Sunday, August 10, 2008

Merrick Takes Lead By Two On MLL Top Goal Scorers List

UAlbany alum Merrick Thomson powered the Pride’s second-half run to complete the comeback, adding three second-half goals to his second period assist to register four points, and put himself two goals ahead of John Grant Jr. of Rochester, who will close his season against Chicago this weekend.

It took 12 weeks, but the Pride finally reached .500 in 2008 with a thrilling come-from-behind, overtime victory over Philadelphia, 17-16.

The Pride overcame an early 6-0 hole to battle back to a 16-16 tie at the end of regulation, and Matt Rewkowski found the back of the net to earn the Pride their third consecutive win to close the season.

The Pride nearly won it early in overtime as they took the opening possession down and Matt Danowski fired a shot past Kevin Keenan. The ball struck iron though, and rebounded out to midfield, ending the scoring threat.

After several fruitless possessions for each team, Stephen Peyser took the ball near the top of the two-point arc and, following a double team, fed Rewkowski.

“I just did my job,” Peyser said. “I did a dodge down the side, got the double and passed it to Rewk.”

With the game in his stick, Rewkowski faked the shot, stepped inside and fired one past Keenan for the win.

The game not only breeds optimism for next season as the conclusion of the three-game tear, but also was as far from what many expect from the Pride franchise as a team can get. In addition to winning in overtime, the bane of the Pride’s existence in recent years, the Pride overcame a huge deficit by continuing to fight, rather than wilting in the face of a terrible start.

“We started off just dead flat,” Pride coach Peter Jacobs said. “From the middle of the first to the end we played better.

“It’s one of those things where you need a little spark.”

The Pride found that spark early in their rookies, who combined for the Pride’s first seven points in their last game as, perhaps, the most talented rookie corps in league history.

Peyser had three goals in the run, and Danowski added two goals with one behind the arc. Another rookie, defenseman Joe Cinosky added the final strike to pull the Pride within 10-7.

In total, Peyser had four goals for the Pride to earn Bud Light MVP Honors.

The Pride halved the six-point hole by halftime at 11-8, despite a large disparity in penalty time. The Barrage were awarded seven minutes of man-up time to the Pride’s 2.5, and the lack of calls on Philadelphia, most notably Brian Spallina putting his stick on two Pride players after the whistle had blown play dead.

“A couple of their guys were cheaping us,” Jacobs said, “and our guys are retaliating, which stinks because that’s how you get caught.

“It’s a travesty.”

While the Pride entered looking to take advantage of the Barrage’s hot-heads and physical play to earn the man-up, Jacobs was less than thrilled with the way the game was called,

“Obviously [playing physical didn’t work],” Jacobs said, “because they were calling the penalties on us.”

The victory was a part of a larger season-ending run by the Pride. In addition to the 3-0 finish, the Pride closed the year going 6-3 after incorporating their full rookie crop into the line-up.

“[The win] means the world to us,” Peyser said. “We knew we had a great team, it was just a matter of finding the right pieces to the puzzle.

“It’s a lot of positive things. We’ve got a great face-off kid [Danny Brennan}, a great defense and a some stars on offense.”

One of those stars, a relative veteran on the rookie-heavy team, is second-year Merrick Thomson, who put himself temporarily in first in the MLL in goal-scoring.

While the late charge was not enough to pull the Pride into the postseason, there is much cause for optimism heading into the 2009 season. With victories over both of the Eastern Conference’s playoff teams during their run, the Pride have shown they already have the talent to compete with anyone. Next season, they will hope that another year of experience will take them from competitive to dominant.

By Bobby Ingram

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