By Sean Heenehan | 8/10/11 3:00 PM
With three of the four MLL playoff spots spoken for, this weekend’s match-up between the Long Island Lizards and Hamilton Nationals will be a playoff game in itself. For the Nationals it’s simple. They just need a ‘W’ to book their ticket to Annapolis. It is a little more complicated for the Lizards, who need not only a win but for the Bayhawks to lose. Should the Bayhawks win their match-up against the Outlaws, the Lizards must win by a margin of six goals or more. Needless to say, the pressure will be palpable in Long Island on Saturday night as Championship Weekend looms right around the corner. We caught up with Coach Mule of the Lizards and Coach Thorpe of the Nationals to gauge their thoughts heading into the most important game of the 2011 regular season.
“We’re focused,” said Nationals Head Coach Regy Thorpe. “We need to win, we want to win, and our guys are excited for the challenge.” The game of the week is pegging the youth of the Nationals against the experience of the Lizards, but both coaches are careful not to buy into their respective team’s media-induced labels. Coach Thorpe explains “experience is great,” but that his younger players have probably played more games than some of the vets. He said “I think experience is always important, but I’ve been telling my guys in the past few weeks, the rookies are now veterans. They’ve played almost every game for us. At this time of year, everyone’s a veteran and our guys are pretty cool under pressure. You can’t not look at Long Island’s experience, but at the same time I’m extremely confident in my guys being able to handle the situation.”
While Thorpe downplays the value of “experience,” it’s impossible to dismiss the addition of Casey Powell to the Nationals’ lineup. Though the veteran hasn’t seen an MLL game since 2008, he will likely play a key role in the duration of the 2011 season. “I thought he was good,” Thorpe notes of Powell’s season debut last week against the Boston Cannons. “He hasn’t played in a couple years but he’s still the same old Casey, hustling and making everyone around him better. Unfortunately we ran into a hot Boston goalie but I think Casey is really focusing on getting better.”
Coach Jimmy Mule of the Lizards is no stranger to raw veteran talent. He has some of the most experienced players in the league on his team including John Grant Jr, Tim Goettelmann, Nicky Polanco and Brian Spallina, but he too renounces the label of being the “older” team. “We have plenty of young guys, including rookie Brian Karalunas, and Ricky Pages who has only been in the league a couple of years. I think the majority of people see us as a veteran team because of the personalities and roles our veteran guys play.” The younger players have been contributing to the Lizards but lots of this game’s pressure falls on the older players like Geottleman and Spallina who are in the twilights of their careers. Mule explains that they want to win and stay in contention for the playoffs and have been a rallying point for the team, which has been improving in the past weeks.
The Nationals must slow down the Lizards’ midfield, which is offensively potent in the transition game. Thorpe know that’s where Peyser and Danowski can “create” out of the unsettled play and fire the two-point shots that are so dangerous. The Lizards must win by six, so those two-pointers could really make a difference as it comes to the playoff picture. They also need the Bayhawks to lose but Coach Mule paints a black and white formula for Saturday. “If we win the game we need Chesapeake to lose, but our view has to be ‘we control our own destiny and we have to win by six.’ If we win by six this time we have the tie-breaker on them, it doesn’t matter what Chesapeake does. If we win by six, we get in that way so that is what’s more important to us.”
The action at James M. Shuart Stadium will be as intense as it gets in the MLL regular season when the Nationals battle the Lizards, looking for a simple win. But don’t expect the Lizards to be the Nationals ‘welcome mat’ to Championship Weekend as they take the pitch with some of the most experienced players in the league.
Tickets for the 2011 Sports Authority Major League Lacrosse Championship Weekend presented by Warrior are available by calling MLL at 617-787-6638 or by clicking here . Lower level sideline weekend packages are just $30.
The semi-finals will take place on Saturday, August 27 at 12 p.m. and 3 p.m. while the MLL Championship Game will be played on Sunday, August 28 at 3 p.m. All three games will be played at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.