The Perfect Storm: Nationals Comeback to Beat Cannons in OT Thriller

July 24, 2009

by Terence Pang… With Mother Nature threatening by means of thunderstorms, a playoff spot was on the line at BMO Field Saturday night as the Nationals welcome the Boston Cannons into town. But little did the 3,542 fans know, the perfect storm was not going to be from the sky, it was right down on in front of them.

Merrick Thomson and the Nationals jumped out to a early 2-0 lead, as Thomson scored and assisted on both goals before Cannons’ all-star Paul Rabil responded with a 2 point goal. Kip Turner and Doc Schneider would come up with some pretty spectacular saves after that, but the Cannons would come out of a hard fought first quarter with a 4-3 lead.

Boston would come out with 2 straight goals in the 2nd, including a powerplay goal from Matt Poskay. The back and forth affair continued, but a few mistakes by Toronto on the defensive end and in transition led to 9-6 halftime lead for Boston.

Schneider would return for the 2nd half, as 2nd half goalie and fan favourite Brett Queener was not able to suit up because of illness. But for Rabil, it didn’t matter who was in net. The winner of the Hardest Shot competition at the all-star festivities came out and scored 2 goals, one being a 2 point goal making the score 11-6 just 5 minutes into the 2nd half. Toronto had the chances, but just couldn’t put it away.

Thomson would add another goal and assist to his spectacular night, as Toronto brought the score close 11-8. But the Cannons would score 3 straight goals on a flurry of ranged shots, while Jeff Zywicki responded with a powerplay marker in the quarter, and the fans began to worry in their seats as their team was down 15-9 going into the final quarter.

While the skies cleared to blue, the storm was just starting on the field. Toronto came out on fire, as Brad Ross would deposit his 2nd of the night just 54 seconds in that started a 5 goal run capped by another powerplay goal from Zywicki to make it 15-14. Rabil would take matters into his own hands as he shook one of the best defenders in the league in Brodie Merril and stepped into another long one to make it 16-14. But at that point, the tide has clearly turned in favour of the home team.

The Nationals would storm back led by Thomson, who responded to Rabil’s goal less than a minute later picking out the top left corner on Turner. Joe Walters would get into the action 48 seconds later and Corey Small sent the crowd on their feet with the go ahead goal after a pretty little move on his defender. A too-many man turnover allowed the Cannons to tie the game at the 13:14 mark on a goal from Kyle Sweeney.

With the score tied at 17-17, the Cannons would have last possession. A quick pass from Rabil would split the Nationals defense, leaving Sean Morris a chance to win the game in close on Schneider with 17 seconds left. But “The Doctor” was up to the task against his former university teammate, coming up with a ridiculous save.

“I kind of just read it well and luckily came up with the save.” Schneider said of the save.

That turned out huge because in overtime, Morris would be penalized for offsides putting the Nats on the powerplay and Walters would strike again with his second of the night off a smart pass from Delby Powless to win the game and send Toronto to the playoffs.

Thomson would take home the game MVP honours with a huge 8 point night, overshadowing a terrific 7 goal performance from Paul Rabil. Coach Dave Huntley said though, the defense did what they could.

“We had the best defenseman in the world playing him, and I think if Paul scores 7 and we win, Brodie is going to be okay with that.”

After the game, Walters would remind fans that it was the little things that count.

“I’ll tell you what, Gavin Prout made a great play to save the ground ball in the corner, if he didn’t have we wouldn’t have scored.”

With 2 straight wins after the all-star break, Huntley explains, they are simply playing better on both ends.

“We are playing better defense, giving our goalies more balls that they can handle. And offensively, we still aren’t great in transition, we had some trouble throwing and catch but the settled offense, we are letting the ball work for us and we are moving a lot without the ball and that’s when we score a lot of goals.”

The Nationals get another week off before they close out the season at home against 1st place Denver. Although they have already made the playoffs, the Nationals would probably like to avoid facing Denver in the first round so there is still meaning to this final game, two Saturdays from now.

Photos by Paolo Cescato

Nationals Hammer Lizards to Stop Losing Streak welcome Boston Tonight

July 23, 2009

by Terence Pang… It appears that whatever happened during the all-star break for the Nationals’ players worked. For at least one night, the Toronto Nationals team from the beginning of the season returned and the Long Island Lizards were the casualties.

