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By Ted Montour, Canada/NLL Editor

NLL 2007 - Changes, Experiments, Expansion

Last year at this time, I called on the National Lacrosse League to punish fighting more severely, particularly with mandatory suspensions, in an effort to eliminate it from pro indoor lacrosse. While this has not yet happened (I continue to hold out hope), the NLL rules-makers have taken steps to reduce gratuitous violence.

The most important of these moves are the rule changes with respect to blows to the head. A cross-check to the head or neck, "… deliberately and with uninterrupted force …" will get the perpetrator a major penalty and a game misconduct, plus an "automatic" one-game suspension and a $1,000 fine. A second such offence will draw an automatic (minimum) four-game suspension. "All forms of checking from behind" will now be penalized, but, much more importantly, and in a clear move to open up the floor for offences, cross-checking on any non-ball-carrier is now prohibited as well. As cross-checking is defined as striking with the portion of the stick-handle between the hands (and, presumeably, checking with the hands/fists together on the stick does not constitute cross-checking) this change should reduce, but not eliminate, contact off the ball. It will certainly unclog things a bit in front of the net, but cutting through the middle will remain an attacker's bravest move. I wonder what will happen to the cross-check/pick favored by many offensive players --- this too is off the ball, is it not?

It will now be possible to score from behind the goal-line, as long as one does not bank the ball in off the tender or anyone else, but I don't expect to see a sudden explosion of "Air Gait" goals. There is no additional space behind the net, and the crossbar remains four feet off the floor, after all. Opening up penalty shots to any player on the team looks like an automatic crowd-pleaser, but if you ask any goalie, he'll tell you that the more dangerous shooter is the one that you've never seen before, so I will withhold judgment on this as well.

Modern box lacrosse is not an inherently violent sport. It is not a collision sport, like hockey or football, and most of the 'sting' of stick-checking of any sort went out of the game with the advent of the plastic stick-head. The most dangerous piece of equipment on a lacrosse floor is the ball. Inasmuch as the Creator's Game is played for the enjoyment of the Creator, efforts to make the game more entertaining, not to mention safer, while maintaining its inherent traditional character, are to be commended.

Having said that, "4-on-4" will NOT make NLL lacrosse more entertaining.

The pre-season, second-half experiment with one less runner in full-strength situations has been a bust. In addition to the most glaring criticism, that 4-on-4 dismisses generations of both offensive and defensive strategic thinking, it didn't have the desired effect of making play more exciting. It did not speed things up, it caused a defensive pre-occupation with vulnerability to the fast break, and it reduced too many offensive possessions to a series of one-on-one's. The power-play became 4-on-3, a configuration that I find distasteful even with a 'conventional' 5-on-3 advantage. In a 5-on-3, why completely waste a player hanging around center floor to scoop errant rebounds or passes, why not put him behind the net "at X", especially now, when he can score from there?

I refuse to believe that there is any cynical or sinister hidden agenda to reduce roster size and payroll. There are any number of factors at play in the typical NLL franchise business plan, that have a more significant impact on the bottom line, not the least of which are access to parking, merchandise, concessions and other revenue streams in addition to gate receipts. Thankfully, 4-0n-4 has indeed been an experiment, and nothing more. More fans would appreciate a lowering of the volume of the music during play.

Pro indoor lacrosse returns to the Big Apple, complete with a 'throwback' team nickname, as the New York Titans will play a split home schedule with four games on Long Island and four in the fabled Madison Square Garden. Another franchise opens up the US Midwest in Chicago, the "Second City", as the Shamrox join the fold. These two clubs put the NLL into the first- and third-largest markets in the United States, as the NLL inches closer still to its magic number of sixteen teams.

The re-establishment of the league in New York City, with a stable ownership group and a venue in Manhattan, is THE crucial move of Commissioner Jim Jennings' tenure. Only Los Angeles remains of the big three American markets, and even the NFL has been doing pretty well lately without an LA-based franchise.

