After almost four months of silence, Major League Lacrosse is somewhat back. The 2015 Supplemental Draft takes place this Wednesday, the Collegiate Draft follows just one month after that, and then we spend the following four months freaking out over how those picks are performing at their respective schools. MLL 2014 seems dead.
So before we turn our focus to the Supplemental Draft, I wanted to officially close out the year, by cleaning out the closet and tying up any loose ends, you know, speaking now or forever holding my peace. With that in mind, here’s everything left unsaid from the 2014 MLL season.
My MLL 2014 Awards
The guy I never wrote about but should have:
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In hindsight, I’m pretty sure I went all year without writing a single thing about New York defensive midfielder Steve DeNapoli, which is just flat-out unforgivable on my part. DeNapoli constantly pushed transition and held the opposition accountable any time they got caught on their heels, as evidenced by his career-high six assists (he had a total of five since he entered the league in 2011). While some lead the break only to dump the ball off and run to the bench, DeNapoli led the break to shove foolish turnovers and overall lack of hustle down other teams’ collective throats. Long story short, Steve DeNapoli can ball, you guys. Sorry about the year-long omission.
Guys who deserve recognition for awards they didn’t win:
If you enter a school talent show and one of the other contestants knows how to breakdance, you’re probably playing for second place. It’s just the way things work. Likewise, certain players were clearly picking up certain awards this year, and as a result, others didn’t receive proper praise for their efforts. Join me today in righting that wrong, as I proudly present the First Annual En Vogue Commemorative “Never Gonna Get It” Award: an opportunity to recognize three outstanding players deserving honorable mention for awards that other people were clearly going to win.
FAEVCNGGIA Rookie of the Year: Justin Ward
A year of dominant rookie performances (mixed with Charlotte’s unfortunate four-win season) forced Justin Ward under the radar in 2014, but while everyone watched the McArdles and Cockertons and Wolfs (Wolfs? Shouldn’t it be Wolves? That’s the plural of Wolf, right? Somebody get back to me on that) of the world, all Ward did was lead his team with 33 points and 21 assists, the assists good for second-most by a rookie in MLL history. Here’s another way to look at that assist total: the Hounds who finished 2nd-5th on the team combined for 21 assists. That’s the work of four men. A model of consistency, Ward scored three or more points in eight of his ten games, including three consecutive four-point performances to begin his career.
FAEVCNGGIA Defensive Player of the Year: Joe Fletcher
Have you ever seen a group of people fighting for a ground ball, and suddenly one guy swoops out of nowhere and picks it up like there’s nothing to it? Sure you have, it’s like when you and your brother are fighting over a toy, so Mom pops up and says “Guess what? It’s mine now.” That’s not a regular ground ball, and shouldn’t be categorized in such a basic fashion, so, until someone chimes in with another suggestion, I’m calling it a Brodie. Anyway, Joe Fletcher is going to lead all defensemen in Brodies next season, just you wait.
FAEVCNGGIA MVP: Peter Baum
When the MVP results were announced, Ohio’s Peter Baum was nowhere to be found. In fact, he didn’t even make the top ten. Make sense? Well, let’s recap for a second: Baum joins the team, scores 50 points mainly from the midfield (he dropped to attack when Steele Stanwick got injured and the team didn’t miss a beat, speaking to his flexibility as well), Ohio makes the playoffs for the first time, and the man gets absolutely zero MVP consideration? How do you think Kyle Harrison felt about drawing a short stick almost every time he walked on the field? I’m guessing he felt pretty good. You think he gets that without Baum? I don’t think so.
Oh, and speaking of MVP…
Casey Powell won the actual MLL MVP using a broken stick.
Not sure if everyone noticed, but roughly halfway through the season, Casey Powell’s stick broke near the top of the head. What did he do? He taped it up in the middle like some nerd’s glasses and went about his business of shattering the all-time scoring record, the egos of countless defenders and everything we thought we knew about the aging process. League MVP with a broken stick and some athletic tape. Remember that next time you’re worried about your swag, kids.
Oh, and since we’re talking about Powell, time for some tremendously pointless nitpicking: The press release for Powell’s MVP award said he was a three-time All-American at Syracuse. Not quite, press release – Powell was a three-time first team All-American; he earned second-team honors his freshman year. Matter of fact, the Syracuse #22 jersey was worn by an All-American every season from 1988-2004. Hey, I told you it was pointless nitpicking.
