July 30, 2014

MLL Weekly: Wolf, McArdle Anchor Rookie Race

by Phil Shore | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter

For the first time in the history of the award, the 2014 Tewaaraton Trophy had co-winners.

Major League Lacrosse has never had co-Rookies of the Year, but the way things are shaking out, you'd be hard pressed to make a decision one way or the other. Rookie attackmen seem to be dominating the league in 2014, with Kieran McArdle and Jordan Wolf putting up impressive point totals. Who will earn top rookies honors is definitely a debate worth having.

Wolf and McArdle have each won two Cascade Rookie of the Week awards and combined for four of the 10 awards given this season. After the Week 12 games, Wolf was named Warrior Offensive Player of the Week while McArdle took home the rookie honors.

McArdle is tied for sixth in the league in points (43). In 10 games he has 30 goals – tying the all-time record for goals by a rookie – to go with 13 assists. In Florida's 23-17 victory over Boston, the St. John's product tallied five goals and five assists.

"It was the first time I've seen McArdle in person," Boston head coach John Tucker said. "He had a magnificent game against a world team defender."

While McArdle got a nice head start on his inaugural season, Wolf – coming off his second NCAA Division 1 National Championship at Duke – is proving to be every bit as important to his team. In only five games, Wolf is in the top 20 in the league in points, thanks to 17 goals and nine assists.

Wolf has great speed and has had multiple goals in all five of his games and only once has he scored fewer than three goals as well as only once scoring fewer than four points. In the team's 13-9 victory over Rochester, Wolf scored five goals and had two assists. He accounted for over 38 percent of the team's goals and 35 percent of the team's points. He's second on the team in points.

"When we get the ball behind to Jordan Wolf, really good things happen. Guys are realizing that," Rattlers head coach Tim Soudan said. "A lot of teams have a hard time guarding Jordan Wolf. If you don't have someone that can keep up with him, you're going to have to slide early. The good thing with Jordan is the ball isn't stuck in his stick."

A Third Option?

Both Wolf and McArdle were first round picks, so they came with high expectations. They were supposed to be top contenders for Rookie of the Year, which has gone to an attackman each of the four previous seasons and nine of the 13 years the league has been around.

Charlotte Hounds head coach Mike Cerino does not want Justin Ward left out of the discussion, however.

In only eight games, Ward leads the Hounds with 29 points (12 goals and 17 assists), ahead of even multiple-time All-Star Matt Danowski. The rookie from Loyola has had at least two points every game this season, and failed to get an assist only once this season.

Ward – drafted in the third round – has made a big difference for the Hounds offense. No other Hound has more than five assists this season, and accounts for over 33 percent of the team's total assists.

It's not just his passing ability that Cerino appreciates, though.

"Obviously Justin Ward is our rookie of the year," Cerino said. "His physicality was a surprise. Guys will shy away from that, making the jump from college to the pros. He's gone after and been very physical with some of the top defenseman in the league. I did not expect him to be as aggressive early on."

Wolf, McArdle and Ward have all staked a claim to deserving the Rookie of the Year honors. While they are the favorites, other rookie attackmen like Mark Cockerton (18 goals) and Miles Thompson (seven goals, five assists) have also made an impact.

MATTES MAKES STATEMENT

Chris Eck and Greg Gurenlian are always in the discussion for best face-off specialist in the game. Neither, however, led the 2014 FIL World Championship in winning percentage. The person topping that list is Florida Launch specialist Chris Mattes, who played for Germany and had a whopping .902 winning percentage. He had only six losses in six games played.

While Florida head coach Stan Ross said Mattes hurt his wrist during the tournament, Mattes would continue to impress in his second game back in the MLL after the world championships.

Mattes was a big part of Florida's victory over Boston in Week 12, and a big reason why the Launch are still in the playoff hunt. Going up against Eck (and four other Cannons), Mattes went 27-42 at the X. He has now upped his season winning percentage to just over 49 percent.

"It was great to see," Ross said. "It's an opportunity to showcase yourself. He prepared himself. The challenge is going to be yea, he had some success, but Chris Eck isn't going to let that go."

FIL WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP WOES

Chris Eck played well with Team USA in Denver, but is one of several players who have struggled on their return following the grueling tournament. (Scott McCall)

Credit goes to Mattes for his performance against the Cannons, but Eck was banged up. Eck took 87 face-offs in the world championships and left the game against the Launch due to injury. Boston head coach John Tucker said that as of Wednesday he is 50-50 as to whether he will play in Week 13.

The thought is that the players that played in the tournament took a lot of wear and tear that is hurting them down the stretch. MLL coaches didn't entirely disagree.

"From a physical standpoint I think they're fine. From an emotional standpoint I don't think they are, especially the USA guys," Tucker said. "There's an emotional toll it took on them losing that game. When they came back, practice Friday night and Saturday morning was not the same."

New York Lizards head coach Joe Spallina, who had a handful of his players playing in the tournament, said many players – not just on his team – looked tired.

"A lot of it comes with the energy," he said. "You see it across the league. The defense overall was down. I thought guys were tired and guys made tired decisions. Every coach on these calls felt the same thing. Certain guys go down maybe because of fatigue."

FROM FIRST TO WORST

The last teams to play in the 2013 MLL season were the first teams to be eliminated in the 2014 season.

The Chesapeake Bayhawks, winners of back-to-back titles and preseason favorites to three-peat, could not stave off elimination despite a 12-11 victory over New York.

Head coach Dave Cottle said that while the championship is no longer attainable this year, it doesn't mean the last two games of the year are meaningless.

"Playing for pride is important," he said. "We have something to play for and that's how we feel about each other as teammates, how we feel about this organization and how we go into next season."

The Charlotte Hounds surprised the league last year making the playoffs in their second year of existence and handing the Denver Outlaws their first loss of the year while advancing to the 2013 championship game.

They've come down to Earth this season and failed to stay in the playoff race.

"The young guys played secondary roles and were energy guys. Now we're a very young team. Guys like [rookie defenders Henry] Lobb and [Michael] Erhardt are getting big assignments right away," Cerino said comparing 2013 to 2014. "It's baptism by fire."


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