What started out appearing like a defensive matchup at James M. Shuart Stadium lastSaturday night eventually turned into a one-team goal scoring exhibition for the 7,621 at the game. The Lizards responded to most of the goals in the first quarter and early second before the Nationals exploded to a 5-1 scoring run to finish the first half closed out by Merrick Thomson’s 2nd of the quarter to make the score 9-4.

After problems starting halves in each game of their 4 game losing streak, there appeared to be no such problem Saturday night. Within the first four minutes of the 2nd half, the Nationals put the game to bed. A 4 goal sprout ending in Joe Walters being set up by Jeff Zywicki made the score 13-4 and the Nationals responded to every Lizards’ goal after that. Walters and Zywicki would be an unstoppable combo on this night combining for 12 points. Zywicki took home the game MVP honours as Toronto scored 19 goals on 33 shots, leaving Lizards’ goalie Brian Dougherty dazed and confused. Dazed and confused would also describe the Lizards’ defense in front of Dougherty on this night.

From defense to offense to the face-off circle, the Nationals were basically better in every category on this night. Geoff Snider, who has been struggling in the draws this year for the Nationals, went 21 for 31 on the face-off dot to go along with monstrous 17 ground balls and 3 points on top of that.

Two positives come out of the win. Toronto pulls within half a game of 3rd place Lizards in the standings which would allow them to avoid Denver in the first round of the playoffs. And speaking of the playoffs, both Washington and Chicago lost their weekend games, which greatly improves the chances of the Nationals making it to the big dance in late August.

The Nationals don’t have long to celebrate over the win though. They are in tough tonight as they welcome the 2nd place Boston Cannons to BMO Field. Back on June 25th, Boston handed Toronto the 2nd of 4 straight losses 19-15 in Boston. So the Nationals have a score to settle. But it won’t be easy.

Paul Rabil and Sean Morris are 1-2 in the scoring tables of the league with 41 and 38 points respectively, and the Cannons own one of the deadliest powerplays in the league. The Nationals will have to be discipline but at the same time aggressive enough to limit the contribution that Rabil and Morris make.

Nationals Make Their Mark at the 2009 All-Star Festivities

July 18, 2009

By Terence Pang…

The Mile High City was the setting as fans and players alike enjoyed the 2009 Major League Lacrosse All-Star festivities. The best of the MLL had to offer gathered to put on a show and two days of memorable fun for the fans. After the meet and greet, long drive competition and media party, it was finally time for the main event Thursday night as the Old School All-stars took on the Young Guns All-stars for bragging rights. A total of 9 Toronto Nationals represented the team in Denver including fan favorites Merrick Thomson and Brett Queener.

The game was everything that fans could ask for as the goals kept coming. Even Denver goalie Jesse Schwartzman stormed out of his cage to score a goal late in the 1st half. But the Old School took a 14-10 lead into halftime behind a pair of goals from hometown favorite Brendan Mundorf and an assault of 2-point goals from Denver’s Brian Langtry who had a pair, Washington’s Kyle Dixon and Chicago’s Anthony Kelly who each had one. Toronto’s Merrick Thomson had a pair of goals for the Young Guns in that first half.

Half-time meant the 2009 Skills Competition, as players showed off their accuracy, power and creativity. Thomson beat out teammate Joe Walters, Boston’s Matt Downing and Denver’s Matt Brown to capture the 2-point goal accuracy title. Walters and Thomson both had 9 points in the first round to eliminate their competition, before Thomson edged out Walters in double OT.

The hardest shot competition saw history being made, then made again. Denver sent three players to the competition, Max Seibald, Brendan Mundorf and Brian Langtry to join Long Island’s Matt Danowski, Boston’s Paul Rabil and Chicago’s Anthony Kelly. The first round, everyone hit 107 MPH with the exception of Mundorf and Rabil who missed the net entirely. Seibald started the 2nd round by breaking Kelly’s 2008 record of 108 MPH with a 110 MPH shot. But the record didn’t stand long, as Rabil stepped up and not only hit the target, but broke Seibald’s record hitting 111 MPH on the gun. Kelly’s chance of reclaiming his record was wasted as he missed the target as Rabil took home the hardest shot title.

