Redwoods vs. Cannons Preview

By Austin Owens | Jun 4, 2021

Where to Watch

  • Friday, June 4
  • 7:00 p.m. ET
  • Live on Peacock

After a long off-season of building out a roster from scratch, Sean Quirk and the expansion Cannons are ready to take the field to open the 2021 Premier Lacrosse League season on Friday night at Gillette Stadium. 

“It’s been a process. From learning that we were an expansion team in the PLL to building this team through the Expansion Draft, Entry Draft, College Draft, and waivers,” Cannons head coach Sean Quirk said on Thursday. “From us having been around one another through Zoom for a month or so and then getting to camp, the feel is like we’ve been together for a year. The bond and the culture has been built. We’ve certainly got a long way to go, but the guys certainly feel ready, prepared, and fired up to get after it against the Redwoods.”

The Cannons will be welcomed into the PLL by the Redwoods, who have made it to at least the semifinals in each of their first two seasons. Nat St. Laurent’s team has only gotten better this offseason, and with a few key additions, this team looks like it’s ready to push for a title again in 2021.

“Regardless of whether we win or lose, we can’t celebrate or dwell on it, regardless of the outcome because we’ve got a game two days later,” St. Laurent said. “We haven’t begun to think about Chrome yet because there’s too much to worry about with this Cannons team. 

“They’re going to be very excited and they’re loaded. They’re going to have a ton of excitement and momentum on their side. So we’ve got a daunting task ahead of us.”

Who Ya Got?

The Redwoods open as the betting favourite at -1.5 (+108) on DraftKings, and 71 percent of PLL fans are rolling with the Woods in this opening matchup for PLL Pick ‘Em. 

Sign up for Premier Lacrosse League Pick ‘Em and submit your picks for a chance at a $1 million grand prize

Key Matchup

The Woods boast one of the best and deepest offensive units in the entire league, and with Jules Heningburg returning in 2021, they’re even scarier. 

From all indications, Heningburg is going to be running out of the box this year, and that’s a scary premise for opposing defences. He’ll be teaming up with the pairing of Sergio Perkovic and Myles Jones, who lit it up in the Championship Series -- Perkovic had a league-high six 2-pointers last summer. 

The burning question will be which individual will draw the long pole, and the answer through scrimmages appears to be Heningburg. 

But the Cannons do have a counter for Jones and Perkovic at SSDM with Zach Goodrich, a staple of Quirk’s 2020 MLL champion Cannons squad. 

“All three of those guys are excellent midfielders. We’ll have our game plan in place for which guys we’re going to pole,” Quirk said. “But then also with Goodrich, I say it all the time, it’s like having a fifth defenseman out there. We feel very confident that Zach can match up with any one of those three guys.”

Quirk added that the plan does look to be putting a pole on Heningburg and midfielders on Jones and Perkovic. 

There are several intriguing head-to-heads when it comes to this game, but if the Cannons can find some way to slow down that uber-talented offensive midfield unit for the Redwoods, it could go a long way to them securing a victory in their inaugural PLL game.

Storylines to Watch

One Last Ride

Ahead of the opening game of the season for the Woods, Kyle Harrison announced that the 2021 season would be his final as a player.

Harrison is one of the all-time greats and will have a spot reserved for him in the Pro Lacrosse Hall of Fame once he’s able to be voted in.

He opened the 2020 Championship Series with a 2-bomb against the Whipsnakes. Does he have some similar fireworks up his sleeve in the season opener this time around? We’ll have to wait and see. 

He has a full campaign to create some magical moments in what has been an incredible career to date. 

A long-awaited debut

When Lyle Thompson’s signing was announced ahead of the 2021 Entry Draft, the buzz started for his first game in the PLL. 

Thompson, widely considered to be the best player on the planet, was an easy selection at first overall in the Entry Draft for Quirk and co., giving them their trigger man from X and an individual who is going to step in and likely contend for MVP honors at season’s end. 

The superstar attackman is a nightmare for defenses, as he’s got every single skill in his toolbelt to hurt you on the offensive side. His IQ and vision are off the charts, he can beat you off the dodge, and he’s got a quick first step which allows him to run past defenders. Thompson also isn’t afraid to back down a defender and he possesses a strong shot if he chooses to pull up from distance. He’s a guy that keeps defensive coordinators up at night. 

