June 19, 2013

Evan Washburn's MLL Midseason Awards

By Evan Washburn | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter

Brendan Mundorf is the reigning MVP, and after 28 points in seven games, Evan Washburn thinks he's on the path to repeat in 2013. 
© John Strohsacker/LaxPhotos.com 

We've hit the halfway point of the regular season, with just seven more games for each team before the Championship Weekend field is set. That also means just seven more games for players to make their case for the league's awards handed out at the conclusion of the season. This week I am going to take a break from a full analysis of all eight teams and where they stand in my power rankings and instead hand out some (theoretical) hardware.

For those of you who like lists and rankings, I will still give you my top eight.

  1. Denver Outlaws (7-0)
  2. Hamilton Nationals (5-2)
  3. Chesapeake Bayhawks (4-3)
  4. New York Lizards (3-4)
  5. Charlotte Hounds (3-4)
  6. Boston Cannons (2-5)
  7. Rochester Rattlers (3-4)
  8. Ohio Machine (1-6)

MVP: Brendan Mundorf – Denver Outlaws, Attack

The 2012 MVP has followed up the best season of his career with very similar numbers through the first seven games of the season. Mundorf has 15 goals and a league-leading 13 assists, right on pace for his 59-point total of last season. Factoring in that Mundorf had ankle surgury in the offseason and his team is 7-0, he is my clear choice thus far.

Denver runs a share-first offense that has eight players with double-digit point totals, a fact that has seen Mundorf fly a bit under the radar. Make no mistake though, everything in Denver still runs through No. 2 and the attention he draws is a big reason guys like Chris Bocklet and Drew Snider are having All-Star seasons.

To repeat as MVP in 2013 Mundorf will have to fight off some worthy candidates that include Paul Rabil, Kevin Crowley and Matt Danowski.

Offensive Player of the Year: Kevin Crowley – Hamilton Nationals, Midfield

Despite not needing to dominate the ball to score, Crowley leads the MLL with 32 points and has the highest goal total with 23. For the 2011 top overall pick, this has been a career season. At 6-foot-4 and 200 pounds, Crowley is an incredibly tough matchup for any defender, but where he is most dangerous is off ball, where his timely cuts account for a large volume of his goals. Crowley can also manufacture scores in the transition game by picking up the ground ball in a crowd at one end and taking it the length of the field for a goal.

I have heard a lot of comparisons when it comes to Crowley, most notably with Paul Gait. With an athleticism and skill set that have clearly grown exponentially Crowley could easily be an MVP this season as well. The key moving forward will be maintaining his production with the increased attention being paid to him by opposing defenses, who will now make priority number one stopping a player who is averaging more than four points per game.

Defensive Player of the Year: Lee Zink – Denver Outlaws, Close Defense

Much like his offensive counterpart in Denver, Brendan Mundorf, Lee Zink has picked up right where he left off in 2012, when he was named MLL Defensive Player of the Year. When it comes to locking down an opponent in a one-on-one matchup, there is nobody better in the world right now than Zink.

Lets take a look at his last four matchups:

  • John Grant Jr. – 1 goal
  • Kevin Cunningham – 1 assist
  • Ryan Boyle – 1 man-up goal, 1 assist
  • Ned Crotty – 0 points, 1 shot

Zink admits he is a better defenseman now than he was eight years ago when he entered the league as an All-American out of Maryland. He is more committed to fitness and improving his technique each year. The beauty of Zink's game is that it is very understated. There is no flash or bravado when he shuts down the opposing team's top attackman, and that seems to frustrate opponents even more.

Goalie of the Year: Kip Turner – Chesapeake Bayhawks

Turner is having the best statistical season of his career, leading the MLL in save percentage (61%) and goals against average (9.11), the two most important categories when judging goalies.

Despite taking home this award in 2010, Turner has been one of the more underrated keepers in the league over his past six seasons. After winning a title in 2012 he is playing with a newfound confidence and it has translated onto the field, according to his head coach Dave Cottle. The Bayhawks have hit a rough patch, losing three out of their last four games, but Turner has been the best goalie in each of the six games he has suited up for this season.

Admittedly this will be the tightest race of all the awards this season with Jesse Schwartzman and Brett Queener both having fantastic seasons between the pipes as well. It will most likely come down to which goalie puts up the best numbers on the team with the most wins.

Rookie of the year: Tucker Durkin – Hamilton Nationals, Close Defense

Durkin came into the league with a great reputation as a player. A two-time William C. Schmeisser Award winner, he was selected with the third overall pick in the draft out of Johns Hopkins, where he was a four year starter. I will admit I did not think he would transition this easily.

For a rookie defenseman coming into the league, it often takes time to realize just how physical the professional game is  - and more importantly, what you can get away with. A check in college that would be an immediate flag is usually the price of doing business in the MLL. The other tough fact young defenseman face is that throwing checks will get you beat. Professional attackmen and midfielders are too fast and too smart to even attempt any flashy takeaways.

Durkin has played in only four games and is already Hamilton's best cover man, winning his matchups against some of the league's top attackman. At 6-foot-2 and 210 pounds he has the strength to cover some of the bigger guys, while also maintaining great feet against the quicker players. It is rare that a defenseman takes home the rookie of the year award, because the obvious statistical backup is not there to easily make a case. Of all the first year players I have seen, Durkin has been the most immediately effective.

Coach of the Year: Jim Stagnitta – Denver Outlaws

Going back to last season, the Outlaws have won 14 out of their last 15 games, with the only loss coming in the 2012 championship game to the Bayhawks. The 7-0 start to 2013 season is the best in franchise history. Along the way the organization has made some sweeping changes that initially have caused many to doubt the direction. The one man who was confident has never waivered and has made this team play together is Jim Stagnitta.

The biggest misconception in Major League Lacrosse is that it is a player's league and coaches just need to be there to throw out the balls, organize the practice and take care of travel. Players at this level need coaching and direction. Most importantly, they need to be given some sort of structure. They are all so talented that when given the opportunity to freelance they try to do too much.

Stagnitta has All-World players that play a simple but effective brand of lacrosse and that is why his team is undefeated at the halfway point. There have been some other great coaching performances through seven games, but to this point I can't argue with results.

Evan Washburn, the CBS Sports Network and NBC Sports Network commentator and host of CBS Sports Network's "Inside the MLL," provides weekly MLL power rankings throughout the season for LaxMagazine.comFollow him on Twitter @EvanWashburn.

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