July 26, 2011

CP Returns: Powell to Join MLL's Nationals for Stretch Run

by Corey McLaughlin | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter

Casey Powell, considered last week a "long shot" to report to Hamilton by coach Regy Thorpe, will join the Nationals beginning with an Aug. 6 home game against the Boston Cannons. "I decided to give it a shot," Powell said Tuesday.

©Bryce Vickmark

Casey Powell saw an incoming phone call from Gary Gait last week, and figured Gait was reaching out about playing golf. Powell had asked about the pair of former Syracuse No. 22s hitting the links a week earlier. But, no, this was a business call.

Even though Powell answered the phone and Gait was laughing at the circumstances. The Hamilton Nationals had just traded for the rights to Powell, the league's all-time points leader who hadn't played a game yet this season. Gait, Powell's idol growing up, is an assistant coach with the Nationals, running the offense. The trade was done last Tuesday, Major League Lacrosse's trade deadline day.

"He asked me if I read the Internet yet," Powell said. "I said no."

"Well, we traded for your rights," Gait said, and kept laughing.

After that, it was a matter of logistics to have Powell join the Nationals for the rest of the season.

He will Aug. 6 when Hamilton hosts the Boston Cannons. (Hamilton plays the Chesapeake Bayhawks this Saturday, but Powell had a prior commitment with the youth team he runs, Team 22. The youth players will be arriving in New York from Florida to play in the Lake Placid tournament that begins Monday.)

Powell said Tuesday that he had planned to return to MLL in July and join the Rochester Rattlers, the team that previously held his rights, under then-coach B.J. O'Hara. Work committments in Florida had prevented him from doing so earlier. But O'Hara, who coached Powell on Rochester's 2008 league title team, was fired after a 0-6 start to the season.

"The first game I was available to play, B.J. was released and I didn't feel comfortable coming back in his absence at that time," Powell said Tuesday morning by phone from Skaneateles, N.Y., where he was preparing for an hour-long workout. "And also, the Rattlers record made me rethink my decision, if it would make much of a difference for me to come back. At that point, I thought I wasn't going to play."

That's what Powell told new Rattlers coach Tim Soudan. Powell said Soudan asked if it would be OK to trade him if they could to get some value. Powell said fine, not thinking that anyone would trade for him. Rochester had placed Powell on its 'Did Not Report' list five days before the trade deadline.

"Then Gait calls me out of nowhere and asks to play a game or two, with the playoffs. I decided to give it a shot," Powell said. "I'm excited to play. It's been a few years since I've played in the MLL. I'm excited to give it a go and try to win a championship."

Powell's decision was first reported by Inside Lacrosse's John Jiloty on Monday. Tuesday morning Powell was getting ready to start up intense workouts again. "Gotta hustle," he said, "when you're at my age."

Powell, 35, last played in MLL in 2008 with Rochester. The Rattlers won the title, and on the team were several current Nationals players, such as Brodie Merrill, Joe Walters and Brett Bucktooth. Powell said he is looking forward to reuniting with them, as well as playing with some of Hamilton's rookies for the first time, such as Jeremy Boltus and Kevin Crowley.

"When you win a championship with certain players you know you have chemistry that you never really lose," Powell said. "I'm more familiar with this team than any other in the league. A lot of the other guys I've played against in indoor, so I'm very familiar with their skill sets. I also look forward to meeting and playing with some of the young guys."

"I've followed them throughout their college careers," Powell said of Boltus, the first-year attackman from Army, and Crowley, the midfielder from Stony Brook. "They're fantastic players. They were both on programs where they were the superstar and had to carry their team. I think with getting around other guys who are superstars is fantastic, they'll only be better and contribute more."

Gait has worked with the young offense throughout the season, and the Nationals have won four of their last five games. They are 5-4 and in a three-way tie for second place with the Denver Outlaws and Chesapeake Bayhawks.

Asked if he thought he would play midfield or attack, Powell said Tuesday: "I'm not sure. They do have a strong attack and they have a bunch of young midfielders. I'm just going to try to go in and fit in as best I can. They're playing really well right now. I want to help as much as I can and contribute. Not go out there and try to be a superstar, but go out and play a role and try to help the team win."

In discussing the trade last week, Nationals coach Regy Thorpe, another Syracuse alum, said he hoped Powell could bring some veteran leadership to the group as it tries to make a run at championship. It was an interesting declaration, considering the team traded away veteran attackman John Grant Jr. just weeks earlier.

"Right now, we have basically Brodie Merrill and Solomon Bliss leading our team on the defensive end. On the front end, our elder statesman is Jordan Hall, who is still a pretty young guy himself," Thorpe said. "We just felt if we could get some leadership up there from a guy like Casey, and possibly get him to play, it would give us a really good fit there in the front end if we want to make a run. We'll see how that goes."

Thorpe also said it was "a long shot," that Powell would report to the team. "We would love for him to come out," he said. "There's always next year as well there. Our mindset hasn't changed. We're building for the future, but we felt we needed to add a little depth on our offensive end if we're going to make a little run."

Rochester will now receive a second-round pick in January's rookie draft as part of the Powell trade. A condition of the trade was if Powell reported to Hamilton that the Rattlers would get a second rounder instead of a third-round pick.

Still, Rattlers coach Tim Soudan has to be left wondering about the situation. The good news is Rochester will not face Powell the rest of the season, unless a scenario develops where the teams meet in the playoffs. But that is unlikely. Even with the Rattlers' recent two-game win streak, they are 2-7 with three regular season games remaining.

"I was pretty confident that he wasn't going to play this year," Soudan said last week. "If I could get him to play that would be great, and if he's not then maybe we can get some value out of him, and we did."

And now the Nationals suddenly have one of the game's greatest players to lead what was already an improving, young offense.

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