With the National Lacrosse League’s (NLL) regular season just a few weeks away, there are pending questions to be answered in each division. Over the next two weeks we’ll look at some of the storylines that will play out over the season.
The East Division:
Is Buffalo still considered the favorite in the East?
When you have Matt Vinc in net you can never be counted out. The offense still sports Dhane Smith, Josh Byrne, Chris Cloutier, Chase Fraser, and Tehoka Nanticoke. Where there is a crack in the armor may lie in the defense. David Brock, Steve Priolo, Ethan O’Connor, Greg Harnett, and Nick Weiss are veterans. Are they past their prime now?
Can the Rock win now?
Toronto went all in adding Corey Small, and Stephen Keogh to an already strong offense. The drafting of Josh Dawick could prove to be finding a diamond in the rough as well. Dawick had a good junior career with the Whitby Warriors, and a strong NCAA career in Denver. The defense got even stronger adding Chris Corbeil. Troy Holowchuk is an outstanding young goalie, and will be strong in net when Nick Rose needs a bit of rest.
This team is built to win now, and must be in the conversation when talking about who will hoist the cup this season.
Can Halifax finish unfinished business?
With the return of Ryan Benesch, a healthy Rhys Duch, Cody Jamieson, Chris Boushy, Clarke Petterson, Eric Fannell, Austin Shanks, Randy Staats, and Dawson Theede, the offense is as good as any team in the league. The defense is punishing with the likes of Graeme Hossack, Tyson Bell, and Luc Magnan. The goaltending will also be strong with Warren Hill and Aaron Bold.
If they can stay healthy, this team is also a frontrunner for the East, and can be part of the conversation for a championship also.
Did Philadelphia do enough to contend?
If Joe Resetarits can replicate his last season with Albany this will definitely put the Wings in the right direction. The hiring of Jeff McComb will give the offense an identity, as well as give Ben McIntosh a bigger role. Matt Rambo has come into his own, as has Sam LeClair. Kyle Jackson, and Blaze Riorden should also be strong. The defense is far more savvy with the addition of Chad Tutton. Add John Ranagan, Alex Pace, Isaiah Davis-Allen, Ian Llord, and Steph Charbonneau and you have a top tier defense. With the premier faceoff man in the business in Trevor Baptiste, the Wings should be able to make some noise in the East as well.
My question is can Zach Higgins be as dominant in net yet again? Is Angus Goodleaf still a viable option as his backup? Will Paul Day use Canadian junior gold medalist Deacan Knott at all this year in the Wings net?
Definitely an improved squad, but not sure if they are ready for the top of the division just yet.
Is New York ready for the next step?
With Callum Crawford, Jeff Teat, Tyler Digby, Connor Kearnan, Jake Fox, and Reilly O’Connor, this team is stacked on offense. Transition is strong with both Scott Dominey, and Damon Edwards returning as well. Defensively with the addition of Kevin Brownell is stronger. But still has a little way to go to matchup with the likes of Halifax or Toronto. Mason Kamminga, Dan MacRae, Jordi Jones-Smith, and Andrew Borgatti should mould into a solid unit, but not sure if that will happen immediately. In goal Steven Orleman had a good rookie year, and us ready to take the next step of consistency in net. With consistency, Orelman could be compared to Christian Del Bianco, and that will jump the Riptide up in the standings immediately.
Is Rochester ready to compete?
With the addition of Connor Fields, and the drafting of Austin Hasen, the Knighthawks got a lot stronger. Riley Hutchcraft and Rylan Hartley should be an excellent tandem in net.
Fields and Hasen are joined by Curtis Knight, Thomas Vela, Holden Cattoni, Ryan Smith, and Jeff Wittig. This is a much improved offense from the last two seasons. Defensively veteran Paul Dawson leads a punishing group including Brad Gillies, Tyler Biles, Ethan Schott, Mitch Ogilvie, and Curtis Romanchych.
The Knighthawks will take a lot of teams off guard by how competitive they have become. Can they compete for a championship? I don’t think so yet, but definitely in the near future for certain.
While the Georgia Swarm may not have planned a rebuild, the retirements of Mike Poulin, Jordan Hall, Joel White, and Stephan Leblanc mean a changing of the guard at all positions. Taking into account Lyle and Miles Thompson, this team will still be exciting. With a plethora of top draft picks, the rebuild shouldn’t take too long.
Albany retooled in the off season as well. With the departure of Joe Resetarits, and trading of Andrew Kew, this team’s offense will have a brand new identity. Kieran McArdle, Ethan Walker, Tanner Thomson, as well as Jerome Thompson, Travis Longboat, and Charlie Kitchen will be a force in the future. Defensively Greg Downing, Jackson Nishimura, Colton Watkinson, Nick Chaykowsky, and Brett Manney is a nice mix of veterans and youth. Doug Jamieson has improved every year, and has become a perrenial All-Star in the league now.
Both Georgia, and Albany may not be in the mix of contenders this year, but certainly will be in the near future.
I can’t remember a division with such parity from top to bottom in a long time if ever. Whoever comes out of the East has to be considered as a favorite to win the NLL championship this season.
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Gary Groob has been involved with Lacrosse for the majority of his life, whether playing, coaching, or covering the sport for the media.
An avid fan, with a real drive about helping to “grow the game”, Gary became part of podcasts about the game 10 years ago. Through the podcasts, Mr. Groob had an opportunity to write about lacrosse, and the rest as they say, is history.
Through many miles (flying and driving) Gary has made inroads with the National Lacrosse League, Major Series Lacrosse League, the Ontario Lacrosse Association, as well as the Arena Lacrosse League, covering the leagues, their teams, and players, working for, and in concert with all of them.
In the year 2020, Mr. Groob was made the media person for the Arena Lacrosse League, voted onto the board of directors of the Brampton Excelsiors Lacrosse Club, as well as being made administrator of the Lacrosse page “Global Lacrosse” with a membership of 9000 members in over 90 Countries. Gary was also made an administrator of Lacrosse History Past Present and Future in 2022.
Mr. Groob co-hosts a weekly Lacrosse show on Spanglish Sports World, and ZingoTV channel 250, as well as writes a weekly lacrosse column for La Portada Canada News (both in print, and online).
Mr. Groob also hosts a Lacrosse talk show and podcast for The Edge of Philly Sports Network, seen live Sunday nights at 9pm (ET), and archived on the Edge of Philly YouTube page, as well as Spotify.
Mr. Groob’s other sports interests include Hockey, Football, Boxing, Wrestling, and Baseball, competing competitively in Boxing and Wrestling for many years.