2016 Major Seres Lacrosse Season Preview

lakers vs chiefs

The 2016 Major Series Lacrosse (MSL) season kicks off on Sunday, May 29. Six teams throughout Ontario will battle each other this summer for the right to host the Mann Cup, the Canadian senior lacrosse championship. Last season the Peterborough Lakers travelled to British Columbia, where they lost to the WLA champion Victoria Shamrocks. This year the MSL champion will host the series and the winner will hope to bring the Cup back East.

Two or three teams per year emerge early as the frontrunners in the league while the rest tend to struggle. Peterborough and the Six Nations Chiefs are always in contention for the league’s top spot, and the third team is generally either the Brooklin Redmen or Brampton Excelsiors. Last season Six Nations and Peterborough ran away with the top two spots while the Oakville Rock, Brampton, and Brooklin finished with respectable middle of the pack status. The Kitchener-Waterloo Kodiaks, last place finishers in 2015 with a record of 4-13-1, relocated to Cobourg in the offseason as they look to build some success.

It seems like all teams are keeping their cards close to their chest to start the season. Trades are being announced but final rosters have not been determined and there will be tweaking early in the season as teams adjust and more players commit. Some big names have crossed leagues, and teams in the MSL are all loading up for a chance to host the Mann Cup.

Lakers GM Paul Day summarized the thoughts of team personnel across the league.

“This is probably going be the best major series lacrosse people have seen in awhile,” he said. “Everybody’s that much better, we’re (Peterborough) that much better too. It’s a chance to host the Mann Cup, that’s what we want, that’s the reason we’re all back here and it’s exciting.”

That’s what everyone wants. To host, and win, the national championship.

Brampton Excelsiors
2015 record: 7-11, 14 pts, 4th place, lost to Six Nations in MSL semi-finals

The Excelsiors had some arena turmoil last season with half their games being moved from the more modern Powerade Centre to Memorial Arena. This season all their games will be at the old Memorial. The Powerade Centre had a carpet; Memorial does not so the Excelsiors will be playing on concrete as they do in Brooklin and Cobourg.

Brampton looks to be much improved with the return of both Dan and Paul Dawson. The brothers last played together for the Excels in 2013. They each took a year off and then Dan played 2015 in Victoria, winning a Mann Cup. Paul will add to an already solid defense that includes Sandy Chapman, Chris Corbeil, and Kyle Rubisch. Dan joins an offense that just couldn’t compare last year to the likes of Shattler and Dickson. Mike Burke led the team in scoring with 56 points last year while Tyler Fereira had 51. Joe Resetarits also returns as the league’s reigning MVP.

Brampton native Daryl Veltman will suit up for his hometown team for the first time. Veltman played junior lacrosse in Halton Hills and Orangeville but has played senior only in the WLA, winning the Mann Cup with Victoria last season.

Rookie Tyson Bell will join the team after a solid first season with Calgary in the NLL.

Tyler Carlson will get the bulk of the starts in goal, and this could be Brampton’s weakest area. Carlson has yet to prove himself as a bonafide NLL starter; although he was very capable in Peterborough’s net for a couple of years he never found playoff success. If the Excelsiors find themselves falling behind they may need to look for an upgrade in net.

Brooklin Redmen
2015 record: 6-11-1, 13 pts, 5th place, did not qualify for playoffs

The Redmen were one point out of the playoffs in 2015, although with the haphazard roster they had, it’s a miracle they played even that well. This season, their 50th, will be different. Business staff have been marketing the heck out of the anniversary with celebrations to go on all season long. The region’s Lacrosse Day in Durham on June 25 with be a highlight for the OLA, with the Redmen hosting the Lakers in the day’s marquee matchup.

To start the season the Redmen will be missing seven solid players to the NLL finals, but once the likes of Mark Matthews, Curtis Knight, and Steve Priolo return, the Redmen will be a force to be reckoned with. Matthews, an Oshawa native, hasn’t played in the region since 2011 when he won a Minto Cup with Whitby, but was lured home for the 50th anniversary and the promise of a competitive season.

