|ESPN.com: Lacrosse||[Print without images]|
Looking to fill the void left by the NHL lockout, the National Lacrosse League opened its preseason Saturday in British Columbia en route to its Jan. 5 opening night in Everett, Washington for a regular season that is shaping up to be as contested as the 2012 campaign, which saw the unheralded Rochester Knighthawks emerge as champions.
|When the dust settled, Matt Vinc and Knighthawks were hoisting the Champions Cup.|
The offseason has been marked by marquee free-agent signings, plenty of player movement and newfound hope that fans starving for hard-hitting action return in record numbers for the upcoming season.
Here's a look at what has been happening in each of the training camps:
The Knighthawks emerged holding the Champions Cup, but they were far from being the dominant team in 2012. They gave up more goals than they scored and finished the regular season with a losing record.
On the bright side of things is that former NLL MVP Casey Powell, acquired by the Knighthawks in the Boston Blazers dispersal draft last season, will return to action after sitting out in 2012. And on Friday, the Knighthawks pulled off a deal with the Philadelphia Wings that sent holdout Paul Rabil to Philly in exchange for veteran forward Dan Dawson, defensman Paul Dawson and a first-round draft pick for 2016.
In addition, the Knighthawks sent Jordan Hall, who was injured most of last season as he and Craig Point for this season. The two sat out a combined 13 games last season.
One of the most interesting position battles brewing in camp is the one to decide who will be goalie Matt Vinc's backup. The Knighthawks had Ben Vanevery, a member of the team in 2009, competing with last year's backup, Jake Henhawk.
The Rush have undergone a major overhaul in an effort to improve their NLL-worst offense and are hoping rookies Curtis Knight, Mike Burke and Simon Giourmetakis can lead them back to the NLL title game.
It was an eventful offseason as head coach/GM Derek Keenan released veteran Scott Evans and traded Aaron Wilson and a 2013 second-round pick to the Buffalo Bandits for Jeremy Thompson, who is vying for a spot on the opening day roster. The Rush also traded their sixth-round pick in the 2013 draft to acquire forward Cory Conway from the Calgary Roughnecks.
The revamped front line, the Rush hope, will go well with the return of Brett Mydske, Jimmy Quinlan and Chris Corbeil, who -- along with Steve Toll and Jeff Cornwall, acquired from Buffalo last season -- were the main reasons the Rush went deep into the postseason.
Contrary to 2011, there's no question mark on who will be in goal, as Aaron Bold came into camp as the Rush's No. 1 goaltender. Last year, Bold's tenure was unclear as the team adjusted to Matt Disher's retirement.
|Garrett Billings was the heart and soul of the Rock offense in 2012.|
The Rock were road warriors last season, winning six of their eight away games, but when it came to the playoffs, their hopes of defending their 2011 crown were dashed despite enjoying a productive season from Garrett Billings, the NLL's top offensive player.
The Rock won the East Division but did not dominate, going 9-7 before bowing to the Knighthawks in the division final.
In the offseason, one of general manager Terry Sanderson's priorities was bringing back captain Colin Doyle, who signed a one-year deal in mid-November to return for a 13th season in Toronto.
Preparations for 2013 are centering on two key areas, goaltending and bolstering the front line. Toronto picked up Scott Evans to complement Billings hours after he was let go by the Rush.
Nick Rose came away as the team's top goalie last season, and with the acquisitions of Mike Lum-Walker (since lost for the season to an injured knee) and Bradley Kri, Toronto figured to be bigger and better on defense.
The Swarm finished 9-7 last season, but this season's edition will likely include many new faces as Minnesota took advantage of four first-round picks in the entry draft to address some pressing needs. The NLL's youngest team in 2012 is likely to be even younger in 2013.
Minnesota took Brock Sorensen, Kiel Matisz and Shayne Jackson with the second, third and fourth overall picks and added Alex Crepinsek to bolster the defense.
That has left uncertainty for some veterans, especially Dan Ball, Nik Bilic, Jay Card and Joel Henry, who will have to prove their mettle in camp.
The turnstile that was the goalie position last season is likely to end. Evan Kirk and Tyler Carlson, who had pretty solid seasons despite the uncertainty, should remain at the top of the depth chart. Zach Higgins may get a look in camp to see if he's worthy.
