Welcome to my 2016 Boston Cannons Preview. Now, if you are anything like me, you are overwhelmed with excitement as the 2016 MLL season gets closer and closer to starting.
This season begins as the last one ends, with Rochester and New York facing off in a championship game rematch… but the team I am going to focus on here is the one who almost made it to the final game, falling just one goal shy of it. I am referring of course, to the 2016 Boston Cannons.
The Cannons started last offseason with a trade that changed the course of their franchise, and New York’s. This was of course the trading of Paul Rabil to New York for Max Seibald. After two straight losing seasons, the Cannons needed to make something happen. They had arguably the biggest bargaining chip in the MLL, who also was asking for a trade, but the question was whether or not they could find the right deal . When the dust settled, New York was the destination and nearly everyone involved was in shock. This left Boston as a reinvented franchise and coach John Tucker turned them into a high speed transition team that returned to the playoffs once again.
The Lizards were the heavy favorite all year to win the title, but Boston played them close in both of their games together, losing 15-14, and 15-12. When they met the third time in the playoffs, the Cannons finally scored 15 goals. Unfortunately, so did the Lizards. But, once in overtime, the Cannons were on the wrong side of a play that will be a classic MLL highlight reel for years to come. Cannons goalie Adam Ghitleman carried the ball into the offensive zone, face dodged the MLL Defensive Player of the Year in Joe Fletcher, took a shot on MLL Goalie of the Year Drew Adams, and was stuffed. Adams immediately passed JoJo Marasco, who was right around the midline, Marasco found Rabil at the top of the two point line, and Rabil then fed Matt Gibson on the side of the crease for the game winner.
This offseason was not one of stability for the Cannons, but they were by no means alone there. Coach Tucker did not renew his contract in Boston and is now in the same position for the expansion Atlanta Blaze. The addition of the Blaze to the league caused everyone’s rosters to shakeup a little and there were plenty of trades as coaches and GMs tried to reinvent themselves a little bit. In the middle of all of this, two other teams also are seeing new coaches on the sideline, meaning four of the nine teams have a new head coach for 2016. The expansion draft saw Tucker select three of his former Cannons right off the bat. While some trades did happen to get Brodie Merrill back in Boston, they sent 2015 breakout star Scott Ratliff to Georgia, where he grew up and now works. Enough about the past, though. It’s 2016! What’s happening now?!
2016 Boston Cannons Preview
To replace Tucker, the Cannons hired Sean Quirk, the longtime head coach at nearby Endicott College. Quirk was behind building Endicott into the program they are today, which has produced multiple MLL players, something not many D3 schools can boast. I had the pleasure of being able to speak with Quirk about his thoughts on this upcoming season and where he wants to take the Cannons.
The best place to start with the hire of Coach Quirk is really how his experience building a program at Endicott translates to the MLL. The jump from D3 to the MLL is a big one just in terms of speed and talent, but not to be overlooked is how different the operating models are. In college, you have nearly 24/7 access to your players. You practice almost every day and meet face to face. In the MLL, some players are local while others commute in just for games meaning phone calls, e-mails, texts, and individual workouts are crucial. So what did he feels translates? Building a culture.
In his own words: “I’m just such a big believer in building that championship caliber culture. Obviously every team in the MLL has a lot of talent…we did a lot of things in training camp that the Cannons haven’t ever done and I don’t think any MLL team has ever done…The (team is) really close already. They don’t think about themselves, they think about their teammates, winning games, and putting the franchise in front of everything else. And that’s kind of what we did at Endicott over a long period of time”
That culture resonated through our conversation. When I asked about the captains that were selected for this year (Will Manny and Max Seibald), he believes they do a great job and promoting the type of team first culture he wants to see. Even though they were captains last year, the team is different and the coaches are different. In training camp, he offered up a vote for captains and while those two were the obvious picks by consensus, he was also impressed by how many other players were also getting votes. He felt it really showed how many players are buying into the system and are seen as leaders by their peers.
The other thing I had to ask him about was how he views the NLL and NCAA players who are not available at the start of the season, and I was actually a little surprised by the answer. Not only is he keeping tabs on players, but in the case of the NLL players, he actually goes to watch them play. When the Toronto Rock were in New England to face the Black Wolves, he went to the game to see both Kevin Buchanan and Brodie Merrill in action. Selfishly, he would of course want them on the outdoor field as soon as possible, but he is very supportive their indoor efforts.
While their indoor success will keep them playing in that league longer, he has the attitude of “winning breeds winning”. If they are competing at a high level indoors, they can keep that momentum going outdoors. The same applied to their NCAA draft picks. He watches their games and keeps tabs on them as often as possible. There are a few picks that he is very excited for once they are able to join the team later in the spring.
The other part of the Cannons roster at play is the practice team. Quirk says he fully expects every player on their practice team to be able to suit up on game day if needed. While they could just as easily load up on purely local players, they really make no trade-offs for availability versus talent. To illustrate this, he pointed to their open tryout from just a few weeks ago. They invited some of the players from that tryout to their training camp and actually had three make it all the way through. Two of them will be on the sideline for their first game down in Charlotte.
In terms of what to expect from the Cannons on the field, you should bank on a very fast paced style. Quirk loved two way middies and transition lacrosse while he was at Endicott and recruited that style as much as possible. For anyone who pays even a little bit of attention to the NCAA, you should know that Brown and Tufts are highly associated with making fast break goals and high speed play a priority.
It just so happens that current Brown and former Tufts assistant Sean Kirwan has joined the Cannons staff this year. While at Tufts, Kirwan’s offense set an NCAA record in 2014 for goals scored. He then moved to Brown where he had the fifth highest scoring offense in 2015, and currently leads the NCAA in that category in 2016. This should translate very well to the shot clock and two point world of the MLL. Although with that track record, the shot clock may not matter.
The Cannons will open their season down in Charlotte and in week two they host the Blaze. Quirk does not expect any special attention to be paid towards the coaching staff or players on the Blaze as they are still focusing on what they can control and improving themselves as a team. It does make for a great story line for their first home game, though. They then have a week off to regroup a bit before a Thursday night game at Chesapeake followed by a Saturday date two days later, hosting the Rattlers.
As of right now, Boston is full of optimism and potential. With another team in the league, making the four team playoff just got a little bit harder. Every game will be a battle, which leaves little time for trying to find yourselves as a team. No matter what, the 2016 Cannons will be a fun team to watch!