November 28, 2012

National Lacrosse League West Division: Team-by-Team Previews

by Neil Stevens | LaxMagazine.com | Related: East Division Preview

With National Lacrosse League training camps getting underway in earnest, it's time to preview the 2013 NLL season. Today Lacrosse Magazine's Neil Stevens provides a team-by-team breakdown of the NLL's West Division — in predicted order of finish.

Check back to LaxMagazine.com all week long for more preview content.

1. COLORADO MAMMOTH

2012 record: 11-5

Mac Allen missed the first half of 2012 while rehabbing a knee injury. Having him back for a full year should help Colorado's defense.
© Larry Palumbo

2012 recap: The Mammoth went 11-5 in the regular season with the most potent attack in the NLL. John Grant Jr. won the scoring title, setting an NLL single-season record with 116 points, and it looked like Colorado was bound for glory — not a 14-10 home loss to Minnesota in the first round of playoffs. Having forward Gavin Prout (calf muscle) and goalie Chris Levis (groin) at less than 100 percent did not help.

Nice mix: The Mammoth has plenty of options, as seen in the numbers of its top five scorers last year. Grant (50 goals), rookie of the year Adam Jones (29), Jamie Lincoln (27), Sean Pollock (26) and Gavin Prout (22) led the way.

Offseason: Colorado signed free agents Rich Morgan and Chet Koneczny. Morgan is an NLL giant at 6-foot-8 and 260 pounds. Koneczny is a hard-nosed defender. They were two of the most prized free agents and general manager Steve Govett landed both. Morgan was with Minnesota the last three years and has played defense most of his career, but Govett wants to try him up front to set picks for Grant. Ironically, it was a big hit from Morgan that sidelined Grant for two games with a broken sternum in 2012. “We wanted the team to be grittier so we went out and got Morgan and Koneczny,” Govett said. 

Entry draft: First-round and No. 9 overall pick Colton Clar has two seasons of Canadian senior summer ball under his belt, so he should be able to step in on the right side of the floor. He’s 6-foot-3, 215 pounds and hard to stop. “Just like we did last year when we made Adam [Jones] our first pick, we got our guy again this year,’’ coach Bob Hamley said. “Colton’s a big body who can shoot the ball. He has good hands.”

Dalgarno returns: Forward Joel Dalgarno, who took 2012 off while establishing a firefighting career in British Columbia, will help make Colorado’s offense the most diversified in the league.

Big Mac attack: Mac Allen missed the first half of 2012 while rehabbing from a knee injury, but should be ready for the start of the season in January. A full season with Big Mac is a big boost on the back end. Colorado ranked sixth out of nine teams in defense last season and must improve in that area if it wants to win it all.

Crease competition: Govett signed Toronto castoff Matt Roik to compete with Levis and Tye Belanger for the starting goalie job. Roik won an NLL title with Washington, and it was a surprise when the Rock released him fter a three-game losing streak last winter. Govett doesn’t believe Roik is done.

Feelin’ good: “We feel pretty good about our roster,” Govett said. “We’ll keep most of the guys on the roster from last year and tweak from there. We’re fairly positive about where we’re at.”

Schedule: Colorado opens at home Jan. 12 against Washington.

2. CALGARY ROUGHNECKS

2012 record: 12-4

2012 recap: The Roughnecks’ 12-4 regular season record was the best in the league. They had the No. 2 offense — just one goal fewer than the Mammoth — and the No. 1 defense. Calgary allowed 20 fewer goals than any other team. A lot of people thought the Roughnecks would go all the way, but they were shocked by Edmonton 19-11 at home in the West Division semifinals. The absence of high-scoring Curtis Dickson (shoulder) and a subpar performance by goalie Mike Poulin, who had not played in a month because of an ankle injury, hurt in the Alberta playoff showdown.

Potent attack: Six Roughnecks scored 20 or more goals: Shawn Evans (32), Jeff Shattler (31), Curtis Dickson (31), Dane Dobbie (28), Scott Ranger (24) and Daryl Veltman (20).