The third and final event was the skills competition where players have a chance to show off their creativity as they have two attempts to make a shot against another team’s goalie. When it comes to creativity, there are few that match Nationals’ closing goalie Brett Queener and he showed. Queener beat out Chicago’s Kenny Nims, Denver’s Drew Westervelt and Long Island’s Stephen Berger in “thrilling” style, literally. Queener’s 2nd shot was one to remember for the ages. King of Pop Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” boomed in the stadium as Queener took the field with one of MJ’s signature gloves on. Queener broke out into the Thriller dance in one of the skills competitions longest performances, Brett stopped short of the crease, turned and moon walked his way towards goal and put the crowd into a frenzy as he made a MJ-like finale with a backbreaker shot to ultimately win the competition.

After all of this, Queener and there rest of the players had a 2nd half to play. What a second half it was too. At the 1:23 mark of the 3rd, Langtry made history as he scored his 3rd 2-point goal of the game, an all-star game record. The Young Guns would go on a run after that to make up for the deficit including Paul Rabil’s 2-point goal. Thomson’s third of the game gave the Young Guns an 18-17 lead going into the final quarter. The defense began tightening up as the scored just 7 total goals in that quarter, including the goal that sent it to overtime from Washington’s Kevin Huntley.

The overtime was short but sweet, as Toronto’s own Brodie Merrill stormed up from the back to score the overtime winner at the 5:31 mark to give the Old School All-stars a 22-21 over the Young Guns. Denver’s Brian Langtry took home the MVP honors with his record breaking performance.

And after all that, Thomson, Merrill and the rest of the Nationals are right back to work tomorrow night as they travel to meet Matt Danowski and the rest of the Long Island Lizards to begin a critical final stretch for the playoffs. There aren’t too many games left so they Nationals need to get their heads straight and soon.

Allstar Break Couldn’t Have Come Sooner for Nationals

July 11, 2009

By Terence Pang… The Nationals couldn’t have asked for a better time for the MLL Allstar weekend to come around. Toronto has still yet to solve their slow start woes, whether if it is in the 1st or 2nd half of the game. They are now in the midst of a horrid 4 game losing streak after Kevin Leveille and the Chicago Machine jumped all over the Nats to start the 2nd half on their way to a 24-19 last Saturday.

As this weekend rolls around, the Nationals have the week off thanks to the Allstar festivities, where no less than 8 Nationals’ players include head coach Dave Huntley will be attending. But Huntley and Nats have a lot to worry about once the fun and games are over. His defense has been less than stellar, his offense is struggling to find consistency and this losing streak has put their playoff hopes in jeopardy with just 3 games left on the schedule. With a 4-5 record, the Nationals are now only a half game ahead of the Washington Bayhawks who sit at 3-5 for the final playoff spot.

During the losing streak, Toronto has been outscored 78-58 by the opposition. Their defense has looked confused as star players Leveille, Brendan Mundorf and Paul Rabil seemed to score at will and from anywhere on the field during their games against Toronto. The goaltending platoon of Doc Schneider and Brett Queener have been left out to dry by the defense, as they have been facing shots from some of the highest percentage scoring spots on the field.

On the other side of the field, the offense hasn’t been much better. Merrick Thomson is the exception, as he has scored at least 3 goals in all but one of the games this year for the Nationals, but with such a huge field and so many defensemen, it is evident that there is only so much one player can do. Joe Walters has found some consistency as of late with 3 straight 3-plus point games, but he has failed to score in two of the four games during the losing streak. Toronto needs to find that 2nd deadly forward that the other top teams seem to have like Denver’s Drew Westervelt, who is Brendan Mundorf’s partner in crime. Either that, or someone different has to step up every game provide assistance for Thomson, and that just hasn’t happened as of late.

Huntley’s goaltending platoon is starting to come into question. While the defense hasn’t been world class, the goalies haven’t been standing on their heads either. Doc Schneider and Brett Queener may give different styles and looks to teams, but maybe it is time to name one of them and keep them in the entire game. It’s not about what playing style works and how different it looks, it’s about giving the goalie the confidence to play the entire game. The confidence he builds from his first half performance can be carried over to the 2nd half, but that can’t happen in a platoon. Pretty much no matter how well Schneider plays (probably besides shutting out the other team for the half), Queener will take over in the 2nd half. Maybe it’s time for change.

