7/29/10 8:44 AM
By Redmond Zmudzien
While posting a three game winning streak after starting the year 0-5 the Toronto Nationals were right back in the 2010 playoff hunt. Having since dropped back to back games though they are suddenly forced into a must win situation this weekend. With the FIL World Championship coming to an end Toronto can welcome back a large portion of its roster as it makes a final push for the playoffs.
After dropping their last game to the Boston Cannons (7-3) by a score of 18-10, the Nationals are staring elimination in the face. A loss this weekend to the Long Island Lizards would mathematically eliminate Toronto from playoff contention. With a win they’re still alive, they would still need some help around the league to make the playoffs, but regardless the Nationals are in a do or die situation this Saturday.
The return of a majority of the Nationals’ roster will be huge this week after having lost over a dozen players to Team Canada. Top players such as Brodie Merrill, Geoff Snider and John Grant Jr. will be back for Toronto. Team Canada ran through the entire world championship dominating most of its opponents, but they were clipped by the United States in the title game, 12-10. Toronto and Team Canada head coach Dave Huntley was more than pleased with his team’s efforts overseas.
“It was the best team I have ever coached,” Huntley said. “They practiced at great pace and the effort game in and game out was very consistent. We put ourselves in a position to win in the final game but the US team made a couple of more plays at the end than we did and deserved the win.”
Looking to this weekend though, the Nationals are hoping the extra games overseas for many of their players will have a positive effect on the squad. Several players had a hot hand over in England including midfielder Garrett Billings who finished with 12 goals in Canada’s 5-1 run in the tournament. The Nationals are hoping the scoring streaks of Billings and John Grant Jr., who scored 13 in the tournament, will carry over to their MLL game this weekend.
With the gaping void left in the roster by players overseas for Team Canada, Toronto turned to the player pool, inactive lists and the Iroquois national team to fill out its squad last week. Toronto picked up the likes of midfielders Terry Kimener and Anthony Muscarella to help alleviate the loss of so many players. The Nationals also made the best of an unfortunate situation with the Iroquois (who did not travel to the FIL World Championship) and reactivated players such as midfielders Brett Bucktooth and Stephen Hoar and, attackman Delby Powless.
However, the team that was patched together throughout the week was not enough to stand up to the first place Cannons, who cruised to an eight goal victory.
“I was pleased with the effort the players and staff made under not the best of circumstances,” Huntley said of the Nationals’ shorthanded effort.
The Cannons were without top players as well though, including defending MVP Paul Rabil, attackman Ryan Boyle, and defensemen Kyle Sweeney and Ryan McClay. Three of those four, Rabil, Sweeney and McClay were all named to the World Team by FIL, hardly a small hole to fill for Boston. Luckily for the Cannons though, the MLL leading scorer, attackman Matt Poskay, was not a member of the national team and added five goals to lead the charge against Toronto. With his seven point performance Poskay became the all-time leading goal scorer in Cannons history as well.
The Nationals are not technically out of playoff contention yet, but they have to win out if they hope to have a chance. From here on out Toronto is in a must win situation, with only two games remaining in the season. The Nationals close out the season with back to back games against the Long Island Lizards, who are currently in third place at 5-5. Last time the two sides met was in an 11-9 Toronto victory back on June 19 as the Nationals were lead by a hat trick from attackman Corey Small. Even while staring a long offseason in the face, Toronto remains upbeat and eager to make a final run at Championship Weekend.
“Win four in a row, we are champs. Lose one and we are done,” Huntley said.
Toronto will have to watch out for attackman Matt Danowski this weekend as he has made a name for himself as one of the most dangerous players in the league. Danowski currently sits at third in the league in scoring with 37 points, behind only Poskay and Chesapeake’s Peet Poillon. The Lizards will also be throwing another pair of dynamic scoring options at Toronto including Danowski’s former Duke teammate Zack Greer and attackman Tim Goettelmann. The latter of who is a mere three goals away from becoming the all-time leading goal scorer in Major League Lacrosse history. Goettelmann needs two goals to tie the current record of 247 set by Jessie Hubbard and three to break it.
The Nationals head to Hempstead, N.Y. Saturday July 31 to take on the Lizards at James M. Shuart Stadium. The Lizards are looking to join the postseason club as a win clinches a playoff berth for them whereas the Nationals need to win to keep their season alive for at least one more week. Faceoff is set for 7 p.m. The Major League Lacrosse Web site will be running a live chat for the game starting 15 minutes prior to faceoff. The game can be seen live on ESPN3 and Brighthouse in Florida. Fans can catch the game on Cox Sports New Orleans Sunday Aug. 1 at noon and on Universal Sports at 2 p.m.
2010 Major League Lacrosse Championship Weekend presented by Warrior
August 21-22, Annapolis, MD
For information and tickets go to www.majorleaguelacrosse.com