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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

2010 NLL Preview - West Division

A few weeks ago I put up the poll asking which team will win the National Lacrosse League this year. I had intended to write this post immediately after, but time slipped away from me...
Finally - just in time for the 2010 season to start - I got around to putting together a preview of the various teams. The teams are listed as I expect them to finish in their division. The West Division is up first.

The 2010 season kicks off on January 8 when the Philadelphia Wings visit the Orlando Titans.

-West Division-

1. Washington Stealth
After moving from San Jose, CA to the Seattle, WA suburb of Everett, the Stealth are looking to make a serious impact in the Pacific Northwest. This move is fairly significant for the region since the Vancouver Ravens (2007) and Portland Lumberjax (2009) folded.
The Stealth also look to be the strongest team in the league. Stocked with numerous Canadians, including veteran Jeff Zywicki, they definitely have a firm grasp on the indoor game. However, the roster would be merely average if not for one player - Paul Rabil.

Possibly the best laxer of all time, Rabil currently holds the world record for the fastest shot at 111 mph. Last year the Stealth picked up him with the number two (overall) draft pick and were impressed with his ability to rapidly adapt to the indoor game, something many American players have trouble with. In 16 games, Rabil racked up 16 goals and 18 assists; he grabbed 3 more points in the playoffs. With his rookie season already under his belt, Rabil will continue to grow into a dominate transition player.

2. Minnesota Swarm
The closest thing we have to a home team, the Swarm were supposed to play their first preseason game at Wells Fargo Arena. Unfortunately various circumstances caused this game to be canceled. Despite the bitterness some of us feel towards the team because of this, we continue to support the Swarm.

Last year the Swarm missed the playoffs which makes choosing them to come in third in the West Division seem odd. However, their off season acquisitions lead me to believe that the bugs will become a major force in the NLL. In addition to a solid core of role players, Minnesota made what might be the best pick of the 2009 entry draft by picking up former Duke standout Zack Greer.

Greer made a name for himself at Duke University and was unfortunately a member of the team during the infamous rape scandal. Because the case was dismissed and the accuser discredited, Greer and his teammates were granted an additional year of eligibility. Following his (wrongfully) terminated coach, Mike Pressler, to Bryant University, Greer led the Bulldogs during their first year of Division I lacrosse. As a Canadian, Greer also brings extensive box lacrosse experience with him. Most recently he was a member of the Brooklin Redmen (2007-08) of Major Series Lacrosse. He played junior A box lax with the Whitby Warriors (2001-07). This summer he played his rookie year of Major League Lacrosse with the Long Island Lizards. Greer will bring much needed experience, energy, and firepower to the Swarm.

3. Calgary Roughnecks
Last year's league champions will get knocked down a couple of pegs this year due to the marquee players for Washington and Minnesota. Sure the Riggers knocked both the Mammoth and my number one pick Stealth out of the playoffs last year, but 2010 will be a different story due to the loss of their head coach and an assistant coach to the Toronto Rock.

Calgary also lost a key player in Curt Malawsky to retirement; he will stay on as the Assistant General Manager and Assistant Coach. The remaining bench is filled with Canadian role players but no real stars. Still, this group remains largely unchanged since last year's championship squad. Their slip in the standings is due to the loss of their coach and the moves made by other teams in the West Division.
4. Colorado Mammoth
The league's annual attendance leaders return to the Pepsi Center (where they also beat the attendance of the NHL's Avalanche and the NBA's Nuggets). With a massive crowd, the maroon and black have the best home field advantage in the NLL. Combined with the intelligent ownership of Stan Kroenke (Avalanche, Nuggets, Colorado Rapids, Arsenal FC, St Louis Rams), this team is in the position to make great things happen on a yearly basis. Although they last hoisted the Champions Cup in 2006, the Mammoth are a favorite to contend again this year.

Unlike 2006, the legendary Gary Gait is no longer involved with the team. Long time captain Gavin Prout is also absent having been traded to the Rochester Nighthawks (and subsequently traded to the Edmonton Rush). However the team still features local favorite and longtime Colorado fixture Brian Langtry.

Langtry is a key player not only for the Mammoth, but also Major League Lacrosse's Denver Outlaws. He has been a consistently strong scorer year in and year out; 2009 proved to be his strongest season yet. With 38 goals and 41 assists in 16 games, Langtry is a force to be reckoned with. His contributions will be the source of the Mammoth's success in 2010.

5. Edmonton Rush
This is the single team that I feel will absolutely finish in the same manner as last year. In fact, Edmonton has finished dead last every season since their 2006 inception except for one. They finished above the Portland Lumberjax in 2007; this was their first season with more than four wins (six to be exact). Last year they managed five wins. They have never had a winning season (obviously).

Due to Portland folding in the off season, Edmonton did gain Brodie Merrill. The remarkably transition player was the backbone of the Jax throughout his four year tenure with the team. Grabbing 47 points in 16 games last year, Merrill had his best NLL season since his rookie year (2006). As a d-pole with the Toronto Nationals, Merrill snagged an impressive eight goals and his fourth consecutive defensive player of the year award this summer. Merrill also added back-to-back Major Series Lacrosse championships and Mann Cups with the Brampton Excelsiors to his lacrosse resume over the last two years. Merrill was also an early choice of the Canadian National Team for the 2010 World Championships in Manchester, England.

As impressive as Merrill is, the remaining bench is lacking. With very few changes since last season, Edmonton's chances remain slim. Once again the Rush will fail to hit the 50% mark.


The East Division preview will be published in a few days.

Tribe 7