Coach Brooks’ 4 Keys to the Championship Series
For interim head coach and general managerSteven Brooks, building the Atlas’s 12-man roster for the Championship Series was about sticking to the team’s core value: family style.
I spoke with Coach Brooks about his process these last couple months in assembling the Bulls’ Championship Series team and his expectations headed into D.C.
The chaos of the Olympic rules
“Sixes is so fast and chaotic,” said Brooks. “You score a goal and boom, you get right back to playing. I like that because I like that mindset. You don’t get to dwell on what just happened. You focus on the now, and what you’re going to do next to respond. No celebrating, no chirping, no this and that - you have to be in the now.”
With the chaos of new rules comes new opportunities. The 13-yard two-point arc in particular is one potential advantage Brooks and the Atlas coaching staff have focused on.
“That two-pointer involved gives teams a huge swing. Even in the field game when a team scores more than three two-pointers, they’re almost guaranteed to win; that’s six points off three shots alone. In sixes, you could potentially rattle off 5-8 two-pointers, especially at 13-yards.”
"I believe this style of game is made for midfielders"
“The best players in this game are going to be the ones who can showcase their offensive and defensive capabilities. I believe this style of the game is made for midfielders,” remarked Brooks.
“Look at a two-way guy like Bryan Costabile. He can get up and down the field with speed, and he can play defense. I think he can have a tremendous amount of success in sixes.”
Costabile had a breakout season in 2021 for the Atlas, with 28 points (15G, 3T, 7A). In 2022, he put up 20 points (10G, 1T, 8A). Costabile combines speed and strength, two things that’ll make him absolutely lethal in transition for the Atlas in this setting.
Romar Dennis is another midfielder known for his footwork and power from deep.
“With him, his size and speed is a big threat for opponents,” said Brooks. “If he can really lock in on the defensive side of the ball, he can be a huge strength for us in transition.”
Two-point shooters in transition certainly are a huge asset, but guys who can play both ways will be just as important, given the defensive needs in sixes; two-point shooting is a luxury. Two-way play is a necessity. As Brooks said, there’s no dwelling in the Olympic format, it’s about being in the now.
“Dox Aitken is another one I can see doing really well in this game. For the last two years we’ve asked him to be a two-way guy for us, and he does just that.”
Nothing but short sticks
Brooks makes a good point that while yes, typical attackmen in the field game are going to have to play some defense, that means on the offensive end of things they’re only seeing short sticks.
“Just think about someone like Chris Gray regularly being matched up with a short stick in a high-volume shooting game.”
The idea raises the question: can Chris Gray guard an opponent better than an opposing short-stick can guard Chris Gray?
The Atlas added three new players to their roster from the player pool, all looking to emerge at the professional level. It was a point of emphasis for Brooks to thoroughly vet each player with previous teammates and coaches to ensure they fit the Bulls’ family style culture.
“Guys that have experience playing with somebody else that speaks highly of them, means a lot to me,” he said. “That’s the type of guys I look for. You want to make sure you’re bringing in the right people that mesh well with your group.”
The Atlas’s first addition came between the pipes with the signing of Drake Porter.
“I had a few Syracuse guys reach out to me and say, ‘You should go get him [Porter] for this,’ and everyone I spoke to talked about Drake very highly, not just as the guy between the pipes, but as a teammate and locker room guy. With a tournament like this, you don’t have time beforehand to mesh with the team, so to bring someone in who we know embodies our ‘family style’ of play and putting the team before yourself, that’s huge.”
Porter was picked up by the Cannons in early May prior to the start of the 2022 season. He reported to training camp but ultimately was cut as the Cannons decided to ride with Nick Marrocco and Colin Kirst as their goaltending tandem for the season.
Now Porter will get the chance to showcase his talents at the professional level once again, but this time on a different stage, though one he is already familiar with.
Porter played for Team Canada in the 2021 Super Sixes tournament as well as The World Games in 2022, giving him more experience in the Olympic format than most.
“[The Olympic format] is fun because it’s super fast-paced, you don’t have a lot of time to dwell on the goals that went in, and any save that you do make because of the nature of the game and the smaller field can have a pretty big impact on the game,” said Porter. “If you make a big save and get it up the other way it can be a two-goal swing. You have a lot of opportunities to create momentum for the team which is pretty cool relative to typical field lacrosse.”
A Rutgers alumni, Mazzone brings some professional experience playing with the Waterdogs and Archers over the last few years, along with a chip on his shoulder mentality.
“He’s scrappy, he plays tough, and he plays with an edge,” said Brooks. “That’s the one thing I love, especially with this style of game going up-and-down so quickly, it’s a grind. You want to find people that can grind it out and have that mental toughness that can give us an opportunity to win games.”
Though O’Rourke doesn’t have in-game professional experience yet after being cut by the Archers last May, Brooks sees this tournament as the perfect opportunity for him to show what he can do.
“It was a no-brainer to give him a shot. He was picked up in the draft but he just couldn’t break the bubble for that team and coaches spoke so highly of him, I wanted to give him an opportunity to play at this level. He’s young, he’s hungry, and he’s eager to get better at this game.”