10 Man Ride: Championship Recap
CLEAR! The ride is on. The sixth-seeded Chaos have completed their Cinderella story, led by 3-time Oren Lyons Goalie of the Year and 2021 Jim Brown MVP Award winner Blaze Riorden.
Let's recap the Championship rematch against the Whipsnakes:
1. Blaze Riorden: Goalie, leader, feeder, and seventh defender
In the semifinals it was Blaze’s outlets that won the game. He dished two assists and a second assist to spark CJ Costabile and Troy Reh in transition.
On Sunday, it was Blaze sliding out of his cage as a seventh defender.
Blaze scooped four groundballs. He boxed out Zed at X to steal a possession. He gobbled a would-be Kobe assist in Jay Carlson’s grill. And he rotated to Brad Smith rolling off the slam pick here as an extra defender.
2. Chaos denying X
Speaking of slam pick defense, Chaos’s defensive gameplan stopped most of them before they got started. Jarrod Neumann shut off Matt Rambo to prevent transfers through X. Those re-dodges on the weak side are what make the Whipsnakes so difficult to defend off the dodge. When the defense is settled, it’s much easier.
Here’s one of the only switches the Whipsnakes were able to create. Rambo has a short-stick with his head up. And Troy Reh reads his eyes like a safety.
On the other side, Jack Rowlett held Zed Williams scoreless in a rematch within the rematch. Rowlett watched highlights of Zed’s six-goal Championship performance all offseason. He packed on 15 pounds of muscle this winter in preparation for this exact opportunity.
3. Johnny Surdick bumped up to LSM
It’s tough to play a slow-to-go defense or mix in shutoffs unless everyone can win their one-on-ones like Chaos did down the stretch.
Opponents shot under 15% off the dodge in August and September. If you cannot make Chaos pay for playing on an island, it’s tough to crack that defense.
One of their best erasers: Johnny Surdick, frequently bumped up to LSM. He shut down Tom Schreiber, Bryan Costabile, Dan Bucaro, Brad Smith, and John Haus for stretches in their postseason run.
Look at the biggest differences between the 2020 Chaos defense and the 2021 Chaos defense. It starts with Surdick. On paper, it looked crazy to trot out three on-ball defenders entering 2021; Chaos proved they could press out and win without help defense. (It helps when Blaze is behind you.)
The 2019 Schmeisser Award winner and Army grad played a pivotal role on faceoff wings and quietly strong defense in the six-on-six down the stretch.
4. Josh Byrne, sweeping
Josh Byrne has always been one of the most efficient dodgers in lacrosse. He was Jake Watts’ 2020 preseason MVP prediction for a reason. When Chaos benched Connor Fields, it moved toward a scheme tailored to Josh Byrne’s skill set.
They spent the offseason adding players who would mesh with Byrne. His roommate, Chris Cloutier. His buddy from British Columbia, Chase Fraser. NCAA’s all-time leading goal scorer (who happens to be a lefty picker perfect for a lefty wing slasher), Mac O’Keefe.
Byrne’s ability to get topside at will is what makes this offense go. He can see every pass on the field -- the pull to his picker, the single to Dhane for a hinge pass, or the skip to Fraser on the backside pipe.
Byrne dished a career-high 12 assists in the regular season. His assist opportunities suggest he should’ve had even more. He’s manipulating defenses with pump fakes and exposing the two slide.
And when Chaos needs him to, Byrne can still put his shoulder down and score himself. Nobody was denying him topside on Sunday.
5. Chaos D winning races to the endline
Run outs are lacrosse’s version of charges. Hustle plays. They show which team is playing with more juice -- and inject even more life into the team that wins the race. They’re always important, especially on the biggest stages.
Chaos’s defense won three first quarter run outs. Blaze was closest after a slow break shot by Matt Abbott without backup. Mark Glicini won the weirdest run out ever against Jay Carlson -- when the ball hit Glicini, steered toward the sideline, and stayed in bounds, but Carlson scooped an endline ball for a procedure call. And Ian MacKay won this run out after defending a razor pick:
6. ...and Chaos O winning races to the endline
There were a couple close first quarter run outs on both ends. Chaos was caught with six players above GLE too often earlier in the year. Their spacing improved and they won more races down the stretch -- then turned backed up shots into inverts.
