June 25, 2014

MLL Weekly: All-Star Game Means Double-Duty for Some

by Phil Shore | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter

Players like Kyle Harrison will be playing in Thursday's MLL All-Star Game (as a member of Team USA) and then turn around and play a game with Ohio over the weekend. (Bill Danielewski)

The MLL is infamous for a tough schedule. This summer, with the FIL World Championships taking place, making the schedule became an even trickier task.

Giving a week off at the start of the World Championships meant taking a week away somewhere else. Typically the league has a week off for the All-Star game but this year the All-Star game was moved to mid-week – this Thursday night – and MLL teams will be back on the field two nights later for league play.

It puts a little extra work on the table for the coaches in charge of Team MLL.

Dave Cottle is the head coach for Team MLL and not only must he prepare a group of players that hasn't played together before to give Team USA a tough test, but he also has to prepare his two-win Chesapeake Bayhawks for a road game Saturday against the Florida Launch that he called a "must-win" game.

Typically, Cottle has his Bayhawk practices Wednesday night, but he will be in Boston for Team MLL practice.

"We had to move Bayhawk practice to Friday in Florida because of USA team practices," he said. "Our team prep work will start on Friday. Our coaches' prep started Monday."

For Team MLL the workload will be a bit lighter.

"Team MLL will be about installing offense and defenses not really scouting reports," Cottle said.

Cottle's assistant coach for Team MLL is Lizards head coach Joe Spallina. Spallina knows about balancing the planning for two teams, as he is also the head coach of the Stony Brook women's lacrosse team and because of their success the season extends into the start of the MLL season.

He doesn't see planning for the Lizards game and the All-Star game as an issue.

"Luckily this is a slow time of the year with my real job, in terms of looking for recruits. There's always plenty of time to watch film," he said. "It's difficult to watch film on Team USA other than the Champions Challenge, but Coach Cottle and I have been talking. [Lizards assistant coaches Stephen] Duffy and [Keith] Cromwell have helped me get the Lizards ready with matchups and things like that. It's status quo, it's just a little more time on task."

The primary concern for the rest of the coaches in the league isn't directly planning for their games this weekend but knowing what kind of shape their top players will be in when they return to their respective MLL teams.

The players will have practice Wednesday night, a game Thursday night, and then will fly out to meet their teams for Friday night practice before Saturday morning's walkthrough and the Saturday night game (with the exception of the Outlaws and Rattlers, who play in Rochester Sunday afternoon).

"That changes the practice for Friday night," Ohio Machine head coach Bear Davis said. "How hard can guys go? The good news is it affects both teams."

The coaches are used to juggling their rosters with guys missing because of injury, NLL commitments, NCAA coaching commitments, day jobs, and family commitments. The All-Star game being two days before an MLL game doesn't make things easier, but the coaches are prepared for business as usual.

"Each coach would say they're a little disappointed that we have to play a game so close but we'd say we'd do whatever is in the best interest in the league," said Boston Cannons head coach John Tucker. "We have a lot of guys involved. We'll take it as it is. We have plans on dressing some different folks. We've known about this. No excuses Saturday night. We'll take what we get."

CHARLOTTE'S TOUGH TASK

The Hounds come into Week 9 with a disappointing road loss to the New York Lizards. Things won't get easier this week. Even though they play a home game in Charlotte, they take on the Boston Cannons, a team they have yet to beat in their three-year existence.

"Ryan Boyle has been a tough matchup for us since the Hounds started," Charlotte head coach Mike Cerino said. "He's found a way to orchestrate the offense. He's been a tough matchup. We've struggled with [face-off specialist Chris] Eck, he's been tremendous with extra possessions. They continue to find ways to execute."

Cerino does feel that his always evolving and changing roster can hit its stride this week against Boston.

"The fun part is there's a lot of talented players but we like the way our players are buying into their roles," he said. "Players are settling into their roles. That's when you build the elusive chemistry."

SNIDER BACK IN ACTION

Geoff Snider rejoins Charlotte for this weekend's game against Boston and Team USA face-off hopeful Chris Eck. (Kevin P. Tucker)

Speaking of the Hounds, they've activated face-off specialist Geoff Snider for the weekend, which means that we could see some of a potential summer match-up between Snider (Canada) and Boston's Chris Eck (Team USA). Tim Fallon has taken all but a handful of Charlotte's draws this summer, and is right in the middle of the league's pack (95-for-199), but Snider has always provided a spark, like last summer when he joined Charlotte for the playoff push and helped them make a run for the finals.

SCHWARTZMAN SHINING FOR DENVER

One of the players suiting up for Team USA in the All-Star game is Outlaws goalie Jesse Schwartzman. The goalie, already considered one of the best in the league and the world, will be riding the momentum of his best game this season.

In Denver's 9-6 victory over the defending champion (albeit struggling and shorthanded) Chesapeake Bayhawks, Schwartzman made an incredible 28 saves in the game and had a save percentage of 82 percent. He leads the league in record (7-0), goals against average (8.50), saves (114) and save percentage (66.3 percent).

"Jesse is probably the anchor and face of the Denver Outlaws," Denver head coach B.J. O'Hara said. "He's been around and played at a high level. This is my third year with the Outlaws and with Jesse and he's playing as well as I've ever seen. In my opinion he's the top goalie out there right now."

THE GROWTH OF THE MACHINE

In the first two season of professional lacrosse in Ohio, the Machine has won a combined three games. Thanks to a dynamic, young, talented roster this year, though, Ohio is 3-5 and has realistic hopes to earn a spot in the playoffs.

The problem is that the young players haven't experienced much team success with the Machine, if they've even played before this season.

How do they handle the pressure of the playoff chase?

"First you have to learn to compete. I felt like when we came in it was a matter of getting these guys to believe they can compete. We got to that point," Machine head coach Bear Davis said. "Now they know they can compete against everyone. Now the second time around it's to make sure we don't just compete but we finish the job. That's the next hurdle."

Davis said Team USA player Kyle Harrison will be key in that process.

"Having Kyle on our team has been a godsend," he said. "He's up for the challenge. When it hits the fan the guys look to him. He has the calm, cool, collected way about him."


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