Weekend Takeaways from Charlotte
1. Archers: Do the Archers have the most complete roster in the league?
Not exactly a burning hot take. Even without Grant Ament in the lineup, the Archers saw goals from eight different players. You know what you’re getting from arguably the best player in the world in Tom Schreiber. Connor Fields quietly is off to a MVP caliber start. Mac O’Keefe is everything Coach Bates and the club expected and more. Oh, and they’re adding Challen Rogers to the mix next week.
Offense has never been a question with this team. Frankly, defense hasn’t either. It’s the two specialists on this roster that have elevated Archers LC to a new level.
Mike Sisselberger turned heads in his pro debut in Albany and proved he was well-worth the fifth overall pick. Regarded as the missing piece the Archers needed these last few years, he battled with one of the best faceoff specialists in the league in Connor Farrell to finish the day 10-for-21 with 4 ground balls, as well as yet another faceoff goal.
While Sisselberger was the story last week, in Charlotte all eyes were on the young gun in net. Brett Dobson waited in the wings for his time to shine in his rookie season last year. He listened and learned behind Adam Ghitelman and now it’s his net.
In his third pro field start, Dobson dazzled as he made a remarkable 18 saves (72% SV%). It was a tough day for Chrome’s offense, especially when up against a goaltender who was seemingly seeing everything.
“He’s got that personality where he’s just unflappable,” remarked Bates when I asked him of the leadership the 23-year old brings to the defensive end of the field.
“He does a nice job of owning that end of the field and taking responsibility. We’re pretty quiet on that end of the field, to be honest - Graeme’s not the most talkative guy in the world, Warren’s not, Matt McMahon a little bit - but I think Brett’s voice gives guys a sense of confidence. For a young dude, Dobber’s been impressive in how he commands the defense and that presence he has about him.”
A youth movement at the specialized positions and a seemingly perfect mix of the old and new everywhere else has created the most balanced roster in the PLL.
2. Atlas: “If you got a shot, f**king bury it”
Rejoice, Atlas fans. The “Atlas have never beat the Whips” narrative is dead. It came right down to the final possession, but in the end, it was Chris Gray who sealed the deal.
Prior to his game winner, Gray was scoreless on 9 shots.
“I did not realize [he] was 0-for-9 shooting,” Atlas assistant coach Steve Brooks told Joe Keegan. “I just know the type of competitor that he is. And I know his capability dodging from behind with speed.”
Coach Brooks drew up the play with Gray specifically in mind. Gray found himself ready at X to run off the pick from Bryan Costabile. From there, it was just Chris Gray doing Chris Gray things. Even with the sound Whipsnakes defense, Gray created enough separation for himself to fire one topside and bury the winning goal.
“He’s a special player,” said Jeff Teat. “There’s never a point in the game or in season where we’re not going to go to him. You know he was struggling a little bit but to be honest I didn’t really feel it because he was playing hard and getting good looks, just wasn’t finishing. He mentioned something about it with a couple minutes left and we were just like, ‘hey, you’re going to score your next shot,’ and low and behold he got the job done for us.”
3. Cannons: 0-2, but making strides in the right direction
Wins and learns, wins and learns.
They’re 0-2 but it needs to be reiterated: this is not the same Cannons team as last year. Coach Holman said it himself, the team is making strides even if that’s not what they want to hear right now.
Similar to their game versus the Archers, at no point did the game get away from the Cannons. They started off slow in the first quarter, but they found their groove in the second and it became a competitive battle between two well-rounded teams.
The young guns in Matt Campbell and Asher Nolting both had two huge goals. Even after only two weeks, we’ve seen them continue to unlock their game at the highest-level surrounded by veterans like Marcus Holman, Ryan Drenner, and Matt Kavanagh to help elevate them. Chaos LC’s defense is no walk in the park. The Cannons were able to hold onto the ball for long possessions, even if they weren’t always able to capitalize with Blaze in net.
Defensively, this team has improved tenfold already from last year. Rookie LSM Ethan Rall and close defenseman Matt Rees stood out in particular, winning ground balls and forcing Chaos to make turnovers.
The most commonly heard phrase by both coaches and players in the PLL is “wins are hard to come by in this league” and it’s absolutely true. Coach Holman has built a roster that can win and will win. It boils down to just making one more play than the other team, as we saw this weekend.
4. Chaos: Everybody eats on Chaos LC
Something that always strikes me from Coach Towers’ interviews early on in the season is his focus is never on who is or isn’t on the roster that week. It’s always about the 19 guys on the field with him.
“Each team has unique circumstances. Ours is relatively known,” said Towers.
Yes, Josh Byrne, Chase Fraser, Chirs Cloutier, and Ian MacKay weren’t there for the first game of the season. Yes, Dhane Smith isn’t back yet. And yes, all four played a big part in the win on Saturday. But Chaos gave the reigning champs a run for their money on Opening Weekend even if they didn’t get the result they wanted. This is a selfless group that isn't concerned with who gets the job done, only how.
Chaos saw goals from 8 different scorers against the Cannons in Charlotte. Byrne led the pack with 3 including the OT winner, Fraser netted 3 as well, and one behind-the-back goal from Cloutier that earned a spot on SportsCenter. All three are integral parts to this offense. But 7 goals didn’t win the game, 14 did.
Goals from veteran Ryan Smith, rookie Brian Minicus, a new face in Will Perry, first year faceoff specialist Nick Rowlett, and a two-pointer from defenseman Jarrod Neumann are all just as integral to Saturday’s victory. On Chaos, everybody eats.
Factor in their team-first defensive unit and the best goalie in the world between the pipes, it’s hard to find a more cohesive group.