Offseason: Calgary fired head coach Dave Pym and gave the job to assistant Curt Malawsky. Losing so decisively to Edmonton last May was too much for ownership to take, and Malawsky was ready for the top job. Former Roughnecks defenseman Bruce Codd was hired as one of Malawsky’s assistants. “It was a tough decision, but we felt it was the right time to make a change,’’ general manager Mike Board said. “We hope this will push us a little bit further forward.”

Toth hopeful: Veteran forward Kaleb Toth doesn’t want to retire. “He’s working out hard,’’ Board said. “We’re analyzing to see where Kaleb might fit into the lineup. He doesn’t want to play just five or six games like last year. Whether we can accommodate that or not is another question.”

Dobbie OK: Forward Dane Dobbie suffered a shoulder-neck injury in summer playoffs in British Columbia, but he has been cleared to participate in camp drills. Dickson’s shoulder also has fully healed.

Entry draft: The most important lineup addition is forward Joe Resetarits, the No. 6 pick in the entry draft. He was the most pro-ready prospect available after two seasons of senior lacrosse in Ontario and the experience of winning the Canadian title with the Brampton Excelsiors. “We expect big things from him,” Malawsky said. “His athleticism and shot on the run as well as his ability to catch and release in traffic are going to be big for us.”

The Roughnecks also got British Columbia junior scoring champion Matthew Dinsdale at No. 7. Dinsdale was on the Coquitlam team, coached by Malawsky, that won the Canadian junior title in 2010. He could help the NLL’s highest-scoring team be even more potent in 2013.

“We don’t have to force them into big roles, because we’ve got a lot of experience in the lineup already,” Board said. “We think Joe is NLL-ready. Dinsdale, same sort of thing. He’s a really smart player who can play wherever you want to play him.”

Bad taste: “We still have a bad taste in our mouths over that playoff loss,” Board said. “Everybody is fired up and ready to go. We expect a competitive camp and another good season. We’re not making a lot of changes. We expect to get our share of wins and parlay them into more wins in the playoffs.”

Schedule: Calgary has its first two games at home: Jan. 12 against Toronto and Jan. 19 against Colorado.

3. MINNESOTA SWARM

Team captain Andrew Suitor leads the Swarm, but will miss the first two games of the season due to a suspension.
© Alex Carroll

2012 record: 9-7

2012 recap: The Swarm went 9-7 in the regular season despite deploying 12 rookies at different points in the season. Minnesota ranked No. 3 on both offense and defense. Players were fast, young and learning quickly. The Swarm won their first-round playoff game 14-10 at Colorado before going off the rails in a 15-3 home loss to Edmonton in the West Division final.

Offseason: Forward Kevin Ross and defenseman Richard Morgan are gone. Ross, a 28-goal scorer, was traded for Philadelphia’s first-round 2015 draft pick, as the Swarm continued stockpiling futures. Morgan, the biggest player in the NLL, went to Colorado via free agency.

General manager Joe Sullivan flipped forward Shawn Williams, who had just been acquired from Edmonton, defenseman Brendan Doran and three 2012 draft picks to Buffalo for the No. 3 overall pick in the 2012 draft.

Who will score? With Ross gone, Minnesota is left with just three players who scored more than 20 goals last season. Ryan Benesch (33), Callum Crawford (25) and Jordan MacIntosh (23) need some help, and it appears as if it idals on the way.

Entry draft: Minnesota had the second, third and fourth picks and selected defenseman Brock Sorensen, who’ll get the spot left open by the departure of Morgan, forward Kiel Matisz and forward Shayne Jackson. All three picks played Canadian senior box last summer and are primed for the NLL.

Sullivan on drafting the 6-foot-5 and 220-pound Sorensen: “Anyone who has watched film on Brock knows that he was the best defender and transition guy in the draft.”

On the 6-foot-5 and 215-pound Matisz: “His size and athleticism will allow him to do what he wants on the floor, and he’s going to give a lot of teams trouble.”

On the 5-foot-9 and 180-pound Jackson: “Shayne is a fearless competitor. He’s going to cut through the middle anytime, and he’s going to burn you with an outside shot.”

Four more: Minnesota has stockpiled another four first-round picks in 2013.

