June 29, 2013

MLL Week 8: Fresh Faces Helping Cannons Get On Track

by Phil Shore | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter

After a tough start to the season, Ryan Boyle and the Boston Cannons are back in the mix thanks to some rookies in key roles.
© Lee Weissman

The city of Boston has a long history of sports success and the Cannons are no exception, having taken home the 2011 Major League Lacrosse championship and serving as runner-up last season, in addition to being a perennial title contender before that. That's why their slump at the start of the season — a 1-6 start that is one of the worst in franchise history — was so surprising and cost Steve Duffy his job as head coach.

Since replacing Duffy with John Tucker, things have turned around for Boston, which is getting big contributions from its crop of rookies and has won two straight to place itself squarely in the playoff race.

"Each of our rookies has done a great job in their respective roles," Tucker said. "We're still relying on our veterans to make a difference but our young guys have alleviated some issues we had."

With the likes of Paul Rabil, Matt Poskay, Ryan Boyle, Kevin Buchanan, Kyle Sweeney and Jordan Burke on the roster, the team is full of veteran talent that has played together for several years making it tough for rookies to break through. But the losses this year proved that something needed to change and the newcomers are shining with the opportunity.

Will Manny is the gem of the class of 2013. Cannons fans were eagerly awaiting the debut of the UMass graduate and he has not disappointed, scoring six goals with four assists, putting him sixth on the team points list already. He is shooting at a 42.9 percent clip and was named the Rookie of the Week for his five-point performance against the New York Lizards.

"Manny has not shied away from the competition," Tucker said. "He's playing like a veteran now."

Cameron Flint, Boston's first-round pick, has been a big contributor in recent weeks, providing much-needed depth and versatility to the midfield. He has three goals and two assists in three games.

"Flint is a do-it-all guy and he is very versatile," Tucker said. "He can check, defend, get balls off the ground, feed. He's an old school type middie."

The other big addition to the team's roster is Loyola's Scott Ratliff. The first pick in the second round is an long-stick midfielder by trade and scored his first MLL goal in Week 8 against the Lizards to go with an assist, but has also played close defense to help toughen the team's back line.

"Scott Ratliff transitioned himself well," Tucker said. "We asked him to play close defense. He has a tough mindset. The guys he's played defensively have had a tough time on the scoreboard."

Last week Ratliff guarded New York's Tommy Palasek, who had a hat-trick and two assists in the Lizard's early-season win over Boston. This time around, he was held to just a single score.

These three young Cannons along with midfielder Lee Coppersmith have all proved they belong in the league and have given the Cannons new life. Tucker could not be more pleased with how quickly and seamlessly they fit in.

"If you look at those guys they are very quiet and calm. Part of the benefit is that they know their role," Tucker said. "They come into a veteran locker room and take a backseat. But on the field they play like veterans. We feel good about their presence. They've been a joy to watch."

MLL veterans finally getting deserved All-Star nod

With only eight MLL teams, it is a serious challenge to even make an MLL roster, let alone have a standout season that warrants All-Star status. With rosters full of former All-American players, being the best is truly difficult, even for some of the top players in the sport.

The rookies over the past couple years seem to be getting better and better. Second-year players Chris Bocklet, Drew Snider and Steele Stanwick and rookie Rob Pannell all have been great additions to the league and are deserving of their first All-Star selections this season.

There are a couple of veterans that are also finally getting their long-overdue first trip to the All-Star game: New York's Greg Gurenlian and Chesapeake's Kip Turner. Both play specialty positions, which makes it even thougher as only two face-off specialists and four goalies get selected. But Gurenlian and Turner have been considered some of the best at their respective positions for years.

Last year, Gurenlian had the most faceoff wins, best winning percentage and most ground balls in a season in the Lizards history. This year, he once again leads the league in faceoff winning percentage with a healthy 62.1 percent win rate.

"He puts a lot into it. He's a hard worker," Lizards head coach Joe Spallina said. "He's persevered. He's done a great job for us. I'm happy for him I know he was disappointed last year."

Turner, who won Goaltender of the Year in 2010 and his first MLL championship last season, is second in goals against average, saves and save percentage and anchors a Chesapeake defense that is second in the league in goals allowed.

"I thought there was only one game where I didn't think kip played as well as he could," Bayhawks head coach Dave Cottle said. "We wouldn't trade Kip for any goalie in the league. Make no mistake, this guy has rescued us a little bit."

It's about time these two successful veterans were showcased in the league's All-Star game. As the cliché goes, it's better late than never.

Ohio Machine make coaching change

With a combined record of 3-19 in two years of existence and a 1-7 mark so far in 2013, the Machine have been languishing in last place since they entered the league. For fans and management, that just wasn't good enough, and the team made its move, firing head coach Ted Garber — the second coach to get the ax this season — and hired Bear Davis to replace him.

