July 28, 2009

Merrick Makes Mark for Grant-less Nationals

by Corey McLaughlin | Special to Lacrosse Magazine Online

Toronto Nationals attackman Merrick Thomson leads the MLL with 40 goals, including five in the Nats' playoff-clinching win over Boston.

With John Grant Jr. sidelined for the past 11 months while recovering from an injured knee -- and his playing status still in question after reinjuring the knee two weeks ago -- the Toronto Nationals have been fortunate to find someone to fill the scoring void left by Grant, the two-time reigning Major League Lacrosse MVP.

Third-year attackman Merrick Thomson is the team's and the league's leading scorer with 40 goals in 10 games. He has 10 more goals than the three players tied for second on the scoring list: Boston's Paul Rabil, Denver's Brendan Mundorf and Chicago's Kevin Leveille. And Thomson is a big reason why Toronto just recently clinched a playoff berth.

Thomson had eight points (5g, 3a) in an 18-17 overtime win against Boston on Saturday night. The victory assured a playoff spot for the Nationals (6-5), and Thomson's individual performance continued a string of high-scoring games.

"He's played great and has been consistent every game," Nationals coach Dave Huntley said this week. "Certainly we knew that Merrick was a real good player, but I don't think he's gotten nearly enough credit for the player that he is. He's not just a guy that throws the ball in an empty net."

Thomson last year was named MLL's most improved player after a 42-goal season in 12 games with the now-defunct New Jersey Pride. He scored nine goals in five games as a rookie with New Jersey coming out of Albany in 2007.

As for Grant, whose MVP title is up for grabs among Thomson and a handful of other worthy candidates, Huntley said the injured star's playing status is week-to-week.

Grant hasn't played a pro game since last August, when he began battling a serious infection that eventually led to the replacement of the ACL in his left knee, which was first surgically repaired in 2004.

Over the past year, Grant has undergone several surgeries on the knee; he had the ACL removed, fought off the infection, had the ligament reinserted, and has rehabbed to the point where he is comfortable playing organized games.

But on July 16, two days before he was to make his MLL return with Toronto against Long Island, Grant reinjured the knee while playing for the Peterborough Lakers of Major Series Lacrosse.

The injury wasn't believed to be serious and wasn't to his ligament, the Peterborough (Ont.) Examiner reported, but Grant was to be held out of Peterborough's first-round playoff series, which the team won Monday. The hope was for Grant to be available for the next series should the team advance, the paper reported.

The Nationals have a bye this week, but Huntley said he didn't know if Grant would be available for Toronto's regular season finale Aug. 8 at home against Denver (8-2), or for the playoffs Aug. 22-23 in Annapolis, Md.

The Nationals will, however, likely activate defensemen Sid Smith and Phil Sanderson from injured reserve before the Denver game. The move provides the defense, anchored by Brodie Merrill, more flexibility as it prepares for the postseason. Joe Cinosky, Jonathan Sullivan, Mike Timms and Nick O'Hara have played well lately, Huntley said.

"We went through a period where we weren't checking," Huntley said. "It's hard for our goalies (Doc Schneider and Brett Queener) to make saves when offensive guys are going to their strengths, but our defense has done a really good job playing to level they are capable of. It's been a huge improvement, and we've been able to generate transition offense because of it."


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