coaches, will be at the all-star weekend festivities, which are highlighted by the game and halftime skills competition at 7:30 p.m. Saturday. The format returns once again to "Old School" versus "Young Guns." (Full rosters here.) It will be the first event at FAU's new athletic stadium and televised live on ESPN2.

Mid-Season Rookie of the Year

Matt Gibson, A, Long Island Lizards

There was one rookie to make the All-Star Game this year and he is Matt Gibson, the Long Island attackman and recent graduate of Yale. He's been named league rookie of the week twice and is third on the Lizards with 20 points on 10 goals and 10 assists.

Originally drafted by the Chesapeake Bayhawks in the fifth round (No. 38 overall) of January's pre-college season draft, Gibson was traded to Long Island in February as part of a three-way deal involving John Grant Jr. and Rochester's Grant Catalino. Clearly Gibson was the least-known name of that bunch. Although he was an honorable mention All-American his junior season at Yale (20 goals, 16 assists), Gibson was inexplicably left off any All-American list this season after having a better senior year (28g, 33a; Yale won the Ivy League tournament and made the NCAA tournament).

Self-admittedly, Gibson had no idea what his pro potential would be, he said this week. Even after being traded to Long Island. Fellow attackman Ryan Young, whom he knew from Chaminade (N.Y.) High and club ball on Long Island, was on the roster, but that alone couldn't foreshadow Gibson would be the leader at the midpoint of the season for rookie of the year. But Gibson has jelled with Young and another Long Island native rookie, Tommy Palasek, while veteran Brian Langtry has provided a veteran leadership role on and off the field.

Long Island sits at 5-2 in the first half after an offseason of change in several areas of the organization: personnel (gone are long-time stalwarts Nicky Polanco and Brian Spallina, Matt Danowski and Stephen Berger), coaching (assistant Joe Spallina took over) and ownership.

"I wasn't sure what my draft status would be, or where my place would be once I got traded to the Lizards," Gibson said this week. "I fell into a good situation. They were clearing house and looking for some young guys to come in. But even at that point, I wasn't sure what was going to happen. I showed up to practice and they let me know they wanted to step in. Going into the first game I didn't know what to expect, but everybody around me has made is easy. Seeing the people around me it's not that surprising. It takes a lot of pressure of me.

"The main difference for me is adjusting to a new team and a new role," he said. "I'm getting into the swing of things. In college, I was the quarterback on the offense and a lot of things went through me. In the MLL, everyone on the offense can get it done in their own way. For me, it's been puzzle-piecing myself around these guys that are so talented. It's been a privilege to step into the offense and play a role right away."

The rookie of the year race isn't over yet, though. Keep watching Steele Stanwick (Ohio) and Mark Matthews (Denver), among others.

MVP and Offensive Player of the Year

Paul Rabil, M, Boston Cannons

It's Rabil's MVP award to lose. His 46 points are tops in the league by a difference of 15 over Denver's Brendan Mundorf and Chesapeake's Kyle Dixon, whose 10 2-point goals help him in the overall point standings. Rabil has 17 goals, 25 assists and three game-winning goals and appears to be in line to win his third MVP award in four seasons, and third offensive player of the year honors. He's on pace to break John Grant Jr.'s single-season points record of 71 in 12 games in 2007.

Also in contention: Brendan Mundorf (Denver), Brodie Merrill (Hamilton), Kyle Dixon (Chesapeake), Drew Adams (Long Island), Stephen Berger (Charlotte).

Defensive Player of the Year

Brodie Merrill, D, Hamilton Nationals

The reigning six-time defensive player of the year is champ until someone knocks him off. Merrill set the league's career ground balls record this season, passing faceoff specialist Paul Cantabene (538), in Hamilton's third game of the season.

Goalie of the Year

Jordan Burke, G, Boston Cannons

Statistically, Burke is the league-leader in save percentage (57.8), goals against average (9.57) and minutes played (476:42). Maybe he still feels slighted for not winning MLL goalie of the year last season, with Long Island Drew Adams' taking the honor by two points in the voting by head coaches and general managers.

Also in contention: Jesse Schwartzman (Denver), Adams and Kip Turner (Chesapeake).

Faceoff Specialist of the Year

Chris Eck, M/FO, Boston Cannons

Faceoff specialists are their own breed, and to me, each of the team's takers deserve an award each week. I'll go with Chris Eck as tops thus far. He's slightly behind Long Island's Greg Gurenlian in win percentage (59.5 to Beast's 60.9) but Eck can be a threat offensively as well (nine shots, six on goal, four goals for a 44.4 percent shooting percentage).

Also in contention: Gurenlian, Matt Dolente (Hamilton).

Second-Year Pro(s) to Watch

The first year of an MLL career can be a whirlwind — stepping out of the college season or senior class trip and hopping a flight to your first MLL game. Some guys don't really get a fair shake as rookies, while others are just more comfortable in the second season, and improve.

Brian Karalunas leads the pack for a potential most improved award, and it wasn't like he was bad as a rookie. He's had an amazing second season, given his position switch from long-stick midfield (where be built his reputation at Villanova) to close defense after the departures of Long Island's veteran backline. At the new spot, he's shut down the league's best: Brendan Mundorf (one assist), Ryan Boyle (zero points), Billy Bitter (zero points), Chazz Woodson (two goals). The most impressive performance was against Boyle, whom Karalunas held without a point for the second time in Boyle's nine-year career.

Others to watch: Jordan McBride (Denver), Stephen Keogh (Hamilton), Kevin Crowley (Hamilton), Steve DeNapoli (Rochester), Dolente (Hamilton), Adam Rand (Chesapeake), Adam Ghitelman (Charlotte), Jovan Miller (Charlotte), John Galloway (Rochester), Grant Catalino (Long Island), Jeremy Sieverts (Denver) is in his third year in the league but played in no games in 2011; same with Jimmy Connolly (Ohio).

Coach of the Year

Joe Spallina, Long Island Lizards

For a team that didn't have a coach in place or in attendance at January's pre-college season draft, the Lizards are doing pretty well for themselves under Spallina. Long Island is 5-2, in second place and has won five straight games heading into the all-star break. Spallina has talked all season about the Lizards being a young, up-and-coming team that hopefully will develop chemistry and stay together in the mold of the defending league champion Boston Cannons. He loves talking to the media about the talents of all his players, but especially the young guys (Gibson, Karalunas, Catalino, Palasek, CJ Costabile, Tim Henderson, Ryan Young) who should expect to be around the organization for a while. One can only imagine he tells the players the same things.

Chesapeake's Dave Cottle is a close second, with an argument for first. The Bayhawks are 7-1 and in first place. In the broader scope, Cottle has had the vision to think of the 2-point shot as a consistent part of the game, beyond a once-in-a-while, take-it-if-it's there shot, novelty or desperation, late-game option. He's certainly the first I've heard evoke the thought of Rick Pitino's 3-point philosophy when that line made its debut in college basketball in 1987. The Bayhawks have scored 18 2-pointers, and are on pace to break the Boston Cannons' league record of 25 two's in a season (2002). Charlotte is the next closest with nine.

Championship Favorite

Chesapeake Bayhawks

The Major League Lacrosse All-Star Game is set for 7:30 p.m. Saturday night at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, Fla., and will be shown live on ESPN2.

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