At the All-Star break, Chaos had no presence at X. They had shot 6-for-31 (19.4%) on any action initiated below the cage. Josh Byrne ran some big-littles back there; he wasn’t nearly as effective as he is on the wing.
Then they started inverting.
Wes Berg dished a pair of assists in Albany out of inverts. Dhane Smith scored on a question mark and inside roll in the semifinals. On Sunday, two rookies -- Ryan Smith (Robert Morris) and Mac O’Keefe (Penn State) ran by their matchups with no help in sight.
Smith beat his man to GLE and buried a backhand goal -- a Deyhaus Dunk! -- before the slide could arrive.
The Whipsnakes short-sticks struggled this season. Opponents shot over 30% off the dodge against a defense that desperately missed Tyler Warner.
Short-stick defense is the Whipsnakes’ top priority this offseason. What if they had drafted George Boiardi Hard Hat Award winner Danny Logan or Ryan Terefenko? Would we be having this conversation? Or would this newsletter be three-peat themed?
7. Mad Max
Head coach Andy Towers drafted Max Adler in the first round of the 2021 Entry Draft for this exact moment. Leading 6-3 through three quarters of the 2020 Championship, the Chaos offense watched the game slip away from the sidelines. Joe Nardella won 5-of-6 faceoffs to start the fourth quarter and spark a legendary run.
Adler -- who went 6-for-22 (27%) against Nardella in his PLL debut in Week 1 -- battled for 48 minutes on Sunday. He fought through a shoulder injury after Matt Dunn decleated him. He neutralized Nardella, going 13-for-26 (50%) at the stripe and capping off a 55% playoff run against Nardella, Bones Kelly, and 2021 Paul Cantabene Faceoff Athlete of the Year Trevor Baptiste.
Adler had a tough training camp. Maybe the toughest of any faceoff athlete. Chaos brought Kyle Gallagher and Austin Henningsen to Foxboro for a battle. It benefited him in the long run.
It felt like Chrome LC faceoff man Connor Farrell (48 FO% in ‘21 after posting a 62 FO% in ‘20) suffered from that lack of competition. While Farrell was on a knee doing defensive exits against ghosts during two-a-days, Adler was grinding. Towers has said it multiple times: Nobody worked harder and improved more over the course of this summer than Max Adler.
8. Crease Collapse of the Week: Matt Dunn
Sometimes you make a great play and the ball bounces the wrong way. This is a rare penalty kill crease collapse. It looks like Matt Dunn is shadowing/shutting Mac O’Keefe to prevent a stepdown shot from the rookie sniper. But as he moves with Mac, he sees Kyle Jackson open inside, and smothers him.
Then the ball squirts through.
And Cloutier buries a dagger.
9. Glick of the Week
Your weekly reminder why blocks are called Glicks. Off a scramble situation, the ball finds Matt Rambo with time and room. Uh oh!
Both Mark Glicini and Jack Rowlett throw themselves in front of the shot. Of course it’s Glicini who soaks it.
Glicini led all short-sticks with 7 Glicks. Read Josh Schafer’s feature on Glicini and the war against average for more.
10. Mac O'Keefe with time-and-room
Late in the second quarter, Mac O'Keefe caught the ball with time-and-room. Andy Towers immediately put his hand up. Mac crowhopped, dropped his stick, and obliterated the upper corner.
We’ve only seen the beginning from Mac. That Byrne-Mac two-man game on the high lefty wing is the most dangerous in the league.
In the fourth quarter on Sunday, Mac unleashed a low-to-high two-point attempt. I think it’s the only miss I’ve ever seen elicit a signature Ryan Boyle laugh. He’s gonna hit that shot more than a few times over the course of his pro career.
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