I’ve spent the last few days of quarantine evaluating (aka over-evaluating) all the different shooters in the PLL and came to my own conclusion, who, from my perspective are the five best shooters in the world. The beauty of lacrosse is that every shooter is different. Each player has different release points, different skillsets, different tendencies, and so on. Goalies are the same way. What may be an easy save for one may be nearly impossible for others. This is an important fact that I think is unique to the position and quite frankly, the sport. I wanted to share in detail (probably too much detail) what makes the best players so great, and hit on some subtle nuances in their respective games that makes the ball go in the net more often than not. I’m a fan of the game just like everyone else. The sport is in a place it’s never been thanks to the PLL. The talent level is outrageous and I hope by revealing some of my own thoughts on some shooters, from a goalies’ perspective, it’ll help to spark new ideas for the next generation of shooters and goalies.
1. Ryan Brown (Atlas LC)
In college I kept a crazy notebook and tracked every player’s shots they had taken prior to our matchups. I would write down only three things about my opposing shooter’s individual shots: 1. What hand? 2. Where was it released from? (overhand?, underhand?, side-arm? Etc.) and 3. where it ended up on cage (stick low? off hip? 5 hole? Etc.). From here I tracked trends. 99% of the time I found glaring trends of shooter’s shots that made my compulsive habit completely worth it. The way my brain works in games is as follows, “Ok, #20 has it in his left. Ok, it looks to be overhand. Ok, he only goes low and away from here. Ok, cheat over to my right during his wind-up, freak him out, and beat him to it.” This process is the same regardless of who I face.
I brought that up because no shooter has ever made less sense to me than Ryan Brown. Nothing is the same. Nothing repeats. Nothing seems to be his go-to. He takes what the game gives him, and that’s easier said than done (shooters are stubborn). On top of the mystery of where he is shooting next, his form is textbook. 1. He keeps his front elbow unusually high, certainly higher than everyone else. 2. His head and front shoulder never tip off where he is shooting. For example, his low-to-low release is identical to his low-to-high release. 3. He hides his stick behind his back on his wind up better than anyone. 4. He plays with an insulting amount of whip, but yet finds ways to still shoot a high-to high shot as he aims to the clouds. And 5. His LH and RH are identical, and I really do mean identical. He is the most complete shooter you can find. Doorstep, mid-range, 2-point range, he has it all. I know most fans, commentators, and coaches call him the best shooter in the world and I would agree. However, the point of view from the cage is something I wish everyone who’s a fan of the game could see because I think it’s more impressive than you even know.
2. Tom Schreiber (Archers LC)
As goalies, we like to use a shooter’s head and shoulders as tipping points as to where they might shoot. However, Tom’s head and shoulders give off exactly where he is NOT going to shoot. Tom is as unorthodox as it gets. During his shot, his body, particularly his head and shoulders, say one thing but the stick and ball do something completely different. We all know how great of a no-look passer he is, but if you are looking to add deception to your game, I suggest you watch more Tom Schreiber shooting film and you’ll see the nuances I’m talking about. Hit the pause button on your TV when the ball is releasing from his stick and ask yourself two things: 1. Where does his head (helmet) look like he is shooting? 2. Where does the ball actually go? Tricky, huh? Tom also shoots sort of alligator armed and keeps his hands closer together than most shooters which is strange from my vantage point. His shot is violent, aggressive, fast, and insanely accurate. When you take the best player in the world over the past five pro seasons and inject an NLL induced Canadian box shooting skillset to his already bizarre shooting form, you’re going to have a problem in between the pipes. A bobble head man who can shoot 90 mph twisters from 12 yards… you aren’t supposed to be able to do that, but that’s Tom Schreiber for you.
