MLL game review: Boston 15 @ Hamilton 13

I’ve seen a fair number of NLL games since my first game in 2000 – every Rock home game (other than most of the 2010 season and one game in 2002) plus a couple of games in Rochester and a bunch in Buffalo. But when it comes to non-NLL lacrosse games, I’m a relative neophyte. I saw the Heritage Cup game in 2002, a couple of games during the World Indoor Lacrosse Championships in 2003, and one MLS game in Brampton during the Mann Cup in the mid 2000’s. As for the field game, I have now seen all of two outdoor lacrosse games. The first was the Toronto Nationals first-ever home game back in 2009, and the second was this past Saturday, as the Hamilton Nationals lost to the Boston Cannons.

If you’re looking for a review of the game by someone who knows what they’re talking about, you may want to venture on over to InLacrosseWeTrust.com. But if you’re interested in how field lacrosse looks to a box lacrosse fan, then read on.

My impression of field lacrosse over the last few years was that it was obviously similar to box, but with a much bigger field, the pace is slower. I’ve even joked that field lacrosse combines the strategy of indoor lacrosse with the blazing speed and excitement of soccer. But there doesn’t have to be blazing speed and things happening all the time for a game to be exciting – if you know what’s going on and can understand the strategies. Many people describe baseball as the most boring sport ever but I love it, because I do know what’s going on and I do understand the strategies.

I found the same thing at this game. I don’t pretend to be a lacrosse expert, knowing every play and strategy inside out and backwards. But I’ve watched enough to be relatively knowledgeable, and the much bigger field allows you to watch plays develop a little more than in the box game. If you watch the game assuming the strategy is “pass the ball around randomly until someone gets a good shot” then yes, it looks boring. But if you see what they’re trying to do and watch the plays develop, it can be pretty exciting. Is it slower than box? Sure, but only because the field is so much bigger, so it takes more time to run between the goals and even to pass the ball from one side of the field to the other. Play in the Boston end

The long sticks add an interesting element to the game as well. In my review of the other MLL game I saw, I mentioned that “It didn’t really seem to me that the long sticks were much of an advantage” because there weren’t that many long passes, but that certainly wasn’t the case here. Firstly, there were there a number of long passes that were amazing to watch as well as one impossibly long shot. With less than a second remaining in the first half, the ball was shot behind the Hamilton net. Brodie Merrill picked it up and immediately launched it toward the other net, where it landed maybe a foot or two wide. Had the goal line been extended out beyond the posts, the ball would have landed on it. But not only were the long sticks good for passing, they were deadly for getting the ball away from the attackers and hacking at them from five feet away. Defenders in the NLL were disappointed that they can no longer use 48″ sticks; imagine how effective they could be with one six feet long.

The other huge difference between the field and box games is the goalies. Field goalies always look awkward to me. They don’t have a “stance” like box goalies do; it looks like they’re just standing up holding the stick. But then a shot comes in and they spin that stick around at lightning speed and make far more saves than they really have any right to. Scott Rodgers and Brett Queener were very good in net for the Nats, but I thought Jordan Burke was ever better in the Boston net. Queener was pretty entertaining though, not only did he never shut up (because there’s no music during play, you can hear the players and coaches shouting to one another quite clearly), but on many of his saves, he’d run the ball up the field himself. And I’m not talking about a goalie running twenty or thirty feet away from the net before passing it, or Pat Campbell running to the other side of the centre line – Queener once made it almost to the 2-point line around the Cannons’ net before passing it, which would be a good 60 or 70 yards away.

And they’re not padded! Or at least not noticeably more than any other player. Yet they face the same 100+mph shots with the same hard-as-a-rock rubber ball on a net that’s twice the size of an NLL net. It’s amazing to me that (a) there are players willing to play goalie without NLL-type padding, and (b) the scores aren’t 40-35 every game.

There is no penalty box, so players who are penalized just sit in one of two chairs a few feet away from each team’s “bench” area. I pointed this out to my son (“There’s no penalty box, just a couple of penalty chairs”), and he responded by chanting the way Bandits fans do: “To the chair! To the chair! To the chair chair chair!”

The best part of this game? My ticket cost $10, my older son’s was $5, and my ten-year-old was free. $15 for three tickets. My Rock season tickets are $45 each. The other best part? The 10 minute drive home.

So there are some field-newbie thoughts on the game. As for this particular matchup, I just have a few game notes:

  • Both Brett Queener and his brother Brice Queener play for the Nats – Brett’s jersey just says “Queener” on it, while Brice’s says “B. Queener”. Not helpful. Then again, even “Br. Queener” wouldn’t have been helpful. One’s a goalie but as I said, you can’t tell unless he’s holding the stick so it was impossible to tell who was who. I can’t remember what the Evans brothers did when they both played on Rochester – did they have “Sc. Evans” and “Sh. Evans” on their jerseys?
  • How long are MLL timeouts? In the NLL they’re 30 seconds, but they seemed to be two or three minutes at this game.
  • The stadium announcer mispronounced Paul Rabil’s name a couple of times. He said “Rabble” on each of Rabil’s first two or three points, and then said it properly after that. Paul Rabil has been described as “the best lacrosse player in the world”. If you know anything about the MLL or NLL in the past few years, you’ve seen him or heard his name. Mispronouncing his name is akin to a hockey announcer talking about Sidney Corsby.
  • I may be new to the game, but I still know a really dumb play when I see it. With less than two minutes left in the game, the Nationals needed a goal to tie the game. Dan Burns decided that elbowing an opponent in the face right in front of the ref was a good strategy in such a situation. He may want to rethink that since it led to a Cannons PP goal and ended Hamilton’s hopes for a last-second comeback.
  • Three years ago, I wrote that the Nationals looked like an NLL all-star team: “Gait, Iannucci, Dawson, Doyle, Zywicki, Williams, Grant, [Merrick] Thomson, Snider, Prout, Brodie Merrill, Point, [Delby] Powless, Vyse, Patrick Merrill, Jordan Hall, Matt Vinc, Ken Montour“. Of those superstars, only Snider, Hall, and Brodie Merrill are still on the team. But the team still looks like an NLL all-star team: Billings, Casey Powell, Keogh, Jamieson, Merrill, Hall, Crowley, Bucktooth, Snider, Rubisch, Jeremy Thompson, and Walters. Six of these guys (CP, Hall, Bucktooth, Snider, Rubisch, Thompson) didn’t play.
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