When the PLL’s expansion team, Waterdogs LC, was announced this offseason, it offered the opportunity to see how the league would handle slightly diluting its rosters while still trying to create a competitor.
First things first, they brought in Andy Copelan as a head coach. While Copelan is new to the professional lacrosse ranks, he is not new to high-level lacrosse. He was the head coach at Fairfield for more than a decade, producing multiple professional players, and had also served as the offensive coordinator for an outstanding Maryland team.
Once Copelan was at the reigns, we started learning what kind of team he wanted. The common theme presented fairly quickly was two-way middies, and it hasn’t been much of a secret. When he was able to choose the core of his roster in the PLL Expansion Draft, it was clear that this was where he decided to go. When combining that draft with the incoming MLL players, a second theme began to emerge: Team Canada.
This team is not just Chaos 2.0. They are going to have their own distinct personality, and it also would not be smart to count this team out just because its an expansion group.
The big reason why this is not your typical expansion team is that regardless of the players, the Waterdogs won’t be that far behind the other teams. The Atlas and Chrome both have new coaches. The Chrome is totally rebuilt. The Atlas and Archers both have brand new quarterbacks running their offenses. The Redwoods are replacing a major player at nearly every position. The Chaos are also loaded with fresh faces. That is a lot of change, only leaving the Whipsnakes – the defending champs – who are going to be in an uphill battle for literally every team in the league, and the Waterdogs don’t even see them before a possible playoff game.
In preparing to look at this team, the logical place seemed to be getting to know the middies, who are expected to be the workhorses for their fast-paced style. Both Zach Currier and Dan Eipp were in full agreement that this already feels like a real team even before they arrived on the ground in Salt Lake City.
“A lot of us have played together on other teams,” Currier said. “If I don’t know them, I know other guys that have played with them in the past. The lacrosse community is so small that there is already a high level of familiarity with each other.”
Eipp also echoed those sentiments.
“I even have my best friend on the team, Christian Cuccinello,” Eipp explained. “We’ve been on the same team for the last three years and are actually great friends.
“It’s been very cordial and friendly, we are definitely building chemistry,” Eipp explained regarding the preseason team building, even on a remote basis.
The little twist with this team’s approach was introduced when the season was shortened from a full-length touring campaign to just the two week Championship Series. The question had to be asked: could this team still push a run-and-gun, two-way middie style with so little recovery between games? In short, yes. Eipp said it comes down to who’s on the team.
“(Copelan) wants Swiss Army knife guys that we can use in different situations,” Eipp ensured. “He wants everyone to be comfortable playing everywhere.”
Currier, who may be the best two-way player in the world, said there are several factors that go into maintaining that style.
“One thing Coach Copelan said is that he doesn’t want to be a team that just subs all game,” Currier commented. “There are not many guys who I would be worried about getting stuck on defense. Short sticks will always be picked on, but we have good poles to help out. We’re never going to pull the reigns back, and Coach Copelan will never ask us to hold back if we see the opportunity. Having the background of playing fast in the winter will be an advantage.”
The last point by Currier is a key.
There is a large Team Canada portion of this team – six of 22 players hail from the Great North – but even the other players have some box experience. Kieran McArdle, Drew Snider, and Connor Kelly have all played in the NLL or Team USA Indoor. The Canadian contingent will prove especially useful in this format. Not only can they leverage their experience from the 2018 World Championship in Netanya, Israel, for the short turnaround, Currier also mentioned how their summers playing box in Canada translates exceptionally well.
“Going with the Canadian model, a lot of us play in the Major Series Lacrosse or Senior A,” Currier continued. “That means two to three games per week all season, and then up to seven games in 10 days for each playoff series. You can have a regular season could be shorter than the playoff season, so we are used to playing a lot of games in a short period of time.
“Playing over in Israel was tough for us, so that’s been a motivating factor for us. We’re all going to come in with a chip on our shoulders.”
When it comes to staying in game shape for all those games, and if it changes how you play, Currier felt there was no impact.
“For the Mann Cup, you have the seven games in 10 days, and there are games where are they are purely physical games,” Currier said. “Early in the series when a team is trying to gain an advantage, they will come out and just try to play as physical as possible to wear you down for the series.”
On top of these box games, Currier has been maintaining his NLL and MLL careers simultaneously. Last year alone, he played 63 games. For many pro lacrosse players, getting back out there is all they can think about.
“There is only one game with the Peterborough Lakers where I thought about the next game,” Currier reflected. “I had a small injury developing, and since we were up by a lot already, I sat out the last few minutes. Every other time, I only think about the game I’m playing.”
If the approach and the mentality is right, what about the actual on-the-field play of the Waterdogs?