“Six Changes” Revisited
Back in January I wrote (with help from some of you guys) a piece called “Six Changes you want to See in Major League Lacrosse,” and I’m happy to report that most of our wishes came true, which I can almost guarantee was entirely a coincidence. Let’s take a look back at some of our demands:
Check. The league took some big chances in the wardrobe department (most notably their Ohio-Denver “May the 4th” Star Wars uniforms), and their efforts were generally well-received. Even better, they auctioned off much of the gear for various charities, making the whole thing that much better. As far as standard weekly uniforms go, Chesapeake debuted new “Oregon Ducks meets Seattle Seahawks” jerseys, with two additional teams set to receive revamped uniform designs each season.
New Equipment Companies
Big ol’ jumbo check. I mean, where do we even start with this one? We got STX and Maverik gear, Adrenaline socks and shirts, all sorts of stringing sponsors, you name it. All those custom gloves? Whoo. Whee. Were all partners happy with their sponsorship terms and exposure? Let’s hope so, because the equipment variety was a refreshing change. While we’re on the subject, is 2015 Nike’s year to jump in the game? You may not have heard (Nike hasn’t updated their facebook or twitter since July 22 when they were promoting an event called “The Ride”), but Miles, Jeremy and Jerome Thompson all signed deals with Nike lacrosse back in October. Let’s see how they plan to capitalize on that.
New All-Star Game Competitions
Well, we wanted change, and we got change, so, there’s that. That accuracy contest didn’t go half as well as one would assume, but you can’t blame the league for trying to spice things up. An accuracy contest isn’t even necessarily a bad idea; the shots just weren’t falling, and the poor players were left out there for what felt like an hour. I’ll give it a C+. Besides, by the time the third quarter came around, everybody was talking about Zak Dorn anyway.
A Universal Pronunciation of Poillon
Sorry Peet, we’ll get ‘em next year.
Finally, a fond farewell
As the great Boys II Men taught us so many years ago, it’s tremendously difficult to say goodbye to yesterday. Unfortunately, it must be done, and 2014 marked the end of several outstanding MLL careers. So with the final bit of unfinished business, it’s time to say goodbye to some of the game’s great contributors. Cue up that Sarah McLachlan song (not that one from the commercial with the sad puppies, the “I will remember you” one. Don’t you ever play the sad puppy one – what’s wrong with you?), and let’s bring it home.
Kyle Dixon: The most prolific long-range shooter in league history, Dixon finishes his career with 52 two-pointers, 19 more than Roy Colsey, who’s second on the list. The closest active player? Paul Rabil, who has netted 32 in his seven seasons in the league (and has a total of four in the past two seasons, so Kyle’s not exactly sweating yet).
Dixon holds three of the five greatest two-point seasons in MLL history, including an absurd 2012 in which he drained 15 of them. You know who else dropped 15 two-pointers that season? The Ohio Machine. That’s it. Kyle Dixon scored more two-pointers than six entire teams, and the seventh team merely tied him. When Dixon started putting up numbers like that, opposing defenses had to reconsider when to pick up transitioning middies, how far out to play during penalty kills, where on the field someone becomes an scoring threat, etc. “Pack in it and hope for the best” was no longer an option, and while it may prove temporary (this summer was the first since 2008 where no team reached double-digit two-point totals), that’s how Kyle Dixon changed the game.
Greg Bice: Has anyone put in more work for Ohio lacrosse than Greg Bice? All American at Ohio State, co-owner of Columbus-based Resolute Lacrosse camps and clubs, broadcaster for Ohio State games on the Big Ten Network, and of course, one of the original captains of the Ohio Machine. Even without his Ohio affiliation, Bice was the perfect choice to usher an expansion team through their first years in the league, having done so previously with the LA Riptide back in 2006. A two-time sportsman of the year who served as team captain for five of his 11 seasons in the league, not to mention member of the Lacrosse the Nations board of directors, Bice assembled a resume that anyone should seek to emulate, and that’s without mentioning a single statistic or on-field accolade.
