The National Lacrosse League is celebrating its 30th anniversary season with NLL Face Off Weekend 2016 presented by New Era Cap. Check out a preview of the NLL East Division by Hall of Fame writer Neil Stevens on Lacrosse Magazine with four more openers set for this weekend.
Here’s a team-by-team breakdown of the East Division, in projected order of finish.
1. ROCHESTER KNIGHTHAWKS
2015 Record: 12-6
Playoffs: Lost to Toronto in East finals
Cody Jamieson 36g, 56a
Dan Dawson 23g, 62a
Last Champion’s Cup Title: 2014
GM: Curt Styres
Coach: Mike Hasen
Captain: Sid Smith
Draft: The Knighthawks were No. 1 defensively last season and ensured back-end dominance for years to come by using the second, ninth and 14th picks to select the best D-men available, Graeme Hossack out of Lindenwood and RIT teammates Brad Gillies and Derek Searle. Hossack and Adam Bomberry (No. 16 out of Onondaga Community College) made the final cut.
Major Changes: None. Only uncertainty was when star forward Cody Jamieson could play. Jamieson tore an Achilles tendon in the East final and rehabbed quickly. With his recovery ahead of schedule, Jamieson is expected to be in the lineup for Rochester’s season opener Jan. 9 against Colorado.
This and That: Defenseman Brad Self is listed as physically unable to perform (PUP), and it is unclear when he’ll be available. … Brandon Styres, the GM’s son, will be all-world goalie Matt Vinc’s backup with Angus Goodleaf on the PUP list. … Forward Aaron Wilson retired.
Overview: The Knighthawks have more roster depth than any other team and are just as good as they were when they won the 2012, 2013 and 2014 championships. They will be driven to win back the Champion’s Cup and they’ve got five-time NLL Goalie of the Year Matt Vinc to lead the charge.
2. BUFFALO BANDITS
2015 Record: 11-7
Playoffs: Lost to Rochester in East semifinal
Ryan Benesch 55g, 58a
Dhane Smith 39g, 68a
Last Champion’s Cup Title: 2008
GM: Steve Dietrich
Coach: Troy Cordingley
Draft: Buffalo chose righty forward Anthony Malcolm, the WLA Co-Rookie of the Year with Langley (B.C.) at No. 11 out of Mars Hill for depth, apparently, because vets Mark Steenhuis, Dhane Smith and Kedoh Hill already are on that side. Next up at No. 27, Dietrich got Mike Triolo out of Pfeiffer. He is raw but he also is 6-foot-8 and, if he can make the grade, would be a twin tower beside 6-5 vet Steve Priolo. Malcolm is one of three rookies on the active roster, joining 2014 draft picks Tyler Ferreira, who was the MSL Rookie of the Year last summer, and transition runner Matthew Bennett.
Major Changes: Daryl Veltman signed with the Bandits on Aug. 10 after leaving Calgary, giving them a competent left-side forward to fill the hole if 24-year-vet John Tavares retired, which he did Sept. 2. … Tavares has moved behind the bench as assistant coach. … Forward Mitch Jones, who couldn’t play until late in previous seasons due to NCAA hockey commitments, is in from the start this season. … Defender Derek Suddons left to sign with New England.
This and That: Forward Chad Culp will miss the Jan. 9 opener at home against Calgary while serving a one-game league suspension. … Transition runner Andrew Watt is on injured reserve.
Overview: The highest-scoring team in the East lost all four games it played against Rochester in 2015. It has to get a win or two over its thruway rival in 2016 if it wants to be in a position come playoff time to win the championship.
3. TORONTO ROCK
2015 Record: 14-4
Playoffs: Lost to Edmonton in Champion’s Cup finals
Josh Sanderson 19g, 83a
Rob Hellyer 31g, 59a
Last Champion’s Cup Title: 2011
Owner/GM: Jamie Dawick
Coach: John Lovell
Captain: Colin Doyle
Draft: Lucked out in getting lefty forward Turner Evans with first pick, 10th overall. The Ohio State captain can step right into NLL after playing for the Ontario senior league Peterborough Lakers with cousin Shawn Evans. Also in are Cornell grad Dan Lintner, the forward who was the No. 8 pick by New England last September before a trade to the Rock for Kevin Crowley, and defenseman Luc Magnan, the No. 17 pick out of Robert Morris.