Along with Currier and Eipp at midfield are Snider, Kelly, and Ben McIntosh. Every one of them is a major scoring threat on their own and are highly adept at working a two-man game to get the switch they need or take advantage of defensive miscommunication. This is about as solid and well-rounded of a midfield group as you can ask for.
For faceoffs, Drew Simoneau and Jake Withers are both on board. Both of them are looking for something to prove. Withers has been phenomenal indoors, taking draws and playing defense, but his professional outdoor accolades have not kept pace recently. Simoneau’s 2019 campaign was also one to forget as he had one of the worst face-off percentages in the PLL among specialists.
A little intrasquad competition never hurt nobody 😂🐶 pic.twitter.com/dSV1gC6b46
— Waterdogs Lacrosse Club (@PLLWaterdogs) July 24, 2020
Down at attack, the Waterdogs have Ben Reeves, Cuccinello, McArdle, Ryan Drenner, and Wes Berg. Eipp had high praise for Drenner specifically.
“Drenner’s a person I’m looking forward to playing with again,” Eipp said. “We were together on the Japan trip last year. He adapts and can play multiple positions, and he was just open all the time.”
Currier, on the other hand, thought back to his college days and dealing with Yale every year for a player he’s excited to be in the same jersey as.
“Ben Reeves, I watched him destroy our defense for a few years. So it will be nice to finally be on the same side.” Currier stated.
Defensively, things are going to be interesting depending on the matchups. For Eipp, he said early on it was clear that Brodie Merrill was the one taking charge as a natural leader for the group.
“Absolutely. That goes without question. He’s a leader from a defensive standpoint and a whole team standpoint,” Eipp said. “We have (Chris) Sabia as a great cover guy. I’m also excited to see (Ryland) Rees, BJ Grill, and the others.”
Rees and Noah Richard sharing time at the LSM spot will be interesting. Even with shared duties last year for Atlas, Richard chipped in a two-point goal and a pair of one pointers. Giving him a green light should provide even more opportunity for that range to show. Rees has shown incredible ability in his young career. He was an all-world defender in 2018 while still in college. He went on to earn All-Star honors as an MLL rookie and was a finalist for MLL Defensive Player of the Year. Joining those poles are short sticks Steve DeNapoli and Kyle McClany, both of whom are proven reliable defenders for when the Waterdogs run their standard six on defense.
That only leaves the goalies.
With no season to work from, there is not a guaranteed starter on day one before training camp helps sort things out. The two in Salt Lake in the running are Charlie Cipriano and rookie Matt Deluca. Cipriano was picked up in the expansion, coming over from the Chaos where his save percentage was stellar, but he only made three saves all year. Deluca is coming off a strong career at Delaware where he saw his pro stock skyrocket following a junior campaign that recorded the third-best save percentage in the country. Even if Deluca winds up as the starter, Cipriano will invaluably provide some veteran experience.
When asking both Eipp and Currier to provide some final insight into the team, they each felt the Waterdogs will exceed anyone’s expectations. Eipp thought the format actually helps them as a new team because it’s brand new to everyone.
“Nobody has an advantage,” Eipp replied. “I’m excited. I’m excited to be apart of it. I don’t have any worries.”
For Currier, he is just full of confidence regarding the team.
“Everyone is saying we’re underdogs, but we’re not.”
Waterdogs LC 2020 Schedule
All Times Eastern
- Game 1: Sunday 7/26 vs Atlas 4:00 p.m. NBC
- Game 2: Tuesday 7/28 vs Archers 7:00 p.m. NBC Sports Network
- Game 3: Friday 7/31 vs Chrome 9:30 p.m. NBC Gold
- Game 4: Saturday 8/1 vs Chaos 3:30 p.m. NBC Gold
- Elimination Round: Tuesday 8/4
This schedule will be a little bit rough for the Waterdogs. Having their first game against the midfield-heavy Atlas could really expose some of their two-way mentality if their matchups don’t go as planned. Combined with some matchups issues with the Atlas attack, expect to see some against piling up. They should get their goals, but I think they will just be too exposed defensively.
Did anyone mention it’s on NBC?
Game number two with the Archers iwill be very difficult, but the close defense is a better matchup with the Archers’ attack compared to Atlas. This is a game where the two-way style can generate some good transition points. If the Waterdogs have themselves figured out and have a good game, this is winnable.
Game three against the Chrome will be an interesting battle. There’s a lot of box influence and familiarity on both of these teams, so even though the styles and approach will contrast, they might be able to keep this close. The key will be Waterdogs transition goals compared to holding off the Chrome settled offense. Whoever controls the tempo will probably win.
Wrapping this up against Chaos will be nothing but fun to watch. Expect a ton of back and forth action from both teams. And with the playoff seedings potentially on the line, there could be quite a bit to play for at this point.