Other than Denver's early four-goal streak, the game remained a back and forth battle between the top two teams in the league. Earning the Bud Light Playoff MVP was Toronto's Merrick Thomson, who over the weekend helped seal the Nationals' fate by scoring six goals in two games.
The first quarter showed promise for another exciting one as the score remained close at 2-1 in Toronto's favor. To start things off, the Nationals got on the board in less than one minute with a goal from long stick Nick O'Hara. Next, Josh Sims of the Outlaws kept his streak alive after a four-goal performance yesterday by putting up Denver's first mark of the championship game when he carried the ball from the midfield and fired one in over goalie Doc Schneider's head. The next play served as one of the most exciting plays of the weekend as Canadian All-Star John Grant Jr. carried the ball around the crease and got around defender Brett Hughes with a behind the back shot that went top corner for the lead.
All photos courtesy of Ben Mackey
Both defensive systems came out on fire with attitudes to match as Toronto picked up 11 ground balls and Denver got 9 in the first quarter alone. Shane Walterhoefer, who was an all-star face-off specialist in college, also made his mark today winning 14 of 22 face-off attempts against Toronto's Geoff Snider.
An uneventful first few minutes of the second quarter ended when Toronto's Jeff Zwicki got on the board with Toronto's third goal of the game. Then, after a clear from Denver goalie Jesse Schwartzman, who finished with 14 saves, rookie midfielder Max Seibald saw Matt Brown in front of the net for a goal with 8:42 remaining in the half. And it was only a matter of time before Brendan Mundorf got on a hot streak beginning with a crease goal off a pass from Drew Westervelt to tie it up 3-3. Mundorf followed his first goal with an assist to Brian Langtry from behind the net for a Denver behind-the-back powerplay goal before he scored his third point in just over two minutes to make it 5-3. Toronto's Zwicki rounded out the f irst half scoring with a goal to make it 5-4 before the buzzer sounded.
After the break, Toronto Nationals goalie Brett Queener made his first appearance of the weekend in front of a roaring crowd after breaking his right hand during warm-ups at yesterday's semifinal game. Queener, who is known for his passionate play and his memorable performance at this year's MLL All-Star freestyle competition, leads the league in save percentage. Stepping in for rookie Schneider, who ended with 12 saves, Queener finished out the game with 11.
Thomson opened up the second half with his first goal of the day before Jeff Sonke took the Outlaws back into the lead, caitching a pass from Mundorf to make it 6-5. Then, Denver's Mike Ward got on the board off an assist from Matt Bocklett to go ahead by two for the second time today. But the scoring streak would end there as Zwicki scored for a hat trick before Thomson got a goal on a powerplay to tie the game for the fourth time. Four minutes later, Mundorf scored his fifth point of the day to bring the Outlaws into the lead by one.
Despite coming out after tweaking his knee in the first half, Toronto's John Grant Jr. came back in the game to score the first goal of the final period just 36 seconds into play to even it up at 8-8. But, Denver went ahead yet again with a second goal from Sims before Toronto got a mark from Shawn Williams to tie it at 9-9 with 4:30 left to play.
A grueling final few minutes saw both teams scrambling to get ahead when it mattered most. Then, with just 45 seconds left to play, Williams struck again off of an assist from Walters to finish off the Outlaws and win it 10-9.
* * * *
Annapolis, Md. - The Denver Outlaws fell to the Toronto Nationals in the waning seconds today in the MLL Championship game, losing by a score of 10-9 in Annapolis, MD. Attackman Brendan Mundorf (UMBC) performed well once again and recorded his second consecutive hat trick (to go with two assists for five points on the day) of the post-season and midfielder Josh Sims (North Carolina) contributed another two goals to lead the team in scoring. Outlaws netminder Jesse Schwartzman (Johns Hopkins) came up big between the pipes yet again, making 14 saves include several key stops in the final minutes of play. Leading the Nationals in scoring was Jeff Zywicki who recorded a hat trick and an assist of his own.
Toronto was the first team to find the back of the net with a goal from Nick O'Hara 59 seconds in. After two end-to-end possessions Sims showed he still had the offensive magic shown in last night's game, taking the ball the length of the field before blasting in a shot at 4:45. The next 10 minutes saw both sides exchange a fast break and several solid saves by Schwartzman. Nationals attackman John Grant Junior broke the scoreless run with a behind the back shot with one minute remaining.
In quarter two the two teams continued to test other's defensive units, with goalies Schwartzman and Doc Schneider playing well in net. Just over five minutes in (5:25) Toronto's Jeff Zywicki scored to put his team up 3-1. Less than a minute later attackman Matt Brown (Denver) answered for the Outlaws on an assist from midfielder Max Seibald (Cornell). Momentum stayed with Denver as attackmen and UMBC grads Drew Westervelt and Mundorf connected for another tying goal at 7:04.
This was just a glimpse of things to come in the quarter though. Midfielder Brian Langtry got into the act when Mundorf found him charging inside and the Hoftra grad scored on a diving behind-the-back shot for his first goal of the weekend (8:02). Than at 9:35 Mundorf completed the Outlaws' four goal run with one of his patented low, inside goals (while muscling easily through a defensman). Rounding out the scoring in the half was Zywicki who brought the Nationals back within one at 13:01.
Nationals goalie Brett Queener started the second half despite breaking his hand in warm ups before yesterday's game, which seemed to add energy for his team. Nearly five minutes in Merrick Thomson scored on Schwartzman after being left open next to the net (assist to John Grant Junior; 4:27). Midfielder Jeff Sonke (North Carolina) responded for Denver and fired in a high shot from 15 yards out (assist to Mundorf) to put the Outlaws back up 6-5. Midfielder Mike Ward (Duke) then scored his first goal of the season about a minute and a half later (1:23) when he blasted in a shot from the 2-point arch (foot on the line however).
With the game settled at 7-5 Zywicki and Thomson battled back for momentum with their own respective goals (8:54 and 9:58) to tie the game once again. Play evened back out for the next four minutes with both sides struggling to break the deadlock. Mundorf would be the one to answer the call, recording a hat trick with a high-rising shot over a Toronto defenseman to put Denver up 8-7 with just over a minute remaining. Mundorf almost had his seventh goal of the weekend with the clock winding down but was called for a crease violation.
In the final quarter of the season, Grant Jr. struck first with a goal 37 seconds in. In the next seven minutes of play the top-two offensive units in the league swung back and forth to no avail. With the first TV timeout wrapped up in the fourth quarter and the game tied at 8-8, an intense finale was guaranteed. A few seconds after that (7:43) Outlaws midfielder Dan Hardy (Syracuse) found Sims for a goal after a quick restart while the Nationals were protesting a substitution infraction.
The seesaw battle continued with Shawn Williams scoring on an easy point-blank shot at 10:30 when a Denver miscommunication left him alone in front of Schwartzman. In the most tense string of play seen this year, both teams tested each other consistently. Schwartzman kept his team in it with a huge save at 3:09, and the squads continued to battle back and forth down the stretch. With 45 seconds remaining Williams scored his second goal of the game in what would be the nail in the coffin. The subsequent face-off was then won by Toronto and after a quick timeout the Nationals clinched the win and the title, 10-9.
* * * *
For a full box score and game sheet, visit PointStreak.com. For scores and standings, computer ratings, and stories, see LaxPower's MLL Page. You can also visit the MLL web site for full coverage of the league.