August 13, 2014

MLL Weekly: Can Powell Take Home Offensive POY Honors?

by Phil Shore | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter

With the regular season over, four teams – Rochester, Denver, New York and Ohio – will meet for the right to go to Atlanta and compete for the MLL championship. The Rattlers host the Ohio Machine – who swept Rochester in the regular season, including the penultimate game of the season – and the Outlaws will host the Lizards even though they lost in overtime to New York in New York in the final game of the season.

While the teams study each other, the league will be doing their homework on the players as well. With the playoffs upon us to crown the best team, the best individuals will also be honored. Kieran McArdle of the Florida Launch has already been named Rookie of the Year.

Who stands out in the race for Offensive, Defensive, Goalie and Coach of the Year?

OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR

The award doesn't always go to the player with the most points and sometimes it goes to the player that also wins MVP. That shouldn't be the case this year.

There are loads of talented offensive players in the league, but, unlike the Defensive Player of the Year award, there is truly only one deserving candidate for Offensive Player of the Year: Casey Powell.

Powell has played in a career-high 14 games this season for the Florida Launch and scored 30 goals and added 33 assists for a total of 63 points. That total led the league and was higher than Powell's 2005 total (26 goals and 30 assists for 56 points) when he last won Offensive Player of the Year.

He also regained possession of the league's all-time points record.

He's deservedly gotten praise from so many coaches and players this season.

"It's an awesome experience. Just watching his style of play and his game and his intensity I've learned a lot from him," Launch teammate Kieran McArdle said. "He's been a great mentor for me."

Had the Launch made the playoffs, Powell would be a top candidate for MVP. That's not the case, but he certainly is still the favorite for Offensive Player of the Year.

DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR

Denver Outlaws defender Lee Zink is the incumbent Defensive Player of the Year. He has won the award the past two seasons.

While he isn't flashy and Denver did hit some rough spots this year, Outlaws head coach B.J. O'Hara still believes that Zink is critical to the team's success and one of the best defenders in the league.

"One of the things about Lee Zink is a lot of times you don't notice him because a lot of guys that go against him don't want to take him on," O'Hara said. "As a result he does tend to be a little invisible. He is a coach on the field. He's good on the ball, off the ball. He's very dedicated to our ultimate goal and he'll do whatever he can to help get us there."

Zink has been the model defenseman in the league the past couple seasons and was an obvious choice to play for Team USA this summer. He's certainly a candidate once again, but a couple other faces are in serious contention to unseat him.

Last season the New York Lizards went 4-10 and often seemed to lack chemistry and direction on defense.

Enter rookie and No. 3 overall pick Joe Fletcher. Lizards head coach Joe Spallina believes that, while it would have been tough for Fletcher to win Rookie of the Year because of a lack of eye-popping statistics like McArdle, Fletcher should certainly be in the discussion for Defender of the Year.

"I'm not sure there's been a bigger impact on our lineup than Fletch. He's been phenomenal. He's got to be one of the top two or three seasons as far as defensive shutdown," he said. "He's done it all year for us. We've grown his responsibilities all year. Earlier in the season we gave him the second matchup, now he's got the top matchup. He's been as advertised."

Last season when Zink won the award, Denver had allowed the fewest goals in the league. This year, Rochester had that distinction and they have a very talented shutdown defender of their own: Mike Manley.

Manley is a critical component to a defense that allowed a league-low 161 goals against as well as four two-point goals allowed, also the lowest tally in the league.

Not only does Manley draw the opposition's top attackman, he also has contributed on the offensive end as well. Manley finished the season with nine points. He had six goals – two of which were two-pointers – and one assist.

"Mike Manley is a shutdown defender. You have to have at least one of those guys. He's done a fantastic job," Rochester head coach Tim Soudan said. "He's a great leader. He has an unbelievable stick. He's able to score, and he's done it in a couple different ways. He's vocal. He's a good locker room guy. He's healthier than he's been. I'd argue if he's not the best guy in this league he's in the top three."

The cliché is that defense wins championships, and New York, Rochester and Denver all are thankful to have these guys on their rosters.

GOALIE OF THE YEAR

John Galloway has played strong for top-seed Rochester. Can he take home the hardware? (Rich Barnes)

Goalie of the year in 2011 and 2012 and Team USA goalie Drew Adams helped the Lizards allow the second-fewest number of goals this season (166). Adams had the third best goals against average in the league.

He also ended the season with a 22 save performance in a 12-11 overtime win over the Outlaws.

"He's locked in," Spallina said. "He's more comfortable playing in front of his defense. He was world class last week."

Still, Adams was a bit too up and down this season to finish at the top of the class in 2014.

Jesse Schwartzman was the 2013 Goalie of the Year and could be a candidate. He impressed enough people to be the starting goalie for Team USA. The Outlaws were fourth in the league in goals allowed and Schwartzman was third in the league in save percentage and third in total saves.

Schwartzman was great early in the season but hit a slight rough patch in the second half of the season. The goalie that was most consistent throughout the year and very well could have risen above the rest is Rochester's John Galloway.

Galloway is tied for first in games played (14) and leads all goalies in minutes played (833:36), wins (10) and goals against average (11.16). He was also second in save percentage (.560).

"He's been huge to this team ever since I've been around he gets better each year," Soudan said. "He doesn't slump for long when he slumps. He sees the ball well. It's comforting to know we're going to get big stops."

COACH OF THE YEAR

With respect to B.J. O'Hara and Joe Spallina, who each had their own challenges to overcome with their teams but still helped lead them to the playoffs, the turnaround seasons Rochester and Ohio had make Tim Soudan and Bear Davis the top choices for Coach of the Year.

Rochester has missed the playoffs each of the past two seasons by one game and things did not look good from the outside. After trading away franchise players Ned Crotty and Matt Striebel, some wondered how the team was going to score and if they were looking to rebuild.

The team got great individual contributions from Jordan Wolf, Justin Turri (the league's Most Improved Player), Kevin Leveille, Dave Lawson, Mark Cockerton, John Ranagan, Miles Thompson and Manley and Galloway. They led the league in fewest goals allowed and were tied for second in most goals scored, not to mention a first place regular season finish.

Soudan is certainly deserving, but the coach of the team with the biggest turnaround may claim the award for himself.

The Ohio Machine finished 2-12 both of the past two seasons and struggled to score goals. Davis helped turn Ohio around this season, though, with an 8-6 regular season finish and the highest scoring offense in the league. He also helped the franchise secure its first playoff appearance.

"We're not an expansion team any more. We have to stop talking about that. We're not making excuses for losses," Davis said. "Our front office to coaching staff to players to ticket sales we need to all move forward and know we're all in this together."


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