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‘Unselfish lacrosse,’ led by Thompson’s 4 goals and stout defense, leads Cannons to first PLL victory

By Andrew Crane | Jun 6, 2021

When Stephen Rehfuss reached the two-point arc, he hesitated, slowing his Waterdogs defender down just enough so that his next step — the one that’d push him past Christian Scarpello — created the space he needed. And when that window opened, down the right alley with an open lane to goalie Dillon Ward, Rehfuss sprinted into it.

At that point, with 3:35 left in the second quarter, the Waterdogs still had a short-stick defensive midfielder on the rookie from Syracuse, the one selected as an attackman who then transitioned into a midfielder, who initially served as a complement to offensive focal points like Lyle Thompson and Paul Rabil but then started creating offensive opportunities of his own. They’d eventually pivot to a long-pole defender, but that came after Rehfuss’ three-point first half — the final one coming when the Waterdogs didn’t slide and he fired a shot past Ward, extending the Cannons’ lead to 8-1.

It kept growing until settling at 13-7 when Rabil cradled the last seconds away over by the Cannons sideline, signaling the expansion team’s first Premier Lacrosse League win and finalizing a blueprint that’d work for more. The key parts of the Cannons’ offense still played a role in their victory, like Thompson through his four goals or Rabil through his three. But when paired with the emerging ones and a defense that stymied the new-look Waterdogs’ offense, their win provided a glimpse of what the final nine games could look like for the first-year team if everything continued to gel together.

“First half, we probably just gave up the middle of the field a little bit too easily,” Waterdogs head coach Andy Copelan said, “and kinda let those guys dictate and control tempo.”

Rabil opened the scoring early in the first quarter when he dodged past Liam Byrnes and swung a left-handed shot past Ward, his fourth goal of the young season that followed up a hat trick on Friday night. That’s when the Cannons jumped out to an early lead against the Redwoods and nearly won their first PLL game in their first opportunity to do so — surrendering seven of eight to close the first half, still taking a three-goal lead late, but then allowing the final four tallies against the Redwoods. 

They built a similar 4-1 lead on Sunday, and then blew past it. Andrew Kew scored three-straight goals to close the opening quarter, with two assisted by Rehfuss when he initiated the offense up top, and then Ryan Drenner deposited a rebound when Ward saved Connor Buczek’s behind-the-back shot. Rehfuss’ skip when dodging, Rabil said postgame, is a “changeup” for most defenders that makes him difficult to cover.

Before Zach Currier’s goal with two minutes left in the half, all the Waterdogs managed was a transition goal when Steven DeNapoli intercepted a clear attempt near the sidelines and scored before a Cannons defender recovered. Copelan said earlier in the week that he wanted the Waterdogs to take advantage in transition, when defense flipped to offense, when the Cannons made a mistake and the Waterdogs found a way to capitalize. But surrounding those two goals in the opening 24 minutes were double-digit turnovers and stalled possessions, a crease violation on Michael Sowers and an offsides on a clear, all mistakes that, when added up, limited the offense’s impact.

“Our defense was just scrappy, so that was a big win for us,” Rabil said. “They won the game for us.”

Rabil said that when he talked with Nick Marrocco postgame, the Cannons goalie said that he dipped a little bit against Redwoods shooters on Friday. That adjustment, along with Waterdogs shooters trying to win high-to-high, led to his 11 saves, empty possessions at his end and a surplus of finished ones at the other cage. Thompson created an isolated, one-on-one situation at X with 7:30 left in the third quarter and drew a double-team when he dodged on his defender. He’d scored twice in similar situations — a dodge from X, a swinging stick across the body, a shot that found its way through the smallest of angles and into the cage. But even with two defenders draped over him, Thompson beat Ward five-hole, and the Cannons’ lead became 10-2. 

Then the Waterdogs started to mount a comeback, gradually chipping away by scoring three of four before Sowers tucked behind the cage and scored while a check from behind knocked his helmet off. Currier had drawn a slide on the right post, which freed up a lane for Sowers to curl around, and the rookie, who had two goals called back because of crease violations, added his second of the game.

“I don't think I've ever seen a guy, the same guy, get called for a crease violation three times in a game,” Copelan said. “So that was a little bit unique, but I just think he had to kind of feel out how things were gonna play him.”

The Waterdogs didn’t score on the power play, though, and managed just one more the rest of the game — a two-point tally from Ryland Rees with 3:52 left. Rabil had added another, and Kew did too one minute later. Buczek sprinted around the cage and Kew’s defender got dragged toward the right post off the slide. It opened a lane for him to convert past Ward, and he pumped his arm afterward in celebration. 

“These guys have been playing unselfish lacrosse all week, whether it be in practice or training sessions and certainly come game time,” Quirk said.

That unselfishness, in the offense of Sean Kirwan, translates to spacing, to balance, to the extra pass that’ll find a late rotation and expose. It’ll take an offense that could revolve around two players and expand it to six. And all those pieces, when combined together over a 48-minute game, will propel the PLL’s newest franchise the best. 

It nearly worked on Friday. And Sunday showed that, when everything meshes together like it did, the Cannons’ first win could serve as a launching pad for more.

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