Lee Zink: When he was at his absolute best, Lee Zink was an eraser – think Winston Wolf in Pulp Fiction or Richard Sherman without being transcendentally unlikable. Simply put, the man made problems disappear. In 2012, Zink ended Brodie Merrill’s six-year stranglehold on the Defensive Player of the Year award, then followed up by becoming the only defender other than Merrill to win the award twice. Zink’s 2013 season was so dominant, I specifically remember that time someone scored against him one-on-one. It was John Grant Jr, and I think four or five people in my timeline tweeted about it, like we’d just seen a UFO landing or something and wanted to make sure we weren’t the only ones. Zink was one of a miniscule list of defensive players capable of turning a game into a five-on-five battle, opposing teams often accepting the loss of their star attackman and moving on accordingly. There’s a new crop of star defensemen currently making their way through the league – can any of them do it as efficiently as Zink for as long as he did? It won’t be easy.
Ryan Boyle: Ryan Boyle’s a unanimous “Don’t even waste everyone’s time voting” Hall of Fame lacrosse player, so I’ll just put a few quick notes here and we can move on: Rookie of the Year, 272 career assists (an MLL record), 449 points (third all-time) and four championship rings. Incredible.
Now, ever since he left Princeton, something has always bothered me about Ryan Boyle. Not him personally, or anything he does, it’s actually all about the way people often seem to perceive him. When you mention Ryan Boyle, everyone always wants to talk about how smart he is. High lacrosse IQ, uncanny field sense, coach on the field, blah blah blah. Don’t get me wrong, he might be smarter than each and every one of us, but it’s a major disservice to assume his success is strictly based on fancy book learnin. Back in High School, in addition to the whole lacrosse thing, he was a star quarterback who earned USA Today honorable mention All-State honors (Darren Sproles and Larry Fitzgerald were honorable mention recipients the same year) and didn’t lose a single game in his final two seasons.
Long story short, he’s a pretty good athlete, not just a smart guy who likes sports. When applauding his intelligence, make sure you’re not discounting the athletic ability, focus and relentless dedication that got him so far. Sure, he made it look easy, but we weren’t witness to all the hard work that went into it. You weren’t with him shooting in the gym, people.
Stephen Berger: You guys saw the Powerade commercial, you know the deal: NCAA D3 product gets picked dead last in the 2004 draft, fights for some playing time, next thing you know, he’s played in more games than all but six guys in league history, racking up close to 300 points in the process. Berger was a consummate showman with a knack for clutch performances and covert antagonism; whatever was going down, he always seemed to be right in the middle of it.
Furthermore, his stellar performances weren’t confined to the game itself; from his freestyle competition exploits (his “Time machine” gimmick featuring Joe Spallina’s son, dressing up in a body suit and storming the field in disguise, spinning on the stick like a skateboard before kicking it & sending the ball into the goal, etc.), to tweeting his way into announcing the final pick at the 2014 Collegiate Draft, no one appeared to enjoy their time in the league more than Berger. We sure enjoyed it as well.
Kevin Leveille: If “elite” means everyone knows what you want to do and they simply can’t stop it from happening, few fit the definition more than Kevin Leveille. You know he’s going to cut off-ball, and more often than not, there’s just nothing you can do about it. In fact, there’s a decent chance that no man has ever combined as much productivity with as little actually having the ball as he did. After all, when Leveille scored a goal, the goal-scoring itself was just a technicality; once it left the feeder’s stick, go ahead and change the scoreboard. There’s an art to being a successful finisher, and few, if any, did it quite like he could.
Leveille leaves the game ranked second all-time with 279 goals (although he was the record-holder for a while this summer) first in game-winners (14, including the league’s only Double OT game), and his stellar 2014 was one in which he was not only named captain of the US team, but led the Rattlers to the championship game. A quick peek at Kevin Leveille’s Wikipedia page revealed an additional exploit:
“Kevin once played an entire game hopping on just his left foot, not surprisingly he has 5 goals and an assist”
And if Wikipedia said it, you’d have to assume it’s true.
On that note, that’s all I’ve got for the 2014 MLL season. And just like that, it’s time to run it back. The supplemental draft takes place this Wednesday at noon and the Charlotte Hounds are on the clock. So long 2014, let the 2015 season begin.