Western Division Preview: Stalking the Mammoth

The upstart Portland Lumberjax may have been the surprise of the West last season, but the Colorado Mammoth provided the heroics. Defender and Rookie of the Year Brodie Merrill and his mates took the Division title but could not convert the home-floor advantage, going down and out to the Arizona Sting. Colorado won a shoot-out with the Calgary Roughnecks, 18-17 in OT, then held off Arizona 13-12 on the strength of Gee Nash's 48 saves. The Mammoth made shockingly short work of the Buffalo Bandits in a 16-9 final.

The Colorado Mammoth found their stride under the low-key coaching leadership of Gary Gait, who is transforming the sport once again. I re-viewed the Champion's Cup final to get myself 'in the mood', and marveled once again at how the Mammoth dominated the Bandits; I do not believe that even an uninjured John Tavares would have changed the outcome. 17 players from the championship team return to the 2007 roster, including top scorers Captain Gavin Prout, Dan Carey and Brian Langtry. Jay Jalbert is out for the season with concussion syndrome, and power-play snipers Chris Gill and Dan Stroup are gone, but the Mammoth remain a dangerous offensive team. Dan Carey won the CLA's Mike Kelly Award as the MVP of the Mann Cup for the victorious Peterborough Lakers. Entry draftee Jamie Shewchuk scored 44 regular-season goals for the Jr. A Lakers of Burnaby, BC this summer, and a happy and healthy Mike Law should return to form. Ben Prepchuk is another young veteran who is overdue to light it up. The defence in front of Gee Nash (who has emphatically shaken his big-game jinx) will be every bit as stalwart as last year, with John Gallant, Pat Coyle, Dave Stilley and draw-man Jamie Hanford, and Josh Sims and the 'transition team' get a boost from newcomers Nenad Gajic and Jason Bloom.

Much has been made of Gary Gait's "not over-coaching" style, but I look at it as more of a "just enough" approach. The Mammoth are the champions, and they will be very difficult to knock off.

The Arizona Sting came up a couple of goals short in their quest for a Champion's Cup. This year's roster is again highlighted by their one-two punch of Dan Dawson and Craig Conn, along with fifteen other returnees. Lindsay Plunkett scored two goals-per-game in a half-season last year after coming back from Buffalo, while Matt Brown averaged just over a goal a game for his rookie season. Veteran Curt Malawsky is joined by his brother Derek; they have 17 combined NLL seasons, with Curt having the advantage in career goals, 210 to 180, while Derek leads in assists, 331 to 218. Sophomores Andy Secore and Andrew Lazore should see more floor time, while rookie Mark Tinning was a solid 20 goals-a-season performer for the Jr. A Kitchener-Waterloo Braves. Skipper Bob Hamley again elected to keep three goalies after Mike Miron departed for Rochester, retaining starter Rob Blasdell and back-up Mike Atwood, and signing rookie Brandon Atherton. Captain Peter Lough and Bruce Codd are the long and short of the veteran defenders, while long-time Rock Brian Beisel, an OLA Jr. A coach in the off-season with the Brampton Excelsiors, adds savvy to go with Chris Seller's speed.

Hamley has done some strategic re-tooling of his line-up, but I'm not sure the Sting have become collectively better. The Malawsky's have both seen their best days already, and so has "Blazer". The Sting should still contend once again for the post-season, but Dan Dawson has to stay healthy, and Craig Conn has to stay cool, if this team is to take enough of those one- and two-goal games that make the difference between contender and also-ran in the NLL.

How do the Portland Lumberjax top a debut like they had --- an 11-5 Division- winning season, five-digit attendance, and the instant stardom of Brodie Merrill. Hosting this season's All Star week-end is a good start. When your top ten scorers last year included four defenders, including no. 3 and no.4, even if one of them is Merrill, some attention to the 'front door' is in order. Victoria, BC Sr. Shamrock Tyler Heavenor arrives from Edmonton (via NYC), where he scored 6 goals and 8 assists in six games, and rookie Matt Holman had a couple of 30-goal seasons for the Toronto Beaches Jr. A squad playing with Philly's Kyle Wailes. Neither Peter Morgan nor Mike Hominuck quite made it to the 30-goal mark in the regular season, and Del Halladay needs to bounce back from what was, for him, a rather modest output of 18 goals and 20 assists.

