April means that Major League Lacrosse has arrived and everyone’s home team has a clean slate for a chance at a championship! Now it is time to look at what we can expect from the nine teams as they vie for the Steinfeld Cup. Today we preview four teams, including the defending champion Ohio Machine.
The Machine finally hoisted their first championship trophy in 2017 and it won’t be their last as the team managed to keep its core players together and added depth through the supplemental draft as well as the collegiate draft. The Machine prided themselves on top goalie play with Kyle Bernlohr taking over for the starter Scott Rodgers. Bernlohr seized the opportunity, made the all-star team, and retained the starting goalie job. The success of both goalies is partially due to the defense that played in front of them. Ohio ended the season with one of the top defenses that prided itself on being a “no-name” defense made up of “faceless men.” Defensive prowess extended to the penalty-killing unit that was among the top in the league. Tom Schreiber, the league MVP for the past two seasons and an important cog in the offense, suffered a knee injury during his indoor season with Toronto. Ohio fans breathed a sigh of relief as the injury did not require surgery and Schreiber came back and went back to lighting the lamp with four goals in his return to the Rock, which bodes well for the MLL season. The only concern is how long his indoor season lasts, as Ohio needs both his scoring and passing to defend their championship. Marcus Holman showed during the championship game that he can take over a game and his play is necessary to keep the Machine moving during the overlap with the indoor season. Face offs proved to be the one weak point for the Machine as Greg Puskuldjian struggled with recapturing the previous season’s success. The Machine are poised to repeat as champions.
While Ohio looks poised to repeat as champions, Denver has won the most championships in recent memory (2014, 2016). The Outlaws have proven to be a model franchise and it shows in their hardware. Playing at Mile High Stadium at Sports Authority Field and backed by dedicated ownership, the Outlaws have formed a team that most do not like to leave. Like Ohio, Denver had one of the better defenses from last season as well as stellar play from goalie Jack Kelly, who made Team USA for the upcoming world championships. There is concern over fatigue from playing so many games in Israel in a short span and then returning for the last half of the season. The Outlaws have one of the most athletic groups of short-stick defensive midfielders in Brent Adams, Nick Ossello and newcomer Hank Hawkins. Denver’s attack unit still possesses dynamic playmakers in Eric Law, Wesley Berg and Matt Kavanagh. The unit proved so potent that the Outlaws parted with the brothers Bocklet. Tom Kelly helped Denver end the season with the third best face off percentage in the regular season. Like the Machine, Denver finished 9-5 and until the rest of the league catches up, they are likely to stay there.
Next up, the Dallas Rattlers are a team that consistently made the playoffs for the past several seasons and like Ohio is looking to win their first championship since moving from Chicago to Rochester and now Dallas, a new hotbed for lacrosse. The Rattlers now play at The Star in Frisco, Texas, which serves as the practice facility of the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys. Such a drastic relocation had many fans and writers questioning just how many players would remain with the team, but the answer is that the majority of the team chose to make the move as many of them feel they have “unfinished business” and it will not be concluded until they win a championship. Goalie John Galloway has been a perennial all-star and leader since his first day in the league, but faces coaching commitments as Jacksonville University bench boss. Galloway will also play for Team USA and like Denver’s Kelly faces the same concerns over fatigue after the FIL games in Israel. The defense lost Will Koshansky via player movement, but Matt Dunn, Mike Manley, John Lade and Joel White remain as well as two of the most physical short-stick defensive middies in Mike Lazore and Donny Moss. Dallas addressed some of the past season’s indoor overlap by acquiring Chris Bocklet who lives in Texas. Drew Simoneau had the second best faceoff percentage last season and gives the offense the extra possessions to score goals. The Rattlers have always dealt with a constantly morphing roster due to the number of players with coaching and indoor commitments. Despite this, Dallas has an offense to be feared and with a new MLL commissioner willing to work with the NLL this may be the year that the Rattlers break through like Ohio did last season.
Florida completed a complete turnaround last season as they went from the bottom of the standings in 2016 to a playoff appearance in 2017 under head coach Tom Mariano. Florida always possessed talent and proved they could be one of the elite teams in the league as they swept both the Rattlers and Lizards, never an easy task in the MLL. Austin Kaut has proven to be a capable starter with all-star potential. The Florida defense has always possessed all-star Tucker Durkin and began coming together through the collegiate and supplemental draft. The Launch traded Liam Banks to Atlanta for draft picks. Kieran McArdle and Jarrod Neumann both have indoor commitments that leave them on the inactive roster until they join the team. The attack will miss McArdle, but Drenner and Molloy proved very quick at picking up the pro game. The Launch had too many points last season they played too much defense and it is imperative that Ryan Drenner and Dylan Molloy create a chemistry with Steven Brooks, Tim Barber, Nick Mariano and Sergio Salcido. The offense has the ability to score a ton of points (nine games over the league average of 12 goals per game) and settling the face off positon will help. Veteran Chris Mattes, the former University of Maryland face off coach and current member of the New England Patriots coaching staff is back and his leadership is crucial to developing newcomers Jonathan Paige and Kevin Reisman. Florida is sneaking up on nobody this year and their response to getting everyone’s best shot will determine if they make it back to the playoffs.
Stay tuned for part two!