Six Nations Snipers back atop the ALL Power Rankings with Dominating win over Oshawa

by Paul St. John

Nick Finlay (grey tights) won't be in the background much longer if he continues his breakout play with the ALL's Peterborough Timbermen. (Photo: Tim Prothero)

The National Football League likes to use the phrase that any team can beat any other team on any given Sunday. That's a bit of a stretch when you have a team like the 2016 Cleveland Browns, who were highly unlikely to beat any team on any Sunday. In the inaugural 2017 season of the Arena Lacrosse League, though, we're seeing that the “any given Sunday” mantra is truly applicable.

Just look at Week 9's battle for first place. It turned out to be anything but a battle as the Six Nations Snipers leapfrogged the Oshawa Outlaws for top spot thanks to a 20-6 shellacking that could have been much worse if Zach Higgins hadn't played well in the first half of the game. What about the Peterborough Timbermen opening the season 0-6 then reeling off three straight wins? It's wide open every week in the ALL, and that's making things exciting with just 15 of the regular season's total of 42 games still to be played before the league's first championship weekend.

This week, I take a look at rising stars on each team who are making a name for themselves, hoping to parlay success this winter into greater opportunities moving forward.

Power Rankings

1 (3) Six Nations Snipers (6-3)
Last week: W 20-6 v Oshawa
This week: v Peterborough
First, a shout out to Haodais Maracle, who was having his best game of an excellent season for the Snipers before he crumpled to the turf with a leg injury late in the third quarter last Saturday. Maracle lay on the carpet for about 30 minutes before an ambulance crew had arrived and completed transferring him to a stretcher to take him to hospital. Everyone who was at the arena or who knows Maracle surely wishes him all the best in his recovery from what was clearly a serious injury. Here's hoping he's able to bounce back and resume his ascension in the game of lacrosse.

Maracle was one of five Snipers with at least 3 goals as Six Nations blew apart what was supposed to be a tight battle for first place with the Oshawa Outlaws. Oddly, Travis Longboat was quiet in the game. The righty is still third on the team in points with 36 and looks to have future star written all over him. Longboat has quick feet and good vision, but his most noticeable asset is a terrific shot from mid to long range. His release is fluid and he can shoot accurately from a spot or on the run.

Longboat will need to add some size and strength, but he's got plenty of time for that given that he has two years of junior lacrosse remaining. Amazingly, Six Nations has another rising star who is even younger than Longboat. Layne Smith is a lefty forward with three years of junior eligibility left. He's fourth on the team in points and leads the Snipers with 20 goals. Smith has the opposite challenge ahead to Longboat in that he could use improved fitness to excel at the next level. Not much can stop him from scoring, though. Smith has a great shot that he can get off quickly and seemingly from any angle or position on the floor.

2 (6) Paris RiverWolves (5-4)
Last week: W 17-13 v Toronto
This week: v St. Catharines
Paris' exciting win over Toronto applied the trampoline effect to the RiverWolves, bouncing them up from last place in the Week 8 Power Rankings to second this week. I said last week that Paris was missing a bunch of players and could well rebound with a full lineup; they did so in spades. The game saw 12 power play goals and a shorthanded marker.

Paris also has a young player on the rise in Travis Burton. Having turned 20 on New Year's Day, the Brampton native has two years of junior left. He's a big, physical transition player who isn't afraid to mix it up. He moves the ball up the floor well and has decent stick skills. With a couple more years' attention to his defensive zone awareness, Burton has the potential to be an impact player at the MSL level and his athleticism should translate to an NLL shot when he reaches the draft in 2018, especially if there is expansion of several teams in the pro league.

An older player trying to get some attention back in his home province is Paris' Brad Mazzocato. The transition player from Milton has spent the last four summers in Namaimo, playing for the WLA's Timbermen. He's listed at a lanky 6'0”, 190 pounds but shows a wiry strength that allows him to battle hard for loose balls and play a physical game. Mazzocato's greatest asset, though, is his fluid speed to run the ball out of trouble and into the offensive zone. The 26-year-old doesn't get a lot of attention with the perpetually struggling Timbermen, but he has turned some eyes his way with his consistently dynamic and intelligent play for the RiverWolves.

