7/29/10 6:00 AM
By Derek McLean
The (5-5) Long Island Lizards are set to play their final home game of the 2010 season Saturday night against the (3-7) Toronto Nationals. The two teams played each other Week 6 in Long Island with the Nationals winning 11-9. Goalie Brett Queener was named the games Bud Light MVP after he made 8 saves in the second half and allowed just 3 goals and held the Lizards scoreless for the final 9 minutes of the game. The win gave the Nationals their first victory of the season.
The Lizards are currently one win away from clinching a spot in Championship Weekend. Last week they defeated the (4-6) Chesapeake Bayhawks 14-11 behind midfielder Stephen Berger’s 6 points on 5 goals including a two-pointer with under 10 seconds remaining that sealed the victory.
“To secure that win was huge,” says Berger. “It was another step closer to our goal of making Championship Weekend and winning the MLL championship. We’re peaking at a great time.”
The Nationals need to win their final 2 games and receive help in order to make Championship Weekend. With a number of key players in England for the FIL World Championhips, they lost 18-11 last week to the (7-3) Cannons in Boston.
The Lizards currently have 2 players flirting with Major League Lacrosse history. Tim Goettelmann is only 3 goals shy of breaking the league’s all-time goal record which is currently held by Jesse Hubbard.
Berger says, “I’m definitely going to be the guy who leaps on his back when he breaks it and takes him down.”
Goettelmann has said he would like to break the record in Long Island where he has spent his entire 10-year. Being the last home game of the year for the Lizards, he will want to break it on Saturday. But don’t expect the Lizards to try anything different to manufacture him goals.
“Timmy is an unselfish guy. I think he wants to be in Annapolis August 21st and 22nd, says Berger. “Our focus isn’t necessarily getting Timmy the record. I think that will come if we do the right things on the offensive end. If we do the right things, Timmy will be very happy hopefully by Saturday.”
Face-off specialist Peter Vlahakis is only 21 face-offs away from winning the most face-offs in Major League Lacrosse history. The 28 year old has been in the league since 2004 and has spent nearly his entire career in Long Island. Still in the prime of his career, after Vlahakis finally retires it may be a while before his record is broken.
“I wouldn’t mind another 1000 face-offs. If I can keep playing at a high level I will keep playing every year,” says Vlahakis. “But as you get older you get naturally stronger and mentally smarter, so who knows.”
However it will be unlikely that he breaks the record on Saturday. He is taking draws against Goeff Snider, who is considered one of the best face-off men in the league. He also is likely to split the work load on face-offs with teammate Greg Gurenlian.
“I’m more excited about getting the chance to make the playoffs again,” says Vlahakis. “But getting the record is important. It shows I still have the passion to keep playing. I still enjoy playing like a kid again.”
Goals could come few and far between in the contest. The Lizards and Nationals are the two lowest scoring teams in the league. The Lizards average only 11.3 goals per game this season and are last in the league in total points with 171. The Nationals average just 11.5 goals per game and have scored 184 points. The rest of the league averages 13.65 goals per game and average 216 total points this season.
Berger explains, “Early on we were trying to do things on our own. Now we are creating space for each other and working together to score the goal. It was one guy moving and the other 5 just standing around.”
Lately the Lizards offense has gained some serious momentum. Over the last 4 games the Lizards have scored an average of 14.5 goals per game. The offense has been led by Matt Danowski who has scored 37 points this season, the third highest in Major League lacrosse. Danowski’s counterpart, Zack Greer has come into his own at late. He has scored 11 goals in the last 3 games he played. He has 17 goals this season. The Lizards have also benefited from consistent play of Berger, who has 20 points this season, and Goettelmann who has 19.
“We have realized that it doesn’t need to be the first guy dodging and it doesn’t need to be the second guy,” says Berger. “It’s settling into our own and working the ball. Finding the matchups, and being unselfish. It really doesn’t matter who puts it in, it’s just that we get one in there.”
A big reason for the Lizards surge on offense is their improvement in the transition game. In the beginning of the season the Lizards were missing Long Stick Midfielder Ricky Pages and defenseman John Orsen to injuries. The 2 were considered the Lizards top 2 transition long poles. Both players have returned and are fully healthy. In addition to their return, the Lizards drafted Long Stick Midfielder Parker McKee with their first round pick. McKee is known for his ability to scoop up groundballs and move the ball to offense. The Lizards suddenly have a ton of depth at the previously thin position.
“To be able to make a stop then cruise out of that defensive end and to be able to push the ball out of the defensive end, has really made us a bigger threat,” says Berger. “It allows teams to respect that transition game of ours and if we can get it to Dino and Zack Greer when we’re pushing the ball, than those guys can finish from the outside very well for us.”
The Nationals struggles this season come as a surprise. Last year they were the winners of the Steinfeld Cup on Championship Weekend. They are led on offense by attack John Grant Jr. who is considered one of the biggest scoring threats in the league. Grant Jr. has scored 32 points this season.
“John Grant Jr. is maybe their best offensive player,” says Vlahakis. “They play a lot of Canadian style, two man game. Sometimes they are tough to get a hand on.”
Grant Jr. is aided on offense by midfielder Jordan Hall and attack Kevin Huntley. Hall has scored a career best 19 points so far this season and is the second highest scorer on the Nationals. After scoring 23 goals last year for the Bayhawks, Huntley is having a down season scoring just 10 goals so far. However he still remains a dangerous threat, who can finish when given the opportunity.
“Their style of play is different than any other teams,” says Berger. “They really bring the pick and roll to the outdoor game. Their ball movement in transition is great and their unique style with a lot of movement is really difficult for a defense to defend.”
The Nationals biggest strength is their transition game. They have the league’s best Long Stick Midfielder Brodie Merrill, who is as fast and dangerous on the break as any player in the game. Merrill is one of the fastest players in the league and can chase down any ground ball and move down the field with ease.
In the second half Merrill is joined by goalie Brett Queener. Besides having a 57 percent save average this season, he has the ability of using incredible athletic ability to create a transition himself. He is known for running the course of the field on the break at times. Queener has 2 assists so far in this season.
“The biggest thing we need to do with Toronto is stop their transition game,” says Berger. “We gave them a lot of transition in the first game and we allowed Brodie Merrill and a lot of their short sticks to come down in numbers. If we take away their transition game, than that will be a huge success on our part.”
Fortunately the Lizards have a defense that is more than capable of stopping Toronto. Led by veterans Nicky Polanco, Brian Spallina, and Dan Cocchi the Lizards defense is tied with the Cannons as the leagues best, allowing just 12.20 goals per game. This season they have benefited from great goaltending by Drew Adams. The first year starter has played every minute of every game for the Lizards. He has the lowest goals against average in the MLL.
“Drew Adams has been playing phenomenal throughout the whole season,” says Berger. If he continues to make the saves we can push forward and be successful.”
The opening face-off is set for 7 pm at James M. Shuart Stadium in Hempstead, NY. You can catch all of the action live by purchasing tickets at the Lizards website: http://tinyurl.com/28tpcdp. Or you can see the game on ESPN3.com. And remember to join in on the discussion with our Live Blog and Chat presented by Warrior.com beginning 15 minutes before faceoff.
2010 Major League Lacrosse Championship Weekend presented by Warrior
August 21-22, Annapolis, MD
For information and tickets go to www.majorleaguelacrosse.com
|07/31/2010||Live Blog and Chat: Nationals vs Lizards|