3. Mike Chanenchuk (Whipsnakes LC)
Channy has the smoothest hands and the smoothest release in the world. Nobody shoots it more effortlessly than the two-point king. It’s so casual and strange - I wish everyone could stand in net and see for yourself. I swear, I’ll never forget the first time I was in net facing his shot in College Park and thinking to myself “That was really weird what the hell was that. That was different.” Seven years later and I’m still saying he same thing. He shoots with extremely loose wrists and strong forearms that do most of the work for his shot. His step down is one thing, but his on the run down the alley is probably the weirdest, toughest, and most deceptive shot in the game. He never does a jumper. He never moves his head or shoulders and his body never really torques so you don’t know when the shots going to happen. His chest also remains facing the end-line and he moves all in one gliding speed. All of that calmness with his body freezes you up and then you get that weird wristy release and it all just doesn’t make sense. It shouldn’t work that way but for him, and only him, it does. The most frustrating thing about Channy’s casual style of shooting is that when he scores, it's deflating. It’s almost insulting. You ever lose to someone in any type of competition and it seems like they aren’t even trying? That’s what it feels like with Channy and that’s why he’s so good. If he scores the first shot on you, you better make next or else you are in a bad 60-minute rabbit hole.
4. Will Manny (Archers LC) & Eric Law (Atlas LC)
I’m cheating with a tie because 1. These two from my point of view are the quickest finishers in the game and, to be honest, I don’t know if it’s even that close (again, this is just my take so I’m allowed to say that). 2. There's no way I can’t address the best player in the world on this list at #5. Will and Eric seem to have one less cradle than everyone else. It’s hard to explain. In games versus these guys I feel like I’ve said to myself a thousand times, “damn I was all over that”. I would have thought I missed the ball by a millimeter, but then I check tape and sometimes that millimeter was more like a foot.
Will is very particular in what he does. He’s very aware of goalies’ movements and decides quicker than anyone when he needs to tennis-racket the ball in or throw a fake (an underrated talent). He’s very aware of goalie footwork, their arch depth and how each one of us works pipe-to-pipe - and he combats it. I really don’t know if this is true or not, I would have to ask him, but I feel as if his eyes peripherally watch the goalie more than anyone else in the game as he’s receiving passes. He uses it to his advantage.
Eric, on the other hand, is just pure speed with his fakes. It’s nothing crazy, but it’s just so much quicker and more efficient than anyone. It’s probably more accurate to call them twitches rather than fakes. I’m going to take a complete guess here, but I’m willing to bet Eric has the best “shoot-around- the-goalie” percentage in the PLL. He is the best in the game at forcing/freezing goalies into standing tall. He fools you with his chest and head and you have to honor it, but while his upper body remains tall, his stick-head is already near the ground and the balls is in the net.
5. Matt Rambo (Whipsnakes LC)
Right now, there's no better player on planet earth than Matt Rambo. That’s my take and I’ll leave it at that. But this article is about shooting. The hardest part in doing this Top 5 was where is the cut-off/argument of eliminating the “creating the shot” factor. Take Jordan Wolf for instance, let’s be real, nobody is faster than him, nobody moves like him off a razor pick from a low corner and getting naked on the doorstep, but this isn’t about that. In this Top 5, I’m trying to isolate the “0-to -1 second snippet” of the actual shot, and Matt still lands in this list to me. Trust me, if there was a list of “best at creating opportunities for himself” category, Matt is #1 and I’ll take that to my grave. There’s one player on every team at every level where coaches just have to let that dude do what he wants. Rambo is that dude. He doesn’t always free his hands before shooting. He doesn’t always get his arms way back. He doesn’t always hide his stick. He doesn’t always get his elbow up. He doesn’t always increase his angle from X, yet that ball goes in the net.
What is so unique to his shot is that there is zero cradle on his wind-up. It’s one powerful, unstoppable catapult. He muscles it. It’s all shoulders. It’s amazing. It’s violent. It’s accurate and simply consistent. His shot has always stayed the same. His first shot as a Terp in 2014 looks the same when he won a national championship in 2017, and then the same when he won a PLL Championship in 2019. He’s mastered his own way to shoot and we’re all witnessing one of the best to ever do it.