May 2, 2013 - Major League Lacrosse (MLL) - Chesapeake Bayhawks
Annapolis, MD - Perhaps the hottest topic among Major League Lacrosse followers, besides the Bayhawks 2012 MLL championship, has been the offseason makeover of the New York Lizards. In a cover story of its most recent issue, Lacrosse Magazine reviewed all the moves made by head coach Joe Spallina, who was dubbed "New York Wizard" in the title.
Spallina traded for attackman Mark Matthews, offensive midfielder Stephen Berger and long stick defensive midfielder Steven Waldeck while also making a myriad of other roster changes. In his season preview, MLL analyst Evan Washburn called New York the second-best team in the league. The Lizards, "from a talent perspective, are the only team that comes close to the Bayhawks."
Fans and media will get an early read on whether New York is a legitimate contender for the Steinfeld Trophy on Saturday night when the team travels to Annapolis to take on Chesapeake at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium. Count Dave Cottle, president and head coach of the Bayhawks, as one of those people impressed by New York's personnel improvement.
"I thought the moves they made strengthened the areas they wanted to address," Cottle said. "They added size, strength and depth in the midfield."
New York already had a solid nucleus to build on as Drew Adams is a two-time MLL Goaltender of the Year last season while Greg Gurenlian is generally regarded as the league's top face-off specialist. Other key returning players for the Lizards include 2012 Cascade Rookie of the Year Matt Gibson, midfielder Stephen Peyser and attackman Tom Palasek.
Chesapeake got off to a successful start, defeating Rochester, 17-14, in Jacksonville (Fla.) behind a combined 13 points from midfielders Kyle Dixon and Ben Hunt. Dixon was named Warrior Offensive Player of the Week after tying a league record with three 2-point goals.
"A win is a win and we'll certainly take it, but we need to get better. I didn't think we played great team offense or defense in the opener. Our stick-work wasn't real sharp and we can play better in the goal," Cottle said.
Cottle was pleased with the play of second-year attackman Matt Mackrides and newly-acquired short stick defensive midfielder Dan Burns. Mackrides scored three goals, including two in the fourth quarter, while Burns gobbled up seven ground balls.
"Matt really hustled on rides and generally flew around all over the field. When the game was on the line, he stepped up and scored a couple clutch goals," Cottle said. "Danny really helped us with his work on the wing of face-offs. I thought the tide turned when he dug out some really tough grounders in the third quarter."
New York also had a solid start to the season when Palasek scored three goals and dished off two assists while Adams made 15 saves as Long Island defeated the Boston Cannons, 14-11, in last Sunday's season opener. Gurenlian was named Warrior Defensive Player of the Week after capturing 21 of 28 face-offs against the Cannons while Waldeck made a huge impact in his Lizards debut by scoring two goals, one of which was a 2-pointer.
"New York is very strong up the middle. They've got a great goalie, a great face-off guy and great defensive midfielders," Cottle said. "Now they've added some window dressing with some very skilled offensive players. There's no question they have great personnel and are very well-coached."
Spallina called Waldeck and the team's primary short stick defensive midfielders - brothers Kevin and Mike Unterstein - "sandpaper guys that are not fun to play against." The Untersteins combined for two goals and nine ground balls in the opener.
"Waldeck and the Untersteins are all the same person. They represent the personality of what we want New York Lizards lacrosse to be. They are tough and nasty and empty the tank every game."
Both teams will be bolstered by the addition of players who were not available last weekend while participating in the National Lacrosse League. Chesapeake picks up attackman-midfielder Drew Westervelt and short stick defensive midfielder Jeff Reynolds while New York adds the left-handed shooting Matthews and dynamic long stick defensive midfielder C.J. Costabile.
Spallina, who works full-time as the head coach of women's lacrosse at Stony Brook, said the road to the Steinfeld Trophy still goes through Chesapeake country.
"Chesapeake is the best team in the league. They have the best coaches and the best players. They have set the bar for every other team in Major League Lacrosse," he said. "We're playing the defending champion at their barn. We'll find out quickly how good we really are."
Spallina said defending the Bayhawks is difficult because they have so many weapons while scoring is also a challenge against the four-time league champs.
"Its pick your poison against Chesapeake because the offense is so well-balanced. They have a bunch of middies that don't just shoot twos, they shoot threes. They come out of the box winding up," he said. "Defensively, they are tough, aggressive and physical. They don't make the front of the net a happy place."
Perhaps the toughest, most physical member of the Bayhawks is crease defenseman Brian Spallina, who just happens to be the younger brother of the New York Lizards head coach.
"Brian is an intense guy, a competitive guy. He doesn't play nice in the sandbox and I've already prepared our guys for everything that's going to come out of his mouth," Joe Spallina said. "At the same time, Brian is a proven winner and a great locker room guy. I think he has added a certain element that Chesapeake didn't have before."
The 2013 home opener is Saturday, May 4th against the New York Lizards at 7:00 PM at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium. You can catch all the action live on Comcast SportNet. Fireworks will be held after the game and will be presented by G&G Outfitters. 2013 Bayhawks Season and Single Tickets are also on sale and going fast, so don't miss your opportunity to get in on the action. Season ticket packages start at just $99.00 and single tickets start at $15. Both can be purchased online at www.thebayhawks.com or over the phone by calling the box office 866-99-HAWKS (42957). Reserve your seat today and see the 2012 MLL Champions defend their title at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium this summer.