July 25, 2013

MLL Week 12: Is 2013 The End in Rochester?

by Phil Shore | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter

Despite battling for a playoff spot, the Rattlers have been drawing less for home games than any other squad in the league, including hosting unbeaten Denver last week.
©Rich Barnes 

With the completion of their home slate in 2013, is the Rattlers final game in Rochester behind them?

Rochester played in three neutral site games this season (two of which counted as home games), fueling speculation since the winter that a Rattlers move away from Rochester could be on the horizon.

Head coach Tim Soudan was not optimistic about staying in Rochester when asked about if the week 11 Denver loss might be their last game in the city on the weekly MLL Coaches Conference Call.

"For me I hope not. But I don't think it's looking pretty good," he said. "We have some interested parties in Rochester to keep the thing here but I don't know from a league standpoint if they're going to be able to get a deal done. I don't even know if they're negotiating."

The Rattlers are currently the only team to have completed their entire home schedule this season. They are last in the league in average attendance (1,991) and despite playing more home games than anyone, there are only two teams with smaller total attendance figures (13,943).

Only 1,031 fans attended Rochester's Week 11 game, despite still being in the playoff hunt and facing the undefeated Denver Outlaws.

The team's two highest attended games – by far – were the "home" opener against the Bayhawks in St. Petersburg, FL (3,940) and the June 7 game against Boston in Kennesaw, GA (4,417).

"There hasn't been a whole lot of marketing done in town," Soudan said. "You don't get the same feel as when you go to Denver or Charlotte. You're not getting that community feel."

The players are taking notice as well.

Denver's Jesse Schwartzman and Jeremy Boltus both tweeted this weekend about the lack of fans in the stands. Even before the season, goalie John Galloway wasn't sure what the future held for the Rattlers in Rochester.

"We'll absolutely see. We would love to stay in Rochester. We love the fans there. We love being able to be in upstate and proud of that label" he said. "But at the same time if the league decides that if they deem it would be good for everybody to expand to different markets then we'd be happy to hear it. We're just lucky we can all play. As long as we have a home we'll be happy."

It wouldn't be the first time a version of the Rattlers moved, either. The current Hamilton Nationals moved away from Rochester to Toronto after the 2008 season.

The looming situation in Rochester, according to Soudan, isn't an excuse for the uneven play from the team this season but it could have an effect.

"It hasn't been the easiest for travel or practicing," he said. "It's not an excuse but a lot of things weigh on people's minds."

Two teams can punch playoff tickets in Week 12

Both the Hamilton Nationals and Chesapeake Bayhawks can clinch playoff berths in Week 12. The coaches for both teams weren't outwardly concerned with that this weekend, however.

The Nationals control their own destiny. With a victory over the Boston Cannons, Hamilton can reach the playoffs a year after finishing with the second-worst record in the league. A Charlotte Hounds loss would also get them in.

Nationals coach Dave Huntley was rather blunt when discussing his team's chances of earning a playoff spot with a win.

"Our goal's been to get to eight wins because that's usually what gets in. By my calculations we're in, but with tiebreakers we'll go with that," he said. "We need to get a win this weekend and we will."

The Bayhawks need a little extra help. They can clinch a playoff berth with a victory over the undefeated Denver Outlaws – easier said than done – and they also need either Boston or Charlotte to lose.

Bayhawks coach Dave Cottle has higher expectations for his team than just the playoffs though.

"We're fortunate enough that the teams we're competing with that we get a chance to play them head to head. If we defeat Charlotte and we defeat Rochester than we're not worried about it," he said. "Some teams want to get to the playoffs. We want to win a championship."

Timmy Fallon helping Charlotte's face-off game

Last season the four playoff teams featured the best face-off specialists in the sport with some of the best winning percentages in the season. There was Greg Gurenlian of the Lizards (60.2%), Chris Eck of the Cannons (58.5), Anthony Kelly of the Outlaws (53.6) and Adam Rand of the Bayhawks (53.6).

Charlotte had the worst face-off winning-percentage in the league at 36.4 percent. In the second round of the 2013 Supplemental Draft, the Hounds selected specialist Timmy Fallon to help with the team's woes at the X.

Fallon is only winning 43.4 percent of his face-offs this year. Ideally specialists want to win more than 50 percent of their draws, but not only is Fallon's winning percentage improving Charlotte's total from last year, he also leads the league in ground balls (93). He's two ground balls away from breaking into the top 10 for most ground balls in a season.

