7/23/13 1:52 PM
The Boston Cannons will look to rebound against the Hamilton Nationals after having their four-game win streak snapped by the Bayhawks in Chesapeake last Thursday. Having started the season 1-5 and at the bottom of the league, the Cannons’ momentous four-game run catapulted them back into playoff contention. Sitting in fourth place, Boston has a fighting chance of turning their season around a full 180 degrees. If they can squeak by into the postseason, the regular season demons will surely diminish; everyone knows that once you enter the playoffs, the regular season no longer matters.
Boston’s opponent this week, the Hamilton Nationals (8-3), have all but clinched the second seed. A star-studded team complete with five MLL all-stars features three of the top 15 season points leaders. Midfielder Kevin Crowley, who racked up seven points (four goals, three assists) in the first meeting with Boston, is third in the league with 43 points (31 goals, 11 assists). Not far behind is Joe Walters in fifth place with 39 points (18 goals, 21 assists).
“They’re very well-coached and they’re underrated defensively—Matt Lovejoy, Tucker Durkin, Brodie Merrill—and they’re buoyed by two good goalies,” said Coach John Tucker. “They share the ball offensively, which is a concern.”
Back on May 4th, the Nationals ruined the Cannons’ home opener, leaving Harvard stadium with a 15-8 win over the home team. Strong performances from Paul Rabil and Ari Sussman proved futile as Hamilton remained in control all game, cruising to victory. The Cannons were held to their lowest point total this season, due, in part, to being shut out in the fourth quarter.
“Both rosters are very different from the first time we played them. We’ve done film study and exchanged some information and we’re looking forward to getting a good practice in. The guys are excited and enthused and Hamilton took it to us last time we played them, so we’re in the right mindset.”
Boston is leaps and bounds from where they were back in early May and you can be sure that Coach Tucker’s squad will have the tenacity and competitiveness we’ve come to expect. Over the four-game win streak, the Cannons scored 15, 16, 13, and 17 goals, respectively, breaking their season-high goal total twice in that span. Hamilton goalie Brett Queener might have something to say about that. He leads the league with a 61.5 save percentage and his 11.21 goals against average is third best. Cannons goalie Jordan Burke is on the opposite end of the spectrum—he has given up the most two-point goals (10) and has the worst goals against average at 13.78. Despite these less-than-stellar numbers, Tucker praised Burke for his composure.
“Burke is a very calm, poised young man, mature beyond his years. He’s a great stopper of the ball nd I’m impressed with his demeanor and his leadership.”
One match-up to keep an eye on during this contest will be the Nationals’ power play unit versus the Cannons’ penalty-killing squad. Hamilton possesses an excellent man-up offense—their 20 power play goals and 52.6 power play percentage is ranked number one in the league. Meanwhile, the Cannons are second in power play goals against (10) and penalty-kill percentage (71.4 %).
Another intriguing aspect will be the ground game. Hamilton ranks first in the league in ground balls with 370, while Boston is third with 355. However, the Cannons’ have a potent face-off specialist in Chris Eck, who wins 59.4% of face-offs, good for second in the league behind New York’s Greg Gurenlian. Eck’s 85 ground balls is second highest behind Charlotte’s Tim Fallon (93). Hamilton, on the other hand, has split time between two face-off men this season. Before being traded to New York, midfielder Matt Dolente played five games for the Nationals, winning face-offs 47.8% of the time. Mike Poppleton has since taken over the reins at the X and has won 44.6% of faceoffs in six games for the Nationals. If Eck executes at midfield and the Cannons can protect the ball, limiting the time that it’s on the ground, then the Nationals’ number one ground ball ranking shouldn’t be a factor.
Last Thursday in Chesapeake, Coach Tucker suffered his first loss of the season since becoming head coach. While the loss was disappointing and halted the momentum gained from the win streak, it was not detrimental to Boston’s playoff chances. Plus, it is better to have experienced a loss and how to cope with and respond to such an outcome now when the consequence is not nearly as harsh as it would be in the postseason.
“I thought we did a lot of good things throughout the game, but it just didn’t happen for us. It’s never good to lose, but we had chances to win. We made our own mistakes at the end, which cost us, but it’s not my first loss, that’s for sure. It was a tough environment and I was really proud of our guys and the fight they showed. We have no time to dwell on the past or the future—we have to focus on right now, and that’s Hamilton.”