August 18, 2010
Boston erased an eight-goal deficit to defeat Long Island, 17-14, at Harvard Stadium in Cambridge, Mass. Lizards midfielder Stephen Peyser (1g) evades a Cannons ride. © Bryce Vickmark
Boston erased an eight-goal deficit to defeat Long Island, 17-14, at Harvard Stadium in Cambridge, Mass. Lizards midfielder Stephen Peyser (1g) evades a Cannons ride. © Bryce Vickmark

McLaughlin: Four Teams, Eight Questions and One Steinfeld Cup

by Corey McLaughlin | Lacrosse Magazine Online Staff

Will Denver goalie Jesse Schwartzman have the hot hand this weekend? The Outlaws play the Long Island Lizards, an opponent they've dominated, in the first MLL semifinal Saturday.

© John Strohsacker/LaxPhotos.com

Can one player, Paul Rabil, win his third title of the year? Can either of Major League Lacrosse's top-drawing franchises -- the Denver Outlaws or Boston Cannons -- take its first MLL championship?

Those and other questions will be answered this weekend as MLL Championship Weekend descends on Navy-Marine Corps Stadium in Annapolis, Md.
 
Four teams have a shot at a championship. The homestanding Chesapeake Bayhawks face top-seeded Boston at noon Saturday (ESPN2) in the day’s first semifinal. The second semi pits Denver versus the Long Island Lizards at 3 p.m. (espn3.com).

The MLL’s 10th season ends with the championship game 1 p.m. Sunday (ESPN2).
 
Each team has its own storylines and subplots. Here are eight questions to think about before, during or maybe even after the games.
 
1. Can Denver finally break through?
 
Since entering the MLL in 2006, the Outlaws have lost in the championship game three out of the last four years and made the semifinals the other season. The good news? No team that’s beaten Denver in that span -- Toronto, Rochester or Philadelphia -- is in the playoffs (or in the case of Rochester and Philadelphia, even in the league anymore).
 
Denver is the league’s strongest franchise, attendance-wise, but the Steinfeld Cup has proven elusive. After beating the Machine, 18-8, to end the regular season, Outlaws coach and general manager Brian Reese prophesized, “Every team who has won a championship has won their last game of the regular season.” Denver had lost all of its previous regular season finales since 2007, and ended that streak. Brendan Mundorf (22g, 16a), Max Seibald (20g, 8a, 22 GBs) and defenseman of the year finalist Lee Zink now look to lead them and reverse playoff history.
 
2. Will Paul Rabil win the Triple Crown?
 
In this context, the Triple Crown is winning an indoor NLL title, an FIL world title and the MLL championship. Rabil, the 111-mile-per-hour man, took care of the first two conditions, first with the Washington Stealth in May, and second with Team USA a few weeks ago in Manchester, England, where he was named tournament MVP.

If Boston wins, Rabil will be perfect in championship games for 2010. And the Cannons will have their first MLL crown.

Denver Outlaws defenseman Eric Martin, Rabil's teammate with the Stealth and U.S., could also complete the feat.

3. Will Long Island ever beat Denver?
 
It’s a simple question, but the Lizards have never beaten the Outlaws since Denver entered the league. They’ll play in Saturday’s second semifinal. Long Island is 0-7 all-time in the series. Five of the losses have come in the last two regular seasons, since the league contracted to six teams and teams began to play more often. The Lizards do have one thing going for them though: They’ve never lost to Denver in the playoffs. Of course, they haven’t played them either.
 
The Lizards are on a league-best five-game winning streak, with transition offense the catalyst. Nicky Polanco and Brian Spallina are figures on the Long Island defense, but the addition of long stick Parker McKee in the draft and Ricky Pages and John Orsen being healthy the last five games has allowed for a more consistent defensive group to kickstart transition.
 
4. Does Chesapeake’s midseason coaching change pay off?
 
One could argue that team president Brendan Kelly’s decision to take over as coach in mid-July benefitted the team already. The Bayhawks overcame the four-game losing streak they were on when former coach John Tucker resigned and qualified for championship weekend, which is being held in their home venue. That’s good news for fans, players and coaches alike. Winning a title, however, would be an even better way to end Kelly’s first season as owner.
 
Sharpshooting Kyle Dixon gets most of the defensive focus, and warranted, but midfielder Peet Poillon has had a breakout year. After spending most of his 2009 rookie season on the Boston Cannons’ practice squad, his 41 regular-season points are MLL’s third-highest total. And don’t forget Chesapeake faceoff specialist Alex Smith, tops at his craft.
 
5. Can Matt Poskay’s wonderful ride continue?
 
The Boston attackman and MLL Offensive Player of the Year led the league with 52 points and 45 goals a year after undergoing testicular cancer surgery and radiation treatments. His 45 goals are a whopping 20 more than second-place Matt Danowski of the Lizards.
 
Poskay switched to attack from midfield this season and has consistently found open space on the crease. Being on a team that features Paul Rabil, last year’s Offensive Player of the Year, a bounty of other talented midfielders and Ryan Boyle (7g, 25a) have helped his cause.
 
6. Tim Goettelmann, riding off into the sunset?
 
The veteran Lizard attackman has been around for all 10 MLL seasons and became the league’s all-time leading scorer this summer, reaching 248 goals to pass Jesse Hubbard for first place during the fourth quarter of the Lizards’ last home game July 31.
 
Goettelmann had said this season would likely be his last in the MLL year, but after a fun summer, recently said he’s unsure. He’s the league’s two-time sportsman of the year and donated all of his $12,000 salary this season to a children’s hospital in New York. Goettelmann was with the Lizards when they won the league’s first title in 2001 and also won in 2003.
 
7. Which goalie will step up most -- Schwartzman, Turner, Garrity or Adams?
 
A goalie can swing the outcome of game no matter how well or poorly the rest of the team is playing. The Cannons’ Kip Turner was named MLL Goalkeeper of the Year after a string of impressive regular season performances, but the other three -- Denver’s Jesse Schwartzman, Chesapeake’s Chris Garrity and the Lizards’ second-year pro Drew Adams -- are top of the line at their position as well. Adams has the best goals against average in the league (11.53). Who will get hot and stay hot?
 
We’ve seen goalies take over before, a la Brett Queener’s electrifying 10-save, one-assist second-half performance for Rochester in the 2008 title game win over Denver. Turner even had 23 saves in Boston’s semifinal game last year. But the Cannons lost to Denver, 11-10.
 
8. Who comes up clutch?
 
Seven of the last nine championship weekend games were decided by one goal, so if recent history holds, a big-time play will be needed at the end of at least one game this weekend. Last year, all three games were won by one goal and Shawn Williams scored the final two in the Toronto Nationals’ 10-9 win over Denver in the final.
 
This year I’ll go ahead and say watch Brendan Mundorf of Denver. He had eight points during 2009 championship weekend and led Team USA in scoring at the world championships in July.


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