In the final part of our MLL preview trilogy, we examine the Charlotte Hounds, Atlanta Blaze and Boston Cannons. Charlotte and Atlanta finished last season at 6-8 while Boston found itself in sole possession of last place. Charlotte and Atlanta are true expansion teams, not relocations, while Boston is a founding member of the league and a former champion. One thing to keep in mind is that the number of roster spots is smaller than the number of talented field players. Every MLL team is full of great players who were the best players on their college teams. There is no “bad” MLL team, just ones that have fallen to the injury bug or don’t have things figured out yet. Charlotte tasted a bit of success as they beat the undefeated Denver Outlaws to advance to the 2013 finals before losing to Chesapeake. Atlanta has the brash swagger of a true newcomer possess some of the hottest young names in the league in a non-traditional hotbed. Boston, like its city, is as proud and as gritty a team as there is in the league. If it were not for injuries and some strange circumstances (traded players opting to retire rather the report), they would be competing with Chesapeake and New York. Before you look at their record, remember that the Cannons took the eventual champion Machine to overtime twice!
Charlotte was among the top teams in shots taken during the season, but finished under 30 in shooting percentage. Of the shots put on cage, almost 60 per cent found the back of the net. Pierce Bassett has proven himself a starter in the league and Charlie Cipriano is a veteran capable of stepping up in goal. Protecting the goalies, Michael Ehrhardt and Brett Schmidt head up a big and physical defense that has no compunction about laying the lumber.
The offense consisting of Ryan Brown, Kevin Cooper, Mike Chanenchuk, Kevin “Big Cat” Crowley, Joey Sankey, Matt Rambo and John Haus has the talent to keep defensive coordinators up all night. How deep into the indoor post season Crowley will go remains a concern, as he is a former MVP and tough defensive matchup due to size and skill. If this group gets more shots to fall on the cage, they have shown they can score. With Fowler traded to New York, Kevin Massa has to find a way to move the faceoff wins over the 45 per cent mark and feed the offense.
Charlotte made the decision to separate the GM and head coaching positions with Mike Cerino retaining the former while MLL legend Jim Stagnitta assumed the latter. Look for this change to pay dividends as Charlotte will play with a fierce dogged determination and grit like their mascot.
Atlanta plays with an unrelenting fast pace that reflects their captain and LSM Scott Ratliff and his never-come-off the field style of play. Unfortunately, Atlanta suffered a deep loss as head coach Dave Huntley passed away. Huntley knew almost everyone in the lacrosse community and the loss of his knowledge, personality and sense of humor is immeasurable. New coach and godfather of Atlanta youth lacrosse, Liam Banks, assumes the reins of the Blaze. Banks also played in the league and this move reunites him with Ratliff. This LB3 reunion has the chance to fan the Blaze’s championship aspirations.
Atlanta’s goalie position is set with Adam Ghitelman between the pies. Ghitelman is regarded as one of the best goalies in the league, but can his backups provide depth if his coaching responsibilities keep him away from the start of regular season? The defense features Callum “Big Koala” Robinson, Nick Gorman, Eddy Glazener, Jason Noble and the recently acquired Liam Byrnes. This group gave up one of the highest number of two-point goals last season and must improve in this area or other team’s shooters will continue to exploit this.
At LSM, Atlanta has Ratliff and his understudy from Boston, James Fahey, and these two leave the team set at that position, especially since Byrnes can transition up top as he played there in college. The attack suffered several key losses, but trades and player movement brought in established veterans like Matt Gibson and Tommy Palasek to compliment Kevin Rice and Dylan Donahue. Deemer Class, Justin Pennington, Jeff Reynolds, Stephan Ianzito and Mack Mackrides anchor the midfield. Jake Withers provides a dependable and skilled face off specialist that gives the league fits and he needs to help get the Blaze over the 50 per cent mark to keep them competitive, though Brent Hiken will handle face offs while Withers finishes his season with the Rochester Knighthawks. Look for a much-improved record from the Blaze this year.
Boston took some of the most shots in the league last season, but less than 30 per cent were on cage. Of the shots that made it on net, they buried almost 68 per cent of them. Tyler Fiorito is as good a goalie as you can find on an MLL roster and the Cannons need a big year out of him. Benny Pugh and Jack Murphy back up Fiorito in the cage. Mitch Belisle and Brodie Merrill anchor the defense along with Scott Firman and Brandon Mullins, but how long will Merrill’s indoor commitment last? The team has to lean on Rob Haus and Patrick Healy if Merrill has a prolonged indoor postseason.
The attack is skilled and talented behind Davey Emala, Kylor Bellistri, Scott Bieda, Cal Dearth and the newly acquired James Pannell. The midfield possesses the downfield dodging and shooting of Max Seibald and Sergio Perkovic. If both stay healthy and Kevin Buchanan joins the team soon there will be a serious scoring threat from up top. Seibald plays for team Israel and the midfield needs to gel quickly and maintain a scoring threat in case of fatigue from the FIL championship.
Joe Nardella returns to the X as the face off specialist, and like Fiorito in goal, is as solid a starter as you could ask for in the league. The Cannons also added the incredible Geoff Snider, but he may not suit up for Boston. This problem has plagued the Cannons before and to offset this, they selected top NCAA face off specialist Trevor Baptiste with the first pick in the draft. Boston may not get up the field as they used to in the days of Coach Tucker and Ratliff, but they will have an offense that is not afraid to shoot. Boston is out to prove last season was a fluke and they belong in the elite of the MLL.