NLL OUTLOOK: League / Northern Division / Central Division / Eastern Division / Mid-Season

CENTRAL DIVISION

By Ted Montour, Canada/NLL Editor


Albany Attack

The undisputed surprise team of 2002, the Albany Attack finished the regular season with a 14 - 2 record and a 10-game winning streak. Rob Blasdell ranked 3rd among NLL goaltenders with a 12.01 goals-against average, Gary Rosyski scored 44 goals, and Josh Sanderson established a new League assist record with 68 helpers.




With home-floor and a first-round bye, the Attack avenged their regular-season losses to Rochester with a 14 - 10 semi-final win at the Pepsi Arena, lead by Dan Teat's 4 goals. A week later came the showdown with Toronto, and 9,289 fans, Albany's best crowd ever, were treated to a 5-goal, 5-assist performance from Sanderson, but it wasn't enough to top the Rock, who outscored their hosts 13 - 12 to win their third NLL championship.

Blasdell was named NLL Goaltender of the Year, and First Team All Pro along with Sanderson, and skipper Bob MacMahon was selected Head Coach of the Year, but these post-season honors don't equate to a Champions Cup in 2003.

                  


The big acquisition by the Attack was first-round draft pick Josh Coffman from Carthage, N.Y. and the national champion Syracuse Orangemen. An All-American at both attack and midfield, Coffman was the highest selected U.S.-born player in this year's entry draft, and is sure to shine in the NLL. Second-rounder Brock Boyle from the OLA Jr. A Mississauga Tomahawks also made the roster.

Forward Scott MacDonell has returned to the line-up after missing last season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament, while defenders Brock Robertson (OLA Jr. A Orillia) and Chris White (OLA Jr. A Peterborough), selected in last year's draft, have been activated for 2003. Former Rebel Chris Parkin will also help shore up the defensive corps, with the trade of Attack all-time face-off leader Steve Fannell to Ottawa (expect Jim Moss to become the primary draw-man). 2001 draft pick, goaltender Jake Henhawk from Six Nations, has also been signed this season.

One of the dubious benefits of a first-place finish and championship appearance is in the next season's schedule, and the Attack are no exception. Two of their first four games are against Toronto, sandwiched around two Week 2 road games in three nights, in New York and Buffalo. All told, the Attack face every one of last year's play-off teams twice with the exception of the Wings, whom they play at home. Their series with the Knighthawks will be back-to-back games on the first two days of February, and they also have two successive trips to the West at the end of March, to face the Ravens on March 21 and the Mammoth on March 28. That's six time zones within eight days, and it could be particularly debilitating in the last quarter of the schedule. Albany has no western commuters on its roster.

The Attack's top five scorers (Sanderson, Rosyski, Teat, Nick Trudeau and Mike Regan) return, and they are all 30+ goal producers. Coffman will likely be worked gradually into the League's 3rd-ranked offence, but he should contribute. The strengthened defence can be expected to improve on last season's 12.1 goals-allowed average. Albany had the best penalty kill in the NLL last year, but their power play ranked 10th, at just over 50% efficiency. Expect MacMahon to work on that.

Albany's exceptional season of last winter will be hard to duplicate --- they stopped sneaking up on anyone at least half-way through last year's 10-game win streak, and their tougher schedule will put more pressure on their offence and special teams. They should be able to improve on last season's 3,508 average home attendance. The Central Division could very likely be the most closely contended in the NLL, as well as the best bet to produce two play-off teams. With a double header against the Rock, and five of six intra-Divisional games all crammed into the first half of their schedule, the Attack's fate could be determined by the end of NLL Week 8, 2003.



Rochester Knighthawks

The Rochester Knighthawks opened last season as virtually everyone's favourite to win the Champions Cup and take their first championship of the NLL era. Although they got off to their typical slow start, they finished their 13 - 3 season with a six-game win streak, handing the Albany Attack their only two losses. They got by the surprisingly stubborn Vancouver Ravens, only to fall 14 - 10 to the Attack in the semi-finals.


Grant at the Heritage Cup

All Pro John Grant tallied 52 goals and 53 assists (plus another 6 goals in the post-season) to lead the 'hawks to a League-best 16.1 goals per game, and finished 3rd in the League behind a couple of guys named Gait. All told, Rochester has seven players with 20 or more goals. Goaltender Pat O'Toole compiled a 5th-ranked 12.72 goals-against average.

So what happened to the K'hawks? Their defence held the Attack to more than 1.5 goals below their season average, but their offence faltered badly - Grant and company could only muster 10 goals, and just 6 of those were at even strength. Albany's Goalie of the Year, Rob Blasdell, stopped 36 shots, and his defenders 'held' Grant to 3 goals.

General Manager Jody Gage and Head Coach Paul Day concluded, among other things, that some of the younger players should play a larger role. Duane Jacobs, who had been designated the franchise player little more than four months earlier, was advised to expect less floor-time, and, on a related issue, was apparently told as well that the club would not extend its insurance to cover treatment of a knee injury that he apparently suffered during the OLA Senior Major season. The Knighthawks would start the season without "Dewey" in the line-up, and subsequently announced that he had been traded to the Buffalo Bandits for a draft choice.

