July 10, 2008

July 10, 2008

by Corey McLaughlin, Special to Lacrosse Magazine Online

As the son of a former Johns Hopkins star turned indoor coach and general manager, Kevin Huntley had instant access to the pro game. As a kid, Kevin tagged along with his dad, Dave, to Friday night NLL or MLL practices and Saturday games. Kevin, a future Hopkins star in his own right, would mingle with players and coaches during these times, admiring them.

When Dave Huntley coached the NLL's Baltimore Thunder, two familiar faces around the arena were those of Jesse and John - Jesse Hubbard, a Thunder player, and John Tucker, a fellow coach.

Flash forward 10 years, and Huntley is in the same locker room as those two again. Everyone's faces have aged a bit, but they're still the same people. Jesse is still a player. John is still a coach.

Except Huntley, now 21, is a player, too, not just the coach's son who is happy to be there. Jesse is his teammate with the Los Angeles Riptide. John is his head coach.

"It's a surreal experience," said Huntley, who has scored five goals in each of the Riptide's last two games, both wins. "I'm playing for Coach Tucker, and playing with Jesse Hubbard. You don't really think that you're going to get to that point."

Huntley, a rookie brought to Los Angeles in a trade shortly after being drafted by the San Francisco Dragons, calls Hubbard "one of the all-time greats." When Huntley was growing up, he idolized Hubbard, the 1999 NLL Rookie of the Year with the Thunder and currently the Riptide's leading scorer.

Tucker, who hosted a few backyard BBQs that Huntley attended as a teenager, has always been involved in Huntley's developing lacrosse career - as a kid first, then into high school and college. Huntley played at Baltimore power Calvert Hall. Tucker coached at MIAA rival Loyola. At Hopkins, Huntley was a nationally-recognized attackman, while Tucker was an assistant with the women's team, led by his wife, Janine Tucker.

"I was around him as I much as I was around lacrosse, really," Huntley said.

It's only natural that the relationship continued to the pros.

"I was fortunate to get traded to the team and that he wanted me to play for him," said Huntley, who until this season had never played for Tucker. "He's a great guy and a great coach. I love playing for him. It was always something I wanted to do since I was a little kid. It's pretty neat."

If Huntley is pleased, the Riptide (4-3) is, too. During the last two weeks, Huntley has been the MLL's best rookie performer, tallying 10 goals combined in wins against Rochester and Chicago - all while playing alongside Hubbard, under Tucker. Who would have thought?

Vlahakis: Record-breaker?

Of all the faceoff specialists in Major League Lacrosse history, the Baltimore Bayhawks' Paul Cantabene had the best MLL season of any in 2004, winning 63.3 percent of draws.

Long Island's Peter Vlahakis is on pace to potentially break that record this year.

Vlahakis, who has won 60 percent of faceoffs the last two seasons, stands at 62.8 percent after converting 35 of 48 faceoffs (73 percent) in the Lizards' 26-20 loss last week to New Jersey.

Goalie issues

Long Island this week added some insurance at the goaltending position - or perhaps issued a warning to its current goalies - by picking up undrafted rookie Dan Loftus from Duke. Nick Murtha started the season in goal for the Lizards, but he was pulled from some early games in favor of second-year goalie Matt McMonagle, who must improve his consistency, Long Island coach Jim Mule said last week.

Against New Jersey last Thursday, the Lizards allowed 26 goals, while Murtha and McMonagle made a combined five saves. Ouch.

Rob Scherr, the New Jersey goalie who broke his hand against San Francisco two weeks ago, remains on injured reserve, but could return in time to make his MLL All-Star Game appearance next week.

Last week, Matt Baran had 22 saves in place of Scherr in the Pride's win over Long Island.

Trade Deadline

The MLL trade deadline came and went Tuesday night with relatively little activity, as there were only two minor trades.

The Boston Cannons acquired middie Matt Casey from the Riptide in exchange for a second-round pick in next year's collegiate draft, while New Jersey Pride middie Kevin Boland was dealt to the Washington Bayhawks for a fifth-round pick in the 2009 collegiate draft.

