Training Camp Battles to Watch
By Jerome Taylor | Jul 21, 2020
Training camp is officially underway in Salt Lake City. Like any preseason, the most significant storylines are the position battles.
Last year’s champs, the Whipsnakes, lost two integral attackmen and will have to figure out who will pair with Matt Rambo. The league’s newest team, The Waterdogs, will have to determine who’s going to be their last defense line. Last year’s runner-up, Redwoods, lost faceoff legend Greg Gurenlian to retirement and now have to find someone to fill those shoes. Atlas has a retooled attack, but questions loom about their offensive-minded midfielders.
These teams have the most intriguing battles to sort out before the Championship Series begins this Saturday, July 25, on NBC.
Starting with the defending champions, The Whipsnakes lost both Ben Reeves and Mr. Clutch, Ryan Drenner, to the expansion draft this offseason. This loss of a 37 regular-season point combination won’t be easy to replace. The ‘Whips are going to have to find similar production to pair with Matt Rambo for success in the Series.
Jay Carlson will likely start with Matt Rambo, considering he was with the team and started six games last year. The more important question is of who will take on the responsibility on the right side, will it be Brad Smith or Zed Williams?
Smith registered 175 points at Duke during his career and was hoping to carry over that success to the PLL last year before breaking his foot. Williams was on the Tewaaraton watchlist at Virginia and brings more professional experience to the position.
The battle to watch in the Waterdogs camp is the one between the pipes. The Waterdogs selected Charlie Cipriano fourth in the expansion draft. They followed that up by drafting Matt DeLuca from Delaware in the first round of the 2020 College Draft.
DeLuca’s frame stands out to anyone who sees him, standing 6’6” he takes up a lot of space in the net. DeLuca’s body isn’t the only thing that impresses coaches. He led the CAA with 13.57 saves per game last year.
For Cipriano, his experience and familiarity with head coach Andy Copelan may help him in this battle. Cipriano played under Copeland at Fairfield and was behind Goalie of the Year winner Blaze Riorden last year during his time with Chaos. Cipriano has also been successful as a professional, leading multiple teams to the playoffs.
Atlas has a similar problem as the Whipsnakes, just in a different position. They know who their lead guy will be, they just don’t know who he will be running with. Atlas probably has the most players competing for one spot.
Paul Rabil will be leading the Atlas’ offensive middies, and he will be joined by Connor Buczek, who scored only one point less than Rabil last year (22).
That leaves the last spot in the rotation up to a battle between the second overall pick in the College Draft, Bryan Costabile, and several veterans including John Crawley, Joel Tinney, and Romar Dennis.
Costabile scored 99 goals at Notre Dame (second in program history) and racked up 118 points along the way. Crawley brings solid PLL experience with him, starting nine games last year and scoring five goals. Joel Tinney scored one more goal than Crawley during the regular season and appeared in more regular-season games, he will also be looking to become the third member of the team’s first middie line. Lastly, Dennis joins Costabile as the other newcomer in the competition, when he came over from Chrome in a trade over the offseason. Dennis probably offers the most two-way potential of all of the members in the midfielder competition.
The Redwoods have the biggest hole to fill, considering they lost all-time great Greg Gurenlian to retirement. The competition for who will be the lead-man at the faceoff stripe is between two PLL newcomers, Greg Puskuldjian and Peyton Smith.
Smith and Puskuldjian have been dubbed “the underdogs” by Gurenlian because of their talent and what they have to prove to the league. Smith dominated at Marist with a .589 faceoff percentage while Puskuldjian brings over professional experience at the stripe. Still, both men are going to face the challenge of now facing off in the PLL where there is less room to operate.
Winning a training camp battle puts you in a starting position to start the Series. But throughout the Championship Series, anything can happen. These teams hope that the competition that arises from these battles will create depth that will help their side win at the Championship Series, which starts Saturday, July 25, on NBC.