January 6, 2010

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NLL 2010 Preview: Western Division

by Theresa Smith | Special to Lacrosse Magazine Online

Calgary's offense hums with playmakers like Josh Sanderson, as the Roughnecks defend their Western Division and NLL titles.

The National Lacrosse League's 24th season starts Friday, when the Orlando Titans (relocated from New York this offseason) host the Philadelphia Wings at 7:35 p.m. Eastern. The Titans will play at Amway Arena, the home arena of the NBA's Orlando Magic. It's the first of five games on opening weekend.

Eleven teams will compete this season, six in the Eastern Division and five in the Western Division. 

The changes from last season are as follows:  New York relocated to Orlando.  San Jose relocated to Everett, Washington and are now known as the Washington Stealth. The Stealth will play at Comcast Arena, which is also home to the Everett Silvertips of the Western Hockey League. Everett is 25 miles north of Seattle.  The Portland franchise opted not to play in 2010.  The Portland players were dispersed to the eleven returning clubs in a dispersal draft held over the summer.  The playoff format remains the same, with the top four teams in each division advancing to a single-elimination playoff tournament.  The divisions are as follows:

Boston Blazers
Buffalo Bandits
Orlando Titans
Philadelphia Wings
Rochester Knighthawks
Toronto Rock

Calgary Roughnecks
Colorado Mammoth
Edmonton Rush
Minnesota Swarm
Washington Stealth

The following team-by-team previews for the Western Division are in predicted order of finish. Check back to LaxMagazine.com this weekend for scores and news as the ball drops on the 2010 NLL campaign.


1. Calgary Roughnecks

Coach: Dave Pym

2009 Record: 12-4

The main change for the defending champions is at the top. In the wake of Troy Cordingley’s departure to the Toronto Rock, Dave Pym was elevated from his assistant role. Curt Malawsky, who retired in the offseason, is an assistant coach and assistant general manager. The offense hums with play-makers and finishers: Dane Dobbie (41g, 35a), Kaleb Toth (33g, 47a), Tracey Kelusky (31g, 53a) and Josh Sanderson (29g, 74a) and the addition of veteran Craig Conn from Toronto. Curtis Manning, the fifth overall pick, has box experience. Five members of the team won the Mann Cup for the Brampton Excelsiors over the summer.

2. Washington Stealth

Coach: Chris Hall

2009 Record: 7-9

The move from San Jose to the Seattle suburb of Everett saved the franchise for now. Will rookie scoring record-setter Rhys Duch (35g, 54a) and Jeff Zywicki (32g, 46a) boost their output enough to offset the mid-December trade of superstar Colin Doyle (38g, 73a) to Toronto? How Lewis Ratcliff (34g, 34a) fits in after coming over from the Rock also will be a factor, as should Paul Rabil. The defense was tightened by the emergence of goaltender Tyler Richards (80.3 sv%), giving the Stealth contending status in the West. Rising sharpshooter Jason Bloom, a fourth-year transition player, arrived via trade from Boston.

3. Colorado Mammoth

Coach: Bob McMahon

2009 Record: 7-9

Following a disappointing season, the Mammoth traded franchise scoring leader and captain Gavin Prout, 31, for 24-year-old Ilija Gajic, the No. 2 overall pick in the draft and brother of Mammoth transition veteran Nenad Gajic, and rookie Alex Gajic. The rebuilt offense is reliant on Brian Langtry’s improved accuracy (38 goals on .161 shooting) and the status of Dan Carey, who missed 16 games over the past two seasons with a head and nerve injury. The acquisition of Chad Culp, who has 255 points in 91 regular-season games, from Minnesota also will help.

4. Edmonton Rush

Coach: Derek Keenan

2009 Record: 5-11

Gavin Prout and Brodie Merrill, who was dispersed from the Portland LumberJax after that franchise folded, work well together and give this franchise star power and leadership. Climbing out of the NLL basement under new coach/GM Derek Keenan, formerly of Portland, will require better shot selection. Edmonton managed an NLL-low 9.9 goals per game last season. New acquisitions Bruce Alexander and Pat Jones boost a defense that allowed 200 goals in ‘09, most in the NLL. The Rush should get a rush up front after picking up Ryan Powell.

5. Minnesota Swarm

Coach: Mike Lines

2009 Record: 6-10

Second-year owners Andy and John Arlotta hired Mike Lines to replace Duane Jacobs as coach. Forward Ryan Ward was traded to Edmonton for Ryan Benesch, a former NLL Rookie of the Year now with his third team in a year. A previously inconsistent defense also has an ex-Rush look with Richard Morgan and Scott Self coming over in trades. Expectations are high for former Duke and Bryant left-handed forward Zack Greer, the No. 3 overall pick in the draft. He'll need to produce following the Swarm's decision to ship Chad Culp to Colorado for Callum Crawford.

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