The Major League Lacrosse Championship Game is upon us. Rochester and New York square off on Saturday for the Seinfeld Cup. The game is chock-full of star power, as the league’s Offensive, Defensive, Goalie of the Year and MVP will all be playing. Here are some other storylines surrounding the game.
How’d they get here?
New York has undeniably been the best team in the MLL all season. The Lizards began the season with eight straight victories before dropping two straight games to Charlotte and Florida. The Lizards lost their final two games of the regular season when first place was already secured, but they responded with a thrilling 16-15 overtime win over Boston in last weekend’s MLL Semifinals.
The Lizards are led by MLL MVP Greg Gurenlian, who has won an incredible 280-of-382 faceoffs with 175 groundballs. Rob Pannell leads the offense with 68 points while Paul Rabil has 52. New York also features the league’s Goalie of the Year (Drew Adams) and Defensive Player of the Year (Joe Fletcher).
Meanwhile, Rochester is in the midst of an up-and-down season, finishing the year in third place behind an 8-6 record before topping Ohio in the semifinals. After two straight losses in late June, the Rattlers won three of their final four regular season contests.
The league’ Offensive Player of the Year Jordan Wolf paces the Rattlers’ offense, tallying 61 points, 25 more points than the next closest teammate. Rochester has been trying to find a steady faceoff specialist with Mike Poppleton stepping up as of late. Joel White leads the defense with 67 groundballs while John Galloway has been steady between the pipes.
Matchup to watch: Jordan Wolf vs. Joe Fletcher (and Drew Adams)
A no-doubt matchup to watch is the league’s Offensive Player of the Year trying to score against the Defensive Player and Goalie of the Year. In the regular season, Wolf tallied a goal and four assists in the first meeting then a goal and three assists in the second meeting just one week later. Both games were in April. The Lizards will likely focus almost all of their attention on Wolf and force others to beat them, but Wolf has shown in college and in the MLL that he can find the open teammate. If his teammates can capitalize, Rochester will likely win its second-ever championship and first since 2008.
Can the Lizards end their long championship drought?
Hard to believe one of the MLL’s storied programs hasn’t won a championship since 2003. The Lizards won two of the first three MLL titles, but has played in a title game just twice since. New York went 10-4 in the regular season, its best record since 2001. Will the season end the same way?
New York: Mike Stone
Stone is an MLL veteran who has playoff experience. A strong player, Stone isn’t at the forefront of people’s minds. He tallied 19 points in the regular season and scored a goal last weekend vs. Boston. Playing alongside Rabil, he can be overlooked and quietly be a key contributor for his team. I’d expect multiple points from Stone on Saturday—somewhere between two and four points—which will play a key role in New York’s success.
Rochester: Randy Staats
Staats has impressed in his short time in the MLL, but he is a rookie. For Rochester to enjoy success Saturday, players will need to step up alongside Wolf. If people like Staats finish their chances, the Rattlers will likely walk away victorious. I would expect a big day from an unexpected source and Staats has shown to be very capable. The Syracuse alum has three multiple-goal games; there’s no better time for his first-career hat trick.
Rochester is a strong team and Saturday should be an extremely close and competitive game, but this just feels like New York’s season. When it looked like the Lizards were struggling, they pulled out a thriller in overtime against Boston, despite trailing 5-1 in the second quarter. The Cannons outscored New York 8-3 in the fourth quarter to pull even, with all the momentum going into overtime, but the Lizards pulled it out. Adams made two overtime saves before Matt Gibson sent his squad to the finals. Rochester relies too heavily on Wolf and if the Lizards can contain him, they will likely be hoisting the trophy after the clock hits triple zero. Meanwhile, it will be more difficult for Rochester to focus on Pannell with the talent he has around him. Final score, New York 13, Rochester 11. Game MVP: Rob Pannell.