UMass lacrosse alumnus Ben Spencer recounts Major League Lacrosse bubble, Cannons’ championship

  • Former UMass midfielder Ben Spencer holds the Steinfeld Trophy after the Boston Cannons beat the Denver Outlaws, 13-10, in the Major League Lacrosse championship, Sunday, July 26 at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, Maryland. TYLER WOLLENBURG PHOTO

  • Former UMass midfielder Ben Spencer, center, holds the Steinfeld Trophy with assistant coach John Klepacki, left, and equipment manager Lars Keil after the Boston Cannons beat the Denver Outlaws, 13-10, in the Major League Lacrosse championship, Sunday, July 26 at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, Maryland. TYLER WOLLENBURG PHOTO

  • Former UMass midfielder Ben Spencer warms up with the Boston Cannons. TYLER WOLLENBURG PHOTO

  • Former UMass midfielder Ben Spencer warms up with the Boston Cannons. TYLER WOLLENBURG PHOTO

  • Former UMass midfielder Ben Spencer is shown in action with the Boston Cannons. TYLER WOLLENBURG PHOTO

  • Former UMass midfielder Ben Spencer is shown in action with the Boston Cannons. TYLER WOLLENBURG PHOTO

  • Former UMass midfielder Ben Spencer is shown with the Boston Cannons. TYLER WOLLENBURG PHOTO

For the Gazette
Published: 8/4/2020 5:42:05 PM

The last two months were quite the journey for UMass lacrosse alumnus Ben Spencer as he won the Major League Lacrosse championship with the Boston Cannons — and it all started with a simple phone call in June.

Cannons assistant coach John Klepacki was on the other end. Spencer had been picked up by the team earlier in the year, and at the time expected to make his debut when the MLL season was originally scheduled to embark in May.

But, even under uncertain circumstances, Spencer was prepared to compete.

“Coach Klepacki asked me if I was ready to play for this season,” Spencer said. “Coming off of a gap year, I knew I really wanted to get into it, so I was more than willing to play.”

Spencer spent the rest of the month ramping up his training routine and getting in shape for the MLL. Much like other sports leagues such as the NBA and NHL, the MLL knew that there was only one way they’d be able to hold a safe season: a bubble.

The league calendar was slated to consist of 11 official days: two training days, a seven-day regular season where the league’s six teams each play each other once, and a two-day, four-team playoff.

Players were asked to remain inside the “bubble” of Westin Hotel and Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, Maryland, and all were tested for COVID-19 before arrival. Temperature checks were taken every day, and those who didn’t pass were immediately administered a COVID-19 test.

“There were guidelines put in place, and I didn’t leave my room in order to respect those requests,” Spencer said. “The only times I would leave are to get food, practice, or to get ready for a game … for the most part, it wasn’t very challenging to do.”

Playing in such a short timeframe was also a unique aspect of the competition, but Spencer felt that his Cannons handled the challenge well.

“It’s definitely challenging to just do two training sessions and then have to go into five games, but in a lot of ways we were able to figure out things as we went on,” Spencer said. “Everyone in the league was in the same boat and had to combat that issue, and I guess we did it better than anyone else.”

The Cannons oscillated between close wins and close losses throughout the five-game regular season, ending the week with a 3-2 record and a spot in the four-game playoffs.

But, despite the best efforts of the MLL, the bubble burst at the end of the regular season. Prior to the two semifinal matches, multiple players tested positive for COVID-19. By the time the dust settled, the Connecticut Hammerheads and Chesapeake Bayhawks both forfeited and withdrew from their semifinal contest out of safety concerns.

This left the other semifinal matchup between the Cannons and the top-seeded Denver Outlaws as the final game of the tournament, and the de facto championship. Multiple Cannons’ withdrew from the championship bout due to their own personal safety concerns.

Spencer was one of the players who decided to push on, but noted that there was mutual respect regardless of what each individual decided.

“For the guys that didn’t end up competing, it was no hard feelings,” Spencer said. “As a group, we decided each of us would make that decision individually for what was best for ourselves. I think for the teams that ended up forfeiting, they made the right decision as a team, and it was a selfless one.”

Spencer added that despite the quick shift from a semifinal game to what became the championship, his teammates felt no different about the goal in front of them.

“It doesn’t change anything,” Spencer said. “You have to go out and compete. They were the top seed, so it felt like every game was a championship game at that point anyways. We just wanted to be the last team standing.”

And they were. In a tightly contested final match, the Cannons defeated the Outlaws, 13-10, securing their second MLL championship and first since 2011.

Spencer contributed to the cause in a big way early in the game, scoring the second goal for the Cannons about four minutes in, increasing the advantage to 2-0.

“I had an initial dodge, and then got it back,” Spencer said, recounting his goal. “I knew that if I get a step on my man I’m going to the cage if nobody splits me ... I just went for it. If they weren’t going to respect us one-on-one, we were just going to go downhill right to the rack.”

Both teams traded scoring runs over the next three periods, with the Cannons ahead after three quarters. The game shifted into a much more defensive battle for the final frame, as neither team was able to score throughout the period.

“We weren’t trying to take the air out of the ball on offense — we weren’t gonna change the way we played,” Spencer said of the drought in the final quarter. “Obviously we didn’t land on any of our scoring opportunities, but it says a lot about our defensive group to be able to make stops when we’re not scoring on the other end. If there’s one thing you don’t want gone in the fourth quarter, it’s your defense, so credit to them for holding on and stopping them.”

The victory secured the Cannons the championship in what was indisputably the most unique season in MLL history. But, despite the chaos of the last two months, the championship tastes just as sweet for Spencer.

“At the end of the day, all of the guys are there to compete,” Spencer said. “You play for each other, you play for the coaches, you play to win. If you’re the last team standing, that’s all that matters, so the feeling doesn’t really change. If you’re holding that trophy, that’s the most important thing.”




Daily Hampshire Gazette Office

115 Conz Street
Northampton, MA 01061
413-584-5000

 

Copyright © 2021 by H.S. Gere & Sons, Inc.
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy