Surprises and storylines have been main themes for the energetic Ohio Machine, who will look to start resolving some of those open ends Saturday night at New York.
After a heartbreaking overtime loss against Boston last week, Coach Bear Davis looked to capitalize on the leadership and resolve at practice this week that never had the chance to be flaunted as such until last game.
“Being down by five, and with such a short clock, and having the fight in the dog that we had to come back and tie it up, I think shows a lot of character by our guys. I think they could’ve folded up the tents there at that point but they decided to make the commitment to stay in the game and get after it, so that was positive.”
Such has been the battle cry for Ohio all season — Battle ~ Get that extra ground ball ~ Work just a bit harder ~ Focus on the positives and work off of them. Even though, in some games, those positives have been outweighed by negatives, Coach Davis has always found a way to keep the team focused, on point. With some of the negatives of that strategy, there is one overlying positive that matters more than ever: The team will be focused and grounded when it actually hits the fan, when the Machine are in solid playoff contention, and when people really start paying attention.
The Machine are ready for now.
Such readiness will be necessary when the Machine walk through the tunnel at the James M. Shuart Stadium in Hempstead, New York, to face a rather formidable foe in the New York Lizards. The Lizards (4-4) defeated the Machine in Ohio back in May. Since then, the Lizards and the Machine have developed certain assets and have had surprising breakouts from other players.
Since the two teams’ last meeting on May 17th, the New York Lizards have developed into a solid, yet inconsistent, club. Sporting a negative goal deferential, the Lizards are not overwhelmingly solid on either the offensive or defensive sides of the ball, but a few specific players serve as dynamite for a team coming off of a win against Charlotte last week. Rob Pannell, who scored only one goal against the Machine in their last meeting, has had a breakout season en route to becoming a member of Team USA and the leader in overall points for New York. On the year, Pannell sports 21 total goals and 10 assists, which are both team highs. For what some would call an offensive “anchor”, blowing out the second place goal scorer (16) and assists leader (5), Pannell also has a darker side. The attackman flaunts a rather low .259 shot percentage. Even though he shoots early and often, not many are primed for the goal. Though, the Machine have had trouble matching up against attackmen all season, as shown last week with Bostons’ Will Manny and Paul Rabil. So, this attackman might as well be ready to make an impact.
Though, the Machine might be primed to make an impact of their own. The Machine offense, unlike New York, could be categorized as explosive. Last week against Boston, the Machine offense scored an overwhelming 5 goals in 5 minutes to come back from an overwhelming fourth quarter deficit. Amusingly, no two goals were scored by the same player during that stretch. The offensive charge for Ohio comes from many different avenues, and in the case of last weeks’ fourth quarter comeback, even the defense got involved in the scoring. Defensiveman Dana Wilber netted a two-pointer to put the Machine even with Boston headed to overtime. Hopefully, this week, the Machine defense can be as reliable at its normal job as it can be on offense. On a noticeable slump or lag, the defense has had issues in some areas. Admittedly from Coach Davis, the issue from last week was subbing and giving the other team favorable matchups in their offensive zones. But overall, the defense has had trouble with communication and being in the positions that they should be in. The Machine defense will look to rebound from its stinky streak against a favorable opponent in a rather straightforward New York offense.
Though, with the shaky defense, one cannot go analyzing the Machine without delving into their offensive balance and hotness. Even though young, the offense puts forward a balanced and controlled by veterans Steele Stanwick and Kyle Harrison, who, as Coach Davis pointed out earlier this week, are the “anchors” of the Machine offense, but in a different way than New York.
“I wish I could come up for a word for how important he is, but I don’t know if there’s a word that exists for it right now. I mean, he’s everything,” mused Davis. “When it hits the fan, they [teammates] look to Kyle Harrison. He keeps that calm, cool, collective way about him, and that’s how you come back when you’re down by five goals with five minutes left in the game, is with a veteran presence like him.”
Though the veteran personalities in Stanwick and Harrison have a prominent role backstage, they certainly make an impact in leading the gameplay as well. Stanwick leads the team with 19 assists, and Harrison has 21 total points on the year. He is the fifth of five players on the Machine with 20 or more total points. Each of those players make a huge impact to the offense, and provide the team with extreme balance that is sure to penetrate the New York defense on Saturday.
WHO TO WATCH FOR
Face-Off Men — In what has been a weaker point for the Machine all season, Coach Davis will have to chose someone to pit up against regular starter Greg Gurenlian, who is just under 60% on face off conversions all year (126-212). Oddly, Coach Davis sat out Eric O’Brien, who had a rather strong outing against Rochester two weeks ago, in last weeks’ match against Boston. It was confirmed earlier this week that there is no health issues with O’Brien – that it was purely a coaches decision to start Bobby Datillo over O’Brien. It will be a point of interest to see who Davis pits against New York mainstay Greg Gurenlian in the face off circle.
Machine Young Guns — In the two teams’ first meeting in May, which was, as well, Tom Schrieberand Peter Baum‘s home premier for the Machine, both of the aforementioned young ones scored three goals a piece for the Machine. Now that they are more matured and in mid-season form, watch for those two to have a substantial impact against New York.
IN COACH’S WORDS
“There’s no doubt in my mind that these guys know that they can compete with anybody now. I mean we’ve played everybody and had tight games or won against everyone at some point. So now, the second time around, it’s a matter of ‘okay,’ it’s not let’s make sure we’re competitive, it’s make sure that we finish the job. That’s the next hurdle, and I think for every coach and every team, that’s always a tough hurdle.”
The Ohio Machine @ the New York Lizards will be broadcast live on the MLL Network (Youtube.com) at 7:00 p.m. eastern time on Saturday, June 28th.