Di Miller, MLL Correspondent
Lacrosse is Awesome©
Featured Image Photo Credit: John Zumbado
The 2019 MLL Championship Weekend is set to kick off tomorrow Friday October 4, 2019. This is the first time in the history of Major League Lacrosse that the championship game will be held here in Denver, CO. The playoff games will be held on the campus of Denver University at Peter Barton Lacrosse Stadium; and the Championship game will be played on Sunday October 6 at Dicks Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City.
The teams were decided after several changes between the top seeded teams with the Chesapeake Bayhawks ending up on top; the Denver Outlaws with the No. 2 seed; the Boston Cannons with the No. 3 seed; and the Atlanta Blaze with the No. 4 seed, the first time in franchise history the team has clinched a playoff berth.
Let’s take a look at the first game and the No. 1 Seed Chesapeake Bayhawks (10-6) vs. the No. 4 Seed Atlanta Blaze (8-8) who will start off the night. The game is set to air at 7:00 p.m. EST and can be seen on ESPNNews. Chesapeake leads Atlanta in the regular season series 2-1. The teams played twice in Chesapeake, the first time on June 29 when the Blaze had a commanding win over the Bayhawks 19-10. However, in the next two meetings, the first on July 6 again in Chesapeake and the second in Atlanta on August 24, the Bayhawks would defeat the Blaze by the same score 16-13.
What were the key differences? In the first contest, Atlanta led at the face-off X 18-32; GB 50-36; and SOG 35-31. Alex Woodall, one of three Cascade Rookie of the Year finalists was 18-31 at the face-off dot; but the Bayhawks were without Kenny Massa who was out with an injury. CJ Costabile was taking the draws and was able to pull off 12-28. Chesapeake outshot them 62-48 but the Atlanta shots on cage were more effective. In between the pipes for Atlanta, Chris Madalon would have an impressive .677 SV% over his counterpart Niko Amato who stood at .500% in the save category. Time of possession was virtually equal, but the Blaze outscored the Bayhawks in all but three quarters.
This changed in the other two meetings. It started off at the face-off dot for Chesapeake. Kenny Massa was back and in both contests, would go 18-31 in the first game; and 20-33 in the second. The Bayhawks led in each game in SOG, on July 6 they were 28-23; and on August 24 they were 30-21. Niko Amato was in between the pipes on July 6; but Brian Phipps has gotten the nod since mid-August and has proven he deserves his spot in cage and faced the Blaze with a .381 SV%.
Even with all of that, Chesapeake will need to play top notch lacrosse if they want to defeat this victory hungry Blaze squad. Here’s why:
Atlanta has the best goal-scoring offense in the league; they are the best passing team in the league at 68.1%; they have 229 goals for (breaking the all-time record for most Team Goals Scored in a single-season, a long-standing record in MLL history, as the previous record was set by the Baltimore Bayhawks (a predecessor of Chesapeake) in 2005 with 227 goals); they average 14.31 goals per game; Chris Madalon leads the league in Save Percentage at 204%; they have the highest Single-Season Shooting Percentage of any team within the past 10 years in the MLL scoring 35.6% of all shots made during the regular season; and they broke the All-Time Team Assists Record with 157 team assists this season, destroying the previous record by 27 assists, set in 2008 by the Rochester Rattlers (130 team assists).
But on the other side, they have lowest goal differential of all the playoff teams (-8) and have surrendered the most goals of all teams in the league with 237 goals against. They seem to find a way to score in the first half and if they can hold it together on the offensive side; work together as a team and make quality passes; don’t rush their offense; and give Madalon the protection he needs, they will advance. They need to play a full 60 minutes of lacrosse if they want to advance and face either Denver or Boston in the Championship game.
Now what about the Bayhawks? Chesapeake leads the league in Team Shots on Goal this season with 441 total SOG, surpassing their all-time franchise record for most Single-Season Shots on Goal. They have only 193 goals against; quite possibly the best defense in Major League Lacrosse; and the only team to surrender less than 200 goals. They lead the league in goals against average with 12.1; have the highest goal point differential with a +21; and are tied for first with the Atlanta Blaze on man-up goals with 22.
They’ve got a healthy Lyle Thompson (46g, 27a) and Steele Stanwick (23g, 27a) who are a lethal combination in the line-up; Kenny Massa will be at the face-off dot and he’s third in the league with a 55.1% face-off percentage; and regardless of who they put in between the pipes, Niko Amato 12.13 GAA or Brian Phipps 10.50 GAA, it’s a win-win for the Bayhawks.
Chesapeake has been to playoffs ten times in team history and have five championships to their name. This is the first time Atlanta is heading to the playoffs and although Blaze Head Coach Liam Banks helped the Syracuse Orange to three Finals appearances and won a national championship in 2000, he’s never coached a major league lacrosse team in a playoff game.
This game will be high scoring with Atlanta coming out of the gate strong. They will have to control Lyle Thompson and his counterparts Steele Stanwick; Colin Heacock and rookie Andrew Kew. If they can do this; and they can play a full 60 minutes of lacrosse they will head to the championship game.
Our prediction: Atlanta 18—Chesapeake 16.
Di Miller, MLL Correspondent
Lacrosse is Awesome©