NATIONALS READY FOR ANOTHER CHALLENGE
8/18/11 2:00 PM
(Hamilton, August 18)… Hamilton Nationals first-year Head Coach Regy Thorpe knew he would have a challenging task ahead of him during the 2011 Major League Lacrosse, as he took over a team that missed the 2010 postseason and was undergoing a rebuilding effort.
Yet, despite having 15 new players on their final roster, the Nationals won six of their last eight games to finish in a second-place tie with the Denver Outlaws at 7-5. The wins tied the most single-season wins in franchise history and returned the Nats to the postseason. The finish might have been a surprise to MLL fans, but not to Thorpe.
“Even though we are young anything but playoffs would have been a disappointment. We are excited going into Championship Weekend with a little bit of momentum,” said Thorpe. “The guys are excited for the challenge.”
The Nationals will travel to the 2011 Sports Authority MLL Championship Weekend (August 27th and 28th) at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium. The top-seeded Boston Cannons will face the defending MLL champion Chesapeake Bayhawks in the first semifinal at noon on Saturday, while Hamilton and Denver will play in the second semifinal at 3:00 p.m.
The Nationals will meet the Outlaws for the second time in playoff history. In the first meeting, the Nationals scored a late goal to earn a 10-9 victory to capture the 2009 Steinfeld Cup. In the regular season, it has been all Outlaws with Denver winning six of the seven contests. This season, Denver defeated Hamilton by scores of 18-10 and 15-7. Yet, those two games were early in the season with the last matchup on August 18th.
“We had early success, but this is a totally different team than the last time we saw them,” said the league’s goals-against leader.
Hamilton goalie Scott Rodgers has been anxious for a return engagement, facing Denver in the season opener on May 14th. He encountered a flight delay the last scheduled meeting and was stuck in San Francisco. The game is a night he will never forget as Brendan Mundorf went off for 10 points (6+4).
“It’s the highest number of goals I have let in in my career,” said Rodgers. “We have to play to our strengths, and go back to basics on defense and take on their shooters.
“He blew the doors off,” added Rodgers. “We have matured from that. We don’t lose our composure anymore.”
Rodgers finished the season strong with a 5-2 record. The second-year pro was third in the MLL with an 11.46 goals-against average and set a single-season team record with 106 saves this season. Rodgers will make his playoff debut and return to a Final Four for the first time since his senior season at Notre Dame back in 2010.
“It reminds me of two years ago. It has a feel-good attitude that any player would like to be around,” said Rodgers of the MLL Championship Weekend format.
For 35-year-old Casey Powell it’s an opportunity to play for a third MLL title. The MLL’s all-time leading point producer joined the Nationals with two games to play in the season. Powell returns to Harvard Stadium where he played his last postseason game in August of 2008, which was a 16-6 win over the Outlaws by the Rochester Rattlers in the championship game.
“I am excited to get ready for this Final Four and make a run at it,” he said.