Goalies: Sullivan alternated rookie goalies Evan Kirk and Tyler Carlson last season. Kirk had the best save percentage, .807, among the 11 NLL goalies who played more than 200 minutes last season. Carlson was 10th at .748.

So will Kirk get more floor time this season?

“That’s a tough one,” Sullivan said. “A lot of people have asked me that question. We’re going to have to play it by ear. I love the 1-2 punch. I was more than happy with both their play last season. If you watch the flow of a game, numbers don’t always mean a lot. Right now, I’d say we’re not going to change anything, but we’ll see what happens in camp.”

Payroll: With all of their rookies, the Swarm has the lowest payroll in the NLL. But that’s not necessarily the method to Sullivan’s madness. “Payroll isn’t that big a deal,” he said. “We pay a lot more in insurance and travel than on payroll. What we’ve tried to do is surround Benesch and Crawford with guys that are going to make them better and allow them to shine. I think we’ve done a good job so far. We’ve added a couple more new guys this year who will help. We’re looking for Jackson to fit in on Benesch’s side of the floor and for Matisz to work in a transition role on Callum’s side.”

Looking ahead: “If we’re not the hardest working team, we’re going to be in trouble,” Sullivan said. “We’re in no situation to sit back and say, ‘Wow, look what we did last year.’ It left a sour taste in our mouths to go out the way we did. We can’t rest on our laurels. We’re still nobodies, essentially. Put us on paper and we won’t be favored to win the West. And every team will take us more seriously now and prepare thoroughly to play us. We stirred the pot enough last year that we might have ruffled some feathers throughout the league, and especially in the West.”

Suitor sits: Captain Andrew Suitor must serve a two-game league suspension for an incident during the May 12 playoff loss to Edmonton.

Schedule: The Swarm hits the road for its first two games — at Buffalo on Jan. 12 and at Toronto on Jan. 25 — before its home opener Jan. 26 against Washington.

4. EDMONTON RUSH

2012 record: 6-10

2012 recap: Edmonton squeaked into the playoffs with a 6-10 record. With goalie Aaron Bold having his best year, the defense was No. 2 in the league. The offense produced a league-low 167 goals in 16 games, but came to life in the playoffs. A stunning 19-11 win in Calgary was followed by another shocking 15-3 triumph in Minnesota in the West Division final. All of a sudden, the Rush was in the Champion’s Cup final. Edmonton led 5-1 at halftime in Rochester but lost 9-6 to the Knighthawks.

Offseason: With the first overall entry draft pick in his back pocket and with veteran forward Shawn Williams due to become an unrestricted free agent Aug. 1, general manager and coach Derek Keenan traded the rights to Williams to Buffalo for two second-round 2013 draft picks.

Keenan then traded the rights to transition man Paul Rabil, who had refused to play for Edmonton after being acquired from Washington, to Rochester for Jarrett Davis.

“He had a minimal role in Rochester,” Keenan said of Davis. “He didn’t get the ball in his stick a lot. He’s quick and has the ability to extend defenses because he shoots the ball well. He’s certainly going to help us more than Paul Rabil did not playing for us.”

Entry draft: Keenan used that top pick to select Mark Matthews, all 6-foot-4 and 230 pounds of him. Matthews has all the tools to become an NLL superstar. He’ll be the centerpiece of the franchise for years to come.

“He shoots the ball a hundred miles an hour,” Keenan said. “He passes well, sees the floor and is good on the power play. He can shoot accurately from outside and he can finish on the inside. He’s got all the attributes that will make him a very good [NLL] player.”

Keenan coached Matthews and forward Curtis Knight, who was the No. 8 draft pick, to a Canadian junior championship in Whitby, Ontario, in 2011. While Matthews played outdoors in the MLL for Denver last summer, Knight stayed in Whitby in 2012 and was named Canadian junior player of the year. Now they’re together again, along with Rush incumbent John LaFontaine, who was also on that 2011 Whitby team. They know Keenan’s systems.

