10-Man Ride: Whips Win, Chromeback Begins
CLEAR! The ride is on. We’re recapping Saturday’s games and previewing Atlas-Waterdogs at 4:00PM ET on NBC. Let’s go!
1. Whips Defense: Still sneaky
For 48 minutes yesterday, the Whips smothered the Redwoods. Kyle Bernlohr made 15 saves (68.2%) in the defending champs’ 13-9 win – including some truly ridiculous stops – and his teammates in front of him played its typical airtight, fundamental, physical, “boring” brand of defense.
Michael Ehrhardt (7GB, 4CT, 1A) was everywhere. He made the right decisions during 6-on-5 slow breaks. He gobbled up groundballs on the wings as Joe Nardella won 68.2%. And, as always, he snuck up being dodgers as they rolled back.
The Whipsnakes anticipate pops and rollbacks as well as any defense. Adjacent defenders are always ready to help. When Ehrhardt sees the back of Matt Kavanagh’s helmet here, it’s a greenlight to go. What makes this even more impressive: It’s a five-on-five situation, which should be a spacing advantage for the offense. Ehrhardt covers extra ground to put the ball on the carpet.
2. Pat Harbeson pledging for Harlem Lacrosse
Pat Harbeson pledged to donate to Harlem Lacrosse for every groundball he scoops during the Championship Series. The All-Film Team short-stick defender had two GBs – and three (!) caused turnovers.
I’ll be matching Harbeson’s donations – plus chipping in for switched picks. Harbeson held his own on an island against John Haus, Matt Rambo, Zed Williams, and others. This strip after Haus takes him behind the cage for an isolation is beautiful. Haus is one of the best inverting midfielders (and the Whipsnakes are one of the best inverting teams). Preventing a shot here would be a win for a SSDM; causing a turnover is icing on the cake.
3. Zed Williams and Brad Smith debut
The Whipsnakes lost 71 points in the expansion draft when the Waterdogs selected Connor Kelly, Ben Reeves, Drew Snider, and Ryan Drenner. Zed Williams and Brad Smith might put up 71 points in half as many games.
Williams’ (3G) game is fluid. He doesn’t sprint; he glides. His rollbacks are less of a hockey stop and more of a pirouette. It doesn’t matter where his hips are facing – square to his defender, to the sideline, or to the endline – he is always moving towards the middle of the field. This rocker was disgusting. He turned his defender around. Not a 180 around. A 360. Dude lost Zed completely.
Smith (1G, 1A, 1 second assist) ran out of the box and feasted on short-stick matchups. Like Haus, he’s comfortable inverting. A year ago, it would’ve been unfathomable for the Whipsnakes to win when Matt Rambo took two shots. This year’s team might have even more dodging punch than last year’s.
4. Connor Fields follows Rule #1
Diggstape’s Rule #1: When given the chance to do the goalie dirty, you do the goalie as dirty as possible.
Fields (3G, 1A) did John Galloway nauseatingly dirty. Every single one of his points was flashy. Two behind-the-back goals. A backhand goal. And the behind-the-back assist to Curtis Dickson (off a behind-the-back second assist from Josh Byrne) in the prettiest sequence of a somewhat ugly game.
5. Skim Milk Man
Chrome LC faceoff specialist Connor Farrell slimmed down in the offseason and improved his technique. When he won the clamp, he dominated the column and drove Tommy Kelly off the ball. But when he didn’t win the clamp, he was quick enough to beat Kelly to his spots. At one point, Chrome won 13 faceoffs in a row. The unit’s success at the stripe was instrumental in ending the game on an 8-0 run and winning 13-9 over Chaos.
6. Crease Collapse of the Day
Ironically, the Crease Collapse of the Day is coming from a defense that struggled off-ball. This fill by Jack Rowlett was a physical, heads-up play.
When the ball went to X – with Jordan Wolf, with inverting midfielders, or in 5-on-5 situations – the Chaos defense crumbled. There was no support. Cutters and stepdown shooters were wide open. Brodie Merrill’s offseason departure was the single biggest loss for any PLL team; Chaos misses his off-ball defense.
7. Matt Gaudet mic’d up
Phew. Gaudet did not shut up. He cackled after goals. He said mean stuff with the intent to irritate, and boy, did he irritate.
He’ll have a target on his back for the rest of the tournament. Players – on Chaos and other clubs – are pissed. Who the hell does this rookie think he is? For me, this story is less about Gaudet’s chirps, and it’s more about the Chaos’ (lack of) response.
The reigning regular season champs let him run his mouth. Chaos allowed eight straight goals to end the game as Gaudet gloated.
Zero swagger. Zero arrogance.
Gaudet called out the 2019 Defensive Player of the Year. He called out the 2019 Goalie of the Year. And Chaos didn’t do a damn thing about it.
Rob Pannell will be making his PLL debut. His presence at X can help the Atlas offense (obviously) and the Atlas defense (huh?).
Atlas shot 20.8% on shots initiated from X last summer. Yuck. League average hovers around 26.6%. Pannell should propel this offense to a top-2 team from X in both volume and efficiency.
More initiations from behind the cage (and fewer shots taken while sprinting towards goal-line extended) will put them in a better position to defend transition. Opponents torched Atlas in transition, shooting 40.9% in 2019. That has to change if the Bulls want to make a run.
9. Matt DeLuca or Charlie Cipriano?
Who gets the starting nod in cage for the Waterdogs: head coach Andy Copelan’s guy Charlie Cipriano or 6-foot-6 rookie Matt DeLuca?
Whoever gets the nod will be put to the test. According to the emergency goalies who saw shots from everyone this week, the Atlas has by far the hardest shots in the league. Paul Rabil, Connor Buczek, Romar Dennis, Ryan Brown, and company will let it fly from range with some serious velocity.
10. Waterdogs’ two-way play
Copelan built his team around two-way players. Zach Currier, Danny Eipp, Drew Snider, and Kyle McClancy are his most versatile. Today, we finally get to see what their roles will look like.
McClancy projects as a defense-to-offense type; Eipp and Snider are the opposite. Currier will take faceoff wings, and if he had a week to rest between games, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him play 40 minutes per game. However Copelan deploys these four, he can accomplish his goal: Substitute less.
“I really don’t want to be a team that just subs all game,” Copelan told me earlier this spring. “And then before you know it, you spend 30% of the game subbing and 70% of the game trying to score a goal. I think we can sub less and hopefully be more productive.”
That tough, two-way mindset is woven into the Waterdogs’ DNA. Remember: These players were left up for grabs by their original clubs. There are no superstars, no egos; it’s just a group out for revenge. Josh Schafer spoke to Currier, Brodie Merrill, and Ryan Drenner about the team’s unselfishness.
Thanks for reading!
Spread the word, submit any questions you want to see answered in this space to me on Twitter (@joekeegs), and I’ll talk to you tomorrow!