A 4-1 start to the season has been wiped away, and the Nationals have fallen from the top of the standings and are now battling for their playoff lives. Changes are needed, but now the 8 allstars including Thomson and Walters along with the coach Huntley can enjoy a friendly ‘Old School VS Young Guns’ game this coming Thursday in Denver.

Brown, Mundorf Sink Nationals to Third Straight Loss

June 29, 2009

By Terence Pang… With a big question over their defense, inconsistent play at both ends of the field and an , the Nationals probably didn’t want to see the league best team the Denver Outlaws come to town. If they made their schedule, they probably wouldn’t but in reality, they don’t.

Denver’s attacking duo of Matt Brown and leading scorer Brendan Mundorf combined for 11 goals and 13 points, and led a 3rd quarter charge where their team scored 6 unanswered goals as the Outlaws sent the Toronto Nationals to their 3rd consecutive loss Saturday night 20-16 in front of a crowd of 3,791 at BMO Field.

The 1st half was a back and forth affair, as the Nationals had responses to each lead the Outlaws had. Merrick Thomson responded to Brown’s first half hat-trick with a hat-trick of his own and Delby Powless had a pair to help match Mundorf’s. Denver’s Jeff Sonke and Dan Hardy would give the Outlaws a 10-8 lead going into the half with two late goals.

Brodie Merrill jumped right onto Denver to bring the Nats within 1 goal just 9 seconds into the 2nd half as he look the ground ball off the face-off and beat Outlaw goalie Jesse Schwartzman. But Merrill’s early goal seemed to wake the Outlaws up as they went on to score 6 straight goals led by Mundorf and Brown with 2 each. Powless would respond last in the quarter, but the Nationals went into the final stanza down 16-10.

Brown came right out in the 4th and scored to make it 17-10, and it was a deficit that the Nationals would not come back from. Stephen Hoar’s 2-pointer and Thomson’s 5th and last of the night turned out only to be consolation goals as time would run out after that. Brown was named game MVP after a spectacular 7 point performance.

Toronto was hurt by Mundorf and Drew Westervelt coming out from behind the net the entire night. Doc Schneider and Brett Queener were left out to dry as the Nationals defense just wasn’t able to contain either of the two Outlaw players from working their way in front from behind the net.

“When they do that, for [goalies] it’s really a guessing game. We needed to put them on their butts when they try that, and we just didn’t do that tonight.” Queener said.

The previous 2 games, the Nationals weren’t able to get started fast enough in the first quarter, this time they started well but the 2nd half was a different story. They weren’t able to get anything going after the Merrill goal.

“I thought we got off to a great start in the 2nd half with the early goal, but if I could figure out what happened after that I would probably be able to find a cure for cancer too.” Said Nationals coach Dave Huntley.

Toronto’s inconsistent play is different from the dominating team we saw at the beginning of the season. They have allowed 39 goals in their last two games and have failed to shut down the opposition’s main offensive weapons in the last three. Mundorf has simply picked the Nationals’ defense apart, as he has scored 8 goals and 10 points in two games against Toronto. Lastly, the Nats have yet to solve their discipline problems and it continues to come back and haunt them as Denver went 3 for 7 on the powerplay.

The Nats will need to figure those things out before they travel to the Windy City of Chicago to face off against the Machine this Saturday.

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Nationals Need to Worry About Thursday before Saturday

June 24, 2009

By Terence Pang… The Nationals have a big week coming up as they are to play two games, and both with serious playoff implications as we enter the 2nd half of the season. Thursday, they will travel to Boston to face a red-hot Boston Cannons squad before they return home for a rematch of last Saturday’s top of the table matchup against the Denver Outlaws. As bad as it sounds, the Nationals actually have control of their own destiny.

A win would mean the Nationals improve to 5-2 on the season, and give themselves a breathing zone in the case they lose the game against Denver on Saturday. A loss would mean a 4-3 record going into Saturday’s rematch against the Outlaws, and a pair of losses this week would be devastating. The Nationals could find themselves as far down as 4th if they don’t win at all this week with Long Island having the week off.

