Editor’s Note: This is part of an ongoing series, previewing each NLL team as the season approaches. Today, we preview the Philadelphia Wings. This is Philadelphia’s first season back in the NLL. Read our other NLL team previews: Calgary Roughnecks, New England Black Wolves, Colorado Mammoth, Buffalo Bandits, Toronto Rock, Saskatchewan Rush.
While celebrating the return of the Philadelphia Wings may seem like old hat at this point, it still cannot be underscored how important it is for the league to have Philly back in the mix of things. This was a team that spanned eras and has always been a staple in professional indoor lacrosse. Getting this team back always is a bit of a personal thing for me as well. Back in 2014, I was down in Philly for the Men’s ACC Championship at what was then PPL Park. The end of those games coincided with the start of the final Wings home game of the year, against the Colorado Mammoth. I went to that, they had the full team available for autograph sessions afterwards, and it was a great way to cap off a Saturday evening. Then, just three months later it was announced that the Wings were moving to Connecticut, and I had without knowing it, seen their last game in Philly. Until now.
The Wings coming back now are definitely not the 2014 Wings. Going back to that roster, there are only three familiar names left. Jordan Hall will be an Assistant Captain this season. Current Assistant Coach Tracey Kelusky played in every other game that season, but not this one. It was also his last year as a player since he moved to the bench full time the next season in New England. Finally, 2014 backup goalie Chris Collins is back, but is now on the practice squad, meshing well with is weekday duties coaching across town at Drexel. For comparison, that 2014 Mammoth teams also is returning just three players this season. Dan Coates, Dillon Ward, and Joey Cupido are the only remnants from then. So while the past four seasons are very different for both teams, it’s a good reminder that especially in lacrosse, the only thing constant is change.
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But enough nostalgia, let’s take a look at who is making up team one in Philly.
Lefty Forwards: 1 – Matt Rambo; 44- Jordan Hall; 45 – Chris Cloutier
Righty Forwards: 11 – Brett Hickey; 27 – Josh Currier; 46 – Kiel Matisz
Transition: 9 – Trevor Baptiste; 28 – Vaughn Harris; 34 – Adam Osika
Defense: 3 – Dylan Evans; 12 – Liam Patten; 17 – Chet Koneczny; 19 – Zac Reid; 21 – Steph Charbonneau; 22 – Brayden Hill; 83 – Frank Brown; 29 – Liam Byrnes; 33 – Anthony Joaquim; 81 – Joakim Miller
Goalies: 57 – Doug Buchan; 65 – Davide Diruscio
Practice Squad: D-Justin Guterding; D-Isaiah Davis-Allen; G-Chris Collins
IR: LF – Blaze Riorden
For me, looking at this lineup gives me a couple of initial thoughts. The offense will be a handful, the defense has potential, and the goalies need to be proven. Starting with the goalies, you have a rookie who will be dealing with the steep NLL learning curve, and a vet who is coming off a terrible injury a season ago. If head coach Paul Day loses faith in either of those keepers, Collins from the practice squad could come in, but he hasn’t seen NLL minutes since the Wings were last in Philly. But when asking Day who has the edge right now, he said they’re looking at splitting time fairly evenly at the moment. The starter for game one may only get a half. If they’re hot, they probably won’t start game two. Given the youth of their defense, he’s looking for solid production and a calming presence between the pipes, which they both can provide.
Jumping to the offense, this is going to be a physical unit to deal with on every shift, and it’s also where the most experience is, which is completely on purpose. According to Day, he received some advice directly from one of the most successful recent expnasion teams in pro sports: the Vegas Golden Knights of the NHL. What was the advice? “Look for good leaders and proven goal scorers.” Rambo is the only truly unproven player up front, but must have showed very well in camp given that a left like Marty Bowes was release, who is one of the few American players that has truly embraced learning the box game. Having him alongside a veteran like Jordan Hall and a elite, yet young talent like Cloutier could give him the base he needs to grow. Cloutier is one of those guys that is a proven scorer, albeit everywhere but the NLL. Yet to be seen is how Blaze Riorden will be worked into the lineup when he leaves the IR, which is reportedly going to be after just a game.
For the righties, Kiel Matisz is going to be the team captain and likely running the show. He and Hall are being tasked with developing the team culture both on and off the floor. Pairing Matisz with the duo of Hickey and Currier creates a trio that should provide the most production for the Wings, and should be the most consistent. Matisz and Hickey are even more of a handful than the lefties, which could create some space for Currier to get some clear openings. This will be very important if the Wings are going to see success, but their defense is where the biggest question marks are.
Dylan Evans and Zac Reid may be the most experienced, while Baptiste is the only drafted rookie on the active roster (Guterding as a practice player was also a draft pick), but that leaves a ton players in the middle. Miller is an international player who Assistant Coach Tracey Kelusky is familiar with while coaching him on the Finland National team, and has been into an NLL camp before, but has not cracked a roster. Joaquim, Brown, and Harris were all expansion draft picks (interestingly, every expansion pick made the final roster), and Reid was acquired via trade. That leaves Byrnes (2 NLL games), Osika (0 games), Patten (5 games), Charbonneau (0 Games), and Hill (2 games) filling in the rest of this inexperienced defense. The final interesting names here are Koneczny, who has real NLL experience, but hasn’t played since 2014, and their practice squad. The common link with all this relative inexperience? Day was looking for guys spending time on NLL practice rosters, active in summer ball together, and experience in minto cup play. Their NLL experience is lacking, but their competitive floor time is not. Guterding and IDA are both big time names in the field game, but are seriously unproven indoors. I love IDA getting another real shot after his brief stint in Georgia, since for some reason SSDMs are woefully underlooked while their LSM cousins seem to get all the attention when scouting indoor potential. Seeing him on the practice rosters and Osika on the Active gives some clout to the Rodney Dangerfield position of lacrosse. Guterding as a defender also seems kind of crazy, but that’s exactly what fellow Blue Devil Ned Crotty did for the Wings back when he played NLL. Not a bad option for running the ball up the floor if he makes the move up to the active roster this season.
The biggest wildcard here is of course Trevor Baptiste. Baptiste is one of the first examples I’ve seen of an absolute dominant college FOGO start taking steps in college to increase his box IQ with the hopes of making an NLL roster. It’s paying off. He’ll of course be taking faceoffs primarily, but he has proven through his team USA tryouts that he can be an asset all over the floor. Success from Baptiste has the potential of really opening the doors to the NLL for other field specialists to get a more serious look.
In terms of schedule, there are three big dates on the Wings calendar. Of course this weekend season opener is the biggest, as they get to capitalize on having the first game of the year to really capture excitement. Following that up is their home game against Georgia on the 12th of January, when a big chunk of the lacrosse world will be in Philly for LaxCon. That should provide a nice boost as the crowd works their way down Broad street to check out the game. Then, a month later is the first matchup between the Wings and the Black Wolves. Few fan bases harbor resentment like Philly sports fans. The memory of the Black Wolves being formed from the relocated Wings is still fresh in the minds of many and that will be the beginning of a strong rivalry in this league.
To see the full Wings schedule, click here.