By Derek McLean
Being taken as the 2
nd overall pick in the 2008 draft, expectations have been high for Long Island Lizards attackman Matt Danowski. So far in his young career, he has tallied at least 31 points every season since entering the league. Starting his third season in Major League Lacrosse, Danowski is expected to once again become a dangerous offensive force, with a team, which has post season aspirations for the second straight season.
However following a difficult 16-8 season opening loss to the Chesapeake Bayhawks in Annapolis, some skeptics doubt the Lizards potential. “I’m not too concerned,” says Danowski. “Everything we didn’t do well, it’s very uncharacteristic.”
Danowski feels that sometimes the scoreboard does not definitively show the abilities or performance of a particular unit. “We played well offensively. We just didn’t have the ball very much.” According to Danowski the Lizards offense has actually improved since last season, “Overall I think were above and beyond where we were last year as a team offensively.” He explains however, “We need to get better as a team offensively.” The need to improve is especially essential in a six team league, full of stacked, all-star caliber rosters.
A big reason for the Lizards lack of offensive ball control last Saturday was due to their inability to stay away from penalties. The Lizards finished the game against the Bayhawks with 10 penalties for 26 minutes. Three of the penalties were called for unsportsmanlike conduct. “Well it was addressed during the game, it was addressed after the game, and I’m sure it will be addressed again at practice tonight,” says Danowski. “They were stupid penalties. There was no need for them.” The Lizards need to stay out of the box, will be essential against the Outlaws in Denver Saturday night. The Lizards and Outlaws had a series of fights and altercations while playing against each other last year.
A major area in which the Lizards struggled with last week, was in face-offs. Lizard’s midfielder Greg Gurenlian won only 8 of 24 draws against the Bayhawks. “I think faceoff wise is going to be a big test for us,” says Danowski. But not all the blame can be put on Gurenlian, who went head to head with face-off specialist Alex Smith, who Danowski describes as, “by far the best in the league.” He explains the Lizards will have a more real test against the Outlaw’s Shane Walterhoefer, who won 17 of 30 draws against the Cannons last week. According to Lizards General Manager Casey Hilpert, the team will be starting veteran all- star face- off specialist Peter Vlahakis.
Defensively, the Lizards struggled last week. The team got dominated in the possession battle by the Bayhawks, allowing 16 goals on 31 shots. “Defensively we need to be on the same page,” says Danowski. He explains that it was the little mistakes that failed the team on defense, such as not pressuring the man in the slot and struggling to clear the ball out of their own end. However he says, “Little mistakes in this league get magnified and they turn into goals.”
Some may point part of the blame to Lizards goalie Drew Adams, who was making his first Major League Lacrosse start. However Danowski says the loss was not his fault. “I thought [Adams] played great last week, he was seeing shots from 10 yards,” he says. “It’s his first game and we didn’t help him out by playing great defense.” Adams made 18 saves in the game.
Before Danowski was drafted into Major League Lacrosse, he used to play for Duke University with Lizards teammate, Zach Greer. “It’s always great playing with Zach,” he says. However because of their notorious college chemistry, teams target the duel, preventing them from setting each other up the way they did in the past. “It’s a little more difficult for him to get the ball,” says Danowski. “So it probably won’t be me, who will [be] getting a ton of assists this year, because they will know.” In result of their Duke history together, Danowski and Greer will rely on their teammates to help feed them the ball. “I need to just focus on getting to the goal first and moving it,” he says. “Zach maybe gets open on the second pass, not necessarily from me.”
The scheduling at the start of the season has been tough for the Lizards. Playing their first 2 games on the road, is not an easy way to gain early season momentum. While Danowski would prefer to play a home game in one of the first couple games, he is not dwelling on this fact. “Going to Annapolis is a great place to play and going to Denver, is also a great place to play,” he says. “Denver always gets a good crowd, so it’s always exciting to play there.” The Lizards will play their first home game on May 27. They play in Denver this Saturday at 9pm EST, live on ESPN 3.