Toronto Nationals Weekly Update May 17, 2010
The Toronto Nationals dropped their season opener to the Chicago Machine 16-9 on Sunday. The Nationals fell victim to a re-energized Chicago squad that finished the 2009 MLL season in last place with a 3-9 record.
A silver lining of the loss for Toronto was the play of attackman John Grant Jr., who scored three goals on the night. Grant’s hat trick has to be comforting to the Nationals after the two-time MLL MVP had an injury plagued 2009 season.
“I thought [Grant] played pretty well, he probably would of liked to shoot more, but like everyone else he missed some pretty easy chances,” said Toronto head coach Dave Huntley. “I thought he played a good game in all phases of the game.”
Grant scored Toronto’s first goal of the season, but his three tallies weren’t enough to turn back the Machine. The 10 year veteran missed almost all of last season, but came back in time for the playoffs and scored two key goals in Toronto’s Championship game victory over Denver. Grant provided Nats fans with some peace of mind this year in the National Lacrosse League indoor season, when he tallied 83 points for the Rochester Knighthawks, all but erasing any doubts about his health.
Toronto had difficulty putting the ball on the cage on Sunday though, of their 36 shots, only 15 were on goal. With the lack of shots on goal, Toronto didn’t fully test Chicago’s goalie tandem of Bud Petit and Mike Gabel. Combined, the two were forced to make only seven saves on the night.
The four-time defending MLL Defensive Player of the Year, Brodie Merrill, was doing more than just patrolling with his longpole for Toronto on Sunday. Merrill is more than just a defenseman, he can play shutdown defense, suck up ground balls and even score a few goals. Merrill lived up to this reputation as a two-way player by taking an active role on offense as well, scoring a goal on a behind the cage assist from midfielder Craig Point.
“[Brodie is] doing stuff you don’t normally see defenseman do,” Huntley said. “He’s completely redefined the position of defense in this sport.”
It was the All-MLL defenseman’s first goal of the season after potting eight goals and 12 assists for 20 points last summer.
“Brodie’s reputation as the best defensive player in the world is well deserved and I think we’re all just very fortunate to have him playing for us and not against us,” Huntley said.
Adding to his list of accolades, on May 16 Merrill was announced as the NLL Transition Player of the Year for the second year in a row. Merrill scored 17 goals and also added 36 assists with 190 loose balls for the Edmonton Rush. Also receiving an NLL award was fellow Nationals longpole Matt Vinc, who plays between the pipes for the Orlando Titans. Vinc was named the NLL Goaltender of the Year as he finished 2010 ranked first amongst goalies in saves, saves percentage and wins.
The Nationals struggled against Chicago Sunday as they trailed for nearly the entire game. Toronto fought back though and was within four by the end of the third quarter, thanks in large part to Grant and midfielder Josh Sims, who had three points. Midfielder Jordan Hall also got in on the act with two points for Toronto. Midfielder Gavin Prout and newly acquired attackman Kevin Huntley each registered a point in the Nationals effort as well.
Chicago pulled away with four unanswered goals though, including a two-pointer from midfielder Terry Kimener, to cement the Machine’s 16-9 victory.
Huntley was not happy with the loss, but was far from concerned, saying his team was merely outplayed on Sunday.
“I thought they were better than we were on the ground as far as picking up loose balls and moving the ball from the defensive end to the offensive end. I think they didn’t make a lot of ball handling errors and I think we did and I think they put more shots on the goal than we did,” Huntley said. “When you put it all together, I think they deserve the result they got and we deserve the result we got.”
The Nationals’ next game is Saturday May 22 when they host the Chesapeake Bayhawks at Lamport Stadium. The Bayhawks are coming off a 16-8 thrashing of Long Island and are led by All-Star midfielder Kyle Dixon and MLL leading scorer Peet Poillon, who tallied seven points last week. The game will be broadcast live on ESPN2. Faceoff is scheduled for 2 p.m.