April 25, 2013

MLL Season Preview: Team-by-Team Breakdown

by Corey McLaughlin | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter

Kyle Dixon, the league's 2-point king, leads a veteran Bayhawks team that has enough talent to repeat at MLL champions.
© Bill Danielewski

The 13th Major League Lacrosse season begins Saturday with a pair of games, one of them in Florida — the defending champion Chesapeake Bayhawks play the Rochester Rattlers — and the other in Charlotte, where the second-year Hounds host the Denver Outlaws. On Sunday, the new-look New York Lizards, led by Lacrosse Magazine's cover man, coach Joe Spallina, hosts the Boston Cannons at 3:30 p.m. at Hofstra.

From there, it's 17 weeks of lacrosse until August, when the MLL will crown a champion at PPL Park in Chester, Pa., during championship weekend Aug. 24-25.

Follow the season all spring and summer long at LaxMagazine.com. We have team pages and updated schedules and scores for each of the eight MLL teams, and look for weekly power rankings starting next week, and more.

Also, there is more MLL on television and online than ever before. Check out the full ESPN/CBS Sports Network/YouTube schedule here.

Here's a preview of things to come, in projected order of finish.

1. Chesapeake Bayhawks

2012 Record: 10-4 (MLL champion)
Dave Cottle, 2nd season
MVP Candidate:
M Kyle Dixon (21 goals (15 2-pointers), 12 assists)
Next Best:
M Steven Brooks, M Michael Kimmel, M Ben Hunt, M Matt Abbott, A Drew Westervelt, A John Grant Jr., D Michael Evans, D Michael Simon, FO Alex Smith, G Kip Turner
New Arrivals:
A Jay Card, D Jesse Bernhardt

The reigning champs return the stockpile of veteran talent that managed weekly salary cap issues last year to take the MLL title. In addition to all of the offensive threats — including Dixon, the league's 2-point king — the defense projects to include Evans, Brian Spallina and Nicky Polanco in front of Turner. Cottle said at the MLL collegiate draft that the Bayhawks were approaching this year's picks planning for two years down the road. Chesapeake will make one more run at the Steinfeld Trophy with its veteran-heavy group.

2. New York Lizards

2012 Record: 8-6 (MLL semifinalist)
Coach: Joe Spallina, 2nd season
MVP Candidate: M Stephen Berger (23 goals, 13 assists)
Next Best: M Stephen Peyser, M Max Seibald, A Matt Gibson, A Tom Palasek, D Brian Karalunas, FO Greg Gurenlian, G Drew Adams
New Arrivals: M David Earl, M JoJo Marasco, A Rob Pannell, A Mark Matthews, D Jack Reid, D Steven Waldeck

No team was more active this offseason than the Lizards, rebranding from Long Island to New York and revamping its roster. Spallina brought in Matthews, Earl and Waldeck on draft night and later made a trade to bring Berger, the 2012 All-Star Game MVP, back to Long Island after a year hiatus with expansion Charlotte. Throw in the arrival of Pannell, whom the Lizards drafted No. 1 overall last year, and opposing teams will be coming up with new scouting reports when the Lizards are on the schedule.

3. Boston Cannons

2012 Record: 9-5 (MLL semifinalist)
Coach: Steve Duffy, 2nd season
MVP Candidate: M Paul Rabil (27 goals (7 2-pointers), 38 assists)
Next Best: M Mike Stone, A Ryan Boyle, A Kevin Buchanan, A Matt Poskay, D Brian Farrell, D Mitch Belisle, D Kyle Sweeney, FO Chris Eck, G Jordan Burke
New Arrivals: M Colin Briggs, M Cam Flint, A Will Manny, D Scott Ratliff

Rabil commands the most attention, but Kevin Buchanan is one of the most underrated players in the MLL. He finished in the top 10 in points last year. He could switch back to his natural midfield spot after Boston drafted Manny. Barring injury, Boyle will become the all-time MLL points leader early this season. The Cannons, already with versatile long poles Sweeney, Farrell and P.T. Ricci, added another long pole in Loyola's Ratliff that can handle the ball and start fast breaks.