Rochester chose Nanaimo, B.C. native Steve Penny in the dispersal, to bring their West Coast contingent to four (along with Derek and Curt Malawsky, and last year's first-round draft choice, Ted Jenner). Last season's 2nd-round draft pick, attacker Shawn Wilkins, and '99 pick, forward Billy Serino, were also added to the roster. From this year's entry draft, the club signed defender Steve Jennings (2nd round, 22nd overall, from the OLA Jr. A Orangeville Northmen).

John Grant leads the Rochester attack, and, with Jacobs gone, expect Jenner to see a lot more floor time playing the full schedule. Shawn Williams scored 13 of his 40 goals last year on the power play, while Curt (31 goals) and Derek (24) Malawsky, and Tim Soudan (20) made their contributions as well. Cory Bomberry, who felled Dwight Maetche with a "purpose pitch", trademark long bomb in last year's wild card play-off game, denting his cage and scuffing up his nose, is due for a break-out scoring season.

The defensive corps, lead by Marshall Abrams, always dangerous in transition and on the break, and hardrock Regy Thorpe, will be strengthened with the addition of Penny, while 'tender Pat O'Toole should start every game, with Pat Campbell returning as the back-up.

The first half of Rochester's schedule features a trip to Vancouver and back-to-back games with Albany, while they have a Friday / Sunday week-end in March, with Toronto and at Columbus, respectively, and a visit to Denver to play the Mammoth. All told, the K-hawks face every one of last year's play-off teams, with the exception of Colorado, twice, as demanding a schedule as there is in the NLL. No doubt, they would very much like to win the Division en route to a championship, continue their regular-season mastery over the Attack, and win a game in Toronto along the way. All is possible, with the NLL's leading offence largely intact, and provided that their key players stay healthy. If last season was destiny thwarted, then this season could be redemption for the Knighthawks.


Chris Gill's 53 goals were second only to League scoring champion Paul Gait, and goaltender (and oldest player in the NLL) Dwight Maetche, in his return to the pro ranks, likewise ranked second to Toronto's Bob Watson, with a goals-against average of 11.77. The Ravens wasted little time re-signing the two Second Team All Pro selections this fall. Newcomer Peter Morgan opted for lacrosse over university basketball, scoring 32 goals in 12 games, and garnering an All Rookie Team selection.


Columbus Landsharks

The Columbus Landsharks lost eleven games in their second season, the same as their first, but they won two more, thanks to the expanded schedule and League. Their top scorer, the Onondaga Nation's Gewas Schindler, with 33 goals and 33 assists, finished 8 points out of the Top Twenty NLL scorers, while their "4x4" goaltender, Mike Miron of Oshawa, was named to the 2002 NLL All-Rookie Team, along with Elora, Ontario's Kasey Beirnes.

           
Gewas Schindler at the 2002 World Games

Former Attack assistant Bob Hamley was named the new Head Coach during the off-season, succeeding Ron Roy. "The Hammer" won two MILL championships playing with the Buffalo Bandits from 1992 through 1995. Former Ottawa Rebel scout Jeff Dowling, head coach of the OLA Jr. A Burlington Chiefs, and Rick Wilson, a former assistant to Hamley with the OLA Jr. A Kitchener-Waterloo Braves, were named Assistant Coaches.


The 'sharks grabbed Peter Lough and 'tender Curtis Palidowor (later traded to the Roughnecks) in the dispersal, and took Jon Harasym 2nd overall in the entry draft. A former midfielder at the University of Maryland-Baltimore County, the feisty Alberta native won a Mann Cup last summer with Terry Sanderson's OLA Major Brampton Excelsiors, where he had 9 goals and 36 assists in the regular season ( he had previously played for Lindsay Sanderson's OLA Jr. A Orangeville Northmen). Columbus also acquired Pat Maddalena (22 goals) and the Buffalo Bandits' 7th and 28th overall draft picks, in exchange for their own 3rd overall selection (Buffalo subsequently took Billy Dee Smith, and Columbus got Rory Glaves and Greg Judge). The 'sharks also re-acquired goalie Ken Montour from the Bandits.

Miron and "Monster" give the Landsharks a strong young tandem in nets, while Lough (6'2", 210 lb.), Gillespie (6-1, 195), Derek Suddons (6-2, 220) and Bonterre (6-3, 268) make for one of the bigger defensive squads in the League. Neal Powless (25 goals) and Cory Kahoun (13) do not return, and, with Steenhuis traded, Barrett Church (4 goals in 6 games), Spencer Martin (17 in 11 games) and Kyle Jamieson (4 in ( games) should see more playing time, and Schindler, Beirnes, Kyle Arbuckle (19) and Harasym will get quality help from Maddalena and a full season from Jamie Taylor. The NLL's second -worst offence (12.4 goals per game, ahead of only New Jersey last year) will have to substantially step up production to have any hope of keeping up with their Division rivals.