Davis has a tall task in front of him, but he plans on taking it one practice at a time and chipping away at success.

"It's almost like youth league. You have to put a lot of stuff in an hour and a half practice then go play a game," said Davis, who was head coach at Robert Morris in Pittsburgh for seven years before taking his current position at Archbishop Spalding (Md.). "You can dial in on five things and let's correct those and game plan for those."

The Machine's record may not be flattering but they have some talented individuals, including 2013 All-Stars Steele Stanwick and Kyle Hartzell.

"I think [the job] for our staff now is to go in and put these guys in the best possible position to be successful, really defining what their role is within the team. My goal is to perfect that role and then expand that role," Davis said. "There's some guys we can build around."

Week 9 Preview

Chesapeake Bayhawks (4-4) at Hamilton Nationals (5-2)

7 p.m. Saturday, broadcast via YouTube.com/MLL

In Week 5, Hamilton defeated Chesapeake in overtime, 12-11, one of three overtime losses for the Bayhawks. Both coaches anticipate another close one this weekend. "It's going to be a close game and a battle to the end," Nationals coach Dave Huntley said. "I'm not overly concerned with margin of victory."

The margin of victory may not matter at the end of the day but Bayhawks coach Dave Cottle knows that the number of goals scored will make a difference. "If we score 11 goals were probably going to lose," he said. "I thought we turned the corner last week and hopefully we'll continue to improve."

Standing in the way of Chesapeake's offensive hopes is a Hamilton defense that is third in the league in goals allowed and features the Week 8 Defensive Player of the Week, Tucker Durkin. The rookie has played in five games this season, has picked up nine ground balls and has been very tough to get past on the crease. Huntley gave him some very high praise.

"[Tucker] is a great player," he said. "We were very fortunate to get him. He hunts his check and goes after it frankly in a way I've never seen before. He reminds me of his college coach, Dave Pietramala."

Boston Cannons (3-5) at Ohio Machine (1-7)

7:30 p.m. Saturday, broadcast via ESPN3

The Cannons have struggled to come up with wins this year, but it does seem like a season of milestones for the Boston veterans. Ryan Boyle became the MLL all-time points leader, Matt Poskay is three games away from the most games played in Cannons history and now Paul Rabil is three points away from breaking Cannons career points record.

Rabil is currently second in the league in points this season, having totaled at least two points in all but one game so far, which would tie the record if he can manage it against Ohio. Last week against the Lizards he scored four goals and added an assist.

The Cannons will be looking for a win and Rabil showed in Week 7 that he'll sacrifice points (he had zero) for a victory. With that said, it's not often that the team has success when the reigning Offensive Player of the Year isn't on the scoreboard.

Charlotte Hounds (4-4) at Denver Outlaws (8-0)

10 p.m. Saturday, broadcast on CBS Sports Network

A win in this Week 9 matchup would tie the Outlaws with the 2005 Chesapeake Bayhawks for the best start to a season in MLL history. If the Hounds win, they will be above .500 for the first time in franchise history, but records and history aren't on either team's mind. Past the midpoint of the season, both are looking at their chances at the playoffs coming up in August.

"I haven't even heard anybody mention the fact that we haven't lost yet," Outlaws head coach Jim Stagnitta said. "What's important is that you make it to final four weekend and that you win the last game you play in. 9-0 is great but it's not what our guys are focused on."

The Hounds aren't perfect, but they are one of the top four teams in the standings and the team is excited about the potential for a playoff spot in its second year of existence.

"We're pretty darn excited to be eight games into this and be No. 3 or 4 in line for the playoffs. We're not surprised but happy to be here," Charlotte head coach Mike Cerino said. "Whatever our record needs to be to be a playoff team, I'm interested in that."

Which team will walk out of Denver with that coveted victory?

New York Lizards (3-5) at Rochester Rattlers (3-5)

3 p.m. Sunday, broadcast on CBS Sports Network

When the Lizards acquired Mark Matthews, David Earl, Stephen Berger, Jack Reid and Steven Waldeck this offseason, to go along with rookies Rob Pannell and JoJo Marasco, expectations were for the Lizards to improve from semi-finalist to potential league champion.

At 3-5, there is a long way to go to meet those expectations.

Ever since Week 2, New York head coach Joe Spallina has had to answer the question, "What's wrong?" With Max Seibald healthy, all the rookies and NLL players in-line and some time to play together to work out chemistry issues the answer leading to Week 9 was an important observation.

"It's a work in progress. We're getting to certain points of a game, and every game you got pockets of adversity," he said. "Instead of playing our way out of it as a team we're trying to dodge our way out of it or shoot our way out of it. All of a sudden you have a guy trying to beat three guys. Those are effort plays but not team plays."

Will they pull it together against Rochester, or will the Rattlers continue the Lizards struggles and end their own two-game losing streak?

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