But before looking too far ahead to Saturday, the Nationals have to deal with a Boston team that has had no trouble at all finding the back of the net in the last two weeks. The Cannons destroyed both Washington and Chicago, scoring a total of 41 goals in those two games. So Thursday’s game will definitely be far from a walk in the park for the Nats coming off a less than stellar effort in their 15-8 loss in Denver over the weekend. As mentioned many times in previous weeks, the Nationals need to stay out of penalty trouble. Boston owns the 3rd best powerplay in the league at 30.7% and will punish Toronto if they take as many penalties as they did last week against Denver.

The Nationals will also need to look out for 6’3”, 220 pound Paul Rabil on Thursday. Rabil is coming off a monstrous 9 point game, where he scored 4 goals including a pair of 2 pointers against the Bayhawks. That game MVP effort vaulted him to a tie for the lead in points scored with Denver’s Brendan Mundorf, who seemed to score at will on Saturday. Rabil will need to be looked after a lot better if the Nationals want to get out of Boston with the win.

The Cannons will simply need to keep shooting on Thursday and they will give themselves a chance. There is no guarantee rookie Doc Schneider will be kept in all game, but a 35 shot peppering last week against Doc showed that he will wear down. The most consistent player of the year in the league will be opposing the Cannons, as Merrick Thomson has 3 goals in each of the 6 games. Breaking that streak will definitely give Boston a better chance to win. The Nats will need production from everyone.

Toronto can expect to see a former teammate in between the pipes for Boston, as Mike Levin, long-time Rochester netminder will more than likely start. Levin has had an impressive season, supporting the league’s second best goals against average at 11.16 and one of the better save percentages in the league at .614.  Boston will probably see the before mentioned Schneider starting for the Nats, but there is no guarantee that he will stay in for the entire game. Brett Queener had his first full game on the bench last week.

Power Outage: Schwartzman Leads Outlaws over Nationals

June 21, 2009

By Terence Pang…

In the most highly anticipated game of the season to date, the battle for top spot between the Denver Outlaws and the Toronto Nationals turned out to be quite the disappointment, at least if you are a Nationals fan.

Goaltender and game MVP Jesse Schwartzman made 17 saves on 25 shots keeping the Nationals league-best offense to just 8 goals, while Drew Westervelt and Brendan Mundorf led the offense with a combined 10 points on the night as the Outlaws cruised to a 15-8 win and jumped to the top spot in the league with a 5-1 record in front of a crowd of 8,216 at INVESCO Field Saturday night.

Denver jumped on Toronto early and often, and never looked back. Dan Hardy, Jeff Sonke and Mundorf all scored in the first 12 minutes of the game before Colin Doyle responded only to be answered by Nate Watkins late in the 1st quarter. Sonke scored again just over a minute into the 2nd quarter before Matt Brown took over. Brown scored all 4 of his goals in the 2nd, leading the Outlaws to a 7 goal 2nd quarter outburst. Merrick Thomson was the only one to find the back of the net past Schwartzman in that very quarter, as the Outlaws went into halftime with a very strong 11-2 lead.

Not much changed in the 2nd half, as the Nats’ comeback efforts were almost always responded by the Outlaws scoring as 8 different players tallied a goal for Denver. Frustrations began settling in late in the 4th, as Matt Vinc served a 7 minute penalty at the 12:54 mark to end any chances of a comeback. The teams combined for 25 penalty minutes in the game, but what hurt the Nationals was a 0 for 9 powerplay night. They managed to kill off 5 of the 6 Outlaw powerplays, but their own was non-existent. Joe Walters was shut down the entire night, recording just a single point after recording 11 points in his last 2 games. While last week’s hero Brodie Merrill was almost non-existent as well, with just a single point and 3 ground ball pickups. Thomson continued his consistent play, as he has had 3 or more goals in all 6 games this year with 3 more this game.

Rookie Doc Schneider was peppered with 35 Outlaw shots on the night, making 20 saves but still took the loss. The night marked the first night Nationals Coach Dave Huntley has not put Brett Queener in for the 2nd half as the Nationals platoon situation is in question. It will be interesting to see how Queener reacts and what Huntley has planned for the next game.

