August 23, 2009

Nats Nab MLL Title in First Year as Franchise

by Matt DaSilva | Lacrosse Magazine Online Staff | Game Blog (Twitter)

Toronto Nationals head coach Dave Huntley receives a celebratory shower from Nats midfielders Gavin Prout (left) and Jordan Hall after Sunday's 10-9 win over the Denver Outlaws in the MLL championship game.

© John Strohsacker/LaxPhotos.com

ANNAPOLIS, Md. -- When it comes to their stake in the global groundswell of lacrosse, Americans and Canadians go at it like Darwin and the Catholic Church.

"It's Canada's game," the cover of the Toronto Nationals postseason media guide reads. "It's our game."

Why can't it be both?

For the second straight season, a team comprised predominantly of Canadian players reached the pinnacle of American field lacrosse, as the Nationals defeated the Denver Outlaws, 10-9, in the Major League Lacrosse championship game Sunday at Navy Marine-Corps Memorial Stadium.

But it was an unlikely tandem -- Team USA's Joe Walters and Team Canada's Shawn Williams -- that made it happen.

With 45 seconds remaining in the back-and-forth affair (neither team led by more than two goals the entire game), Walters carried around the back of the cage on an invert, drew a late slide and dumped a crease feed on Williams, who deposited the game-winning goal from point-blank range.

"I was going to pop off and isolate. It was a little freelance at the end," Walters said. "When you play with these guys, they'll catch anything you throw at them."

"These guys" are the same Canadians whom Walters faced and lost to as a member of the U.S. national team in 2006. He and Nats' teammate Joe Cinosky are among the 40 players on the 2010 U.S. men's training team.

Williams, who also scored the game-tying goal four minutes earlier, could be Walters' foe next year at the world championships in Manchester, England.

Williams, 35, mentored Walters when Walters made his National Lacrosse League debut this year for the Rochester Knighthawks.

Walters, 24, returned the favor this summer, as Williams wanted to take advantage of the MLL's expansion into the Canadian market.

"He's a great young kid; I'm a wily vet," Williams said. "I taught him how to play box, and he taught me a little something about field."

Despite Toronto's offensive prowess, the Nationals had trouble getting untracked against the Outlaws' quick-sliding defense. Denver scored four unanswered goals in the second quarter to turn a 3-1 deficit into a 5-3 lead. The Nats went scoreless for nearly eight minutes before Jeff Zywicki potted a goal with 1:59 remaining in the first half.

Down 5-4 at halftime, Toronto head coach Dave Huntley made a bold move, inserting goalkeeper Brett Queener -- who broke his hand during warm-ups before the Nationals' semifinal victory Saturday over Long Island -- for rookie starter Doc Schneider.

Outlaws head coach and general manager Brian Reese said he saw Queener at the teams' hotel Saturday night in Annapolis and that he expected the goalkeeper to play Sunday.

"He said his hand was feeling better," Reese said.

Queener's coast-to-coast acrobatics helped the now-defunct Rochester Rattlers eviscerate Reese's Outlaws in the 2008 championship game. Despite Schneider's strong first-half showing (12 saves), Queener raised the roof again, this time with just one good hand.

Queener made 11 second-half saves and came out of the cage on numerous occasions with wonton disregard for his broken hand.

"I talked to him before the game and asked him if he could go," Walters said. "He said, ‘Yeah, I'm going to give it a shot.' I was like, ‘We need you.' He showed a lot of heart."

The Outlaws' offense struggled to respond to the Nationals' defensive pressure, starting with Queener, down the stretch.

"We made some dumb plays in the fourth quarter," Reese said. "We just couldn't find a rhythm on offense."

Toronto came back to tie the game twice in the third quarter and twice in the fourth quarter. It wasn't until Walters found Williams with 45 seconds left that the Nationals took the lead for good.

Geoff Snider struggled against Outlaws rookie Shane Walterhoefer -- Walterhoefer went 14-for-22 -- but dug out a critical faceoff to wingman Brodie Merrill. The Nats called timeout with 31 seconds remaining, successfully killed the clock and left Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium littered with beer cans in their celebratory heap.

"It's laid back and it's fun," Williams said of the MLL. "Lacrosse is lacrosse."

That's something fans from both sides of the border could appreciate Sunday.

News and Notes

Nationals attackman Merrick Thomson was named the MLL Championship Weekend MVP. Thomson scored six goals in two playoff games -- including the free-for-all game-winning goal in Saturday's semifinal for which he was credited... Following the game, Outlaws midfielder Jeff Sonke declined interviews and isolated himself outside Denver's locker room. Line mate Josh Sims, meanwhile, lingered on the field to sign the last autographs. Both veterans are contemplating retirement after becoming fixtures in the Colorado lacrosse community. "He's already decided [to retire], I haven't," Sims said. "I was looking forward to bring some of the younger guys up and watch them go out and dominate. It'd be nice to see them take over..." The announced attendance for Sunday's championship game was 7,003


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