3 (2) Toronto Monarchs (4-5)
Last week: L17-13 @ Paris
This week: v Oshawa
Luke and Seth Laidlaw are cousins who made their mark in Jr B with the Halton Hills Bulldogs. Luke is a lefty who turns 25 in a couple of weeks while Seth is a righty who turns 24 in a couple of months. Luke's career scoring peak was in 2012 when he put up 43 goals and 114 points for the Bulldogs. The next year, Seth led the team with 39 goals and 113 points. They each have 11 goals for the Monarchs this year while Luke has added 21 assists and Seth has 15 helpers. Has either or both shown enough to get a sniff at the NLL level? Not yet, but both have shown good hands and the ability to create scoring chances, which should give them a chance to catch on at the Sr B level where they can try to recapture the magic that had folks wondering how far they could go back in the Halton days.

4 (4) Peterborough Timbermen (3-6)
Last week: W 14-10 v St Catharines @ ILA
This week: @ Six Nations
Peterborough didn't even draft Nick Finlay, who plays Jr A with the Lakers and CUFLA with Trent. And they had plenty of chances—he didn't go to the Snipers until the 42nd round of the ALL draft. They eventually wound up acquiring him in exchange for their 36th-rounder, Eric Guiltinan, who had broken his leg before the draft and wasn't going to be playing this year at all. What a stroke of luck for the Timbermen that they got Finlay. He has been a revelation, using his size and gliding speed to generate transition. Finlay has also played well in his own end, providing solid defence. With a year left to play in junior, the 6'3” tranny should return to the Lakers with a ton of confidence and ready to play a major role, giving his stock for the NLL draft a boost. He is exactly the kind of player for whom the ALL was created. To be honest, I didn't even have him in my list of prospects for this fall's NLL draft. After his play with the Timbermen, I'll be keeping an eye on him this summer to see where he may fit into my Top 50 list.

Another player from whom not a lot was expected for Peterborough is Colton Armstrong. He bounced from forward to transition for the Jr C Lakers and wasn't on anyone's radar to move on to higher levels of the game. His dogged work ethic, athleticism and soft hands have stood out with the Timbermen, though. It would be tough for him to make the jump to MSL this summer primarily because there are only six teams and loads of talented players already filling their rosters, but he has shown that it would be worthwhile for someone to at least bring him to camp. Armstrong definitely has the chops to be a contributor at the Sr B level; performing well there and continuing to evolve his defensive game will give him a chance to go further.

5 (1) Oshawa Outlaws (5-3)
Last week: L20-6 @ Six Nations
This week: @ Toronto
Yes, this is a big drop for the Outlaws, falling all the way from #1 to #5. They were hanging by a thread in first, though, after losing to Peterborough a week ago, and their precipitous drop this week is due as much to effort as to result. Oshawa got pasted by the Snipers because they simply didn't show up to play. Effort can be turned around, so the Outlaws may be fine. What won't be easy for them, though, is replacing Matt Spanger and Zach Tomkinson. It was apparent the pair would be missed when Spanger was activated by New England and Tomkinson was signed to the practice squad and then activated by Buffalo. Without that pair, Oshawa's transition game loses much of its steam. Without its transition game, Oshawa's offence struggles to produce solid scoring chances. The Outlaws will be able to complete because they're the stingiest defensive team in the league and even without Zach Higgins in net they get solid goaltending from Lukas Coote, but they'll have to find ways to create scoring. The breathing room they had when they were 5-1 is almost all gone now that they're 5-3 while Paris has five wins, Toronto and St. Catharines have four and resurgent Peterborough has three.

One potential source for more offensive zip could be giving more floor time to Cam Mancini, who is Oshawa's most energetic player. He has scored 6 goals and 5 assists in five games and brings a spark to an Outlaws' offence that can be rather methodical. Plus, he's just plain fun to watch as he buzzes around the floor trying to make things happen.

6 (5) St. Catharines ShockWave (4-6)
Last week: L 14-10 v Peterborough @ ILA
This week: v Paris
In choosing a rising star for the ShockWave, it's tempting to go with Jeff Wittig. The big lefty forward has 16 goals and 30 points and he should be a force when he returns to the Jr A Athletics this summer. The player that's really stood out for me, though, is D/tranny Brooker Muir. The Brampton Jr A grad was picked by New England in the fourth round of the 2015 NLL draft but hasn't really been on the pro radar since. He has been impressive with St. Catharines, playing tough defence and barrelling up the floor with the ball in transition to produce 2 goals and 12 assists in six games. In my rankings for his NLL draft year, I described Muir as a heart and soul type who would go through a wall for his team. He still plays with that admirable approach but appears to have added some nuance to his game.