The Cannons burst out of the gates on fire, winning seven of their first eight contests. The team was hitting on all cylinders offensively, utilizing the playmaking talents of Paul Rabil and the scoring prowess of Matt Poskay, Ryan Boyle, Kevin Buchanan, Brad Ross, and Max Quizani. New addition at defensive midfield J.J. Morrissey brought an element of speed and toughness to the position along with an ability to push the ball upfield.
Defensive mainstays Kyle Sweeney, Jack Reid, Mitch Belisle, and new acquisition PT Ricci were joined at midseason by rookie Brian Farrell and as a group they have held up the backline strong throughout the season.
The biggest surprise of the early going for the Cannons was the goalkeeping situation. Reigning Warrior MLL Goalkeeper of the Year Kip Turner opened the season as the starter, got the win in Week 1, and was named MLL Defensive Player of the Week. While he struggled in the team’s Week 2 loss to Denver and was pulled in the third quarter in favor of Jordan Burke, most observers believed Turner would remain the starter. This was not to be as the coaches determined that Burke gave the team the best chance to win and he subsequently took over the starting goalie duties.
The decision would be one that Cannons’ fans would come to appreciate as Jordan Burke stepped in and impressed both his teammates and his coaches with his play. This year's Brine MLL Coach of the Year Bill Daye, himself a MLL All-Star goalie in his playing days, continues to be impressed with Burke’s development.
“Jordan has just been playing great but the scary thing is that he’s just getting better. In the past two or three games he’s just gotten better,” said Coach Daye. “His positioning has been unbelievable, and we’ve done a nice job offensively, but to see him stand on top of his head has been truly a great thing and like I said, he’s really just starting to play well. I know that sounds kind of weird, but take it from a guy who has played the position, I’ve seen him mature each week and the best is yet to come.”
While Burke’s numbers speak volumes (he finished the season with a 10.60 goals against average and team record .615 save percentage) teammate Paul Rabil has been equally impressed with his mental approach. “The word that comes to mind for Jordan is consistency,” says Rabil. “He cuts the emotional aspect out of the game so he’s never too high, never too low on himself. His pedigree in the cage is pretty amazing, his consistency has been great this season and we expect it to continue throughout the playoffs.”
Behind Burke’s stellar play in net, and accompanied by a potent offense and steady defense, the Cannons rolled through the first half of the season. Paul Rabil directed the offense and continued to put up big scoring numbers (28G, 17A) partnering with the ever-dangerous Matt Poskay (30G, 7A), second-year attackman Max Quinzani (22G, 10A), veteran attack Ryan Boyle (10G, 19A), and Kevin Buchanan (20G, 5A) to form the highest scoring offense in the league.
The face-off position has also been one of great strength for the team with Chris Eck winning 156 of 262 (59.5%) of his chances. “Chris is having a phenomenal season, he came into training camp the best shape of his career,” said Coach Bill Daye. “He won the job outright and has been pretty steady….winning face-offs and goaltending are such important positions in this league.”
Despite a bump in road, a two-game losing streak coming out of the All-Star break, the Cannons closed out the season strong winning their final three games to finish in first place with a 9-3 record. The first place finish affords the Cannons the top seed at Championship Weekend where they will face the defending champion Chesapeake Bayhawks in the first semi-final game.
Looking forward to the two-day playoffs of Championship Weekend, the Cannons know all-too-well how difficult it can be to win the Steinfeld Trophy. In the previous ten seasons the team has reached the postseason eight times, however, they have managed to reach the Championship game just once, losing in 2004 to Philadelphia 13-11.
The Cannons clearly believe that this year will be different and have reason to feel good about their chances against the Bayhawks, having defeated them twice this season by a combined scored of 34-23. But the team is well aware that past performance does not guarantee future results. Team leader Paul Rabil sums up how many of the Cannons feel entering another Championship Weekend.
“I think a lot of that celebratory stuff comes after the fact – winning the championship is every player’s goal ending the season and obviously the past 10, 11 years it’s been every Cannons players’ goal, and it hasn’t happened,” Rabil expressed. “The biggest thing is really not to think about the past or what it means to certain individuals, you have to focus more on the short term, the opening face-offs, the proper ground balls, I think you have to get away from championships and you have to look at what you have first and that’s the Bayhawks game in the semifinals.”
This selfless attitude and singular focus will be of major importance for the opening semi-final game for the Cannons against the Bayhawks. Having won the Steinfeld Trophy last season, and returning many of their veterans and top players, the Bayhawks clearly are a more dangerous team than their 6-6 record implies. A key matchup to watch will be Chesapeake defenseman Kyle Hartzell matching up against midfielder Paul Rabil.
Hartzell knows Rabil’s game as well as anybody as they train together in the off-season and have played against each other numerous times over the years. “Paul’s a great player and he’s getting better and better – we work out together – and he’s the best midfielder in the game”, said Hartzell. “I think I was successful last year, not giving him much space to work with. If you let Paul run at you, he’s a big, fast, strong middie, and you don’t have enough time to get up on him and cross-check him. The key is limiting his space.”
Hartzell went on to assess the Cannons in further detail saying, “guys like Ryan Boyle, a veteran attackman, he’s their quarterback and ushers communication on and off the field. As always Matt Poskay’s having a good year, so shutting down those guys and limiting Paul Rabil is key to winning against them. They have great d-middies that can push the ball. Limiting their transition and holding Paul Rabil to a few goals is key for us to winning that game. We need to watch a lot of footage of their team and have a good mindset.”
At the end of the day, it is evident that these two teams know each other well, and are two of the most experienced in the playoffs. The Cannons must continue to do all the little things well, as they’ve done throughout the season and be sure to remain humble in their approach – something that should not be a problem with last year’s bitter defeat still fresh in their minds. As a team, the Cannons have taken care of business all season and possess the best record, the most prolific offense and the hottest goalkeeper. They now hope to add the final piece to a memorable season with a victory on Championship Sunday and the hoisting of the vaunted Steinfeld Trophy.
2011 Sports Authority MLL Championship Weekend Presented by WarriorTickets for the 2011 Sports Authority Major League Lacrosse Championship Weekend presented by Warrior are available by calling the MLL at 617-787-6638 or by clicking here. Lower level sideline weekend packages are just $30.
The semi-finals will take place on Saturday, August 27 at 12 p.m. and 3 p.m. while the MLL Championship Game will be played on Sunday, August 28 at 3 p.m. All three games will be played at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.