Veterans Bruce Alexander and Pat Jones anchor the defence along with Merrill, but they are joined by three rookies, free agent Scott Mazuran from Kelowna, BC, Fighting Irish long-pole DJ Driscoll, and Ian Crashley from Whitby, Ontario. Aside from playing Jr. A for 'Jax assistant coach Jeff McComb, Crashley is a puzzler. He is very generously listed at 184 pounds on a 6'5" frame, and was neither his team's top defender nor best fighter. Dallas Eliuk starts his 17th pro indoor season as the No. 1 tender, and back-up Matt King can no longer be called a youngster after five NLL seasons.

I do not see the Lumberjax duplicating their Division-winning feat of last season, in fact, they may be hard-pressed to make the play-offs again unless they can pick up their offensive game. Needless to say, they need Dallas to remain injury-free.

Calgary Roughnecks fans can't be blamed if they are still wondering in what direction General Manager Kurt Silcott is taking the team. Champion's Cup- winning goaltender Curtis Palidwor was left unprotected in the expansion draft and is now a New York Titan. First-round draft pick Kyle Wailes clearly never had any intention of making a cross-country commute from his new job in the Big Apple, and is gone to Philly for a first-rounder next season. On the other hand, Silcott signed the oldest rookie in the league in 38 year-old forward Scott Anderson, a postal worker from Prince George, BC. You have to like a squad that still includes Devan and Taylor Wray and Andy Ogilvie on "D", and Tracy Kelusky, Kaleb Toth and Lewis Ratcliffe up front. Watch out for newbies Jeff Shattler and Jamie Rooney from Ontario. Shattler is a hard-nosed scorer who came up through the Brampton Jr. A Excelsiors program, while Rooney is another Elora boy (think Kasey Beirnes) who scored a ton in Ontario Jr. B. Former back-up goalie Andrew Leyshon had to have impressed Silcott and Head Coach Chris Hall sufficiently that they felt confident letting Palidwor go, however, Ryan Avery is untested as a pro. Is either of these young men a "game-stealer", to use the terminology of my esteemed colleague Ben Knight? Calgary can score and go up and down the floor with anybody in the West, and they will at least make the post-season again --- Tracy Kelusky can get them that far on willpower alone.

The last time that I saw San Jose Stealth General Manager Johnny Mouradian was this past July at the Worlds in London, and he was his usual 'hail fellow well met' self. "The Gypsy" remains the leading horse-trader in the NLL, and there is no more shrewd eye for talent. How then does one explain the paucity of results? I believe that Johnny has yet to find the team chemistry in which I know he so firmly believes. But now it seems that he and his coaching staff are up against it in northern California, where another losing season might very likely precipitate a move of the franchise. At the same time, Johnny and Head Coach Walt Christianson may have found what they need. They had three picks in the opening round of the entry draft, including Nos. 1 and 2, and signed them all, attacker Ryan Benesch from Kitchener-Waterloo, defender and transition player Kyle Sorenson from Peterborough, and goalie Paul Dawson from Brampton. Lest anyone think that it is something of a no-brainer taking premier Ontario Jr. A box players, Mouradian also selected (second round) and signed NCAA 2006 Division II Player of the Year Wes Green out of Adelphi University, Adelaide Australia and Team Aussie, and New York Tech draw-man Joe Vasold.

Zywicki had himself a whale of a summer, starting at attack for Team Canada (with the hamstring injury to Tom Marechek) alongside Gary Gait and John Grant Jr., scoring a tournament-leading 28 goals (two 5-goal efforts versus the US) and being named All World and Best Attackman. It will fall largely to him to lead the Stealth offence, and with Green, Benesch and Callum Crawford (coming in trade from Calgary by way of Chicago), joining him, finishers all, they will need someone to step up as a feeder. Captain Shaydon Santos comes back out from behind the bench to lead a young defensive corps that is a bit light on experience. The good news is that Sorenson has twice been called up to the Senior Lakers to play for Mann Cup-winning teams.

