Arena Lacrosse League Playoffs preview

by Lance Winn

Heading into the Quarter-Final Weekend, we thought we'd present our Arena Lacrosse League Power Rankings - Playoff Edition. With such a tight knit group of teams once you get past the league leading St. Catharines ShockWave, our rankings are much different than the final regular season standings. The second seed Peterborough Timbermen and seventh seeded Whitby Steelhawks rankings should jump out at you. Why? Because these two teams play each other Saturday in the ALL Quarter-Finals with the winner moving on to the final four.

St. Catharines ShockWave 13-1 (1st place regular season) – Easily the class of the Arena Lacrosse League regular season, booking their ticket to the Final Four with 11 straight wins to open the season before the Six Nations Snipers ended the streak. The ShockWave have a solid well balanced offense, Bryan Neufeld, Chris Attwood, Layne Smith, Caleb Wiles, the list goes on. Defensively led by Mitch Dumont and Jordan Houtby, the ShockWave play an all out pressure defense, add the physicality of Bill O’Brien and it’s a punishing defense as well. This team is terrific in transition with Brooker Muir, Dylan Laprade and others moving the ball up with speed and if not scoring, making smart decisions to get the ball to the offense. What needs to be seen is how Coach Henry distributes the playoff games goaltending wise as they split every game this season between four goalies before losing Gowah Abrams to the Philadelphia Wings. Regardless, each of the goalies have had standout seasons, fitting for the top ranked ShockWave as they get ready to show the lacrosse world their regular season was only a stepping stone to their goal of winning the ALL Cup April 14.

Peterborough Timbermen 9-5 (2nd place regular season) – Winners of 4 of their last 5 games has the Timbermen primed for a playoff run. Led by the league’s top goaltender in Nick Damude, the Timbermen play an all round defense system based more on position than over aggressive play (save for the always tenacious Doug Utting) allowing Damude to use his strong stand up, get big style of goaltending that had Nick leading the league with a 11.20 Goal Against Average (for goalies with 5 games or more). The offense matches up well with any team in the ALL as five players average 5 or more points per game with Mark Vradenburg leading the way with 77 points finishing second in the league. The Timbermen’s transition game lost a huge component with the promotion of Colton Armstrong (17 ALL goals in 10 ALL games) to the Rochester Knighthawks, but the overall balance of the offense is tops in the league and can make up for any lack of back end goals. Aaron Woods, Tim Bergin, along with Cameron Simpson (if he is made available from the Knighthawks) comprise the right side and Ty Thompson, Fred Hartley, and Blake Kenny complement Vradenburg on the left side. 

Whitby Steelhawks 5-9 (7th place regular season) – That’s correct the 7th and last place Steelhawks are 3rd in our playoff power rankings and that is due to two things; the addition of some key players including JP Kealey and Austin Murphy (both key components in their 2018 Championship run), as well as jelling at the right time heading into the playoffs, with four wins in their last six games after an 0 and 6 start to the season. Lucas Coote has shown recently that he is regaining the form and confidence that he played with during the 3-win playoff run last season and that bolds well for the defense who can play a more aggressive style lead by Cory Upshaw and former NLLer Dan Ball. The offense received a shot in the arm when assistant coach Chad Culp came off the bench to provide a spark along side Cam Milligan and rookie sensation Luke Pilcher, an 18-year-old who led the Steelhawks and ALL rookies in goals with 29. But adding Murphy, returning after a hand injury and Kealey, joining the team for the final regular season game in which he dominated with 4 goals and 5 assists has to have Head Coaches Brad MacArthur and Gavin Prout liking their chances to repeat as ALL Cup Champions.

