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How merry is this Christmas during cut week for National Lacrosse League?

Is Steve Toll's departure this week's biggest surprise of the NLL cuts?
Is Steve Toll's departure this week's biggest surprise of the NLL cuts?

It’s the day before Christmas and maybe you’re dealing with the surprise of having to score that last-minute gift for the the person you forgot to include on your list. But what if you’re Tom Ryan? Or Kyle Schmelzle, or Josh Funk, or Steve Toll, or Bob Snider? You’re these guys and you’re preparing for a 2011 National Lacrosse League season and all of a sudden, you’re not. Ryan was fired as coach of the Boston Blazers on Thursday after 2 seasons with the team. Schmelzle was cut by the Bandits, Funk from the Swarm, Toll from the Knighthawks and Snider from the Stealth. Maybe these fellas saw the moves coming, maybe they didn’t. But for those of us on the outside looking in, these are among the bigger NLL surprises this week.

Of course, players and coaches knew this week was the week for NLL teams to have their 23-man rosters into the league office. And there were plenty of on-the-bubble players who knew their odds were slim.

But Ryan? Dude had the Blazers in the playoffs in each of the last 2 seasons, but first-round exits happened both times. It was going to be an interesting season, watching Ryan work an offense that had Casey Powell and Josh Sanderson added to the front door to work with Dan Dawson, but now we’ll have to see what another, as yet unnamed coach will do with that lineup. Big surprise to see Ryan let go.

As for Schmelzle and Funk and Toll and Snider, we’re not here to pick on them. They’re just among the bigger names we saw on the cut lists. Schmelzle appeared to have a bright defensive future in Buffalo, but he was let go on the same day as Joe Smith, another defensive stud with a future ahead of him. Smith, of course, landed on his feet with Philadelphia. And as much as these guys have contributed to Buffalo’s success of late, coach Darris Kilgour has contributed more with his ability to mold a system that’s worked quite well in Bandit Land. And if there’s one thing you can’t argue with, it’s the scoreboard.

Toll’s release in Rochester was interesting. Great defense and great leadership skills with a knack for picking off passes, he’ll be missed in Rochester unless someone there steps up. Really steps up. The Birds still have a talented group out the back door with the likes of Pat McCready, Scott Ditzell, Kyle Laverty, Troy Bonterre, Sid Smith, Matt Zash and Ian Rubel, but Toll brought brought some real wheels out of the back end with a finishing touch if it was needed. A bonus stick, if you will. It’s easy to question this move, but then again, with Jody Gage back in the front office, you have to stand back and respect it. If there’s one thing Gage does well, it’s build champions.

Out in Minnesota, Funk was a defender who played his heart out and Snider’s first season in Philadelphia was solid if not spectacular. He ended up out West when he was traded, but it’s one thing to crack an NLL roster these days, quite another to earn a spot with the defending champs.

To be sure, these aren’t the only surprises. Jeff Bigas, who was solid with the outstanding Titans teams of the last few seasons, didn’t make the cut in Philly, along with Matt Danowski. Holdon Vyse didn’t stick in Buffalo. Kevin Fines and Bobby McBride are out in Rochester. And Brad Richardson, who performed so well on faceoffs last year in Colorado, is looking for a new roster.

Thing is, with the way the NLL is, we can’t be exactly sure that some of these guys were cut for lack of talent. Some might have conflicts with work and won’t be able to get time off to travel. Some need to be closer to home. Others may be dinged a bit, but not enough to be put on injured reserve or any of the other NLL lists.

What we do know is that if these cuts are healthy and ready to go, there are some talented lacrosse players out there looking for work. And that’s the surprise that makes Christmas 2010 not so jolly.

Chavez is an avid lacrosse player in Rochester and a journalist for the Democrat and Chronicle as well as a longtime Inside Lacrosse contributor. Email him at bob.chavez@nllinsider.com or go to RochesterSports.com.

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