Photo courtesy of Kait Devir

Three Bright Spots for Chaos after Opening Weekend

By Daniel May | Jun 7, 2023

After a narrow 8-7 overtime loss to the Waterdogs this weekend, there’s plenty to build off of for the Chaos. 

Blaze Riorden showed us all why he’s regarded as one of the best players in the world.  Will Bowen proved why he’s deserving of the starting role and the defense played with a brand of physicality that was reminiscent of their championship run in 2021. 

In a game that would've gotten away from them due to a lackluster offensive performance, all those areas kept them in the game. 

 Even though everyone hoped for a better outcome, all signs point in the right direction, especially with the imminent return of their offense’s core. 

1. Blaze being Blaze

 Blaze Riorden was a brick wall in the cage this past weekend making 18 saves on 25 shots. His 72% save percentage was the highest in the league during Opening Weekend.

He helped hold the Waterdogs to eight goals, making miraculous saves on the doorstep, and stopped other chances that are normally expected to go in the net.

One play in particular that stood out was when he robbed Ethan Walker on top of the crease at the beginning of the second quarter. Coming off a streaking cut down the middle of the zone, with no defender within five yards, Walker had all the time in the world to finish. Blaze stood tall and read the stick head well, like he did all game, smothering the low shot. 

 His stellar play between the pipes was a thorn in the Waterdogs side all game long, which their head coach Andy Copelan referenced in the post-game press conference. 

 “It felt like maybe he [Blaze] got in our shooters heads a little bit … he was all over the two-ball which, again, is a part of our DNA,” said Copelan

Any coach will tell you, changing levels on your shot - high-to- low or low-to- high - gives you the best chance to score. But no matter what the Waterdogs did, Blaze made sure they second guessed their shots. 

 Blaze is a difference maker and continues to be every week. It’s no wonder every time I spoke to members of the Chaos this past week at camp, they all mentioned the same thing: Blaze is not only the best goalie in the league, but the best player in the world.

There’s no question why he’s a three-time Oren Lyons Goalie of the Year and has started the 2023 season as the front-runner to do it again. 

2. Defensive Physicality 

 It was well known going into the game that the Chaos defense would need to hold the Waterdogs to under 10 goals in order to win. They did their job by holding them to just eight, but unfortunately that wasn’t enough.

 “It was a defensive slugfest,” said Towers after the game, who thought the defense played “really, really well.”

 Despite the loss, their physicality was on full display. Big hits, decisive slides, and finishing the play were all factors that led to their success as a unit. 

 “Let’s just come out and throw the first punch,” preached Riorden before the game, which they did metaphorically with the physical brand they put on display. 

Examples of physical play like this hit on Michael Sowers as he finished in front made sure the Waterdogs earned every inch of space on the field.

Yes, he scored, but the grueling, physical nature that Chaos played with wore down the Waterdogs and kept the game within striking distance. They forced nine caused turnovers by the end of the game. 

  Jack Rowlett had an exceptional game holding Sowers to just one goal on eight shots which came on the powerplay.

“I think anyone who has to draw Jack Rowlett is going to have their hands full,” said Towers. Something Sowers can most likely attest to after the beating he took on Sunday.

Furthermore, the Waterdog’s leading scorer from last season – Kieran McArdle –  was held goalless on nine shots. He did finish the game with three assists, but the ability to play him physically took away his ability to score off dodges and threw off the Waterdogs offense.

All in all, the key was shutting down the Waterdogs starting attack unit and by holding them to five points collectively, the defensive unit did their job. 

 As Jarrod Neumann mentioned earlier this week, “loud, mean, fast,” are three words you’ll hear all season long when describing the Chaos defense. They exemplified that in this matchup and will need more of that the rest of the way.

3. Will Bowen Made His Presence Felt

Will Bowen – who faced some scrutiny from Ryan Boyle when he was picked 7th overall in the draft  – was met with praise by the opposing head coach after the game.

 “I will give Will Bowen a lot of credit, you could feel his presence out there,” said Copelan. 

Bowen drew the matchup of Jake Carraway, limiting him to one goal on five shots for his only point of the game. Besides that late first quarter goal, Carraway was virtually unnoticeable for the most part. 

The Chaos found success as a unit, supporting defenders and sliding with authority, which is where Bowen left his mark. 

“You felt him out there [Bowen] in slide situations, he slid really aggressively on rollback stuff,” said Copelan, which made life difficult for dodgers. 

  Bowen tied for the game high in caused turnovers with three. He also won three ground balls, including this crafty play stick handling the ball between the legs of Jack Hannah.

With Johnny Surdick out until Columbus, Bowen will get the start once again. His performance against the Waterdogs was admirable, showcasing his savviness on the ground, athleticism, and ability to thrive within the unit as an effective slide man. If he can put together another performance like that, hopefully he can cement himself as the final starter at close defense.

 It’s safe to say, he made Ryan Boyle eat his words.