Welcome to the Machine.
Ever since John Algie donned his mad scientist lab coat and drafted Tom Schreiber out of Princeton, and picked Kyle Harrison and Peter Baum from the LXM Pro Tour, the Ohio Machine went from a perennial 2-12 team to an overnight contender for the Steinfeld Cup. With the addition of the three all-star midfielders, Ohio addressed its anemic midfield production and produced one of the most explosive offenses in the league. The addition of goalies Scott Rodgers and Brian Phipps as well as midfielders Jake Bernhardt, Dominique Alexander, attacks Steele Stanwick and Jimmy Bitter and defensemen Dana Wilbur and Brian Karalunas helped produce one of the most efficient defenses last season.
Ohio has a mixture of young talent and veterans that remember the 2-12 seasons. The past two seasons we have witnessed the Machine post the fourth and second best regular season records, but remain 0-2 in the playoffs. Ohio relocated to Ohio Dominican University to be closer to downtown Columbus and their fan base. The expansion and supplemental drafts have altered the roster a bit, so the question is whether this is the year the Machine oils up and rolls into the championship?
Ohio almost escaped the expansion draft without losing any players until Atlanta selected Dominique Alexander, the rangy short stick defensive midfielder from Ohio State, with the 14th pick. A convoluted series of trades followed as the Machine tried to solidify their defensive midfield and goalie depth for the 2016 season. Ohio traded midfielder Kevin Cooper and goalie Scott Rodgers to reacquire Alexander. Alexander and Jake Bernhardt are important to the Machine’s defense by matching up with the MLL’s alpha dodging midfielders and pushing transition. Brian Phipps accepted a coaching position in Maryland and was traded to Chesapeake. Ohio then traded Jake Bailey, Jimmy Dailey and a supplemental draft pick to bring Rodgers back to Columbus.
Goal is now no longer an issue for Ohio. Rodgers is more than capable of starting in the MLL and if it were not for an early season injury and Phipps’ incredible play, he would have remained the Machine starter. Despite no longer starting, Scott Rodgers was also named the Ohio Machine Unsung Hero Award winner last season. Look for the kid from Long Island to enter the season with another chip on his shoulder and something to prove. Last time Rodgers had a chip on his shoulder he led Notre Dame to back to back NCAA tournament appearances. I am glad I don’t have to shoot on him.
Veteran Adam Fullerton is on the roster and will provide depth. Second round draft pick and Ohio native Kyle Bernlohr, one of the best keepers in D1, will join the Machine after his season at Maryland is complete. Coming back to Ohio will give the Machine a future starter as he learns from Rodgers and Fullerton.
Last season, Ohio fielded one of the better defenses in the MLL. Unfortunately, assistant head coach and defensive coordinator, Tom Mariano, took a position with the Chesapeake Bayhawks and Dana Wilber, the 2015 Ohio Defensive Player of the Year, went with him. Defensive stalwart and transition superstar Brian Farrell announced his retirement to devote more time to coaching.
Despite these numerous departures, Ohio retains a core of seasoned defensemen with Brian Karalunas, Michael Noone, Jackson Place and Steven Waldeck. Newcomers Chris Piccirilli, Ty Souders, and Matt Harris were acquired in the supplemental draft. The Machine took Michael Quinn in the first round of the college draft. He should compete for playing time when he reports. Ohio’s other defensive selections include Bobby Schmidtt, the LSM out of Bellermine and Zack Powers from North Carolina. Powers has played LSM as well as close and should provide versatility for the Machine. Look for the defense to bring the draftees into the fold and run a similar system to what they ran last season pick up where they left off with grit and teamwork.
The Machine have their starting offense set, but need depth. Greg Puskuldjian finished last season by winning 54 percent of his faceoffs and 110 groundballs. Ohio appears to have the potential to take a page from New York by having Puskuldjian feeding the ball to Baum, Harrison, and Schreiber on midfield and Bitter, Holman, and Stanwick on attack. These starters are as dangerous as any starting unit in the MLL as they put up 239 points in the regular season. The question is who will back up the starters and provide depth for Ohio? The players lost to trades, retirement, and the expansion draft accounted for 37 points during the regular season.
The Machine sought depth in the supplemental draft to address these losses. Jack Rice, Brandon Mangan, Kevin Kelly, and Zach Palmer were selected to give depth at attack. Sean Maehr, Tim Cox, Steven Romano, Reagan Harding, Lee Coppersmith, and Sam Snow were all midfielders picked up to compete for game day roster spots. Ohio even drafted Dillon Levings to back up Puskuldjian as insurance against the beating that faceoff specialists take over the course of an MLL season.
Look for the defense to be tested as Ohio opens up with Florida and their potent offense. On the plus side for the Machine, the Thompsons will likely still be fulfilling indoor commitments. Then Ohio travels to Denver and then turns around to host the Outlaws the following week. Denver had questions in goal, traded faceoff specialist Anthony Kelly to Chesapeake and struggled on defense. Ohio has the potential to win three in a row before hosting the defending champs New York. After New York, the Machine travel to Boston then have a rematch against Rochester, the team that knocked them out of the playoffs. They return to Ohio for their home game against the Launch, travel to Charlotte and then host the expansion Blaze. The Machine have the potential and talent to post another winning season and secure a playoff berth.
Ohio is still the team that no one likes to play because they are one of the most balanced teams in the league. They have a powerful offense and defense that plays well together. The offense had an uncharacteristic eight-goal output against Rochester in the playoffs that included no points in the fourth quarter. Midfield production was an Achilles heel for Ohio that they solved by drafting Baum, Harrison, and Schreiber. Despite coaching changes and player movement, the defense retained enough of its core that they will pick up where they left off last season. Potent offense, solid defense, veteran goaltenders and rising star in Puskuldjian have the Machine prepared to fire on all cylinders this season. They have the talent to take on any team in the MLL, but need to generate chemistry and production from their bench to make the playoff push to claim the Steinfeld Cup and avoid another first round exit.