Thanks to six goals by Rob Pannell, as well as three from Albert Maione and Max Seibald, the New York Lizards earned their first win of the 2014 season with an 18-15 victory over the Rochester Rattlers on Sunday night. It was the first step towards a bounce back season following a disappointing 4-10 slate last year. Afterwards, Lizards head coach Joe Spallina discussed the win.
“I said to someone before, but I do not think we scored 18 goals last season,” said the third year head coach. “All good signs to see scoring coming from different places.”
Trailing 9-8 to start the third quarter, the Lizards seized control of the game by scoring eight unanswered goals. Rochester would not go away as they added two more to make it 15-11 entering the final period. Even with New York up 17-11, the Rattlers battled back to make it 17-15 in the waning minutes. Still, the Lizards were able to clamp down and iced it with a Tommy Palasek empty netter.
With Ned Crotty unable to play, fans got to see New York’s new offensive schemes as well as their depth. Unlike last year’s team which relied on isolation plays, tonight showcased the new Lizards’ offense that focused on putting shots on the cage and distributing the ball to players that could create chances. Everyone had a role to play under Spallina’s new system which helped earn the win.
“If you do your job in this league, the ball is going to move and it is going to end up in your stick, and you have to take advantage of your opportunities,” he the 2013 Rookie of the Year. “Al did a good job of doing that. Max did a good job of getting the ball on-cage. It was an all-around team effort.”
Since training camp, the players have appeared to buy into the new system. The coaching staff has established that everyone has a role to play in order for the team to perform at their best. That was especially true for the offense which looked potent in their first game action together.
“That was the key,” explained Spallina. “Guys were getting high percentage shots. We were putting our guys in situations to succeed and finding ourselves in good places to go.”
This contest got off to a flying start as both teams combined for 13 goals in the first quarter. Not quite the strategy either coach had in mind before the first faceoff, but it was great for the 4,723 fans in attendance at James M Shuart Stadium.
“It was helter-skelter, fun for the fans, but we were a mess on defense,” said Spallina. “We were having a tough time finding bodies. We were not finding people in, we let up high percentage shots, and left our goalie on an island.”
The Rattlers were led by Justin Turri who finished with four goals, including a two-pointer. He was lethal in the first half, as was his teammate Dan Hardy, who finished with four goals, with three in the second half. Rochester’s strong start would not last as the pace of play slowed down, allowing New York’s defense to rally.
“Credit to our defensive coach [Steve Duffy],” said Spallina. “Him and I grabbed the guys and settled them down. We just talked about finding guys on our way in, not getting in, and then finding guys, and I think that kind of eliminated some of their transition. From that point on, I think we settled down and played a much better game defensively. They had three goals in the last couple of minutes, but for the most part, we kind of neutralized what they were doing.”
Shamel Bratton was one of the better role-players today for New York. He was used on Sunday as a defensive midfielder but was very good on both sides of the ball. Not only did he do well in cover and clearing the ball, he assisted on Maione’s third goal with a good cross feed to inside and set a well-timed pick for Pannell to score during the second half. Rochester seemed to have an early edge, but New York, under new defensive coordinator Steve Duffy, regrouped to slowdown the Rattlers for the final three quarters.
“He is buying into his role,” said Spallina. “We told him he has a clean slate coming in and we have loved everything that has seen out of him. He makes us a better team on the field because he is somebody that can get up and down and spark transition numbers.”
“That is kind of a first for me,” said Bratton on how he adopted to defensive midfield. “You step in, you are asked to play a role, and you have to do that. You have to be professional about it. I think I did a good job in transition from [defense] to [offense], catching offensive middies on defense. Maybe I can work my way up to some offense. You cannot fret about it.”
There is still a full season ahead of New York with likely bumps and lessons to experience. With so many new faces, this is practically a new team from last season despite many returning veterans. One of them, goaltender Drew Adams, believes Sunday’s come from behind win is a positive step for the team to grow from.
“I was really happy we were able to fight through some early adversity when we gave up those goals in the first quarter,” said Adams, who finished with 15 saves. “It is a good learning experience for us to kind of fight from behind like that. I feel like you are never really out of a game. Our defense has a lot of new faces. A bunch of great players, but it takes some time to build some cohesiveness and some consistency.”
1) Rob Pannell, New York- Six Goals
2) John Galloway, Rochester- 18 saves
3) Max Seibald, New York- Three goals, One Assist