January 5, 2010

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NLL 2010 Preview: Eastern Division

by Theresa Smith | Special to Lacrosse Magazine Online

Titans forward Jordan Hall is among the offensive stars leading the team's migration from New York to Orlando, debuting Friday in the NLL season opener against Philadelphia at Amway Arena. LM's Theresa Smith pegs the Titans to win the NLL's Eastern Division.

The National Lacrosse League's 24th season starts Friday, when the Orlando Titans (relocated from New York this offseason) host the Philadelphia Wings at 7:35 p.m. Eastern. The Titans will play at Amway Arena, the home arena of the NBA's Orlando Magic. It's the first of five games on opening weekend.

Eleven teams will compete this season, six in the Eastern Division and five in the Western Division. 

The changes from last season are as follows:  New York relocated to Orlando.  San Jose relocated to Everett, Washington and are now known as the Washington Stealth. The Stealth will play at Comcast Arena, which is also home to the Everett Silvertips of the Western Hockey League. Everett is 25 miles north of Seattle.  The Portland franchise opted not to play in 2010.  The Portland players were dispersed to the eleven returning clubs in a dispersal draft held over the summer.  The playoff format remains the same, with the top four teams in each division advancing to a single-elimination playoff tournament.  The divisions are as follows:

Eastern
Boston Blazers
Buffalo Bandits
Orlando Titans
Philadelphia Wings
Rochester Knighthawks
Toronto Rock

Western
Calgary Roughnecks
Colorado Mammoth
Edmonton Rush
Minnesota Swarm
Washington Stealth

The following team-by-team previews for the Eastern Division are in predicted order of finish. Check back to LaxMagazine.com Wednesday for a breakdown of the Western Division and this weekend for scores and news as the ball drops on the 2010 NLL campaign.


EASTERN DIVISION

1. Orlando Titans
Coach: Ed Comeau
2009 Record: 10-6
The Titans came within two goals of winning the Champion’s Cup on the road in Calgary. With their core returning, including offensive stars Casey Powell, Mike McLellan, Pat Maddalena, Brendan Mundorf and Jordan Hall, faceoff sensation Stephen Peyser, and a likely increase in fan support since moving to Florida, the Titans will contend again for the Cup. Dan Hardy and Kenny Nims of NCAA champion Syracuse lead the rookie class.

2. Buffalo Bandits
Coach: Darris Kilgour
2009 Record: 10-6
The 2008 Champion’s Cup winners must close out tight games if they are to hoist the Cup again. They lost three one-goal games and two two-goal games in 2009, yet enjoyed three routs. Mark Steenhuis (101 points, second in NLL) can improve his shooting percentage (.201). John Tavares, the NLL’s all-time leading scorer, sets the standard (.357). Goaltender Ken Montour (NLL-leading .813 sv%) inspires confidence.

3. Rochester Knighthawks
Coach: Paul Gait
2009 Record: 7-9
With John Grant Jr., the 2007 NLL MVP, recovered from knee surgery and a devastating infection in his knee, and Scott Evans returned from knee surgery, the 2009 offensive struggles are over. Second-year coach Paul Gait will also rely on Shawn Williams, Shawn Evans and his Hall of Fame twin brother Gary Gait, who will continue to play minus conflicts coaching the Syracuse women’s team. No. 1 overall pick Sid Smith, from Six Nations, Ontario, and Syracuse University, fills a defensive void.

4. Boston Blazers
Coach: Tom Ryan
2009 Record: 10-6
Reigning NLL Most Valuable Player Dan Dawson (30g, 74a), all-star netminder Anthony Cosmo (10.14 GAA) and second-year coach Tom Ryan, minus his general manager duties, continue to lead a young Blazers team. If Max Siebald, the Tewaaraton Trophy winner from Cornell, ends his holdout and(ital) makes the difficult transition to the indoor game, much-needed offensive depth will follow. Fresh off the NCAA title, Syracuse’s Matt Abbott and Scott Kahoe also are making that adjustment.

5. Philadelphia Wings
Coach: Dave Huntley
2009 Record: 7-9
The Wings are on the rise as NLL 2008 MVP Athan Iannucci further distances himself from major knee surgery after the ‘08 season. In 10 games last season, he scored 23 goals on .192 shooting. Geoff Snider, who also missed part of the ‘09 season due to injury, brings faceoff expertise, scoring punch and toughness, and Merrick Thomson is a reliable scoring threat (39g). Playoff hopes hinge on defense, where both goaltenders finished last in the NLL.

6. Toronto Rock
Coach: Troy Cordingley
2009 Record: 6-10
The five-time NLL champions from 1999-2005 are embarking on another rebuilding job, having hired their third head coach in less than one year. Troy Cordingley, fresh off leading Calgary to the NLL crown, replaced Jamie Batley, who replaced Glenn Clark after an 0-2 start in ‘09. Offseason acquisitions of new GM Terry Sanderson centered on veteran defenders (Sandy Chapman and Phil Sanderson) and rookie forwards, including experienced box player Garrett Billings, the sixth overall pick out of Virginia and the Western Lacrosse Association Rookie of the Year -- that is, until Sanderson brought home Colin Doyle (111p) from the Stealth. Doyle helped Toronto rule the NLL earlier this decade.


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