Denver will now rest up for the back end of the home-and-home, as they travel to BMO Field next Saturday for round 2 of this matchup. The Nationals aren’t so lucky, as they must travel to Boston and face a red hot Cannons team on Thursday before playing the Outlaws at home on Saturday. The Nationals are now tied for 2nd in the league with a 4-2 record, as Long Island defeated Chicago 15-14 tonight at home.

High Powered Offenses Collide: Nationals and Outlaws Set to Battle for top Spot

June 19, 2009

By Terence Pang… The two top teams in Major League Lacrosse will go head-to-head this weekend in a battle for top spot when the Toronto Nationals travel to the mile-high city of Denver, Colorado to square off against the Denver Outlaws.

Both teams own a league best 4-1 record, the winner will take over the top spot in the MLL standings for at least one week. Statistically, the teams look almost identical. The Nats’ and Outlaws rank 1-2 in goals for, 1-2 in 2 point goals and even 1-2 for the worst faceoff percentages in the league. But both teams have proven they know how to put the ball in the back of the net, so a high scoring affair should not be a surprise to fans on Saturday.

The Outlaws powerplay will be a key factor in determining the outcome, as they own the 2nd worst powerplay in the league, while Toronto is one of the most penalized teams. At an atrocious 4 for 17 (23.5%), it is probably safe to say if the Outlaws can score with the man-advantage, they give themselves a great chance for a win.

Denver will also need to cool down the Nationals’ red hot two-headed monster of Joe Walters and Merrick Thomson. Walters has been on fire, as he ate up Washington’s defense in the home-and-home affair, scoring 11 points and 8 goals, including a pair of 2-pointers. Thomson continues his stellar and consistent play, as he has scored at least 3 goals in each of the 4 games this year. The duo has 34 points in the 4 games between them, so the Outlaws defense will need to keep an eye out for number 1 and 29 in dark jerseys on Saturday.

On the Nats’ side, a 4-4 penalty kill effort last week against the Bayhawks was a good sign for their struggling special team. But they still need to be more discipline, as before mentioned, the Nats’ are one of the most penalized teams in the league. Even with the effort this past weekend, Toronto still sits 2nd last in the league with a 52% penalty kill. But if you give your opponents enough shots at it, even a 23.5% powerplay will eventually come back to hurt you.

While Denver’s Brendan Mundorf may not be as dangerous as Washington’s Kyle Dixon, the Nationals are still dealing with someone sitting at the top of the league in goals and 3rd in scoring. Mundorf doesn’t score in as many situations as Dixon, but his 16 goals (none of which are 2-pointers) prove this guy knows how to put the ball in the net. So the Nationals will have to keep him and the Outlaws’ 2-point shooting in check (Denver leads the league with 5 2-pointers).

The Nationals will be seeing Jesse Schwartzman between the pipes, he supports a 4-1 record and the league’s second best goals against average at 11.76. After waiving former starter Rob Scherr, Rookie of the Week Doc Schneider is the likely candidate to start Saturday. Doc looked solid in his first career start in the MLL against Washington, making 11 saves on 15 shots. Denver can also expect to see Brett Queener in the 2nd half of Saturday’s matchup, as the goaltending platoon should continue for Toronto. Queener supports a 12.70 GAA and also looked very good against Washington last Saturday.

Photos by Paolo Cescato

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Merrill’s Offensive Leads Nationals Past Bayhawks

June 15, 2009

By Terence Pang… Brodie Merrill has never been known as an offensive defenseman in his career in the MLL. Through his first 4 seasons, Merrill has only 20 goals and 48 points on 49 shots. After Saturday’s 19-12 thumping at the hands of Merrill and the Nationals, the Washington Bayhawks would probably respectfully disagree.

Merrill scored his 2nd and 3rd goals of the season late in the 3rd quarter and early 4th, leading to the charge to six unanswered goals by the Nationals on route to taking home the game MVP award. Merrill stormed up from the back for both goals. His first came after the Bayhawk’s Jed Prossner scored to make it 12-8, Merrill took a ground ball off the faceoff, picked his way through the Bayhawks’ defense and beat goalie Joey Kemp. Merrill wasn’t finished, as he picked up another ground ball off a Bayhawk’s turnover and raced in beating Kemp again high just 20 seconds into the 4th.

