Semifinal Game 1:
No. 4 Long Island (8-6) vs. No. 1 Denver (11-3)
1 p.m. Saturday (ESPN2/ESPN3)
Harvard Stadium, Cambridge, Mass.
The 2012 storylines for Long Island and Denver aren’t all that dissimilar: Both have a first-year head coach — Joe Spallina of Long Island, Jim Stagnitta of Denver — and both underwent significant roster overhauls in the offseason, which led to doubts about their postseason aspirations. But they enter Championship Weekend riding distinctly different streaks: Denver has won six straight, and is considered the trendy pick to win its first title; Long Island dropped consecutive games to end the season and backed into the playoffs.
“The tide turned for us, but only in the last couple weeks. We went through the season as everyone questioned: Can this team compete?” Stagnitta said. “People picked us to not even make the playoffs earlier in the year. We were a tweener. I don’t think our guys have lost that mentality, honestly. I don’t think you go from being the big underdog that we were to legitimately being a big favorite.”
Seemingly the only thing that could get in the Outlaws’ way: themselves, or more specifically, their own roster health. Faceoff specialist Anthony Kelly has been battling a hamstring injury for most of the season, and he will play an important role in slowing Gurenlian, though Kelly (when he was with Ohio) won only 2-of-15 against Gurenlian earlier in the year.
Stagnitta expects Kelly to be ready for the weekend.
“I have not heard anything that would make me think that it’s not fine,” Stagnitta said. “Anthony is a veteran, and he’s been around a long time. In my conversations with him, he’s pulled up short of doing any type of serious damage to it. He and the trainers both felt he would be fine. Obviously he’s had a couple weeks to rehab and work on it. My expectation, and all the information I’ve gotten, is he should be fine.”
Denver also activated earlier this month rookie Stephen Robarge (VMI), who went 17-for-30 against Gurenlian in early May before sustaining a “broken high thumb between his wrist and thumb.” Stagnitta suggested the Outlaws would dress Robarge on Saturday.
“Anthony is a big boy. But it’s two days, a lot of faceoffs,” Stagnitta said. “We just felt like, if we have him there with us that weekend, one way or the other, he would be that safety net for us, just in case. Also, just to give Anthony a break and let him catch his breath, and not have to take 50 faceoffs over a weekend.”
Stagnitta has preached all year playing balanced team offense, and balanced team defense. But he knows the importance the center of the field will play against Long Island.
For more: http://www.laxmagazine.com/mll/2011-12/news/082312_overhauled_denver_long_island_square_off_in_major_league_lacrosse_semifinals