5. Chrome: Well, at least there was Jackson Morrill
Look, I consider myself a pretty positive person. This was a real doozy of a game for Chrome LC. 7 goals total is not great. 5 of those coming from the same player? Definitely not great. However, Jackson Morrill deserves his flowers.
The midfielder shot an incredible 83.8% against a red-hot Dobson. It didn’t matter who was covering him or where he was on the field, sometimes you’ve just got it.
After a strong rookie season in 2021, Morrill had a quiet year last season with 8 points total. Now through two games, he’s already recorded 10 points along with an even more impressive 0 turnovers. If you’re going to buy Jackson Morrill stock, now is the time.
Aside from Morrill, unfortunately, there’s not much to smile about from this performance for Chrome’s offense.
“Our defense played unbelievable today,” Morrill said postgame. “Our offense totally let us down. Back to the drawing board for us. We need to get back to how Chrome likes to play offense.”
Chrome’s opportunity to redeem themselves will come Friday night versus a hungry Cannons team.
6. Redwoods: The vibes are better than ever
Last week I said anything you remember about the 2022 Cannons is in the past because they’re an entirely new ball club. Well, the same can be said for the 2023 Redwoods.
Coach St. Laurent said the vibes in training camp this year were much better than last season. The Woods followed up on that statement with an explosive win versus Atlas LC in Albany.
If we’re going to rank teams based on good vibes, I’d have to give the Redwoods first place after another statement win, this time versus the reigning champs.
After falling behind 6-1 to the Waterdogs in the first quarter, the Woods came out looking like a different team in the second quarter and never faltered after that. They made the decision to switch Garrett Epple onto Michael Sowers and everything fell into place for their defense. Jack Kelly made 19 saves (68% SV%) in a gutsy performance in net.
On the offensive end of the ball, the usual culprits in Rob Pannell, Wes Berg, and Mr. SportsCenter himself Ryder Garnsey did their thing, but we also saw quite the debut from rookie Cole Kirst. Kirst stepped into the lineup after it was announced Charlie Bertrand was sidelined for the week. He contributed big time with 2 goals and an assist, along with some electric cellys.
The Woods’ third round draft pick this year, St. Laurent received some criticism for the pick on draft night. I asked him if it was satisfying to see Kirst silence the critics in his debut, but diplomatic as ever, St. Laurent said you really do never know if a pick is going to pan out or not.
As an outsider looking in rooting for Kirst, I’d say it was pretty satisfying.
Off the stat sheet, what really stuck out to me not only this weekend but throughout training camp and in their first game, is how much fun these guys are having playing together. Again, the vibes could not be better from this team. In the postgame press conference Epple said “Starting in training camp we knew this is a completely different team from last year and I don’t think the rest of the league thinks that yet.”
Something tells me that’s fine by the Woods.
7. Waterdogs: How do the Dogs maintain the offensive efficiency of the first quarter for a full 48?
There was obvious frustration from both Michael Sowers and Coach Copelan after Friday night’s 10-9 loss to the Redwoods.
We got a taste of what we know the Waterdogs offense can be in the first quarter when they quickly went up 6-1. Two goals from Sowers, two from Kieran McArdle, a signature Zach Currier goal, and a pole goal from Ryland Rees put the Dogs on cloud nine to begin the game.
The Woods assessed the situation and outplayed the Waterdogs for the remaining three quarters. Yes, the switch from Arden Cohen to Garrett Epple on Sowers defensively definitely forced some adjustments from Sowers and the O. But as Coach Copelan said, Sowers' success in the first quarter was not an “Arden Cohen thing”, but “a Michael Sowers thing”.
Certainly it didn’t help that Jack Kelly was locked in in the net all night, making 19 stops on the Dogs. But even after their win in Albany, Coach Copelan felt there was a lot for their offense to clean up and he felt the same after their first loss.
“We’ve got some things to think about, I certainly don’t like starting the first two games under 10 goals, so we’ve got to figure that out.”
The talent is there. The skill is there. The hard work is there. It’s not a question of if the offense can come alive, it’s when and how.
8. Whipsnakes: There’s no need to hit the panic button after two games
The Whipsnakes may be 0-2, but that’s the best 0-2 PLL team I’ve ever seen.
Saturday afternoon we got our first look at Matt Rambo, Will Manny, and Zed Williams all together on attack and that line alone should convince you the Whips are going to be just fine. The three combined for 9 points, with 4 goals from Rambo, 2 from Zed, and one from Manny.
Coach Stagnitta mentioned during training camp the addition of Manny alleviates some of the pressure on Rambo specifically, but that’s the beauty of an attack line like this. There’s no question all three guys can put the ball in the net. The Whips don’t need all three to score 4 goals per game though. Saturday it was Rambo who stole the show, but none of that’s possible without the off-ball work Manny and Zed are doing.
The last couple seasons the Whips searched for that perfect third attackman to complement Rambo and Zed and only one game in together, Manny seems to be the answer.
At the midfield, rookie Tucker Dordevic continues to impress. With the absence of Brad Smith, he’s stepped up big time in only two pro games under his belt. He’s a natural fit on this offense and one that’s going to make you regret putting a shorty on him immediately.
The Whips played in two tight, back-and-forth battles that came down to the final possession in both games thus far this season. Sure, it’s definitely not the start they were looking for. But aside from the absence of Smith and Joe Nardella, this roster has improved from last season with the additions of Manny, their rookies (including Petey LaSalla who yes, isn’t Nardella, but has proven he can hold his own), and Roman Puglise. I’m referring to the same team last year who lost just one game in the regular season. Take your hand off the panic button. The Whipsnakes are going to be okay.