The game looked to be a back and forth affair for the first two goals as Washington’s Andrew Combs scored two of his three goals on the day in the first 6:40 of the game, responding to goals from Merrick Thomson and Colin Doyle. But Delby Powless would put the Nationals ahead 3-2 less than a minute after Combs’ 2nd goal, and the Nationals would not give up the lead from there.

Toronto seemed to have an answer for everything Washington had to offer the entire afternoon, even the dangerous Kyle Dixon was held to just a 2-point goal and an assist on the day. Dixon’s 2-pointer didn’t make much of an impact as the Nationals came back to score 2 goals in the next 2 minutes and 20 seconds after, including the first of two Joe Walters’ 2-point goal. Walters had another impressive game against the Bayhawks recording a 6 point game that gave him 8 goals and 11 points in the last 2 games against Washington.

Powless and Jeff Zywicki both had a pair of goals, while Geoff Snider, Colin Doyle, Shawn Williams, Jordan Levine, and rookie long-pole Sid Smith also had goals for Toronto. Smith was the first round draft pick (6th overall) by the Nationals in this year’s MLL Collegiate Draft out of Syracuse, and looked very comfortable with his goal coming shorthanded.

Rookie goaltender Doc Schneider got the start in between the pipes for Toronto, as Rob Scherr was inactive. The Rookie looked very sharp, making 11 saves on 15 shots in the first half before fan favourite Brett Queener entered the game. “2nd-Half Queener” electrified the crowd with his aggressive play, while making 14 saves on 21 shots. Queener even hustled out past center with the ball on a couple of possessions, leading to a roaring cheer from the crowd of 3,544 at BMO Field Saturday.

The win moves the Nationals to a tie with the Denver Outlaws at the top of the MLL standings at 4-1 after the Outlaws defeated the other 3-1 team this weekend, the Long Island Lizards 16-9 in Colorado. Toronto will meet Denver next weekend in Denver for the rights to the top spot in the league.

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Nationals Look to Improve on 3-1 Record and Sweep of Bayhawks

June 10, 2009

By Terence Pang… The Toronto Nationals continue to impress in their inaugural season in Major League Lacrosse. They overcame their first loss of the season two weeks ago, when the Long Island Lizards came to BMO Field and handed the Nationals their first loss in franchise history, 13-9. A crowd of 3,424 saw their Nationals crumble in the 4th quarter, as their home team discipline collapsed leading to three Long Island powerplay goals in the final 11 minutes of the game. The Nationals never responded after that, but did come out spirited the week after.

The Nationals re-visited the venue that they played their first ever game in, as they took on the Washington Bayhawks last week and came away with a impressive bounce-back effort leading to a 17-15 win to take the front end of the home-and-home. Game MVP Joe Walters scored five goals, including the one that put the Nationals ahead for good with just 41 seconds left in the game.

This week, the Bayhawks look for revenge as they will complete the back-end of the home-and-home Saturday at BMO field.  The Nationals will need to be more discipline, as they own the 2nd-worst penalty kill in the league at an atrocious 43% (Fittingly, only better than Washington’s 33% penalty kill). Last week, they allowed goals on all 4 power plays, including Kyle Dixon’s 2 point goal at the 9:40 mark of the final frame. Dixon is definitely the man that the Nationals need to be worried about, as he has already put up 6 goals and 8 points in 2 games against Toronto this year.  Dixon is currently the league leader in points scored with 20, tied for first in 2 point goals with 3, and is second only to Chicago’s Kevin Leveille in goals with 13. Shutting Dixon down should be on top of the priority list for Coach Dave Huntley and his team on Saturday afternoon.

As the season nears the mid-way point, the Nationals are 3-1 and currently tied at the top of the standings. A win Saturday will help the Nationals chances in the seeding for Championship Weekend as the top four teams make it. Denver Outlaws and Long Island Lizards will be meeting in Denver on Saturday night, both teams also tied with Toronto at the top of the standings with their records at 3-1. With a win, the Nationals can put themselves in a position where they are tied at the top of the standings with the winner of the Denver/Long Island game. The other three teams in the MLL are having trouble winning, so a 4-1 record will definitely go a long way for the 2nd half of the season, especially for tougher games on the schedule such as the three meetings with Denver and another at Long Island.

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