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Training Camp Preview: Waterdogs LC 

By Sarah Griffin | May 27, 2022

In their first full season in the league after a tough start in the 2020 Championship Series, the Waterdogs came back swinging, finishing at the top of the standings in the regular season 6-3 and locking up the first seed in the playoffs. 

Head coach Andy Copelan had without a doubt the most active offseason prior to the 2021 season of all the coaches, as he made seemingly all the right moves to elevate his team. With a much different looking roster than their initial year of expansion, I’d say it paid off for the ‘Dogs.

With a bye week in the quarterfinals, the Waterdogs were matched up in the semifinals against the reigning champions Whipsnakes. In rookie and 2021 second overall pick Michael Sowers’ return to the field for the first time since opening weekend, the Waterdogs fell short of the championship by four goals. 

Now that the Waterdogs have confidently established themselves as a top competitor in the league, they look to chase their first championship starting off with a matchup against the Cannons on June 5th at 1 PM ET. 

2022 Championship Odds

Tied for the third-best odds alongside the Archers, Redwoods, and Whipsnakes at the championship per DraftKings, the Waterdogs sit at +550. 

Off-season transactions 

Additions: Jack Hannah (College Draft), Jake Higgins (College Draft), Jason Reynolds (College Draft), Jacob Stover (Player Pool), Charlie Kitchen (Player Pool), Reid Bowering (Player Pool), Harrison Bardwell (Player Pool), Zac Tucci (Player Pool), Noah Rak (Player Pool), Matt Hossack (Player Pool)

Departures: Charlie Cipriano (Retirement), Drew Snider (Retirement)

As mentioned, the Waterdogs made some serious changes leading up to the 2021 season last year that paid off for them. 

Copelan traded for Ryan Brown on attack who instantly made an impact for them as one of the overall top goal scorers and best shooters. Brown complemented fellow attackman Kieran McArdle well at X. 

He also added Sowers with the second overall pick in the draft who unfortunately was sidelined most of his rookie season with injury. Now healthy and ready to go, all eyes will be on him with the keys to quarterback this already strong offense as perhaps the biggest “add” for the ‘Dogs this offseason in his return. 

In the midfield, they’ll roll with the best two-way player in Zach Currier once again, as well as offensive generators in Connor Kelly and dodging midfielder Mikie Schlosser.

Currier also of course aids faceoff specialist Jake Withers at the stripe. Withers, who recorded 54% at the faceoff last season, is joined at the stripe by Currier and LSM Ryland Rees. 

On the backend, the ‘Dogs have two of the top close defenders in the league in Liam Byrnes and Eli Gobrecht as the foundation of their defensive unit. 

With an already well-rounded roster, Copelan nailed the offseason adding depth where needed, and making the necessary additions to the few gaps. 

He added Charlie Kitchen on attack for further depth at X. Kitchen graduated from the University of Delaware in 2021 and finished his collegiate career with 239 points, with 146 goals and 93 assists. 

With the retirement of veteran Drew Snider, Copelan picked up Reid Bowering. Bowering adds depth and versatility to the midfield, and it never hurts to add another Canadian alongside Currier, Withers, and Rees. 

The Waterdogs had only three picks in this year’s college draft, and none in the first round. With his core locked up on attack and defense for the most part, Copelan looked to add more midfielders with flexibility. 

With the fourteenth overall pick, Copelan took Jack Hannah from the University of Denver. Some expected Hannah to go in the first round but he’s someone that fits the bill for the ‘Dogs midfield well. He’s a versatile two-way player who can contribute on either end of the ball and when he’s locked in is a strong off-ball shooter. Even more so, he’s very sharp defensively, giving the Waterdogs another athletic defensive midfielder.  

Copelan took Jake Higgins, a SSDM out of Maryland in the third round, as well as another SSDM in Harrison Bardwell from the player pool to provide options at the position behind Steven DeNapoli. 

With the 30th overall pick, the Waterdogs took another flexible midfielder in Jason Reynolds, an LSM from Notre Dame. Reynolds is a sneaky good late pickup that also fits the bill well for them and gives them an option behind Rees. 

The only real major question mark on the Waterdogs’ roster this offseason came between the pipes with the retirement of veteran goaltender Charlie Cipriano. While Dillon Ward has taken the reins as the starting goalie as of last season, Copelan added another option to back him up alongside Matt DeLuca with the pickup of Jacob Stover. 

In his fourth season in the league, Stover most recently played for the Cannons as a backup to Nick Marrocco.  

Last season it felt like the Waterdogs were just one or two pieces away from a championship caliber roster, and with the return of Sowers as well as all the added depth at the midfield, on paper they’ve done all they needed to do to fulfill that.

MVP Candidate: Ryan Brown 

Brown’s lauded as one of, if not the, best shooter in the league. He’s without a doubt the most accurate, whether lefty or righty, and his range knows no restraint. From the front doorstep to the two-point range, he’s lethal. 

In his first season as a Waterdog in 2021, Brown led the PLL in assisted goals with 21 on 65 shots. He’s the type of player that elevates the game of those around him. Reunited with former Atlas teammate McArdle on attack, McArdle recorded a team-high 12 assists with Brown to pass to. 

A catch-and-shoot kind of guy, Brown was expected to bring a spark to the Waterdogs’ offense but he somehow exceeded expectations. He recorded a 29% shooting percentage, his best season shooting wise since 2017, and finished third in the league overall in goals. 

Pair this with the handful which is the Waterdogs midfield with Currier, Kelly, and Schlosser, whether up top or down low, his teammates always seemed to find Brown. For his opponents, he puts constant pressure on his defenders to keen in on him even when he’s off-ball because if they look away for one second, suddenly the ball is in the back of the net. 

In the semifinals, the Whipsnakes were able to hold Brown to just three shots on goal. While he scored on two of those shots, being the primary goal-scorer for the ‘Dogs, it’s tough to be held to only two goals in a playoff game. A few instances last season, it felt like the faith of the team relied heavily around Brown’s performance alone.

Now enter Sowers. Just like Brown elevates the game of those around him, the expectation is for Sowers to be the guy to take the team’s offense to the next level as the playmaker down low. If he’s able to succeed in his role as the quarterback from X, he can make Brown even more dangerous, just as much as Brown can make him. Pair an MVP-caliber player 

Camp Battle to Watch: Narrowing down the midfield and defensive midfield 

The Waterdogs are stacked with a lot of new midfielders and defensive midfielders who each offer their own versatile styles of play, allowing for a lot of flexibility. 

That being said, the only roster locks for the most part at those positions are the returning starters. 

Jack Hannah, Reid Bowering, and Tyler Pace all will have to prove themselves and show they can keep up with guys like Currier, Kelly, and Schlosser. 

They’ll also be competing for roles with Ethan Walker, who’s returning for his second pro season after a solid rookie campaign last season, and Ryan Conrad, the second overall pick from 2019. 

For defensive midfielders, everything is up for grabs besides for veteran captain DeNapoli as the primary SSDM. New additions Higgins and Bardwell will be fighting along with Matt Whitcher to make their case for a role on this roster. 

The case for the Waterdogs to win the 2022 PLL Championship 

The Waterdogs were one win away from making the Championship last season without Sowers down low for a majority of the season, and with far less depth in the middle. Copelan took a winning roster and made it better this offseason, even if it was just smaller, smart additions rather than one big name. The success of their 2021 season was no fluke and they have a strong team built to prove that as they chase the title.