Six Nations Snipers – 5-9 (6th place regular season) – We wavered between the Snipers and the Outlaws for the 4th and 5th spot in our playoffs power ranking, but any team that knocks off the top team in the league (handing the ShockWave their only regular season loss 14-9) deserves to be considered a top 4 contender. The Snipers are a young, hard working group led by veteran Wayne Vanevery, they hustle every night for 60 minutes, losing their 9 games by a total of 16 goals and only one loss by three or more goals (4, last game of season against Peterborough). Jake Lazore has provided top level goaltending through the 2019 season and if he brings this to the playoffs, look out. This is a team that gives their opponents fits, again just ask the ShockWave who may have won 2 of 3 from the Snipers but by a combine negative 2 goals. The defense plays a sound positional game, looking for timely slides and support. Their transition game is arguably second best in league behind the ShockWave and their offense is so well balanced you can’t pick a player to play shutdown defense against, it would have to be a team effort. Their only real hindrance is their inexperience but Head Coach Darcy Powless is confident that the Snipers can find ways to win and doing this against the RiverWolves will book a Final Four spot at their home venue, the ILA.

Oshawa Outlaws – 6-8 (4th place regular season) – The Outlaws has been consistently inconsistent this season in the ALL but they showcase the league point leader in John St. John (79 pts) and goal scorer Luke Laszkiewicz (36 goals) and that has to count for something. St. John and lefty partner Geoff McNulty are two of the top passes in the league, St. John leading with 50 and McNulty finishing fifth with 41, many of those assists on goals scored by Laszkiewicz. Their problem is they struggle to keep the ball out of their net as they had the second worst goals against league wide, just ahead of Whitby (who gave up the majority of their goals earlier in the season). Some nights their defense looks like top three in the league (see games vs Toronto and a recent game against Peterborough), other nights they struggle (see games against Whitby and Six Nations). Rance Vigneux was the 1st star in their late season win over the 2nd place Timbermen, if he can bring that performance into the Outlaws quarter-final game that would be key if the Outlaws are to book their spot in the Final Four. Losing Captain Mike Triolo to the Rochester Knighthawks won’t help the Outlaws chances and they will need a team effort to move on.

Paris RiverWolves – 6-8 (3rd place regular season) – The RiverWolves are a team that can baffle many observers, the team has been undermanned on the offensive side for the majority of the season, losing last season’s ALL MVP Mike Burke after 3 games to the Rochester Knighthawks and all around player Connor Goodwin to a season ending injury after a terrific start, but with some creativeness by Head Coach Jamie Dubrick, the team has been able to win 6 games and finish in 3rd place. Dubrick moved some defensive players up front and was rewarded with Josh Mederios and Drake Smith both having 5 goals games in separate wins during the season. Adding Scott Johnston, along the return of Brett Ulbikas has shored up a leaky back end and provided some much needed transition. A trade deadline deal for Eddie Renaud has solidified the offense that has been carried by Dan Keane (7th in points and 4th in goals) but the RiverWolves need to have everyone show up to play if they have any chance of beating the hard working Snipers and move onto the Final Four.

Toronto Monarchs - 5-9 (5th place regular season) – Turning over the majority of a team is usually disastrous for any team but after a 5 and 3 start, the Monarchs looked like it was a smooth transition. Unfortunately losing so many key players and having those that did return (Jordan Dance, Tyler Ferriera, Jayson Crawford, etc.) miss many of the games in the 2nd half of the season has the Monarchs reeling and on a six game losing streak to close out the regular season. Last year’s Coach of the Year Blaine McCauley added Dan Lomas in a late season trade, has Dance and Ferriera committed to playing in the playoffs and this bolds well for the Monarchs if they are to get the ship righted and get on the 3 game win streak that is needed to win the ALL Cup. Rookie Sam Postma has been a solid addition on the right side of the offense, leading ALL rookies in scoring with 71 points, finishing 4th overall in the league. The one “ace in the hole” the Monarchs have is goaltender Craig Wende, the acrobatic goalie, who is the league’s best goalie passer, can steal games with his performance and if he is on come Sunday in the Monarchs Quarter-Final game against the Outlaws, the Monarchs stand a good chance as anybody to move on to the Final Four weekend April 13 and 14.

There you go lacrosse fans, come join us at the TRAC Saturday and Sunday for some great ALL action. If you can't join us live, be sure to tune in to our live webcast of each playoff game. Click on the schedule at the top of the page to get the link to the live broadcast.