Redwoods LC vs Atlas LC Preview

Three Things to Watch for Redwoods LC in Season Opener vs Atlas LC

By Jerome Taylor

Jun 3, 2023

And, just like that, the start of another Premier Lacrosse League season is among us, and to kick off the Redwoods season, they’ll take on Atlas at Tom & Mary Casey Stadium on Saturday in the inaugural PLL game of the week.

These teams met in last season’s opener, with Atlas winning 17-11. Then later in the year, Redwoods LC got revenge in a 16-15 win. 

Here are three things to watch as Redwoods LC tries to get its ‘23 campaign off to a better start than the 2022 season. 

Will Redwoods LC's Goalie Play Improve?

We touched on this heading into training camp, but goalie is a position where the ‘Woods must improve this season if they want to make a deep playoff run this year. 

Last season, the Redwoods ranked last in total saves and save percentage. But a new year means a new opportunity for whoever the starter is: Jack Kelly or Tim Troutner.

“We got two guys who are excited to bounce back from last year… we have to improve. We can't have two goalies under 50% (save percentage),” Redwoods LC General Manager and Head Coach Nat St. Laurent said. 

And it’ll be a challenging task to start the year. Atlas LC’s offseason moves were punctuated by their two defensive draft picks: Gavin Adler and Brett Makar. But they still have a lot of firepower on offense.

Last year, the Atlas LC scored 128 points, good for third in the league. The club's performance was driven by the attack trio of Jeff Teat (22 goals, 16 assists), Chris Gray (16 goals, 16 assists), and Eric Law (18 goals, 11 assists), all of whom ranked in the top-15 in points last season.

In addition to a formidable attack, the Atlas boasts strong midfielders like Bryan Costabile and Romar Dennis. Dennis is fresh off winning the 2023 PLL Championship Series scoring title, mainly due to his impressive 2-point shot ability. And it’s likely he’ll be incorporating it more into their offense this summer, which could spell trouble for the Redwoods and the rest of the league, considering the Bulls led the PLL in 2-point goals (13) a season ago. 

“The way that the 2-point line has elevated the game, and how quickly you have to get out and cover people… defensively [in training camp], we tried to focus on getting out and not allowing them to ramp up,” St. Laurent said. 

All of this sets up quite the first test for the ‘Woods’ defense and a goalie group trying to put last year in the rearview.

A John Grant Jr. Led Redwoods Offense 

For the first time, John Grant Jr., pro lacrosse’s all-time leading goal scorer, will be on the sideline as an assistant coach leading the ‘Woods’ offense.

“I think it’s going to be a happy medium of that Canadian philosophy of indoor and the American philosophy of outdoor,” Redwoods captain and eight-time all-star Rob Pannell said. “No one has played them both more successfully than John Grant Jr… I’m excited to see the off-ball movement increase and guys creating space and keeping their defenders occupied.”

This hybrid offense is expected to include many elements from a Pairs offense scheme. The most significant ramification for the change in offensive philosophy will be the uptick in the two-man game for the Redwoods. Last season, the Redwoods had a 23% two-man rate (shots initiated off a pick), which was second to last in the league. 

Saturday will give us a first look at how the offense has adapted to the change. There will be some familiarity considering players like Myles Jones and Charlie Bertrand played in a Pairs-style offense in college. 

But there will also be some newness, not just in the overall scheme but players' roles in the offense. 

The ‘Woods’ offensive lineup will see a slight change, especially at attack. Three-time professional champion Wes Berg is back in the green and yellow. Berg will add a level of competency to the Canadian aspects that Grant Jr. will bring to the offense. 

“Wes is a Swiss army knife… with the ball, without the ball, two-man game, he’s a scorer, he’ll set things up for others and feed,” Pannell said. “He’s a piece we’ve been missing, we’ve got great goal scorers, we’ve got great dodgers, he’s kind of a guy that’s the glue that’s going to piece everything together.”

Also, fresh off a stint helping Notre Dame win their first national championship as an assistant coach, Ryder Garnsey will solely handle the left side of the attack. Garnsey has made a name for himself as one of the league’s most electrifying goal-scorers and led the ‘Woods in 1pt goals last year with 19. Now with the departure of Matt Kavanagh, he’ll be carrying a heavier load on the offense's left side.

Battle at the Stripe, New Shot Clock, and Transition 

TD Ierlan will be facing the biggest individual test of all the Redwoods players, as he’ll be taking face-offs against the reigning league MVP Trevor Baptiste.

Plain and simple, Baptiste is a beast at the stripe. He won 70% of his face-offs last year, and Joe Keegan expects him to top 70% this year. But more importantly, the Atlas generated 39 shots off of face-offs in 2022 (first in the league). Conversely, the Redwoods only generated 13 (last in the PLL). 

Ierlan is a top-tier face-off athlete in his own right, winning 53.6% (4th in the league) of his face-offs last season. But with the latest rule change reducing the shot clock to 32 seconds (from 52) after a face-off win, the importance of getting the ball upfield off the draw has never been more critical, and Ierlan and whoever is on the wings with him will have to adjust.

Speaking of those wing players, LSMs like John Sexton, Ryan Kennedy, SSDMs Isaiah Davis-Allen, Chris Merle, and transition specialists like Nakeie Montgomery will all have an elevated role. 

“We’ve had two scrimmages this year, and in those scrimmages, we’ve had two [2-point goals] in each game by our short sticks and our long poles in John Sexton,” St. Laurent said about the wings' new roles because of the new faceoff rules.  “We’ve changed the way we’re going to “slow” break and fastbreak off the faceoff to buy some time; we feel we have the athletes that can expose [opportunities created by the new rules].”

St. Laurent has made the transition an emphasis for the Woods this year, and the players mentioned above will lead the way for a ‘Woods team trying to improve on the 44 shots (tied for last in the league) they created in transition last year. 

The Redwoods will begin their campaign to rebound from their 4-6 record in 2022 against the Atlas on Saturday at 1 pm on ABC.

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