Goaltending turns out at the last minute to be worrisome, as starter Anthony Cosmo begins the season on the Protected List instead of between the pipes. That leaves young Aaron Bold, with all of 45 minutes of NLL experience. While he is coming off a Minto Cup win with Peterborough, he's still a rookie when it comes to the 4'9" NLL goals, and his back-up is Dawson, younger brother of Arizona's Dan. Still, I have a feeling things will be worked out with "Cos", and even if they are not, The Gypsy will pull some out-of-the-blue trade out of his … hat. The Stealth are my dark horse pick to make the play-offs.

Post Script: In an exchange of former Kitchener-Waterloo Braves, San Jose has traded Ryan Bebesch to Toronto for Colin Doyle. Doyle, an original Rock, was the Rookie of the Year in '98 and MVP and scoring champ in '05, and starts his 10th pro indoor season fifth on the career points list with 325 goals and 413 assists. Forward Kevin Fines and defender Chad Thompson also go to the Rock, and Darren Halls to the Stealth, who instantly go from dark horse to contender.

The business side of things for the Edmonton Rush got off to a great start in the capital of Alberta, with an Orange County Chopper and an instant rivalry with the Roughnecks, not to mention a fan base coming off of a dizzying ride to the NHL Stanley Cup finals with the Oilers. But a 1-15 season is no cause for celebration, particularly when that lone win came on the road. With team MVP Pat Campbell set to continue his heroics in goal, skipper Paul Day drafted Kurtis Wagar, whose lacrosse resumé a silver medal with U-19 Team Canada; he is a genuine box goalie though, from St.Catharines. The biggest changes are up front, where Chris Gill and Dan Stroup will try and elevate the League's lowest-scoring offence and worst power-play. The problem with the Edmonton offence is not experience, but rather age. Jimmy Quinlan just turned 25, but most of the Edmonton attackers were born during the original disco era. That can make for a lot of business for the team athletic therapy and medical staff. The defence is not nearly so long in the tooth, and they still have former NLL Defender of the Year Andy Turner. Speaking from personal experience with a 1-and-whatever team, consistent offence, especially on the power-play, is the most difficult commodity to come by in the NLL. You need a 2-or-3-goals-a-game stud, preferably bulletproof, and a power-play that approaches 50% production. The Rush are not there yet, but you have to give them credit for their efforts.

Eastern Division Preview: Whither the Rock?

I set out to write about the big expansion news in the East, with the addition of new franchises in New York and Chicago, but that changed with the announcement that the Toronto Rock traded Colin Doyle, fifth on the all-time NLL points list, to the San Jose Stealth in exchange for '06 top draft pick Ryan Benesch. Kevin Fines and Chad Thompson accompany Benesch to Hogtown, Darren Halls is bound for Silicon Valley, and three years' worth of first-round draft selections change hands. And we were all wondering what new Head Coach Glenn Clark and Director of Lacrosse Operations Mike Kloepfer would do to shake up their line-up.

Subsequent local news reports from Doyle's Kitchener-Waterloo hometown indicated that he was surprised, and not in a good way, by the trade, what with his wedding coming up the last week-end of December. Benesch is a feeder as well as a scorer, much like Doyle, but he is not a power forward. It remains to be seen if Benesch can find a two-man partner among the Rock forwards, though Josh Sanderson is not a bad start. It will also be difficult for the rookie to step into the pro ranks and immediately make a 30-goal impression as Doyle did in '98. Of equal importance, though, with the addition of Kevin Fines and Chad Thompson, Toronto's defense and transition just got younger, and faster, and that should have an immediate impact, given the alarming frequency with which the Rock's slow turnover from offence to defense was exploited by opposing attackers the last couple of seasons. The return of top draw-man Brad MacArthur to the NLL in a Rock uniform will also shore up an aspect of Toronto's game where they had become vulnerable.

