MLL opening weekend steals the show

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Major League Lacrosse kicked off the 2017 season amid the drama of NHL and NBA playoffs and the hype of early season MLB play and simply stole the show. Incredibly, all four opening weekend games ended in one-goal victories and two of the four went to overtime. Earlier in the year, commissioner David Gross announced that this would be his last season as the head of the league. Despite the usual early season overlap with the NLL, retirements, and the supplemental draft, trades and the usual early season kinks the players produced some entertaining games.  The Denver Outlaws, Ohio Machine, New York Lizards and Boston Cannons all emerged victorious after hard fought games. If opening weekend is any indication of how the season will progress, then die-hard and even casual fans will be in for a true gem of a season.

Denver 13 @ Charlotte 12

The defending champion Denver Outlaws jumped out to a 5-1 first quarter lead over the Charlotte Hounds and appeared ready to run away with the game behind a Matt Kavanagh hat trick. Ryan Brown scored at the end of the quarter to get the Hounds on the board. Charlotte managed to score twice in the second quarter, but Denver increased their lead to five goals by a score of 8-3. The Hounds gnawed at the Outlaws’ lead in the third quarter by scoring four goals to Denver’s two. In true MLL fashion, to prove no lead is EVER safe, Charlotte reeled off three straight goals at the start of the fourth quarter. Denver rallied behind two Mike Bocklet goals and one from Eric Law to earn the victory 13-12. Charlotte uncharacteristically struggled at the face-off X going 10-28 as well as only going 1-5 on extra-man opportunities. Only four Hounds found the back of the net for Charlotte (Mike Chanenchuk, Ryan Brown, Nick Doktor and Joey Sankey). Charlie Cipriano made 14 saves for the Hounds that kept them in the game. Charlotte will solve this past weekend’s problems at the X but need to find more scorers and take advantage of extra-man opportunities. Denver will get every team’s best shot as defending champions and need to watch penalties to prevent teams from getting back into games.

Ohio 10 @ Atlanta 9

The Ohio Machine went to the title game last season and were one monsoon and a determined Denver Outlaw team away from claiming their first championship. John Grant Jr. announced his retirement from the MLL to join the Denver Outlaws as offensive coordinator. Despite this turn of events, Ohio returns with determination to get back to the title game and win their first Steinfeld Cup while Atlanta is in their second season and still looking to find their identity after trading Myles Jones to Chesapeake last season and losing their coach. As expected, Ohio scored first, but Atlanta quickly responded behind a two-point goal by the incredible Scott Ratliff and another goal by Dylan Donahue. The Machine responded by scoring three goals in the second quarter and keeping the Blaze’s lead to one goal. In the third quarter, Ohio scored three more goals while holding Atlanta to one goal and gaining the lead. Both teams took turns scoring three goals apiece in the fourth to keep the score close and action hot as Ohio won 10-9. Greg Puskuldjian went 13-22 at the X for Ohio and Scott Rogers, fresh off the Great Creamer Controversy, made 14 saves. The Machine went 1-5 on extra-man opportunities, missing Kyle Harrison and Tom Schreiber. Harrison is recovering from injury and Schreiber is committed to the NLL’s Toronto Rock until their season ends. Atlanta has a young team with great potential to make a run for the semi-finals but needs to avoid costly penalties and lulls in scoring as veteran teams will take advantage of it.

New York 15 @ Chesapeake 14

Chesapeake and New York renewed their rivalry as the two teams clashed and went to overtime. The Lizards acquired Joe Walters from the Bayhawks and added to their already impressive roster. Yet Chesapeake is no stranger to acquiring talent as they traded for Myles Jones last season and Lyle Thompson this season. Garrett Thul also made his return to MLL with the Bayhawks. The two franchises are founding members of Major League Lacrosse and put on a game worthy of their historic standing as both put up six goals apiece in the first quarter. Chesapeake appeared to surge ahead in the second quarter as they closed out the first half with a 9-7 lead. The Lizards scored four goals in the third quarter and Myles Jones scored two goals and one two-point goal as well to keep the Bayhawk lead at one. The Lizards rallied in the fourth, scoring three goals while holding the Bayhawks to one goal and sending the game to overtime. Dave Lawson scored 28 seconds into overtime to seal the 15-14 New York victory. Greg Gurenlian, who recently announced this would be his last MLL season, went 20-31 from the X. Matt Gibson and Tommy Palasek had four and three goals respectively. New York went two for three on extra-man opportunities while Chesapeake was only one for four. Drew Adams and Brian Phipps made 19 saves each. Adams gained the win and defensive player of the week honours. New York is poised to make another run at the championship and has the pieces to do it. The Lizards are susceptible to two-point goals while the Bayhawks need to figure out their face-off issues and be more efficient on extra-man opportunities. Both teams made the statement that they are back and ready to contend for the Steinfeld Cup.

Boston 18 @ Florida 17

Boston traveled to Florida on Sunday to take on the Launch in what many predicted to be a blowout Cannons win. Florida has a new coach in Tom Mariano and traded the former number one pick Lyle Thompson to Chesapeake before the season began. Boston was a team that was knocking on the door to the championship and gave New York fits. After all, nothing could top the drama and intensity of the first three games, right? Wrong! In the highest scoring game of the weekend, the new look Launch took the Cannons to overtime and look like a vastly improved team from last season, even with Kieran McArdle fulfilling an indoor commitment. Florida started the scoring with the return of Chazz Woodson and his human highlight-reel style to the MLL. Both teams pushed the tempo and finished the first quarter tied at five goals each. Scoring slowed down in the second quarter as the Launch took a 7-6 lead into halftime. Florida kept the pressure on Boston as the third quarter ended with the Launch up 13-10. Despite Connor Buczek’s two-point goal in the fourth, Boston managed to tie the game and send it into overtime on a Will Manny goal off a Justin Turri assist. Boston scored 39 seconds into overtime on a Kylor Bellistri goal on an assist from Manny. Joe Nardella went 20-35 from the X to feed a very talented and potent Cannons offense. Austin Kaut made 18 saves for the Launch and the defense kept the game close throughout while Florida went an uncharacteristic 17-37 from the X. Both extra-man offences were efficient with Florida going one for one and Boston two for three. Truly an entertaining game as one of the league’s newest teams took on one of the original teams in a high scoring overtime thriller.

Who knows if such an opening weekend in any league has ever been so close or entertaining?Keep in mind that this is during a time when many teams are missing top talent to indoor or college coaching commitments. This shows that there is enough talent to field two to three more MLL teams and spread the sport across the United States and gain popularity. One of the greatest players, John Grant Jr., retired, and the most incredible face-off specialist and fan favourite, Greg Gurenlian, announced this was his last season. Longtime commissioner David Gross is stepping down at the end of this season. Perhaps this foreshadows an entertaining season with parity and a new champion. Regardless of the outcome, there is one undeniable fact. The dedication and athleticism on display are on par with that of the other major sports played at this time. What sets them apart may be the love that the players have for this great sport we call lacrosse.