Casey, a seventh-round pick in the 2007 supplemental draft, had 13 goals and three assists in 17 appearances for the Riptide during the last two years.

Boland, a two-time All-American at Johns Hopkins, returns to the Bayhawks, the team that originally drafted him in 2004 when they were based in Baltimore. Boland was picked up by Chicago in the 2006 expansion draft and had his most productive season last summer with New Jersey, compiling 15 goals and eight assists in eight games. This year, though, he played in just two games for the Pride, who loaded up with four midfielders in the May draft.

The Cannons waived attackman Joe Kostolansky to make room for Casey, and the Bayhawks waived midfielder Brian Myers to clear roster space for Boland. Los Angeles added middie Jason Leneau to fill Casey's spot.

MLL Week 9 Preview

Barrage (5-3) at New Jersey Pride (3-4)
Thursday, 7:30 p.m. Eastern
Yurcak Field, Piscataway, N.J.

Is the Barrage back? Or just treading water? A win over Boston last week kept the defending champs in the best-in-the-East discussion, if anyone had kicked them out. But their defense is still somewhat sketchy, allowing 68 shots last week in the win. Goalie Brian Dougherty made 28 saves to keep the Barrage in it against the Cannons. The Pride, meanwhile, scored a season-high 26 goals last week against the Lizards' defense, led by Merrick Thomson with seven goals and nine points. How will New Jersey follow its breakout offensive performance? The Barrage hopes not another one.

Long Island Lizards (5-3) at Boston Cannons (4-3)
Saturday, 7 p.m. Eastern
Harvard Stadium, Cambridge, Mass.

The Lizards maintained their half-game lead over Boston in the Eastern Conference, but only because the Cannons lost last weekend, too. Nevertheless, these two teams are very likely to be playoff participants come August. This is a big one for both. Game-within-the-game alert: Nicky Polanco and the Long Island defense versus the multi-talented Cannons offense (Paul Rabil, Mikey Powell, John Christmas, etc.). Last time they met, the Lizards beat the Rabil-less Cannons in overtime, 20-19.

Washington Bayhawks (3-4) at Rochester Rattlers (4-3)
Saturday, 7:30 p.m. Eastern
Paetec Park, Rochester, N.Y

Both teams had last week off, so they should be fresh. Both are also still alive for postseason berths in the Eastern Confernece, but are heading in the wrong direction. Washington has lost its last three (its last win was against these Rattlers on June 7), and Rochester has dropped three of its last four. One team has to reverse it here. Interesting note: The first 3,000 fans in attendance will receive a free cowbell. No word on if Rochester is also offering sticks to hit them with. If so, it will probably be noisy.

Denver Outlaws (6-2) at Los Angeles Riptide (4-3)
Saturday, 6:30 p.m. Pacific
The Home Depot Center, Carson, Calif.

Here it is: A meeting of the best in the West. The Outlaws and Riptide have separated enough from the Machine and Dragons to ensure that the battle for Western Conference supremacy features just two teams. This is the last time Denver and L.A. will meet before, possibly, the playoffs. Last time out, the Outlaws won, 16-13. A key battle will be at the `X,' where Los Angeles faceoff specialist Anthony Kelly and Denver's Geoff Snider are both hovering around 48 percent this season.

"We're going to have to neutralize Snider and make him average," said the Riptide's Huntley, who will shoot against former Hopkins teammate, Denver goalie Jesse Schwartzman.

Chicago Machine (2-6) at San Francisco Dragons (1-6)
Saturday, 7 p.m. Pacific
Spartan Stadium, San Jose, Calif.

What's to say here except these are two young teams whose best days will come next season or the year after? For now, they play each other. There's talent all over the place on both sides, but much of it, like San Francisco's midfield, is still getting adjusted to the pros. Chicago's Kevin Leveille is the best offensive player in this game. San Francisco's Eric Martin is the best defender. That could be an interesting matchup if they get together.

Corey McLaughlin covers Major League Lacrosse for Lacrosse Magazine Online. Check back to LMO each Thursday and over the weekends for more MLL coverage, or send feedback to Corey at corey.mclaughlin@gmail.com.
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