Offense won’t be a problem for the Redmen with returning players like Shayne Jackson, Dan Lintner, and Kiel Matisz shooting at the net. Veteran Shawn Williams will once again lead the team on and off the floor. Last season, at 41, Williams led the Redmen with 58 points.

Returning on defense are stalwarts Dan Ball, Kevin Brownell, and Derek Suddons.

Mike Poulin and Zach Higgins will once again split time in the Redmen net.

Brooklin will be much improved in 2016 and have publicly stated that their goal is to host the Mann Cup. Head coach Wayne Colley was able to add Derek Keenan to the coaching staff for 2016. Keenan, head coach of the Saskatchewan Rush, is a proven winner and stabilizing presence on the bench.

Cobourg Kodiaks
2015 record (as KW): 4-13-1, 9 pts, 6th place, did not qualify for playoffs

The Cobourg Kodiaks have made a splash with their aggressive marketing since the team was relocated in January. They have a 2000 seat arena in the Cobourg Community Centre and are actively trying to fill it. Chances are in this first year wins are going to be hard to come by, but the excitement the staff is creating is going to build a solid fanbase.

Having a team in Cobourg opens up the whole Eastern part of the province to the MSL, and adding a team so close to Peterborough creates an instant rivalry. As hotbeds for minor lacrosse, both Peterborough and Northumberland county will provide local players for the Kodiaks for years to come.

Captain Joey Cupido will lead a very young team – they have a good mix of previous Kodiaks and new talent picked up since the move, and a good core that play together for Clax’s Creator’s Cup champion Durham Turfdogs, including Matt Crough, Dylan Goddard, John St. John, Cody McMahon, Pete Rennie, and Mike Triolo, so there’s already some chemistry between the newer and older players.

David DiRuscio, who backs up for the Buffalo Bandits, will be the Kodiaks starter. In 2014 he was a backup in Peterborough before taking the reins in KW. Despite their losing record, DiRuscio is one of the best goaltending prospects in the sport and playing in front of the bigger crowd in Cobourg will just add to his confidence. DiRuscio and Craig England will miss the start of the season as Buffalo plays for the Champions Cup.

Expect the Kodiaks to finish in sixth place again this season as they find their footing in a new place. They just don’t have the NLL star power the other teams have acquired to compete this year, but once they’ve established themselves they have as good a chance as any other MSL team to compete for that Mann Cup.

Oakville Rock
2015 record: 7-11-0, 14 pts, 3rd place, lost in first round to Peterborough

The Rock were once the new kids on the block and struggled for several years before finishing in third place last season and giving the Lakers a run for their money in the first round of the 2015 playoffs. Head coach Matt Sawyer took over after the team started 0-7 and led the Rock to their best ever finish.

The core of the Rock’s roster also plays for the NLL’s Toronto Rock, including stars Stephan Leblanc and Rob Hellyer, along with starting goaltender Nick Rose. Other NLL Rock players are Kevin Ross, Steve Fryer, and Billy Hostrawser. This offseason, Oakville also acquired defenders Jamie Batson and Brad Kri. Damon Edwards should play after missing the whole NLL season rehabbing a torn ACL he suffered last summer. The NLL’s Rock didn’t have a good season, and their players will use the summer as practice time to get better all around.

2015 rookie sensation Wes Berg comes back to Oakville with a year of NLL experience under his belt, and will be joined by Calgary Roughnecks teammate Dan MacRae, who is coming back East after four years with Victoria. Rookie Challen Rogers from Coquitlam, expected to be a high pick in the 2016 NLL draft, will play on the back end for the Rock. Other notable returnees include Alex Crepinsek, Mitch Desnoo, and Jeremy and Jason Noble.

The Rock have made some great strides over the past season and made necessary additions to their team. They’re real contenders this year for a high finish in the MSL. What would the league do though, if they were to win? The TRAC is an enviable practice facility but it only seats 800, which has to be concerning for a national championship, especially when you look at what places like Peterborough and Victoria have been able to do in recent years. The Rock only averaged 95 fans per game last season so there’s no worry about local fans missing out on tickets, but the exposure for the championship would be far below what the league would want.

