May 2, 2013

MLL Week 2: Early Season Gives Unheralded Players Time to Shine

by Phil Shore |

Former Dowling standout Vito Demola scored two goals in New York's season-opener against Boston. He's one of many unheralded players who can find more playing time early in the MLL season with stars sidelined.
© Lee Weissman

As has been the case at the beginning of the Major League Lacrosse season for some time now, the league misses some of its top talent to start the year.

Some stars miss games because they are playing in the NLL playoffs, or coaching college lacrosse, and the top impact rookies are still playing in the NCAA season.

It creates a lot of difficulties for teams. Players such as Max Seibald, Stephen Keogh, Drew Westervelt, Kip Turner, John Galloway and Ned Crotty, who are otherwise occupied, leave their teams with gaping holes to fill.

MLL coaches this week, however, didn't complain about the situation. On the weekly coaches' conference call with media, many of them made it a point to say early-season roster makeups are just a part of the game to deal with, just like injuries.

"The nice part about it is we're not the only ones in the league dealing with it," Denver Outlaws head coach Jim Stagnitta said. "Everybody deals with it."

So while fans are anxious for the return of the league's stars, the opening couple weekends provide a great opportunity for some lesser-known talent to shine through.

"It's not about who's not playing. It's about who is playing," said Chesapeake Bayhawks head coach Dave Cottle.

Week 1 saw several unheralded players make big contributions. In place of Mark Matthews and Matt Gibson, former Dowling standout Vito Demola and supplemental draft pickup Joe Yevoli each scored two goals for the New York Lizards in their first career games. Rochester's Kyle Denhoff almost wasn't kept after training camp, but the Rattlers' added him to the roster and he scored two goals against Chesapeake. Charlotte's Chris Cudmore made a good impression on head coach Mike Cerino, scoring a goal in his first MLL game.

Even though Week 2 will see the return of some NLL players — after some seasons ended in last weekend's NLL first-round — and college coaches, there are still holes to be filled and plenty of young guys eager to step up into the opportunity.

Hamilton's Cameron and Roman Lao-Gosney have combined for eight total MLL games and one goal between the two of them. Yet without offensive weapons like Joe Walters and Cody Jameison, the Lao-Gosney brothers could be asked to carry a heavier load on offense.

Gibson will still be playing for the Minnesota Swarm in the NLL playoffs and it is unsure whether Matthews will be dressing for New York. So Demola and Yevoli will get another crack at the lineup and if they continue to perform it makes roster decisions more difficult for Lizards head coach Joe Spallina.

"Gibby is going to have to work hard to get into the lineup," Spallina said of the reigning MLL rookie of the year.

As players are still inactive and unable to report to their MLL teams, several lesser known players will get playing time to show that their teams may have unearthed diamonds in the rough. Finding new talent is always essential to early success.

"I always tell the guys, if you're not there, someone else is," Spallina said. "That's how Stephen Berger got his start in this league."

Ross retires, citing concussion concerns

In four MLL seasons, midfielder Brad Ross has won two MLL championships. An impressive ratio of years played to championships won, Ross won't get the opportunity to improve it. He is retiring from the league due to concussion issues.

"I've had a history of concussions all the way from high school throughout college and then onto the MLL," Ross said in a press release. "As college coaches, we deal with these things all the time, so we're very educated in understanding some of the long-term effects of what's going on with concussions nowadays."

Ross won championships with the then-Toronto Nationals in his rookie season in 2009 and with the Boston Cannons in 2011. He finishes his MLL career with 46 goals, 11 assists, 70 points and 32 ground balls in 40 games.

Wing play

Last year, MLL fans saw how important a strong faceoff specialist was to team success. The four playoff teams had Greg Gurenlian, Chris Eck, Anthony Kelly and Alex Smith, four of the best to ever play the position. But it's not just the guys battling at the X that make the difference; the coaches know you have to have strong wing play to help out.

"We have to do a better job supporting the faceoffs," Charlotte Hounds head coach Mike Cerino said on the MLL coaches' conference call. "Matt Bocklet had eight ground balls off the wing so we need to do better than that."

Even Dave Cottle, whose Chesapeake Bayhawks has one of the most balanced teams in the league, wants to improve on wing play.

"The Lizards scored five points off [Steven] Waldeck and the Untersteins," Cottle said. "We have to do a better job on the wing."

Expect to see a large focus from all teams on wing play this weekend.

Week 2 Preview

* All times Eastern

Hamilton Nationals (0-0) at Boston Cannons (0-1), 7 p.m. Saturday
Broadcast: ESPN3

Hamilton has been the case study of the effect that players missing due to NLL responsibilities can have on a team. In 2010 they started 0-5. In 2011 they lost their first two games of the season. Last year, Hamilton dug itself a three-game hole to start the season and never recovered.

Hamilton had a bye week in the first week of the season, which should help alleviate some of their early season woes. There are still several key pieces missing, however. But new head coach Dave Huntley knows that avoiding a slow start will be crucial for success this season.

"Constructing the lineup and our whole approach to the first game is markedly different then the approach we took last year," Huntley said.

New York Lizards (1-0) at Chesapeake Bayhawks (1-0), 7 p.m. Saturday
Broadcast: ESPN3

In Week 1, the Lizards played shut down defense against the potent Boston Cannons attack, allowing only 11 goals to the likes of Paul Rabil, Ryan Boyle, Matt Poskay and Ari Sussman. In Week 2, Drew Adams and company have their hands full against the two-point machine that is the Bayhawks.

"They're the mark for every team in the league," Lizards coach Joe Spallina. "They have great matchups. Who do you put the pole on?"

New York will have a tall order to replicate a similar defensive effort, but Cottle thinks they have it in them.

"Watching them play Boston, I thought they were extremely organized," Cottle said. "Defensively I thought they played typical Long Island sandpaper defense. They get under your skin."

Denver Outlaws (1-0) at Ohio Machine (0-0), 8 p.m. Saturday

Last year, the Machine was last in the league standings with a 2-12 record. They were also sixth in goals scored.

You could see a difference in the quality of play when No. 1 collegiate draft pick Steele Stanwick joined the team. There was a slight statistical rise in goals per game average, but just watching the team, Ohio was smoother and had better offensive possessions with Stanwick on the field.

Machine head coach Ted Garber is excited to see what having Stanwick after a full training camp and from the first game of the season can do for Ohio's offense.

"He became a really good leader. Our assist to goals ratio went up. He has great vision and makes everyone around him better," Garber said. "He's a real threat back there. He's like having another coach on the field."

Charlotte Hounds (0-1) at Rochester Rattlers (0-1), 3 p.m. Sunday

While many teams, including the Hounds themselves, will have several players return to the field from other obligations, Charlotte will actually be losing a few.

"With the [Duke's game with Marquette] being moved on Sunday, Matt Danowski and Joe Cinosky have coaching obligations with Duke so they will not be there," Hounds head coach Mike Cerino said.

Danowski is a huge loss for the team. In his sixth season, he is the most experienced attackman on the team. He's also the most productive. He led the team in points last season and had five goals and an assist last week against the Denver Outlaws.

The Hounds do bring in goalie Adam Ghitelman and Rochester will have John Galloway and Ned Crotty available.

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