NLL: Riptide’s strong bond will improve results in 2022-23

UNIONDALE, April 23: During the New York Riptide vs Halifax Thunderbirds game at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale, NY on April 23, 2022. (Photo by Jen Voce-Nelson)

Callum Crawford said it best, at the end of last season: “If we got [the New York Riptide] to the playoffs, there’s not a single team in this league that [would want] to see this young group. We can be this really dynamic team that you don’t want to face at any given time.”

The Riptide finished in seventh place in the NLL’s East Division in 2022 with a 6-12 record, but their record doesn’t really tell the story of their season. They were IN almost every game they played, and even beat the vaunted Buffalo Bandits.

Three of their losses were by a single goal. Most of the others were by two or three. They took Buffalo to OT before falling 18-17 on January 30, and then beat them 15-12 on April 9th.

For a team that finished seventh in the standings, their stats were actually pretty good. Rookie Jeff Teat finished fourth in league scoring with 108 points. Callum Crawford was 12th with 88 points. The rookie and the veteran proved to be capable leaders with a strong and energetic supporting cast behind them.

Jake Fox, Connor Kearnan, Dan Lomas and Larson Sundown are all returning up front.

The Riptide finished second in the East in goals for with 214, third last in penalty minutes with 194, third in power play percentage at 46.3%, tied for second with eight shorthanded goals and they only gave up three shorties all season.

What made this possible for New York was the tight-knit team they have. Everyone I’ve spoken to from the Riptide has said the same thing, that they’re like a family in their locker room. Sure, every team says that, but it’s clear to see that the Riptide actually embody that sentiment. A 6-12 record is usually nothing to write home about, but this team never got down on themselves. They celebrated every little achievement. They never gave up.

“It’s a really talented locker room with a group of believers,” said Crawford. “If you believe in what you have and what you can do yourself and what we can do collectively, there’s going to be no quit. I think you see quit in teams that don’t truly believe. I don’t think that’s ever been the case with this locker room.”

Obviously, finishing seventh means there are still areas where the Riptide need to improve. Firstly, they gave up the largest number of goals in the East with 226; also, they were last in penalty kill at only 49.3%.

Starting goaltender Steven Orleman is a year older, with a year more experience, and is one of the best young goalies in the league. There’s no reason to think he won’t have a strong year in goal. At age 22, he finished his rookie season with a 6-11 record, 12.10 GAA and .767 save percentage.

“We had high expectations for Orley,” said head coach Dan Ladouceur. “I’ve admitted to him and anyone that will listen, that I’ve let him in positions that are tough… His response and his approach to this has been unbelievable. He’s shown that he’s a number one in this league, playing out of these tough situations.”

Gowah Abrams is a capable backup and a team favourite. Practice roster goaltender Will Johnston will start the season on the PUP after injuring his knee in field lacrosse.

New York has added some help on the back end in Kevin Brownell from Buffalo and Jordi Jones-Smith from Saskatchewan. Brownell is a nine-year NLL vet which will help the Riptide keep their goals against down and improve their PK. Jones-Smith will fit right in with Dan Ladouceur’s crew: the defense likes to run and he’ll help Scott Dominey and Damon Edwards push the pace in their already fearless transition.

Captain Dan MacRae and Brent Noseworthy will start the season on the injured reserve, but the Riptide still have a steady defensive core led by Leo Stouros and Jay Thorimbert, with young players like Andy Borgatti and Ron John poised to have breakout seasons.

Kieran McArdle is the most notable name to have left the Riptide, in a trade that saw New York acquire Reilly O’Connor from Albany. O’Connor’s 54 points replaces McArdle’s 52, so there’s not much of a difference in terms of offensive output. McArdle is from Long Island and his trade came as a surprise, but the Riptide got a great player in return. O’Connor’s positive attitude will fit right into the Riptide’s team culture.

Dan Ladouceur returns for his second season behind the bench. The five-time NLL champion built the team culture alluded to earlier in this article, inspiring players to do their best during every shift. He turned the team right around after their abbreviated 1-12 debut season.

 “What I really appreciate about Laddy is his mental aspect of the game,” Orleman said. “How he treats his players is something that I think a lot of coaches don’t really appreciate. The way he runs our team, I want to go to bat for him every night.”

Going into their second full season at Nassau Coliseum, the team is dominating social media and building excitement in area. They’re hoping that a stable season with no interruptions will entice more fans into the arena on game nights.

“We don’t do what we do without fans. The ones on Long Island are ours,” stated Crawford. “They’re the only reason we get to play this game in a professional way in a building like this and ultimately try to make a living off it. It’s them. Any chance we get to honour them and play for them, every game is ultimately for them… Getting more of them into this building is key and success is going to draw that and we’re excited for that to happen.”

The Riptide are doing things right on and off the floor, so hopefully that translates into more wins and a playoff berth this season.

Because for Crawford, who has yet to win an NLL championship, it could be his last season.

“I can’t think about next year,” he said after last season ended. “I’m 37-years-old, 17 years in this thing. It’s win now or be grumpy and what not. But I can’t say it enough, whether I’m playing for another three years or I’m done, I believe in what this locker room is.”

I’m not making any predictions here, because the East is kind of scarily stacked and every game is going to be a battle to the last buzzer this season. But, I will say that the Riptide are going to be right up there with the likes of the Rock and the Bandits in terms of entertainment value and sheer drive to win. It’s going to be a fun season.