8/20/10 2:25 PM
By Caitlain Kelley
The Chesapeake Bayhawks return to the post season for the first time since they won it all in 2005. It wasn’t the easiest road for the Bayhawks. After two wins late in the season, they’ll face the Boston Cannons in the first semi-final match on Saturday, August 21 at 12 p.m.
After a mid-season coaching change and overtime win to hand Boston their first loss at home, Chesapeake looks like they’ve turned a new leaf.
“I think its commitment, putting in the effort day-to-day and we’ve gotten back to having a lot of fun on the field,” said Buggs Combs of the Bayhawks’ recent wins.
Moving through the midfield, the Bayhawks ended the regular season with their passing, transition and shooting games hot. No other team’s midfield can compare to the Bayhawks. Kyle Dixon and Ben Hunt are dangerous anywhere in the attack zone with the ability to shoot anytime. Matt Abbott is the league’s best in transition. Between Abbott and Jeff Reynolds, Alex Smith, who has the highest face-off win percentage, can rest assured his wingmen will get the ball where it needs to go. Peet Poillon and Michael Kimmel can dodge, move in transition and score all over the field if needed. Add Brian Vetter’s clutch ability to find the net in crucial situations and Brian Carroll to the mix and the Bayhawks are stacked in the middle of the field.
“I think there are so many good players on the field at the same time that it draws a lot of attention and respect from the other team’s defense and that has been huge for midfield production,” said Poillon, the 2010 Warrior Most Improved Player. “There are a number of guys on the midfield who draw a lot of attention and are respected so much for their dodging. “
While the Bayhawks’ defense isn’t the most talked about, they work quietly to get the job done. Shawn Nadelen’s return from nursing a knee injury gives the squad depth, not that the unit had any holes before. The experienced player provides another physical presence on the field which allows more rotation at the long stick midfield position. Kyle Hartzell perfected the rusty gate check—as Ryan Boyle witnessed in the second Bayhawks-Cannons meeting—and Michael Evans stops the biggest opposing threats.
Chris Garrity was on top in the first half of the season but faltered a little after the Bayhawks’ five-game losing streak. The goaltender remains number two against Boston’s Kip Turner in goals against average and saves on the season. Last weekend Garrity posted 13 saves as the defense helped the Bayhawks come out on top of the Cannons in an overtime victory.
The Bayhawks are more comfortable with big numbers on the scoreboard but this weekend, they’ll need to expect the number one seeded Cannons to be all over the midfield unit. As a team the Bayhawks have all of their positions filled and then some; however, every other team has a dominant scorer on attack and Chesapeake doesn’t.
It’s not that the Bayhawks don’t have anyone at the attack position capable of hitting the net; it’s just that the midfield has taken over the scoring duties for the entire team. Danny Glading and Ben Rubeor each have 15 goals on the season while veteran Combs tallied 16. After announcing his retirement earlier in the season, Combs looks to close out his final season in Major League Lacrosse by holding the Steinfeld Cup.
“I don’t think you could beat that, [going out with the title],” said Combs of his retirement. “This is my third time really at Championship Weekend, and now hopefully that I’m in Baltimore again we can win the Championship.”
In their last game in Boston, the Bayhawks pulled off a comeback, something they haven’t done all season. Down by three to start the first quarter, Chesapeake came within one to close the first half and tied the game with a shorthanded goal with less than a minute left in regulation. Just 89 seconds passed in extra time before rookie Michael Kimmel slammed home the game winner.
“We’re feeling pretty confident with what we’ve done,” said Combs. “Coming back on a team like Boston, I think that was really important. Before in the season when we got down like that we really folded. We came back and played hard.”
Just as the Bayhawks crushed the Cannons hopes of an undefeated season at home, they’ll attempt to keep the Cannons from their first ever Steinfeld Cup. If Chesapeake prevails, they will face the winner of the Long Island-Denver match up on Sunday, August 22 at 3 p.m.
For the Bayhawks, Saturday’s game is the true test of whether or not they’ve turned around.
“I think we’ve come together at the right time,” said Combs. “We’ll find out on Saturday if that’s true or not.”
Both the Bayhawks-Cannons game and the Championship game will be broadcast live on ESPN2.
2010 Major League Lacrosse Championship Weekend presented by Warrior
August 21-22, Annapolis, MD
For information and tickets go to www.majorleaguelacrosse.com