4. Denver Outlaws

The Outlaws' Brendan Mundorf, returning from an ankle injury, is the league's reigning MVP.
© Bryce Vickmark

2012 Record: 11-3 (MLL finalist)
Coach: Jim Stagnitta, 2nd season
MVP Candidate: M Brendan Mundorf (32 goals, 27 assists)
Next Best: M Terry Kimener, M Jeremy Sieverts, M Drew Snider, A Chris Bocklet, D Matt Bocklet, D Lee Zink, FO Anthony Kelly, G Jesse Schwartzman
New Arrivals: A Jeremy Boltus, A Zack Greer, M, Justin Turri, M Will Mangan, D Brian Megill

There will be questions about MLL MVP Mundorf coming back from the ankle injury sustained in practice before last year's MLL championship weekend, but maybe more about what the offense will look like without Mark Matthews, who was dealt to New York, and Poillon, sent to Charlotte in a deal for Boltus. Boltus' 2012 season was cut short with an ACL injury. Zink is the reigning MLL Defensive Player of the Year. Can the Outlaws finally win their first MLL title?

5. Hamilton Nationals

2012 Record: 4-10
Coach: Dave Huntley, 3rd season
MVP Candidate: D Brodie Merrill (96 ground balls, 11 points)
Next Best: M Kevin Crowley, M Joe Walters, A Garrett Billings, A Cody Jamieson, A Stephen Keogh, FO Matt Dolente, G Brett Queener
New Arrivals: M Martin Cahill, M Josh Hawkins, D Tucker Durkin, D Jason Noble, A Garret Thul, FO Mike Poppleton

Huntley is back for his second stint leading the Nationals, as is general manager Stu Brown. That same front office pair led the Nats to an MLL title in the franchise's inaugural 2009 season. Merrill is a perennial MVP candidate, but it's hard to win the honor in such an offensive-minded league. The offense, at times last year, went as far as Walters took it. There's a decent mix of U.S. and Canadian players on the roster, which should help early with a few Nats still finishing the NLL season.

6. Rochester Rattlers

2012 Record: 7-7
Coach: Tim Soudan, 2nd season
MVP Candidate: A Ned Crotty (15 goals, 16 assists)
Next Best: M Steve DeNapoli, M Jordan MacIntosh, M Matt Striebel, A Steven Boyle, A Kevin Leveille, D Joel White, G John Galloway, D Mike Manley
New Arrival: A Mark Millon

National Lacrosse Hall of Famer Mark Millon, the MLL co-MVP in 2005, is attempting a comeback after five years away. Soudan hopes his 41-year-old former U.S. and UMass teammate can provide veteran leadership and something on the field. Another vet, Kevin Leveille, has a chance to break Tim Goettelmann's all-time goals record. On the younger side, Crotty could run some midfield, and DeNapoli is a great short-stick defensive middie. Hope the Rats are training for warmer climes: They will play two games in Florida and one in Atlanta this year, both test markets for MLL expansion.

7. Ohio Machine

2012 Record: 2-12
Coach: Ted Garber, 2nd season
MVP Candidate: A Steele Stanwick (11 goals, 17 assists)
Next Best: A Jimmy Connolly, A Chazz Woodson, D Kyle Hartzell, D Max Schmidt
New Arrivals: A Peter Baum, A Marcus Holman, A Logan Schuss, D Chad Wiedmaier, FO Chase Carraro, G Scott Rodgers

Stanwick will have a chance to play a full MLL year. As a rookie, he joined the Machine mid-season after recovering from a hernia injury and still managed 28 points in nine games. The Machine attack is loaded with recent college stars. Even if No. 1 overall pick Baum opts to play on the LXM Pro Tour as speculated, the Machine still returns All-Stars Woodson and Connolly and bring in special talents in Holman and the Canadian Schuss. The acquisition of Rodgers via trade could be huge to help a defense that allowed a league-worst 14.5 goals per game.

8. Charlotte Hounds

2012 Record: 5-9
Coach: Mike Cerino, 2nd season
MVP Candidate: A Matt Danowski (19 goals (5 2-pointers), 19 assists)
Next Best: M Jovan Miller, D Ryan Flanagan, D Brett Schmidt, FO Geoff Snider, G Adam Ghitelman
New Arrivals: M John Haus, M Peet Poillon, A Mike Sawyer, A Ryan Young

The Hounds traded away two-thirds of their attack from last year, dealing Billy Bitter and Jeremy Boltus, who never were quite able to click alongside Danowski. It will be Danowski's show to run this year, especially after the Hounds also traded away Stephen Berger. Poillon's addition will help. Charlotte traded for Snider late last year to stabilize faceoffs. Ghitelman settled in as the starting goalie and will look to improve in year two. Perhaps Sawyer and second-year pro Eric Lusby can rekindle some Loyola magic.

A version of this article appears in the May issue of Lacrosse Magazine, the flagship publication of US Lacrosse. Don't get the mag? Join US Lacrosse and its 400,000-plus members today to start your subscription.

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