His best trait doesn't show up on the box score though. Fallon is able to tie up even the league's best specialists, wear them down for long stretches of time, and even if he doesn't win he doesn't allow many fast-break opportunities for the opponents.

"I think the best thing to say about Tim is he's completely egoless. His entire focal point is giving the Hounds a chance to win," Hounds coach Mike Cerino said. "He'll communicate with us what he's able to get and what he's not able to get."

The Hounds are still very much in the hunt for a playoff spot and even the slightest improvements Fallon has provided them are paying dividends.


Chesapeake Bayhawks (7-4) at Denver Outlaws (11-0)

2 p.m. Saturday; Broadcast: ESPN2

After weeks of downplaying questions about the team's impressive, undefeated record Outlaws head coach Jim Stagnitta finally has admitted the thought of a perfect season has crossed his mind, after weeks of telling the media that the team was just focused on a game at a time and sewing up a playoff berth. Now that the playoff spot has been earned, Stagnitta said that playing for a perfect season was an option.

"You can't help but think about it sitting here at 11-0," he said. "You talk to players about maybe limiting some of their playing time and I keep getting the same answer, 'Coach we want to compete.'"

It was a definite change of pace from Stagnitta, but he reiterated that, while a perfect season would be nice, the organization's first title would be nicer.

"There's a shot. Is it our ultimate goal? No," he said. "It's not as important we win the next game as it is to win the last game."

Denver could tie the record for most wins in a season with a victory over the Bayhawks, who currently have the record of 12 wins in 2005.

Rochester Rattlers (4-7) at New York Lizards (3-8)

6:30 p.m. Saturday; Broadcast: CBS Sports Network

There haven't been many positive things happening for the Lizards since their Week 1 victory over the Boston Cannons. The playoffs are all but out of reach and it caused the team to trade fan favorite Stephen Berger to the Cannons at the league's trade deadline.

Lizards head coach Joe Spallina said the team was a seller and getting a first-round collegiate draft pick was good value for Berger. Along with that pick, however, was rookie Stephen Mock. The attackman was teammates at Cornell with Lizards rookie and many were intrigued if their chemistry would lead to more success at the pro level.

Since the trade Mock has proved he is more than just a throw-in in the Berger deal and been one of only a few bright spots for New York.

"He's been a great pick-up," Spallina said. "He's got four goals for a rookie. We've been thrilled with everything he's given us."

Boston Cannons (5-6) at Hamilton Nationals (8-3)

7 p.m. Saturday; Broadcast: YouTube.com/MLL

After a four-game winning streak, the Cannons lost their first game with John Tucker as the head coach, losing 13-12 in overtime to the rival Bayhawks.

Tucker noted that the team made its fair share of mistakes but that he wasn't overly disappointed with his guys, who have come from bottom of the standings to controlling their playoff fate.

"We had chances to win at the end and we made mistakes," he said. "I was really proud of our guys and the fight they showed."

As several coaches choose to point out every week, though, there isn't room for moral victories in MLL. The Cannons loss puts them into a tie for fourth place with the Charlotte Hounds. With only three games left, every game is crucial to improve their place in the standings.

Tucker won't allow his team to rest on the four-game win streak or get too down about the tough loss.

"We really need to forget about that quickly," he said. "We have no time to dwell on the past or the future."

Charlotte Hounds (5-6) at Ohio Machine (1-10)

7 p.m. Saturday; Broadcast: ESPN3

The story for the Hounds all season has been the impressive play from a slew of rookies. First-year players like Mason Poli, Matt White, Mike Sawyer and Jake Tripucka have all made a difference in Charlotte's playoff push.

Despite only having one win this season, the future is still bright for an equally young Ohio team that has had to grow up quite a bit this season.

"These guys are all forced in to veteran type roles as rookies and second year players. Different guys are stepping up and taking that role and doing a good job with it," Machine head coach Bear Davis said. "That's what we have to build upon, taking those experiences and building on them."

One rookie who has stood out is attackman Logan Schuss. He leads all rookies in goals scored (20) and is third amongst MLL rookies in points (23). He was named Week 11 Rookie of the Week thanks to his three goals and one assist against the Hamilton Nationals.

"Logan plays with a confidence that's not seen in a rookie," Davis said.

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