Photo courtesy of Zachary Rilley

Weekend Takeaways from Columbus

By Sarah Griffin

Jun 19, 2023

Archers: Not an Archers’ problem but a Chaos advantage

Some days you’re the highest-scoring offense in the league. Other days you run into Blaze Riorden and the Chaos defense.

I’ll delve deeper into just how good Blaze and the Chaos defense was on Saturday later on, but the Archers’ first loss of the season didn’t come down to them playing a “bad” game as much as it did Chaos simply playing a better game.

The Archers offense took their shots. Mike Sisselberger went 63% at the stripe. Brett Dobson and the defense fought the best they could against Josh Byrne, Brian Minicus, Ryan Smith, and Dhane Smith, but ultimately, it wasn’t enough. The chances of pulling out a win on a day Blaze makes 19 saves seems nearly impossible.

It surely didn’t help Grant Ament left the game early on due to a nagging injury, but we know this team is more than capable of producing offensively even without one of their top players. 

I said last week the chances of this team going 10-0 in the regular season is unlikely. Well, now they’ve got the first loss of the season over with and despite the 5-goal difference in the score, I really don’t see this game as much of a bad sign for the Archers as it is a good sign for Chaos. 

The biggest focus for Chris Bates’ squad headed into the break is to learn and build from this loss. They still have the most complete roster in the league; now it’s all about how they respond to adversity. 

Atlas: Like Ohtani and Trout on the Angels, except the team is packed with a bunch of Trouts 

If you know, you know. Atlas LC dropped a heartbreaker in Columbus to the Waterdogs despite phenomenal performances across the board.

Even if you don’t follow baseball, chances are you know who Shohei Ohtani and Mike Trout are. An international superstar, Ohtani’s the most famous baseball player of our time. He can hit, he can pitch, and he can do both really, really well. Mike Trout is the guy we’re all going to look back at in 50 years and feel lucky to have been alive to watch him play. The kicker to it all? They’re on the Los Angeles Angels, a team that hasn’t made the playoffs since 2014.

It’s important to note I am not in any way comparing Atlas to the Angels as a ball club. Atlas made the playoffs last year and finished in fourth place in the regular season in 2022. They’re a team with a roster built to win - and that’s where the comparison comes in.

Trevor Baptiste, like Ohtani, can do it all and he can do it all really, really well. The 2022 MVP and 3x Paul Cantabene Faceoff Man of the Year broke his own PLL single-game record with 31 of his 36 (86 FO%) faceoff attempts won. He won 27 ground balls along with netting a goal of his own off the faceoff. 

Unlike the Angels, Atlas don’t have only one exceptional player to complement Baptiste. They’ve got a whole bunch of Trouts on offense and defense.

Chris Gray (6P), Xander Dickson (5P), Jeff Teat (5P), Eric Law (4P), and Bryan Costabile (4P) all came with their A-game Friday night. At the start of the 2nd quarter, the Bulls found themselves with an early 6-0 lead. 

On the defensive end of the ball, rookie Gavin Adler continued to lock up the top attackmen in the league. This time tasked with guarding the speedy and skilled Michael Sowers, Adler held Sowers to one goal on eight shots. He matched feet and never lost his focus, even with one tough 1-on-1 matchup. 

Alas, as the now infamous tweet goes, Atlas suffered their second loss of the season, 19-18 to the Waterdogs and fell 1-2 ahead of the break. 

Do I still expect a winning season for the Bulls? Yes, don’t be silly, It’s only been three games. But it’s certainly something to see such a talent-packed roster sitting in sixth place with only one win under their belt still. 

Cannons: A vintage “Clutch” Kavanagh performance is exactly what the Cannons needed 

“Winning feels really good,” Cannons head coach Brian Holman told Dana Boyle after earning his first professional win as a head coach.

It had been 376 days since Cannons LC last got a win. After two close games in Albany and Charlotte, Coach Holman knew his guys were frustrated but kept telling them they were making strides. The whole group knew that the first win was coming sooner rather than later.

Some things you can’t script any better.

It was a long offseason for the Cannons as their new head coach built essentially an entirely new team, even with some returning faces. It was arguably an even longer offseason for veteran Matt Kavanagh

Kavanagh was traded from the Redwoods to the Cannons back in early November. A staple to the Redwoods’ offense since the PLL’s inception in 2019, after a down year for both Kavanagh and the Woods as a whole led to the decision to move on from the attackman. Kavanagh, like many of the guys on this team, came into the season in his new uniform motivated as ever to bring back a winning culture to the Cannons.