The Landsharks' 2003 schedule is reasonably balanced, with three intra-divisional games in each half of the season, and they leave their own time zone only once, for a February 7 visit to Calgary. They face the Saints, Rebel, Storm and Roughnecks twice, plus the Wings and Ravens.

Maddalena is a game breaker (he lead the NLL with 5 short-handed goals in the 14-game schedule a couple of years back) who should shine in Columbus; All Rookie Team members Beirnes and Miron should have successful sophomore seasons, and Harasym is a legitimate Rookie of the Year candidate. The 'sharks remain one of the youngest teams in the League, but they will have to swim harder than last winter to stay alive, because standing still could be fatal.


Buffalo Bandits

The 2003 story of the Bandits begins, not on the sports pages but in the business sections, which have chronicled the crash-and-burn of Adelphia Communications and the downfall of owner John Rigas and sons and accomplices Michael and Timothy, accused by the feds of essentially blowing out their own company, pilfering billions from company accounts.

                      
Rigas, the elder

The Bandits' future hangs on what transpires in the NHL, owned as they are by the Sabres / HSBC Arena; current negotiations are at a delicate stage, with the parties awaiting approval from the state government on an assistance package demanded by the prospective new owners, local businessmen Mark Hamister and Todd Berman. General Manager Kurt Silcott is an early candidate for National Lacrosse League Executive of the Year, for the way that he has soldiered on in the face of all of this uncertainty.


Silcott's first move was to "bring home" Darris Kilgour to be the new Head Coach, after finishing last season with Jim Nielsen at the helm following the resignation of Ted Sawicki. Silcott and Kilgour, who declined to make the move to the Mile-High City with the Power / Mammoth, repatriated Troy Cordingley from Albany, and also hired Darris's former Niagara Wheatfield High School coach, Randy Chrysler, to fill out the bench staff.

After picking up Aimee Caines in the Montreal dispersal, the Bandits selected Billy Dee Smith from the OLA Jr. A St. Catharines Athletics, 3rd overall. Smith is a lacrosse player after Kilgour's own heart, combining size and athleticism with skill and a pretty broad nasty streak. He has bounced back quickly from a pre-season ankle injury, to be ready to start his rookie season. Buffalo also found walk-on defender Ray Guze of Vancouver, B.C. at an open try-out camp, and trades have brought Kerry Susheski, Chris Konopliff, and Smith's St. Catharines team-mate Mark Steenhuis.


           
Tavares at the All-Star Banquet with Toronto's Les Bartley          

Franchise player John Tavares, and veterans like fellow original Bandit Rich Kilgour, Pat McCready, Mike Accursi and Jonas Derks, along with Susheski, Konopliff, Steenhuis and Smith, will be expected to return the Bandits offence to respectability. Two seasons ago, the Bandits had the top offence and the most effective power play in the NLL; last season their overall goal production fell by 4.7 goals per game, putting them mid-pack in the League, and the power play fell to 5th.


Historically, the Bandits have not been known as a defensive powerhouse; goaltender Steve "Chugger" Dietrich will have to have a consistent season, and the defensive corps anchored by Chris Langdale must play well in front of him. The Bandits last made the play-offs in the 2000 season, losing a semi-final match to the Rochester Knighthawks after finishing one game behind the League-leading Toronto Rock.

Buffalo's schedule includes only one Divisional opponent, Rochester, in the second half of the season along with two games against Ottawa, New York, Philadelphia, New Jersey and Calgary. If the Bandits could dispose of Albany and Columbus in the first half, they would hold their fate in their own hands with only the Knighthawks left to deal with in the Central.

This is still John Tavares' team, and as he goes, so go the Bandits. Coach Kilgour should make things very interesting for opponents, as he embodies the pride and Championship tradition of this club as much as JT, plus he has winning seasons as a coach under his belt with Washington. The Bandits have an opportunity to re-establish their winning credentials in the NLL with these two warriors leading the way.

On January 2, the Bandits announced the acquisition of Duane Jacobs from the Rochester Knighthawks, in exchange for their second-round entry draft pick next season. "Dewey" is the K-hawks' all-time leader in goals, assists, and play-off points. The veteran from Six Nations Grand River Territory, a practicing lawyer, agreed to relinquish his franchise-player designation to facilitate the deal. Jacobs notched 21 goals and 25 assists last winter, and added 3 more goals (2 on the power play) in the play-offs.


1/20/03

Ted Montour is a communications and sports management consultant from the Six Nations Grand River Territory in southern Ontario, an Iroquois community that is the most populous reservation in Canada. Six Nations is the home of lacrosse legend, the late Gaylord Powless.

A former Ontario Lacrosse Association (OLA) Junior player, coach and general manager, Ted resides in Ottawa, where he handled community and public relations for the Ottawa Rebel in their first NLL season. He also coaches box lacrosse in Ottawa with the Nepean Minor Lacrosse Association, and looks after media relations for the Nepean Knights of the OLA Junior B League.