“Muffler” Mike Kostiuk – All Lacrosse All The Time, a Division of the Edge of Philly Sports Network
2021-2022 Record: 9-9; T-4th place East Division; Lost to Buffalo in 1st round of playoffs
F Kieran McArdle, F Ethan Walker, F Connor Kelly, F Hiana (Jerome) Thompson, F Taite Cattoni, F Aaron Forster, D Patrick Kaschalk, D Luke Van Schepen, D Zac Masson, G Justin Geddie
F Joe Resetarits, F Ryan Benesch, F Andrew Kew, F Reilly O’Connor, F Jacob Ruest, T Tony Malcom, G Ethan Woods
Heading into last season, the first in New York’s Capital Region in almost 20 years, the Albany FireWolves were lauded for keeping their roster nearly intact during the league-wide shutdown due to the COVID pandemic. Despite losing a pair of future Hall of Famers (Callum Crawford, Stephan Leblanc) to free agency in 2020, it was expected that the offense would still thrive with a “share the wealth” type of mentality. To some degree, this plan succeeded, as the franchise made the playoffs for the fifth straight season (not counting 2019-2020, which saw the team atop the league standings at the time of the shutdown in what would be their final year in New England).
Of course, that also means the plan failed to some degree, as evidenced by Albany’s 2022 season ranks in goals for (12th out of 14 teams) and power play conversion rate (8th). What was NOT expected by practically anybody was a near-total rebuild of the FireWolves’ offensive unit this offseason. A change in the league’s new Collective Bargaining Agreement allowed 2022 MVP candidate Joe Resetarits the opportunity to reject the team’s Franchise tag one year earlier than was previously allowable.
The subsequent decision by Resetarits to reject that designation and sign a 3-year deal with Philadelphia in free agency was the first surprise of the free agency period. It also triggered a domino effect of transactions involving a significant number of elite NLL forwards changing teams for the upcoming season. However, the mass exodus of offensive players that followed opened the door for Head Coach and General Manager Glenn Clark to copy a blueprint that may be the missing link needed to bring home the NLL Cup in 2023.
By now, most lacrosse fans are aware of the group of Buffalo Bandits players who also happen to play field lacrosse together with the PLL’s Chaos, winning a PLL championship in 2021, and making both the NLL and PLL Finals in 2022. To the surprise of many, Albany has now acquired a similar group of players, with their field connection being the 2022 PLL Champion Waterdogs. The only holdovers from last season are right handers Charlie Kitchen (who plays for Waterdogs) and Tanner Thomson. Following the departures of Resetarits and Ryan Benesch (to Halifax), the unlikely Albany rebuild began.
Reilly O’Connor was traded to New York in exchange for Kieran McArdle, who led both the Waterdogs and the PLL in assists in 2022. Andrew Kew was then dealt (along with Ethan Woods) to Georgia for another Waterdogs forward in Ethan Walker. Waterdogs midfielder Connor Kelly, who has prior NLL experience, was signed in free agency. Additionally, the FireWolves hold the rights to Waterdogs players Ryan Conrad and Michael Sowers (both are currently on the Hold Out List, so their NLL playing status is uncertain). It is not out of the realm of possibility to believe that the chemistry forged within this group during the summer can translate into the smaller confines of MVP Arena this winter, as it has for the Bandits/Chaos group.
The FireWolves will see additional competition from a fully healthy Aaron Forster (acquired in a trade with Toronto), Justin Scott (signed from Toronto in free agency), Hiana Thompson (who played this summer with Nanaimo in the WLA), Travis Longboat, recent Mann Cup champion Taite Cattoni (signed in free agency), and 2022 draft pick John Piatelli, who competed for an NCAA Championship with Cornell this past spring.
The FireWolves’ defense ranked #6 in the league on the penalty kill and allowed the fourth fewest goals in 2022. This despite having the sixth most penalty minutes, and the entirety of the unit not being fully healthy until the last few games of the season. It is here on the back end though, where the continuity and chemistry remain almost unchanged.
Captain Brett Manney and assistant captain John LaFontaine return, along with veteran Greg Downing. 2020 Goaltender of the Year Doug Jamieson also returns to the squad. Nick Chaykowsky, Colton Watkinson, and Adam Bomberry provide plenty of size on the back end. Albany reacquired top 2018 draft pick Jackson Nishimura after Las Vegas took him in the Expansion Draft. This move in particular is important, as it retains their speed in transition. While Tony Malcom was lost in a trade to Panther City, Albany could opt to use Aaron Forster in a transition role, which could potentially make their transition unit the fastest in the league.
Faceoff specialist joe Nardella, who ranked third in the NLL in both faceoff wins and faceoff win percentage, was locked up in free agency. Mike Byrne was an unsung hero on defense last year with his scrappy play, and Curtis Conley showed vast improvement while playing significant minutes last year. Expect additional competition from 2021 first-round pick Patrick Kaschalk, along with free agent signings Zac Masson, Brent Mitchell (WLA Nanaimo) and Luke Van Schepen (signed from New York in free agency). If this team can remain healthy, the added speed and newly built-in chemistry could be the key to a deep playoff run for the FireWolves in 2022-2023.
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“Muffler” Mike Kostiuk was formally introduced to box lacrosse when he attended a New England Black Wolves game on a whim in 2016. Instantly hooked, he has since become an avid follower of the National Lacrosse League. Following the postponement of the 2019-2020 NLL season, he was offered the chance to share his wealth of statistical knowledge and unique insights with the lacrosse community at large. He cheerfully accepted, and currently serves as Edge of Philly’s correspondent for both the Albany FireWolves and New York Riptide.