Peterborough Lakers
2015 record: 14-4, 28 pts, 2nd place, defeated Six Nations in league finals, lost Mann Cup to Victoria

The Lakers always seem to do better as underdogs – that is, when they finish second in the league and not first. They’re coming off a successful season that saw them avenge their 2014 game seven MSL final loss to Six Nations; however, they weren’t able to win it all and feel they have unfinished business.

They’ve tweaked their lineup with some graduating junior players, all of whom are expected to jump right in and make an impact.

“Our expectation in this city is to win,” says head coach Mike Hasen. “We are younger, we have a couple fresh faces in here that are going to push the older guys a little bit. [Our players] know our expectations coming back. The whole league is gong to be a lot tougher this year and we’ll have our work cut out for us. I like the team that we have, we’ll add a few pieces to it, and we’ll be better for it.”

The Lakers had been very quiet since announcing the return of Curtis Dickson back in April but there were many familiar faces at practice on Thursday including Shawn Evans, Turner Evans, Josh Gillam, Brad Self, and Cory Vitarelli. Adam Jones will also return this season.

Rumours of John Grant Jr. returning as well have been swirling but there has been no confirmation from the team on that. One has to assume that if Grant does play, he will commit to only the six games necessary for him to qualify for the playoffs. Grant and his family are firmly settled in Denver and would need to be flown in for each game.

Scott Evans is unsure whether he will play this summer and there is no timeline for a decision for him. Veteran defender Mike Kirk has retired from summer lacrosse.

The Lakers have a huge hole on defense with Mark Farthing, Brock Sorensen, and Andrew Suitor all out for the season with knee injuries. Suitor also missed last season to a knee injury. The good news on defense is that Robert Hope and Nick Weiss have turned into two of the NLL’s best defenders and both will be back for the Lakers. Chad Tutton had a standout rookie season for the Georgia Swarm. Ian Llord, who was acquired last season but did not play, will be a bonus for the Lakers back end. Scott Self, as captain, will once again anchor the team.

The Lakers will start the year without three key pieces in Chad Culp, Mark Steenhuis, and Weiss, who are still with the Bandits.

The Lakers have only a slightly different look than last season and should be expected to contend once again for the MSL title. Peterborough teams always have heart and desire and last year’s Mann Cup loss left a bitter taste. They’re looking forward to hosting the WLA champion in Peterborough to win their 6th Mann Cup in 12 years.

Six Nations Chiefs
2015 record: 15-3, 30 pts, 1st place, lost to Peterborough in MSL final

The Six Nations Chiefs don’t like to remember the images of the Lakers celebrating their game seven win at the Iroquois Lacrosse Arena. Although they finished first in the league, the two teams were so evenly matched that either could have won. The Chiefs are looking to avenge that loss this season and host a second consecutive Mann Cup for the MSL (they also hosted, and won, in 2014).

Six Nations has lost goaltender Brandon Miller for the season due to injury (add him to the list of injured Toronto Rock players, too!), so will count on Dillon Ward as starter and Six Nations Arrows grad Warren Hill as backup.

Jeff Shattler has elected to go back to Victoria this season, and Colin Doyle is recovering from neck surgery, so the Chiefs have lost some star power there. They’ll be okay though, as they get back Cody Jamieson from injury, and will count on Ryan Benesch, Dhane Smith, Johnny Powless, and Randy Staats to continue to be their offensive powerhouses. The number of talented players that the Chiefs boast is almost an embarrassment of riches.

On defense, Billy Dee Smith and Sid Smith will once again lead the way. Sid missed most of last season with an injury. Youngsters Brier Jonathan and Wenster Green, both Six Nations minor lacrosse grads, return to the ILA to play for the Chiefs for the first time. Leo Storous has also graduated from the Jr. A Arrows and will join the Chiefs. Dan Coates, David Brock, and Rob Marshall will also anchor the team from the back end.

Off the floor, Steve Dietrich has taken over as general manager and John Tavares was added as offensive coordinator. The Chiefs have made excellent moves so far both on and off the floor and there is absolutely no reason they won’t be in the MSL finals once again.