Bob Watson returns for another pro indoor season in goal, while rookie Mike Poulin, a former K-W team-mate of Benesch who finished his Jr. A career in Orangeville, becomes the latest in line waiting in the wings behind "Whipper". Notwithstanding the fact that they won their last of five Champion's Cups just two seasons ago, the fact is that Toronto has become a .500 team, with a losing record at home at that. Glenn Clark will have to overcome the emotional baggage of the transition from team-mate to coach, and trading your super star actually isn't a bad way to start.

The Chicago Shamrox will hit the DieterTurf in the brand-new 11,000-seat Sears Centre (note the Canadian spelling, the facility's, not mine) in the Hoffman Estates suburb west of Chicago proper. The ownership group is headed by Kevin Loughery Jr., the son of former Chicago Bulls coach and NBA point guard Kevin Sr., while the management team is lead by team president Conrad "Connie" Kowal, a veteran pro sports senior manager with the Chicago Cubs and the New Orleans Saints. This group wasted little time in signing Peterborough, Ontario's Jamie Batley as the Head Coach and General Manager. The former skipper of the Washington Power/Colorado Mammoth, with two Mann Cup championships in three years behind the bench of his hometown Lakers, brings a definite" 'boro" flavor to the Chicago line-up.

There are in fact seven Lakers on this roster. Tender Derek "D-Rock" Collins backed up Pat O'Toole in the Lakers' net, and has seen 70 games of NLL service over seven seasons, most recently with the 2002 Calgary Roughnecks. Chris Panos is that NLL rarity, a well-travelled veteran from the US, with back-to-back 30-goal seasons ('02 Roughnecks, '03 Saints) on his CV. Defender Darryl Gibson sports a brace of Champion's Cup rings from his time with the Toronto Rock, and imposing forward Matt Giles has amassed 108 goals and 204 points in eight pro indoor seasons with seven clubs. Josh Wasson-McQuigge, taken in the first round of the entry draft, 12th overall, scored 7 regular-season goals for the Lakers but stepped it up to notch 11 more on the way to the 2006 Mann Cup. Transition forward Mike Hobbins is a Jr. Laker grad, and former team-mate defender Kyle Dupont, drafted in 2005 in the sixth round by the Edmonton Rush, collected a 2006 Minto Cup title.

Brandon Miller logged 20 regular-season minutes more than Bob "Whipper" Watson this summer in goal for the OLA Sr. Major Brampton Excelsiors (without a loss), and his pro stats are better than D-Rock's, plus he hasn't had four seasons off. Former San Jose Captain Cam Woods gives the defence credibility and leadership, while former Rock's Drew Candy and Carter Livingstone have championship experience; Jason Clark had a 30-goal season in Ottawa in '03, Thomas Montour from Six Nations (no relation) is a former Rock draft choice, while another 'Rez Boy', rookie Cody Jacobs (fifth round, 53rd overall) scored 36 goals for the Jr. A Arrows this summer, and lead them in the play-offs with another 20.

Batley has obviously built this team from the back side forward: --- goalie Miller is poised to become a legitimate NLL starter, and Woods, Gibson and company are a solid defensive corps. An offensive leader must emerge, not necessarily in terms of numbers but certainly from an inspirational perspective. An early-season win or two (they face the Titans twice in their first three games) would do wonders for morale. There are two keys to the Shamrox' debut season; the first is that team management must not panic as the losses add up (I know Batley and his staff can keep the players focused), and the second, a sort of corollary, is to dance with the one's that brung ya, unless a key player like Miller or Woods goes down. Nothing will demoralize a new team faster than a turn-stile in the dressing-room door.