Major Changes: Traded vet right-side forward Kevin Crowley to New England for righty forward Dan Lintner, whom the Black Wolves had selected eighth overall in September draft. … With forward Kevin Ross unavailable to start the season after wrist surgery, draft pick Turner Evans has an instant in on the left side . … Lefty forward and NLL MVP finalist Josh Sanderson is on the PUP list and unlikely to resume his 18-year-career.
This and That: Defender Mike Grimes signed with Rock after sitting out 2015 rather than play in Minnesota. Grimes would have filled the vacancy created when Damon Edwards tore ACL playing summer ball. But Grimes informed his new team that job commitments also will rule him out for 2016. … Defenseman Scott Johnston is on injured reserve.
Overview: The Rock exceeded 2015 expectations to such an extent that it is practically impossible to believe they can do it two years in a row.
4. GEORGIA SWARM
2015 Record (in Minnesota): 6-12
Playoffs: Missed playoffs for second straight season
Shayne Jackson 30g, 48a
Miles Thompson 27g, 35a.
Last Champion’s Cup Title: Never
Owner/GM: John Arlotta
Coach: Ed Comeau
Draft: The Swarm got a bonanza of offense with four of the top six picks. They selected Lyle Thompson (Albany) first overall, Jesse King (Ohio State) at No. 3, Chad Tutton (North Carolina) at No. 5 and Randy Staats (Syracuse) at No. 6. They can all play right now. All four players made the team, with 2013 draft pick Reid Acton (Loyola) joining them among rookies on the active roster.
Major Changes: Shift from Minnesota returns NLL to southeast U.S. market. … Ed Comeau named head coach. Comeau hasn’t been a head coach in the league since 2010 but has retained a high profile by coaching Canada to the last two world indoor championships. … Lost two free agents to Colorado: high-scoring forward Callum Crawford and defender Greg Downing.
This and That: Defenseman Drew Petkoff was acquired in trade of forward Shane MacDonald to New England. … Defenseman Pat Miles and forwards Sam Bradman and Corbyn Tao were released.
Overview: While the offense was instantly improved substantially via the draft, the defense remains suspect. But if anybody can get this club back to the playoffs, it is the Comeau-Ferris-Harrison coaching staff.
5. NEW ENGLAND BLACK WOLVES
2015 Record: 4-14
Playoffs: Missed playoffs for second straight season
Pat Saunders 38g, 30a
Kyle Buchanan 25g, 37a
Last Champion’s Cup Title: 2001, as Philadelphia Wings
GM: Chris Sienko
Coach: Glenn Clark
Draft: Selected Dan Lintner (Cornell) with first-round pick and traded him two weeks later to Toronto for vet forward Kevin Crowley, the former No. 1 overall pick. Second-round pick (22nd overall) was forward Mike MacDonald out of Princeton. MacDonald made the active roster.
Major Changes: Hired Glenn Clark as new head coach. Clark brings NLL Hall of Famer and fellow Toronto region high school phys-ed teacher Jim Veltman with him as an assistant coach. … Acquired NLL scoring champion and MVP Shawn Evans from Calgary to join Crowley on right side of attack. … Signed defender Derek Suddons away from Buffalo. … Defenders Andrew Suitor and Mike McNamara will miss at least the first month of season rehabbing from knee surgeries.
This and That: Crowley joins Evans on potent right side of attack. … Forward Quinn Powless is eager to get back at it after missing most of last season following January injury. … Defenseman Dan Ball was signed after being dropped by Colorado … Traded defenseman Drew Petkoff to Georgia for forward Shane MacDonald. … Forwards Mark Cockerton and Jamie Lincoln and defenseman Craig England were released.
Overview: Upgrades on offense are encouraging. This team is going to score a lot more goals this winter-spring. But, like Georgia, too few changes have been made on the back end to warrant championship label.