The Cannons also did a great job of adding dynamic complimentary pieces. Thompson will likely command an early slide, which could leave a number of talented finishers open for looks. You could see Paul Rabil or Connor Buczek get stepdown opportunities as a result. Thompson and Shayne Jackson are also very familiar, and the latter showed his finishing ability in the pre-season scrimmages. Keep an eye for Jackson to have a big role to open the year.

Thompson will be the man that quarterbacks the Cannons’ offense, but he’ll have an amazing challenge on Friday night, going up against one of the stingiest defences in the league. He’ll likely draw Garrett Epple, and that’s going to be a fascinating head-to-head to watch.

Sit back with some popcorn and enjoy. Every time Lyle takes the field, it's a must-watch event. 

Battle at The Stripe

The off-season for St. Laurent and the Redwoods was centered around their search for a new draw man. They accomplished that in the college draft, landing wunderkind TD Ierlan to handle the majority of their duties. 

However, they also have Charlie Leonard to back him up. St. Laurent also hinted that Leonard could spend some time at short-stick defensive midfield -- players that can wear multiple hats are assets to PLL coaches. Leonard also began his collegiate career as an LSM. When asked if we could see him there at some point, St. Laurent said, “Never say never.”

Ierlan will be aiming to get his pro career off to a flying start against the pairing of Tommy Kelly and Drew Simoneau after tearing up the NCAA.

“This young man has so much pressure on him anyway from just the resume he’s accomplished in college. We’ve got to make sure that there’s not too much pressure and stress on him,” St. Laurent said of Ierlan. “TD is really even-keeled and a great kid. I think our locker room was great for him. He knows he can help us and he wants to be somewhere where he can help. 

“We’re not asking him to go 70 percent. We’ve won games in previous years with 26 percent, 36 percent, 46 percent. We’re just looking to try and go 50 percent and see what this team can do. But we’re going to do everything we can to make sure that there’s no pressure on him.”

Cannons’ defensive questions

Brodie Merrill was selected with the first overall pick in the Expansion Draft, but past one of the all-time greats, the roster does skew younger on defence for Quirk’s squad.

Jack Kielty will be a big piece on defence, and the likes of Reece Eddy and Jake Pulver proved their worth with Chrome in 2020.

There will be some unsung heroes who make names for themselves in the unit.

“With the addition of (Holden) Garlent after the Expansion Draft and Kielty through the College Draft, those were two huge pieces, and that was an area that we needed to focus on,” Quirk said. “They’ve both been excellent during camp along with Jake Pulver and Reece Eddy as part of that group as well.”

The Woods’ Goalie Conundrum

This may be the biggest storyline of them all going into opening weekend. St. Laurent kept three world-class goaltenders on his roster, and the Redwoods look like they have the best unit in the league -- veteran Brian Phipps won’t dress this weekend...that’s how stacked they are.

It’ll be Tim Troutner and Jack Kelly manning the cage for the team in their first two contests. As for a starter, St. Laurent didn’t tip his hand. However, there’s a real possibility that we see each of Kelly and Troutner in there over these games against the Woods and Waterdogs. 

“There were times (during camp) where I was like, ‘Oh Brian Phipps is going to be our starter,’ and then the next practice, I’m like, ‘Timmy was outstanding,’” St. Laurent said. “It’s so hard because you can’t dress three goalies. I told them all, ‘If one of you could play long-stick middie for us, we’d just get away with dressing three of you.’ They’ve been great to one another and the competition has been great. The professionalism has been through the roof. 

“It took a lot to name a starter and who was going to sit this week. I’m very comfortable keeping all three of those guys. I think that they’re all great players and they can all contribute.

What’s on the Line? 

Luckily for both teams, with a full season, it’s really just momentum heading into their second games and bragging rights to open the year. There’s not too much pressure on either squad, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to play for here. It’s going to be an intense season opener.

Expect a high-flying, possibly high-scoring affair, with the Cannons looking to assert themselves in their inaugural game while the Redwoods try to impose their physical style and put the pressure on the new side to answer.

Despite being the new team on the block, the Cannons definitely grabbed people’s attention with their scrimmage victory over the defending champion Whipsnakes.

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