After Losing Seasons, Cannons' Core Rising to Occasion


The Boston Cannons sit second in MLL standings, a game behind the Chesapeake Bayhawks.

The past two seasons have been some of the lowest points in history for the Boston Cannons; the team finished in the bottom two in the standings both seasons. Beyond that, the Cannons have missed the playoffs in five of the past six seasons.

Despite the numerous losses, head coach Sean Quirk remained optimistic about his squad.

“Like anything, experience makes you better. Failure can certainly help lead you to success,” Quirk said at the team’s 2019 season opener. “Certainly, my first three years, we had some success, we had failures. That will continue on this year, but you just have to keep on getting better from those things. It’s a process.”

It seems 2019 is the year the Cannons finally put it together.

Through 10 games, the Cannons sit at 6-4 — a higher win total than each of the past two years and in three of the past six seasons. They sit in a tie for second place in the MLL standings, only one game behind the first place Chesapeake Bayhawks (who they play for the first time in Week 11). They also are the only team in the league to have not lost back-to-back games thus far.

“Honestly, we can beat anybody,” Cannons midfielder Kyle Denhoff said. “We have a sound defense. We have some vets down there, arguably the best goalie in the league, and we have guys that can put up points. It’s consistency, making sure we execute every quarter. When we do that, we’re going to be hard to beat.”

Denhoff came to the Cannons in September of 2017 through MLL Player Movement. The system was designed as a type of free agency, allowing players with a minimum of five years and an expired contract to relocate to a different team of their choosing.

A native of Rochester, Denhoff earned a spot on the Rochester Rattlers after playing four years at Division III St. John Fisher. He played five seasons for the Rattlers and was named an MLL All-Star twice. The team made the playoffs three times during his tenure and played in two league championship games.

Although there was plenty of success on the field, rumors swirled about a possible relocation (they eventually moved to Dallas after Denhoff left). Denhoff wanted to play for a team that had more stability and was entrenched in the community, which led him to the Cannons. He did not expect to rack up the losses like in 2018, however.

“Sometimes things don’t click,” he said. “Sometimes you come up short. You try to fix what’s not working. We started to come together last year. We started to win a couple games at the end. It took us longer than expected.”

The Cannons opened the 2018 season with three consecutive losses and were defeated six times in the first eight games of the season.

While the losses piled on, the team began putting cornerstone pieces in place next to Denhoff. They added defender James Fahey and rookie goaltender Nick Marrocco from the MLL Player Pool, midfielder Zed Williams from the Dallas practice squad, and acquired attackman Mark Cockerton in a trade with the Ohio Machine for Davey Emala.

Boston went 3-3 in its final six games, including ending the season on a two-game winning streak.

“I think for the Cannons they made a couple moves,” Denhoff said. “One through a trade to get Mark, and we picked up Zed. I played with both of them in Rochester. There’s no doubt Mark is one of the top scorers in the league. I had seen Zed come up through high school. I was a couple years ahead of him, but we’re both from New York. It was getting an opportunity to be a cornerstone. Once he did, you could see what he could do.”

With those additions to go along with Denhoff, midfielder Challen Rogers, and rookie Will Sands (who suffered a season-ending injury in 2018), the future looked promising.

“Last year, I felt like we were getting hot at the tail end but we missed playoffs because we had guys showing up too late coming from the indoor game,” Williams said. “I feel like we all get to be together for the whole season this year.”

Defensively, the Cannons added rookie long-poles Ryland Rees and Justin Pugal as well as defensive midfielder Zach Goodrich, the third overall pick in the 2019 MLL Collegiate Draft. All three would go on to be All-Stars their rookie seasons.

Both Marrocco and Fahey were excited about the talent on the 2019 roster.

“We’ve gotten some new rookies who are going to play some big roles,” Marrocco said. “Also, just through training camp, there were so many players that could’ve been in starting roles if there were more pro lacrosse teams.”

“There’s 40 other guys on this roster,” Fahey said. “All of them can ball.”

The Cannons jumped out to a surprising 3-0 start to begin the 2019 season before falling to the then undefeated Denver Outlaws by one goal; the winning tally was scored with 20 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter.

Boston got its revenge nearly a month later, topping the Outlaws 16-13 in Denver. Outside of the Bayhawks — who the team hadn’t played yet — Boston defeated every other team in the league at least once. Through Week 10 of the 2019 season, Boston was second in the league in goals per game (only one hundredth of a percentage point behind league leaders Atlanta Blaze) and leads the league in penalty kill percentage (63.3 percent).

“We have a good guy between the pipes and a variety of offensive players,” Denhoff said. “Every guy in this league will tell you the only reason you play is to win a ring.

“On the field, having everyone there, we’ve been able to work through challenges in the early season,” he added. “Consistency and talent on the field has helped us be a better unit. Culturally, in the locker room, it’s a good group. We had a lot of fun in the locker room.”

Denhoff knows quite a bit about good locker rooms. During his time in Rochester, the Rattlers were known for having the closest locker room in the league, one that banded together despite the lack of certainty of the team’s future.

He said this Boston Cannons team has a lot of similarities to those championship contenders.

“I point that out,” he said. “I said, ‘This team feels like the old Rochester teams.’ They kept the core. It’s a young core, and we have vets to keep us grounded and calm. We’re really enjoying this season.”

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