New York Atlas

How unbeaten Atlas went from 2-8 team to championship contender

By Lauren Merola | Jun 28, 2024

Some teams have played two games. Some three. Others four. Yet the New York Atlas are the only undefeated team left in the league heading into Week 4, with four wins under their horns.

Last season, the Atlas only reached half that number of victories and were fighting for the final playoff spot until the last week of the regular season, when they forfeited control of their destiny and inched their way into the postseason thanks to a Chrome – now the Denver Outlaws – loss.

More impressive than their lack of losses is the Atlas’ league-leading +19 score differential, meaning they have scored 19 more goals than have been scored against them. No other team is better than +2.

In few words: New York’s scoring more and being scored on way less this season than last, when it posted a -20 SD. 

Here are the main differences between this season and last:

The short-clock scheme

The Atlas struggled mightily last season to adapt to the short shot clock, which gave teams 32 seconds instead of 52 after a won faceoff. This season, long poles are no longer allowed at the stripe, and each faceoff seems to be Trevor Baptiste’s to lose.

Baptiste is winning battles more quickly and staying on offense, often setting on-ball picks to create shots. 

On the wings, the Atlas are running more offensive-minded players, like Dox Aitken, instead of long poles and ground-ball connoisseurs. This limits the number of players New York needs to sub off after a won faceoff, allowing it to transition more quickly into the opponent’s zone and get into offensive sets sooner.

That scheme has nearly doubled the Atlas’ success this year. Last season, they scored just 20.7% of the time within the 32-second shot clock, which ranked seventh in the league. This year, they’re capitalizing on the short clock 44.4% of the time, which leads the PLL. 

The rest of the league is scoring 26.4% of the time.

“[We’re] winning the middle, with Trevor at the X and right now, [Tim Troutner] in the goal,” head coach and general manager Mike Pressler said. “You win in the middle at our sport at any level, you’re going to be successful.” 

Smarter subs in transition

The Atlas’ sub game is simply smarter now than it was a year ago. Players aren’t immediately turning their heads and running off after a turnover, which gave opponents plenty of odd-man rushes last season.

Jeff Teat’s ridiculous statline

Teat needed four games this season to score more goals (12) than he did in 10 last season (11). With his 18 assists so far, his point total counts to an absurd 30. In four games.

Teat is on track to smash the PLL record for points in a season (44). He’s only six points away from surpassing his 2023 total and eight away from running over his career high.

Not only is Teat shooting more this season, but he has more talented passers around him – most notably rookie Connor Shellenberger – that are finding him for the looks. Shellenberger is second in the league, behind Teat, in points and teammate Xander Dickson is third.

Dickson is also the league leader in scoring points and one-point goals, with Teat behind him in both categories.

A roster overhaul

The Atlas roster looks significantly different than it did a year ago, and the culture has become more serious, too, Pressler said, after the GM/coach went through his first free-agency cycle at the helm this offseason. 

“Assembling the team is the biggest, the most impactful thing that the GM/head coach can do,” he said. “We had guys retire. We had guys who were free agents who we chose not to pursue. We had guys that were free agents that we definitely pursued. We went back to that draft and fortunately got some stars in there.”

In the offseason, the Atlas extended Teat, Michael Rexrode, Bryan Costabile and Dylan Molloy, among others. They did not bring back Marc O’Rourke or Justin Guterding, instead signing two other left-handed midfielders in Ronan Jacoby and Reid Bowering.

Aitken was activated from the holdout list, too, and made an immediate impact after sitting out the 2023 season.

“Changing the locker room, putting your stamp on what you want and [finding] not just the caliber of player but the caliber of person, the young men you want in there [is so important],” Pressler said.

Pressler also signed goalie Troutner after Jack Concannon retired. He then traded away Chris Gray for the No. 5 pick in the 2024 College Draft, which he used to take goalie Liam Entenmann, and drafted attackman Shellenberger, midfielder Jake Stevens and long-stick midfielder Tyler Carpenter

He then claimed NCAA Division I all-time scoring leader Payton Cormier, who will make his PLL debut this Friday night against the Maryland Whipsnakes

Shellenberger already started building his case for Rookie of the Year with 18 points (9G, 9A) through three games after tying the record for most points in a rookie debut with eight (3G, 5A).

Troutner has started all four games in 2024, making 51 saves on 53%. 

Carpenter has proven to be part-Dyson in his ability to come up with ground balls, especially off the faceoff. He leads all non-faceoff specialists in ground balls with 21.

Defenseman Gavin Adler – Pressler’s No. 1 pick last year – leads the league in caused turnovers with seven.

Last year’s vision for this year’s close defense of Adler, Rexrode and Brett Makar – who moved to his natural position down low after playing LSM last season before Tucker Durkin retired – is exceeding expectations.

“The compete level, the selflessness, the we/us mentality, those qualities are more present than ever,” Pressler said.

The Atlas have beaten half the league (Boston Cannons, Whipsnakes, Carolina Chaos, California Redwoods), winning by three goals or more in every matchup. Next week pits Shellenberger against the Denver Outlaws’ Brennan O’Neill in a battle of Rookie of the Year favorites before the Atlas head into a tough second half of their season, with two matchups each against Boston, Utah and Philadelphia. 

If the Waterdogs find a spark at the stripe and challenge the Atlas’ time of possession, they’ll be a hard team to beat twice. All three of the Waterdogs’ losses this season have been by one point.

The defending champion Archers are a team like the Atlas that can dominate the middle with prominent faceoff specialist Mike Sisselberger and goalie Brett Dobson. That battle likely will decide this matchup.

Pass the regular-season tests, and New York could carry its winning momentum all the way to a championship.