Minnesota Swarm General Manager Marty O'Neill has just this situation in the Twin Cities. Former Rochester All Pro and Buffalo assistant Duane "Dewey" Jacobs becomes the third Head Coach in three seasons, but he has the capabilities to establish some stability behind the bench. Though they made the play-offs last year with an 8-8 record and more home wins than the Rock, they failed to get past the Bandits in the opening play-off round. Interestingly enough, the coaching staff were the ONLY changes made for 2007; as noted in O'Neill's announcement of the opening-night roster, all 23 players on the list played for the Swarm for all or part of last year. The obvious question then is, can "Dewey" and his new staff make them better?

Over the course of last season Nick Patterson played his way into the starter's role ahead of Matt Disher in goal, posting a 6-2 record and being named to the 2nd All Pro side. The leading regular-season point-getter, Ryan Ward, scored 19 goals, and only Chad Culp and Kasey Beirnes reached the 20-goal mark. The defenders acquitted themselves well enough, but Jacobs must figure a way to get more production from an offence that generated less than 10 goals a game. One possibility lies with the combo of Jamie Taylor and Scott Stewart, former Jr. A team-mates in Burlington Ontario. With these two reunited for a full season, the performance of both could improve. Kasey Beirnes averaged 30 goals-per over his first three seasons in the League, before missing all of 2005 to an opening- night injury, and this team needs more than a 24-goal return to form from him.

With a resurgent gang of young Wings, the Swarm will find themselves in a struggle to repeat their post-season appearance of last year, and could find themselves in a struggle with the Rock for the last play-off berth in the East. And that is not an enviable position.

The original New York Titans debuted along with the American Football League in 1960, with "Slingin" Sammy Baugh as their head coach. The NLL Titans make their first official appearance 47 years later, splitting their home schedule between Long Island and Madison Square Garden, and kudos to the ownership and management for going with a great "retro" (not to mention plural, and without an 'x') team nick-name and strong logo. The ownership group is made up of CEO's and senior exec's from four NYC investment firms, and one of their first moves was to poach long-time NLL general counsel George Daniel to serve as club president. Former Wings and Swarm bench boss Adam Meuller is the Head Coach.

Not surprisingly, Meuller and company have assembled a roster heavy on US-born players with NLL experience, starting with Casey Powell and former Saint sniper Roy Colsey (Syracuse), and including attackers Bobby Horsey and the Onondaga Nation's Gewas Schindler, another Saint (Loyola), as well as a trio of former Delaware Blue Hens on defense, Matt Alrich, Bryan Barrett and Keevin Galbraith. Former Rutgers and Team USA tough guy Nicky Polanco is shown on the roster, but was put on injured reserve the first of the month. Top draft choice Brendan Munsdorf (UMBC) looks poised to make the transition to the pro indoor game. Former Champion's Cup MVP goalie Curtis Palidwor was somewhat surprisingly available in the expansion draft, and Matt Vinc will provide dependable back-up. OLA "box-er" Pat Maddalena is a proven scorer and special-teams player, and Mike McLellan has averaged over 20 goals a season for the last several summers in the Major series for the Brooklin Redmen (he just entered the NLL last season with Arizona out of D-II Mercyhurst, where he had two 40+goal seasons at attack).

This roster is hardly made up of cast-offs, and the Titans should compete every night, however, this is Meuller's third kick at the can as an NLL head coach, after under-performing in Philadelphia and Minnesota. He needs to win now.

What more can I say about the Buffalo Bandits? The past two seasons they have been my pick to go all the way, and they have come up short, embarrassingly so last spring against Colorado. I'm going to buck something of a trend among my fellow pundits and pick them again to win the East, and the Champion's Cup. Head Coach and GM Darris Kilgour has made improvements all around:
  • on offence, with Syracuse All-American Brett Bucktooth and veterans Tony Henderson and Kevin Dostie;

  • on an already notorious defense, with free agents Tony Sorci and Daryl Seymour, a ferocious long-stick with the Iroquois Nationals who played for the legendary Sid Jamieson at Bucknell;

  • in goal, where Mike Thompson will back up Steve Dietrich.

