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The Albany FireWolves’ Future is Now

The future is now for the Albany FireWolves, and thats how it will be for a long time.

Following a dismal 3-15 2022-23 NLL Season, the FireWolves shocked the lacrosse world and produced one of the most impressive turnaround seasons in NLL history. They did so with the youngest roster in the NLL – with an average age of 25 – including a handful of rookies.

Being so young and inexperienced, the expectation was that the team would come into its own over the next few years. Not only were there four rookies on the roster, but no offensive players were over 26 years old or had played more than three years in the NLL.

FireWolves’ general manager and head coach Glenn Clark crafted this lineup with purpose. Alex Simmons and Tye Kurtz were both first-round picks in the 2022 NLL Entry Draft, and so was Will Johansen, but he missed all of this season due to an ACL injury. Marshall Powless, Patrick Kaschalk, Zach Young, and Ethan Walker were also taken in the first round of recent NLL drafts.

Clark and his coaching staff knew their team had the potential to do great things in this league. The big question was: When? With a 6-0 start to this season, including notable wins over strong teams such as the Buffalo Bandits, Georgia Swarm and Halifax Thunderbirds, it was apparent quite early on in the year that this team was poised to make their mark sooner rather than later.

Walker, at the ripe old age of 26, is the elder statesman on the offensive side of the ball. He is one of only three offensive players on this years squad who were part of last years woeful season – Powless and John Piatelli were the others. Talk about roster turnover.

Regarding the offensive side of the ball, coach Clark was tremendously impressed with how his guys stepped up and performed all season long.

Im proud and a little amazed at the offensive numbers,” Clark said. Everyone talks about our last five games and the dip that they had, but if you look at any team, I think theyre going to have stretches of offensive inefficiencies and those types of things. I think, though, if you look at our overall offensive numbers, we were maybe sixth or seventh in the league in scoring. Thats pretty damn good when we cap out with Ethan Walker as our oldest guy.”

Being out on the floor and in the locker room with those younger guys day after day and week after week, Walker could sense how ready his teammates were to seize this moment. This group didn’t need to prove anything to anyone, being as young as they were, but they took it upon themselves to show the rest of the NLL landscape how prepared they were to be a force in this league right now.

We’re a pretty young group,” Walker said. But… were a group of guys that are eager and willing to go out there and do their job – not only for [ourselves], but for the team in general. I think that has really played into our success.”

Walker went on to explain that the guys in that FireWolves locker room have bought in to the messaging from the team leadership and the coaching staff.

We trust the coaches and trust them in everything that we do,” Walker said. How they want us to play is in our best interest and in the teams best interest. Glenn Clark, Darryl Gibson and Clem (DOrazio), our D-coach, they have been those guys for us that have always wanted to put us in the best possible positions to succeed on and off the floor.”

Even when things were looking a little rough for the FireWolves after their unfathomable 10-2 start to the season – prior to their 16-10 regular season finale win against the New York Riptide, they had lost five games in a row – the teams confidence never wavered. That was the mentality coach Clark and his staff were hoping their players would have.

Its one thing to be a young, talented player in this league. Its another thing entirely to be mentally prepared for all the grueling challenges the NLL presents. It is challenging to be a professional lacrosse leaguer right away, but many of the guys have been able to put themselves in the category of top-tier players in just their first, second or third season in the league. 

Simmons explained how the team was able to turn things around for the final game of the regular season and how they were able to get focused on clinching a home playoff spot.

I think that we were so worried about where we were going to fall in the standings instead of just playing our game,” Simmons said. Instead of focusing on the guys in our locker room, we were focusing on the noise that was going around the league, and that We were back to that same old Albany.’ We relaxed and didn’t practice on Friday. We went out to dinner together and enjoyed each other. That kind of got us together again and reminded us that this is a long season, and we need each other more than ever right now.”

Doug Jamieson of the Albany FireWolves. (Photo: Kevin McGurn)

Heading into the 2024 NLL Playoffs, this team is holding its head high. They set a single-season franchise record of 11 regular season wins, they clinched their first home playoff game in team history, Simmons completed the regular season with the second-most points by a rookie in NLL history, Tye Kurtz will likely be a NLL Rookie of the Year finalist, Doug Jamieson could very easily be considered an NLL Goaltender of the Year finalist, and the defense was collectively one of the best in the league.

Captain Colton Watkinson has believed in his guys all season long. He and the other veterans of this group such as Anthony Joaquim and Joe Nardella (all of whom are 31 or younger), have been preaching that the focus of this years team has needed to be on winning games, and not about how they were going to do in comparison to what they achieved last season or what the rest of the lacrosse world expected them to accomplish this season.

That one-game-at-a-time mentality is all that matters in this weekends win-or-go-home quarterfinals matchup.

Its a one-game exit, so you need that any given Sunday mentality,” Watkinson said. I keep saying it, but I know we have the talent in the room. We have the character and the leadership. Its just about putting all of those things together and playing a full game.”

Regardless of what happens in this weekends playoff battle against the Halifax Thunderbirds on Sunday afternoon, the FireWolves are a dangerous team going forward. Along with Johansen coming into the fold, generational talent Dyson Williams is waiting in the wings as well.

This youthful group has reached such great heights so early in their long-term plan for success that it has coach Clark very excited about just how high the ceiling is for this group and the future pieces that they will be adding along the way.

Its very exciting,” Clark said. It doesn’t guarantee you anything because its so hard to win one game in our league, but, I think it puts us in a competitive spot for years to come.”