May 17, 2013

MLL Week 4: Goalie Controversy in Hamilton?

by Phil Shore |

Brett Queener (above) went down with a knee injury last week against the Lizards, opening the door for Evan Kirk to get playing time. Will Queener remain a 60-minute guy for the Nats, or go back to splitting halves?

Historically, the MLL's Hamilton Nationals have strategically been unconventional in the usage of their goalies.

They've employed some talented individuals, namely Brett Queener, Scott Rodgers, Doc Schneider and Joe Marra. With so much talent available the Nationals have often split halves with the goalies on the roster.

Even when the Nationals were the Rochester Rattlers in a prior form, Queener split time with Mike Levin. Both goalies played a half each in the 2008 MLL Championship game.

"It's never been a goalie battle, it's just a style we chose to play," said Nationals head coach Dave Huntley, who coached the team from 2009-2011 before returning to the sidelines this year. "One guy was the starter and Brett [Queener] was the closer."

When the team traded away Rodgers before the start of the 2013 season it was thought that practice would end, with the former All-Star Queener dominating time in cage.

But when Queener went down with a knee injury just eight minutes into the Nationals' Week 3 win over the New York Lizards, Evan Kirk played well in his first ever MLL game.

The Ontario-native and NLL goalie, who played for Canada against the U.S at last September's "Duel in Denver," made 10 saves and only allowed one goal in the fourth quarter.

"I think he's a terrific goalie," Huntley said of Kirk. "His angle play is good. He's got a terrific outlet pass. I don't think any of us were surprised by the performance we got."

With the Queener injury and the praise Huntley gave Kirk, one would think the two-goalie system may come back to Hamilton. Huntley, however, downplayed that notion addressing both Queener's injury and the team's strategy for this season.

"Brett was going to be available to us if we needed him in the second half," Huntley said, speaking to the severity of Queener's injury. "It was not an injury that's going to hold him out for a long time."

Huntley also spoke about the game plan the team had for its goalies.

"My conversation with Brett as a returner, he told me he wanted to be a 60-minute guy," Huntley said. "I have a huge amount of respect for him. We've come up with the plan for him to be our 60-minute guy and for whoever our other guy is, they have to be ready to go."

While Huntley rejects any notion of a goalie controversy, questions still remain. He said Queener's injury wasn't serious, but didn't speculate whether he would return this weekend.

Kirk has one good outing under his belt and it came in a very close contest. Should he be needed again, it wouldn't be surprising for Kirk to shine with more opportunities. A decision would then have to be made. With no definite starter for this weekend it will be a situation to monitor as the season progresses.

Boston-Chesapeake rivalry renewed

The Cannons and Bayhawks are two of the remaining four teams from the league's inaugural season in 2001. In the past few years they have both developed veteran rosters that routinely compete for the championship. When the two teams face each other, the games are very hard fought.

The past three years the teams have met in the MLL Championship semi-finals with the winner going on to win the title.

Week 4 marks the first meeting between the teams in 2013 and both teams are ready to face a very familiar foe.

"They have weapons all over the place on offense," Boston head coach Steve Duffy said. "They've got short-stick midfielders that can run the field and score. Defensively they've got some great chemistry and proven leaders. We know [goalie] Kip Turner very well and how well he can play. It's a huge task for us."

Chesapeake head coach Dave Cottle shared similar respect for the Boston organization.

"They have great personnel," he said. "They present some challenges. When we lose it's not always because we've done something wrong, it's that they do something right."

Despite their opposite records this season, expect another slugfest in Week 4.

First of the 2013 First-Round Picks Activated

With the NCAA Tournament reaching the second round and more top teams being eliminated, more rookies have become available to their MLL teams for selection. Ahead of Week 4, the first 2013 first-round pick will be activated.

"We have activated Mike Sawyer for this game," Charlotte Hounds head coach Mike Cerino said. "We have to find ways to get [him] looks off of these other guys. We're excited he's going to join us on this trip to Canada."

Sawyer, out of Loyola, was the No. 8 overall pick in the 2013 MLL Collegiate Draft, the final pick in the first round.

With Sawyer in the fold, the floodgates will soon open with other rookies immersing themselves in the league.

Other coaches are still holding off on their first round picks, however. Cottle said the team intends to give Maryland long-stick midfielder Jesse Bernhardt some rest and Ohio Machine head coach Ted Garber says that No. 1 overall pick Peter Baum is graduating this week and will not be activated for Week 4.

Week 4 Preview

Charlotte Hounds (1-2) at Hamilton Nationals, 11 a.m. Friday


Hamilton hosts Charlotte in a special start time this weekend in order to host their annual School Day Game. Last year the team had their season-high attendance total on the School Day Game.

It's a good opportunity to grow the game and reach out to a new fan base.

"From what I've heard it's a fun crowd because it's made up mostly of school age kids who get a chance to see their first professional lacrosse game," Huntley said. "Going to a lacrosse game on a nice sunny day beats going to a museum or a fort. It's important to us as a team. It's a good chance for us to be impactful with young people."

Chesapeake Bayhawks (3-0) at Boston Cannons (0-3), 7 p.m. Saturday

Broadcast: ESPN3

The Boston Cannons desperately need a win, but whatever the result is, expect a well-played game with some of the best offensive players the league has ever seen.

Look at the names in this game and their place in league history. Ryan Boyle now has the most career points in MLL history. John Grant Jr. is sixth in league history in goals scored while Matt Poskay is seventh. Kyle Dixon is first in league history in career two-point goals and Paul Rabil is third.

Rabil holds the record for most points in a season, Grant Jr. is second on that list, and Ben Rubeor is currently first in the league in points this season with 14 points in only three games.

Offensive talent won't be an issue in this game. Chesapeake head coach Dave Cottle is wary about Boston's ability to strike.

"If you look at the games that have been played, we have given up more than 15 goals in the losses against them," he said. "We have to defend them better. "

New York Lizards (1-2) at Ohio Machine (0-2), 8 p.m. Saturday


The Lizards-Machine game marks the only Week 4 matchup where both teams will be coming off of a loss.

New York fell 12-11 to Hamilton last week on a powerplay two-point goal by Kevin Crowley with five seconds left in the game. Ohio was beaten 14-5 by Chesapeake in just three quarters of play before the game was ended due to lightning.

How both teams respond to tough games was the topic of discussion from the coaches.

"It left a bad taste in their mouth. I don't think it matters who we're playing against ... this game is going to have the attention of our men," Lizards head coach Joe Spallina said. "They're going home where they're more comfortable playing. We're expecting to get a game effort from an emerging Ohio team.

Rochester Rattlers (1-2) at Denver Outlaws (3-0), 9 p.m. Saturday

Broadcast: CBS Sports Network

Week 3's Offensive Player of the Week, Ned Crotty, will go toe-to-toe with Week 3's Defensive Player of the Week, Jesse Schwartzman, when the Rattlers and Outlaws collide.

After a subpar season debut, Ned Crotty scored three goals and added four assists to help lead the Rattlers to win No. 1.

"The first week he was coming off the NLL and I don't think he was acclimated and we played him out of his comfort zone," Rattlers head coach Tim Soudan said. "The next week we made a commitment to play him at attack."

He will have a tall task trying to repeat that performance with Jesse Schwartzman in cage for Denver.

Schwartzman made a league-high 17 saves last weekend and helped keep the Boston Cannons scoreless in the fourth quarter.

It will be fun to see which star prevails.

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