January 8, 2013

Rabil Pumped for NLL Return With Philly Wings

by Neil Stevens | LaxMagazine.com

Paul Rabil last appeared in a regular-season NLL game with the Washington Stealth on Feb. 10, 2012. He's been traded three times since and will return to the league at home with the Philadelphia Wings on Friday night. 
© John Strohsacker/LaxPhotos.com

Paul Rabil has waited for this for a long time.

When he steps onto the green-carpeted Wells Fargo Center floor as a member of the Philadelphia Wings against the visiting Buffalo Bandits on Friday night, it'll be his first appearance in a regular-season National Lacrosse League game since last Feb. 10. He didn't last long in that one. He got into a fight playing for the Washington Stealth and was assessed a game misconduct at 7:16 of the first quarter. The visiting Calgary Roughnecks went on to win 12-11 with Rabil a spectator.

He was traded five days later to the Edmonton Rush for Athan Iannucci and declined to report to the Rush. That was the last we saw of him in the indoor pro loop. His 2012 stats: three goals and five assists in five games played.

Rabil reinforced his status as an all-world athlete with an outstanding field lacrosse season with the Boston Cannons, winning the Major League Lacrosse scoring title with 72 points in 14 games. Meanwhile, Edmonton traded his NLL rights on July 27 to Rochester for Jarrett Davis. The Knighthawks then flipped Rabil, Jordan Hall, Joel White, Rob Campbell and a second-round draft pick to Philadelphia for Dawson brothers Dan and Paul and a first-round 2016 draft pick.

The Wings are hoping that getting one of the world's best lacrosse players — field and box variety combined — will help boost attendance. They don't have to hope he'll speed up the defense-to-offense transition of the ball up the floor. They already know he will. During a pre-season game against the Toronto Rock just before Christmas, he gave a preview of things to come when he leapt high to dive across the front of the crease and stuff a ball behind goalie Nick Rose and get a goal for the Wings.

GM-coach Johnny Mouradian hopes to give the transition speeder more chances with the ball in his stick than he had previously in the NLL.

''We're teaching him our offense,'' Mouradian said. ''We have the type of offense he can thrive in. He'll have the opportunity to showcase his talents.''

Rabil relishes the opportunity.

''I'm excited,'' the former Johns Hopkins All-American said. ''There are a lot of guys who have been playing [the indoor game] for a lot longer than me and they are very skilled at what they do so it's always a learning experience for me to try to get better.''

Canadian lacrosse legend Bobby Allan showed Rabil how to best deliver over-the-back passes during a weekend of camp in Oakville, Ontario. Rabil's speed and athleticism are best showcased in the field game and he concedes that he's still learning the nuances of indoor or box lacrosse.

''I've got to figure out what I'm good and be consistent at that,'' Rabil said. ''I can play both ways and sometimes you kind of get lost in between.''

Most of the Wings on the 23-man active roster are Americans. No NLL team has ever tried to win the pro indoor title with this many Americans but Mouradian and majority owner Mike French, a pair of Canadians, are determined to make it happen.

''We want to be the U.S.'s team,'' Mouradian said. ''We're the Dallas Cowboys of lacrosse.''

Being the only NLL team on the East Coast, it certainly makes marketing sense to tap into the ever-growing talent pool of NCAA grads there that are NLL worthy. Rabil now is a huge part of the project.

''Paul Rabil really validates our league,'' Mouradian said. ''We gave up Dan Dawson but at the end of the day we need Paul Rabil in this league and we're really excited to have him on our team. We're thoroughly excited with our whole player procurement plan.''

Chemistry among the players is slowly brewing as the first game approaches.

''It's a mixing bowl right now,'' Rabil said. ''Seeing teams out West for the majority of my career, I'm excited about seeing the style of play on the East Coast.''

Six American rookies made the final roster cut: Michael Manley (Duke), CJ Costabile (Duke), Chad Wiedmaier (Princeton), Brian Teuber (Drexel), Ethan Farrell (Lynchburg College) and Will Harrington (Towson).

Manley has a touch of box lacrosse experience.

''There was an outdoor box in Penn Yan (New York) we used growing up so I am familiar with the bounce back of the ball and the short sticks,'' he said. ''I love the physicality.''

Drew Westervelt (26) and seven other Americans who will suit up for the Wings on Friday night have NLL experience and the team has brought in several U.S.-born rookies along with Paul Rabil.
© John Strohsacker/LaxPhotos.com

Wings teammates Costabile, Ned Crotty and John McFadyen are Duke grads.

''It's great to have those guys on the team,'' Manley said. ''It adds to the locker room atmosphere. It's a blast. I'm fortunate to be able to continue playing with those guys.''

The high tempo of NLL play appeals to him.

''We're going to run and gun,'' Manley said of the Wings' approach. ''We have a bunch of athletes and we're going to run and gun and hopefully it works out for us.''

Costabile had never participated in a box lacrosse game until a Dec. 21 exhibition and he quickly found out how different the confined indoor game is to the field variety.

''These games are night and day, a different set of skills,'' he said. ''It's fun and fascinating. It's a new challenge and I'm excited to partake in all of this. The league is dominated by Canadians so it's cool for us Americans to give it a try.''

The rookies will tap veteran teammates Drew Westervelt (UMBC) and Brendan Mundorf (UMBC), two of the highest-scoring Americans in the NLL, for pointers. Mundorf is rehabbing from a leg injury suffered in practice the day before MLL Championship Weekend and is not expected to be available until the season's second half. Other Americans available for Game 1 who have NLL experience are Kevin Buchanan (Ohio State), Jeff Reynolds (Maryland), Pat Heim (Penn State), Steve Holmes (Virginia), Brett Manney (Delaware), Kyle Hartzell (Salisbury State) and Joel White (Syracuse).

What all of the U.S.-born Wings have is hustle.

''These U.S. kids really want to play in the NLL,'' Mouradian said. ''There's no reason why we can't outwork every team.''

Max Seibald (Cornell) won't be outworking anybody on a lacrosse floor for a while because he has a broken foot.

Captain Brodie Merrill (Georgetown), Jordan Hall (Delaware), Kevin Crowley (Stony Brook), Kevin Ross (Canisius) and Rob Campbell (Stony Brook) are the Wings' Canadians with NCAA backgrounds. Canadian goalies Brandon Miller and Kevin Croswell are the only players on the active roster who did not attend NCAA schools.

Rabil will be the man everybody will be keeping an eye on Friday night.

Neil Stevens has covered pro and Canadian lacrosse since 1971. He and the late Tom Borrelli — a longtime Lacrosse Magazine contributor — are the only media members recognized by the NLL Hall of Fame.

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