Need goals: Zack Greer (31) and Scott Evans (23) were the only Rush forwards to score more than 20 goals in the regular season, and the Rush on Monday released Evans. Enter Matthews. “Our left side will have Zack Greer, Corey Small and Mark Matthews,” Keenan said. “They all bring different elements, but they’re all highly skilled. They’re athletic, they’re quick, they can shoot, they can pass, and they’re good one-on-one. With the guys we have on the right side, I think we’ve got the makings of a very good, dynamic offense.”

Back from Peru: Forward Dane Stevens took 2012 off from the NLL to travel in South America. He’s back to compete for a job. He prepped by playing senior ball in British Columbia last summer. He has his work cut out for him. “We’re going to have a real battle on our left side for that fourth or fifth spot,” Keenan said. “Nobody is going to be handed a job there, that’s for sure.”

Most improved: If Matthews is as good as everybody says he’s going to be, if Knight also helps pump up the offense and if Bold repeats his 2012 heroics, Edmonton could end up being the most improved team in the West.

Schedule: The Rush open Jan. 13 at home against Toronto and visit Washington the following week.

5. WASHINGTON STEALTH

Washington coach Chris Hall, who received treatments for throat cancer last year, is "in good shape," he said. "The tumor is gone."
© Stealth

2012 record: 4-12

2012 recap: The Stealth had some debilitating early-season injuries and dug a 1-5 hole when coach Chris Hall returned to the bench after receiving treatments for throat cancer. Washington never bounced back.

Hall health update: “The tumor is gone,” Hall said. “I’m in good shape. I’m gaining weight and I feel healthy. We just hope it stays that way. I’m cleared to continue coaching, and I’m excited about that. I’ll continue to be monitored, but things are good right now.’’

Offseason: Forward Cam Sedgwick and transition man Jason Bloom, the team’s captain, retired. Defenseman Kyle Hartzell was traded to the Wings for a draft pick. Transition man Chet Koneczny went to Colorado as a free agent.

Entry draft: The Stealth need to get younger and faster on defense. Veterans will be pushed by No. 11 pick Tyler Garrison, a 6-foot-2 and 200-pound defenseman who was captain of the Coquitlam Junior A club in British Columbia, No. 12 pick Bill Hostrawser, an aggressive checker who helped the Orangeville (Ontario) juniors win the 2012 Canadian title, and No. 19 pick Justin Pychel, a 6-foot-1, 210-pound defender from the Six Nations senior side.

“We’re pretty excited about getting Garrison and Hostrawser,” Hall said. “I see both those guys having a good shot at stepping into the lineup and playing right away. They lack some experience, but Minnesota proved last year that’s not a bad thing. We got two real good righties and a good leftie in Pychel, too. We were looking for one. There are going to be some battles for jobs on the back end. Our intention in the draft was to ensure we’d have some people coming to camp to push some of the veterans.”

Coaching change: Dan Perreault is in and Dan Stroup is out as coach of the offense, and Bloom becomes an additional assistant coach.

Goals: The only players with more than 20 goals last season were Lewis Ratcliff (36), Rhys Duch (33) and Athan Iannucci (21). If Jeff Zywicki isn’t hampered by injuries like last winter, and if Iannuccci thrives during a full season with this team, the offense should be much better.

New captain: Defenseman Kyle Sorensen takes over from Bloom.

Get back: Washington can only go up in 2013. “We won the championship in 2010, lost by one goal in the 2011 final and finished last in 2012, so we were proof in the pudding that it’s not very far from first to last,” Hall said. “We have no intention of proving it again. I know you’ve got to be ready to play game one. You’ve got to be in midseason form when the season starts, because it’s only 16 games. All the teams are strong and well-coached, so it really becomes a game-by-game performance issue. We have to get back to where we should be. I think we’ll be back battling for top spot, rather than where we finished last year.”

Schedule: The Stealth opens Jan. 5 at home against defending NLL champ Rochester.

Neil Stevens has covered pro and Canadian lacrosse since 1971. He and the late Tom Borrelli — a longtime Lacrosse Magazine contributor — are the only media members recognized by the NLL Hall of Fame.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misidentified the first name of Colorado forward Joel Dalgarno and misstated the weight of Minnesota rookie Shayne Jackson.


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