5/26/10 4:41 PM
Nationals Not Panicking Yet
By Redmond Zmudzien
Winless is not how the Toronto Nationals envisioned their second season in Major League Lacrosse starting, at least not after two games. The Nationals are faced with the reality though, after losing their first two games they are staring down the barrel at a potential 0-3 record. Only one team in MLL history has ever started the season 0-3 after winning the championship the previous season. That team was the 2005 Philadelphia Barrage, who stumbled to the finish line with a final record of 4-8.
Despite the rough start, Toronto is not panicking, not even close. The Nationals realize it is a long season and any team can rebound from a slow start. The 2004 Philadelphia Barrage started off poorly, going 0-2 to open the season before going 9-3 the rest of the way en route to the MLL title. Toronto head coach Dave Huntley is at the forefront of the conversation, saying it is way too early to be worried about his team’s fortunes.
“I don’t need to say anything to them. Those guys are all experienced players who have won championships,” he said. “They’ll figure it out and things will start falling our way and we’ll start getting good results.”
The Nationals still have 10 games remaining on their schedule so it is not out of the realm of possibility they could make a run and be right back in the thick of the playoff hunt. Especially considering the talent on their roster. No one in Toronto is counting the defending champions out quite yet. Leading the way on offense is two-time MLL MVP John Grant Jr. who currently leads the team in points with six. Midfielder Josh Sims is right there too, tied with Grant for the team lead with six points.
Toronto will no doubt be leaning on its defense more than anything, quarterbacked by arguably the best player in the world in Brodie Merrill. Teammates and coaches alike gush about the hybrid longpole. With Merrill’s combination of defensive prowess and offensive aggression, the Nats are never out of a game.
Toronto is not without its holes though, even after winning it all in 2009. Several of the team’s key players from a season ago are either not on the field or not with the team anymore.
Gone from the team this season are Toronto’s top four scorers from a year ago. Attackman Merrick Thomson, who led the team with 50 points last season, is currently on the Physically Unable to Perform list for the Nats. No longer with the team are midfielder Joe Walters (42 points), and attackmen Jeff Zywicki (33 points) and Colin Doyle (26 points). The four combined for 151 of Toronto’s total 298 points in 2009, just over 50 percent of the team’s scoring. However, not everyone agrees this is the main cause for concern. Are the Nationals starting to feel the loss of so many top players?
“We lost a lot of good players and added a lot of good players so the short answer is no,” Huntley said.
Huntley feels his team is simply not playing up to its potential and the loss of a few players is no excuse for the slow start. After suffering back-to-back losses, including a 25-12 blowout to Chesapeake, Toronto is on the ropes. Once again though, it is a long season so Huntley is far from panic mode.
“The only must win games are the ones where your season ends if you lose,” he said. “So at game three we are a long way from that.”
The Nationals may look to the Collegiate Draft to fill some of their holes this season, though Huntley does not see it as a cure-all of any sorts.
“I don’t look at things that way,” he said. “There are a lot of good players in this draft. We had some good results in last year’s draft and we will get some good ones this year.”
Toronto does not have a pick in the first round though, so barring some draft day trades the Nationals first selection will be No. 8 overall in the second round. The Nationals traded out of the first round, dealing the No. 6 overall selection to Chesapeake in a draft pick swap. Chesapeake received Toronto’s No. 6, No. 15 and No. 24 overall, while the Nats acquired Chesapeake’s No. 8 overall and its first round pick in 2011. The Nationals also pick again at No. 9 and have seven selections total in the eight-round draft. The seven selections are tied with Chicago for a league low.
The draft will take place Sunday June 6 in New Haven, Conn. at Yale University. With the draft taking place in early June, players can join their new teams as soon as they finish playing at school. There are many notable players in NCAA lacrosse this season, Toronto may not get one of the top billed athletes, but players do slip on draft boards.
The draft is loaded with scoring machines at the top end, including top talent such as Duke attackman Ned Crotty who scored 22 goals and notched 60 assists for a total of 82 points in the regular season. Other top players include attackman Curtis Dickson out of Delaware who scored 62 goals this year and Crotty’s Duke teammate, Max Quinzani who has been Duke’s top goal scorer in 2010 with 64. Ken Clausen figures to be the top longpole in the draft coming out of Virginia as a dangerous takeaway defenseman.
An interesting name for the Nationals could be Syracuse attackman and Ontario native, Cody Jamieson, who was second in scoring for the Orange this year with 41 points. Jamieson is a dangerous player with a flair for the dramatics as well; he netted the game winner for Syracuse in overtime against Cornell in the national championship game last season. Jamieson would provide another local name to an already heavily Canadian-laden team and a sure scoring option.
A draft day acquisition is not a solution to all problems though as Toronto knows full well. So instead the Nationals will rely on their proven veterans as they slowly integrate the youth in hopes of returning to the MLL playoffs.