The NLL's longest-running franchise is also the one with the shortest history of success, as it has only two winning seasons in the past 12 years.
This version of the Wings, however, looks revitalized, as it opened camp last week with a lot of focus on rookies Mike Manley and CJ Costabile -- former Duke University standouts who could provide the answer the Wings are looking for on defense. The addition of Rabil, Major League Lacrosse's top player in 2012, should also complement the offense.
The Wings finished last in the league in goals against with 207, the most since 2008, in a year when goalie Brandon Miller found himself dodging bullets.
While much of the focus in camp will be on defense, the Wings are optimistic that veterans Brodie Merrill and Kevin Crowley can carry their 2012 success into 2013 and that Steve Holmes and Jeff Reynolds will begin to prove that their outstanding season was the first of many to come.
Despite a cloud that hung over the team due to 2012 leading scorer Luke Wiles' holdout, the Bandits' front office went gone all out in an effort to revamp the team. The result is a new-look squad that may be the surprise of the season.
Behind veteran John Tavares, who is entering his 23rd season and is the NLL's all-time leading scorer, the Bandits have added veteran Shawn Williams, acquired in a trade with Edmonton, as well as David Brock, Glen Bryan, Nick Cotter, Mike Hominuck, Jamie Rooney, Derek Suddons and Aaron Wilson.
The key focus in camp has been goaltending now that longtime Bandits goalie and NLL Hall of Famer Steve Dietrich has taken over as general manager.
Anthony Cosmo, who didn't report to the Swarm last season after the Blazers were disbanded and joined the Bandits six games into the season, returns to compete with Kurtis Wagar and Angus Goodleaf for playing time as the Bandits look to cut down on their 204 goals against from last season.
|John Grant Jr.|
Paced by NLL MVP John Grant Jr., rookie of the year Adam Jones and forward Sean Pollock, Colorado led the league in scoring on its way to an 11-5 regular-season record, but the team suffered a disappointing exit in the first round of the playoffs.
After a stunning start, the Mammoth faded at the end of the season, so general manager Steve Govett is taking no chances and quickly signed the team's three draft picks, forward Alex Demopoulos, Jaeden Gastaldo and Colton Clark, as well as second-year defenseman Dan Coates.
The weakest point in the Mammoth's game, especially late in the season, was in transition, where it was clear they missed Mac Allen and John Orsen, both out with injuries. Orsen is still on the PUP list, but Allen is reportedly back and recovered from his knee injury, meaning the team will take a long look at newcomers Ian Poole and John Quarrie to see who could pick up the slack.
Chris Levis, who started last year's All-Star Game at goalie, returns, but it is likely that Tye Belanger and Dan Lewis will see more time in goal this season.
If any one team dominated the regular season last year, it was Calgary, which finished 12-4, was second in league in scoring and led the NLL in goals against. But all that came to nothing as the Roughnecks took a drubbing in the first round of the playoffs for yet another early exit.
The early playoff defeat led to the firing of coach Dave Pym, but besides that, not much has changed for Calgary, which opened camp late last month.
Mike Carnegie, Scott Carnegie, Jon Harnett, Curtis Manning, Peter McFetridge and Kaleb Toth all signed one-year deals to return, and the Roughnecks have said 2012 second-round pick Jackson Decker will be active this season.
Calgary didn't do much shuffling to the roster, but general manager Mike Board did bring in two goalies to contend for playing time with starter Mike Poulin. Board said second-year goalie Frankie Scigliano will return but that he will have to compete with free agent Mike Flindell.
The Stealth's 4-12 season was marked by injuries, illnesses and hopelessness, but many in Seattle are hoping the start of training camp will let bygones be bygones.
The offensive front of Rhys Duch, Cliff Smith and Jeff Zywicki missed significant time with injuries, as did coach Chris Hall, who stepped aside after announcing that he was battling throat cancer.
As the Stealth opened camp in November, Hall was back with a group of prep stars who could bring some thrill into the Washington chill.
High school All-American Drew Snider heads the group of youngsters that includes draft picks Tyler Garrison, Bill Hostrawser, Tim Henderson and Justin Pychel and could bring in some new energy as the squad looks to rebound from its down year.