After the Cannons loss to the Archers on Opening Weekend, Kavanagh talked about his mindset heading into the season.

“For me it was a super long offseason. I did not have the season that I wanted last year, it was super disappointing. Getting traded so early in the offseason put me in a good mindset of a fresh start,” he explained. “Playing with a group that’s this hungry, you know they finished last in the league last season - we have a lot to prove, myself included.” 

As the Cannons continued to learn who they are as a group and form a team identity, it finally all came together Friday night with the winning play at the hands of Kavanagh. 

Tied 13-13 with a minute and 45 seconds remaining in regulation, it was vintage “Clutch” Kavanagh who buried the game-winner off the feed from Asher Nolting.

“Confidence is a funny thing,” exclaimed Coach Holman after the game when asked about Kavanagh. “You can be one of the greatest players in the world, and then you start losing that. My work with Matt was on that side of things like, ‘Hey, I got you, I got your back. You're on my team. You know I'm here for you. So you don't have to look over your shoulder. I'm not yanking you out of the game. And you just got to play.’” 

Chaos: Perhaps it’s time to stop giving the now first place Chaos LC bulletin board material?

Come on guys. 

Realistically speaking, Chaos LC isn’t in first place because they’re motivated by proving the media wrong - though they definitely aren’t shy to take a victory lap when they are - they’re in first place because as Chaos head coach Andy Towers always says, it really is an egoless group.

The Archers have been the talk of the town for the last two weeks, but that didn’t matter to Chaos. When you’ve got the best goaltender in the world in net in Blaze Riorden, even Tom Schreiber, Connor Fields, Mac O’Keefe, and Matt Moore are going to falter. The four of them combined for 31 shots with 6 goals total. That’s a combined shooting percentage of 19% between the four of them. 

Blaze made 19 saves (65% SV%) as he continued another red-hot start to the season. Of course, none of that would be possible without the number one defense in the league in front of him. 

Opponents average 10.3 SAA (scores against average) versus Chaos LC, the lowest in the league. The success of Jack Rowlett and Jarrod Neumann is well-documented, Rowlett consistently successfully shutting down the best of the best offensive talents in the league, but now with Will Bowen in the mix on close defense as well, it’s almost unfair.

“He [Will] has taken ownership of being the QB of our defense,” Coach Towers told Joe Keegan. “That voice helps accelerate our connection as a group and makes us very hard to penetrate.”

Offensively, Chaos dominated on the other side of the ball too. They saw goals from seven different goal scorers, including both their SSDMs in Ian MacKay and Patrick Resch. They now lead the league in shooting percentage with an average of 30.9%. 

This group is firing from all cylinders finding success everywhere. I said last week it’s hard to find a more cohesive group than this one, and a statement 15-10 victory over the Archers solidified that. 

Chrome: Chrome still looking for a “complete” game 

With the amount of talent in this league it’s hard to think of any team as a “last place team” and Chrome LC’s no exception. 

As Chrome beat writer Nick Zoroya explained, there were bright spots in Chrome’s loss to the Cannons. But the bad outweighed the good yet again in their second straight loss. In Charlotte, offense was the issue. In Columbus, it came down to defense. Nick delves into it in much greater detail, but it’s nothing that the Chrome roster lacks that’s resulted in their losses. It’s more so a matter of not putting together a “complete” game. It’s become a cliche, but it really is hard to come by wins in this league and if you’re not putting your best foot forward in every aspect, it’s going to cost you.

We know what Chrome’s offense and defense are capable of. Offensively after the break, I’m looking to see Logan Wisnauskas pick up where he left off Friday night after his first multi-goal game of the season. Wisnauskas is the centerpiece to this Chrome attack and it’s a good sign to a game like that from him. 

Defensively, well, Chrome’s defense has plenty of film to review from this past weekend. Captain Jesse Bernhardt was definitely missed on the backend, but I really can’t see their defense having another game like that. Silly, uncharacteristic mistakes cost them, along with a down night for Sean Sconone in goal. 

This two week break before Minnesota will be a good time for Chrome to really dive into what is and isn’t working for them. Head coach Tim Soudan has built a strong and selfless culture in his locker room with buy-in from every guy on the team. Resilience is the standard for any team in this league, but this group in particular most definitely isn’t going to let back-to-back losses define them. 