Kilgour had most of these guys with him in the OLA Major Series with the Akwesasne St. Regis Indians. John Tavares is now officially flirting with the "ageless" prefix, and must be smiling when he contemplates the opportunities and permutations possible with a one-on-one player like Bucktooth and a finisher like Dostie. With Tavares 'quarterbacking' and gunners like Cory Bomberry, Delby Powless and Roger Vyse, the Bandits powerplay will have no excuses for not leading the NLL. Transition man Mark Steenhuis could also lead the NLL in short-handed goals.

I am also taking something of a contrarian stance about the "D"; I don't think Billy Dee Smith, Kyle Laverty, Troy Bonterre and their mates will have any more difficulty adjusting to the new checking rules, than any other back-door crew. Seymour with his extensive field experience will help in this department, and he is a natural leader. Mike Thompson is a much improved tender from his limited playing time with the Ottawa Rebel, possibly the steadiest back-up that "Chugger" has had in Buffalo.

All of which brings me to the Rochester Knighthawks. To be frank, on a team where youth is at a premium, I would have thought that General Manager Jody Gage and Head Coach Ed Comeau would have made more changes. Transition defender Dave Brown was promoted from the Practice squad, defender Luke Forget was acquired from Portland, goalie Mike Miron came over from Arizona to back up Pat O'Toole in goal, and UMass longpole Jack Reid was drafted. And that was it. O'Toole added another Mann Cup with Peterborough to his impressive list of accomplishments, and will start his 13th pro indoor campaign, but I haven't changed my opinion of Miron - he is just not mobile enough for the wide NLL nets. Reid, Brown and Forget can help the defense, where the experience and savvy of Regy Thorpe, Captain Mike Hasen, Marshall Abrams and Steve Toll still make them formidable.

I believe that the advances in athleticism in the NLL have come more at the offensive end (and I include here transitioning the ball), and while John Grant, Scott and Shawn Evans, Mike Accursi and Shawn Williams are a truly dangerous lot, I would not describe them collectively as athletically superior. Anyone who watched the Worlds this summer could see that Grant was playing on one leg, and that limited his offensive production as much as John Gagliardi, with all due respect to "Gags". With an offence that still depends overly on going through him, this will present problems. Younger brother Shawn Evans showed in the Minto Cup that, if his scoring opportunities were limited, he could distribute the ball effectively, but it has yet to be demonstrated that the Knighthawks can not defer to Grant.

I believe that whatever gains the K'hawks make, in the standings or the post-season, will come more from a decline of the Rock than from their own improvement. I don't think they can take the Bandits.

The Philadelphia Wings, on the other hand, are poised to return to the League's elite with a youthful squad and a potential instant impact player with the last-minute acquisition of Kyle Wailes. The former OLA Jr. A scoring champion, and a four-year starter at Brown, splitting his time between midfield and attack, took the time-honored Ivy League lacrosse players' route to Wall Street. He was never close to coming to terms with the Calgary Roughnecks after they made him their top draft choice. Wailes is the kind of player who can make everyone around him more effective, and should fit in instantly with a group of Wings attackers notable for their unselfishness.

Another first-rounder, St. Catharines product Ian Llord adds size and athleticism to the Philly defence, where Thomas Hayek, Shawn Nadelen and face-off man Peter Jacobs provide the experience. Six Nations Chiefs tender Ken Montour, coming in trade from Buffalo, will push starter Matt Roik for playing time.

Head Coach / General Manager Lindsay Sanderson now has one of the youngest squads in the NLL; were Team Canada hero and Worlds MVP Geoff Snider and former Cavalier Kyle Dixon not parked on the Draft list, Sanderson could have opened the season with eight rookies. As it is, Philly has thirteen on the 23-man Active roster with three seasons or less. I believe that the Wings are positioned to be the comeback team of 2007, and provide Wingnuts with at least one post-season opportunity to tell each member of the opposition that he "SUCKS".

Photos from E-Lax Staff and Team Sites


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