Redwoods: Too little, too late

Redwoods beat writer Jerome Taylor said it best; sometimes it’s just not your night. 

We’ve seen a lot of teams fall behind early on and climb their way back up to victory, including the Redwoods two weekends ago in Charlotte. Unfortunately, an 11-goal deficit proved to be too much even for this resilient group.

Down 13-3 entering the second half, the Woods defense cleaned it up in the third quarter allowing the Whips only one goal. The offense came alive in the final frame led by yet another 6-goal game from Ryder Garnsey, and even at one point came within four goals of the Whipsnakes. Ultimately, it was too little, too late.

“Plain and simple, it shouldn't take us being down ten goals to get us to all of a sudden start playing hard on both sides,” Eddy Glazener exclaimed. “We came out of halftime, and we gave up one goal up until the very end. When it's 0-0, we should be playing the game that we played in the second half.”

By no means did it feel like the Woods came into this game hoping to coast into a 3-0 record against their league rivals. But we all knew how hungry the Whips were for that first win; it wasn’t a surprise to see them coming hot out the gate like that. It all came down to not responding and adjusting quickly enough from the Redwoods’ side.

“We're going to learn lessons from this game. We’ve got to move forward,” Redwoods head coach Nat St. Laurent said. “We're 2-1 going into the break. It'd be nice to be 3-0, but we're  2-1. And we'll get ready to go when we come out of this break. ”

Waterdogs: It’s the Summer of Connor Kelly

Make that two game-winners for Connor Kelly in three weeks.

Just like the win in Albany, it definitely wasn’t the prettiest of victories, but resiliency prevailed for the Dogs. It was the complete opposite of what happened to the Waterdogs in Charlotte after blowing an early 6-1 lead to the Redwoods. This time around, they fell behind 6-0 to Atlas as Trevor Baptiste commanded the faceoff and their offense buzzed around the Dogs’ defense. But as we all know, a first half lead doesn’t mean much. 

“In this league, there’s no deficit too big,” remarked Kelly. “The fact that we came back, it speaks volumes to us.”

Kelly’s known for his range and power as a shooter, making him a threat from anywhere on the field, but especially from two-point range. So for the Atlas defense to leave Kelly wide-open from there with the game on the line was a baffling decision to say the least, especially after allowing him to score two two-pointers already.

“It was a fundamental mistake. He didn’t get in the hole,” Atlas head coach Mike Pressler said about the game-winner. “We’re trying to match up at the midfield line, that’s a junior high-level play, and I’m upset about it… You can’t give them numbers… That is ridiculous, and that is on us.”

Kelly leads the league in both two-pointers and game-winners. 

“I gotta sleep with this thing tonight,” he said postgame, in reference to his stick.

Print the shirts now folks. It’s shaping up to be the Summer of Connor Kelly.

Whipsnakes: “We looked like what we wanted to look like”

How’s that for a response to an 0-2 start?

RIP to the hot minute the Whipsnakes spent in last place. Don’t expect to see it happen again.

“Our whole team realized the things we’ve been trying to do, the things we’ve asked them to do, if they do that we will be successful,” Whipsnakes head coach Jim Stagnitta said. “We looked like what we wanted to look like.”

Everyone assumed the Whipsnakes would come out buzzing against the Redwoods, but I don’t know if anyone expected an 11-goal lead. The Whips played what felt like a near-perfect game in the first half. 

“I’ve got no complaints,” Stagnitta told Dana Boyle at the half.

Rookie Tucker Dordevic got them on the board to start and from there, the floodgates opened. The Whips recorded seven different goal scorers in the first half, including a two-pointer from Colin Squires for his first professional career goal. 

The Redwoods responded accordingly in the second half, tightening up on defense and letting the ball rip from Ryder Garnsey’s stick.

“It's really hard to play that kind of lead when your opponent throws caution into the wind. There's no longer any type system to play against,” Stagnitta said postgame. But even as the Woods made a run in the second half, his team stuck to their game.

“That’s professional players making plays,” he remarked. “Understanding a situation, taking their time, seeing it, and executing.”

Since their first championship in 2019, the Whipsnakes have embodied winning in the PLL. An 0-2 start to the season was unheard of, and they responded exactly as winners do. Great news for them; bad news for the seven other teams.

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