Philadelphia’s plan to ride the arrival of Brodie Merrill, Dan Dawson and Kevin Crowley to heights that had been scaled only in memory for most of the last decade was going swimmingly through 11 games last year. A three-game winning streak had the Wings sitting at 7-4 and two games ahead of the field atop the National Lacrosse League’s East Division. Brandon Miller was playing at an all-star level in net, the defence was looking like they’d gotten the hang of what GM and Head Coach Johnny Mouradian wanted them to do and the offence was scoring enough to pull out wins. Ah, the heady days before the five-game losing streak to close out the regular season and the furious comeback that fell just one goal short in a 14-13 playoff loss to eventual champion Rochester. A lot of good things happened last year in Philly. The challenge for the Wings is to keep them happening longer this year.
2012: 7-9, Lost in East Semi
Top 3 returning scorers: Kevin Crowley (36-35-71), Brendan Mundorf (28-40-68), Drew Westervelt (36-19-55)
League leaders: None
Key Additions: F/T Jordan Hall (trade), T Paul Rabil (trade), T Kyle Hartzell (trade), T Joel White (trade), F Kevin Ross (free agent), F Kevin Buchanan (trade), G Kevin Croswell (trade), F Ethan Farrell (free agent), F Will Harrington (free agent), D Mike Manley (draft pick), D CJ Costabile (draft pick),
Key Departures: F Dan Dawson (trade), D Paul Dawson (trade), T David Brock (trade), F Mike Hominuck (trade), G Kurtis Wagar (free agent), F Matt Danowski (unsigned), D Chris Schiller (retired), Taylor Wray
Outlook: You can look at the Wings roster and say they traded away their best player and one of their toughest defenders when the Dawson brothers went to Rochester. Throw in emerging transition force David Brock gone to Buffalo and the fact that Philadelphia doesn’t own a first-round draft pick till after the next Summer Olympics and fans in the City of Brotherly Love can be excused for being a touch skeptical. The team is awash in Kevins who should help pick things up from last year. Crowley will be even better in his second year and as the first option on offence (and should have a banner year working with Drew Westervelt on the right side). Kevin Ross and Kevin Buchanan will join with Jordan Hall and Brendan Mundorf when the latter pair return from the Injured Reserve to form the best set of lefty forwards the team has had in ages.
Perhaps the biggest reason for optimism, though, is the arrival of Kevin Croswell from Washington. In the first nine games last year, Brandon Miller five times had save percentages of .780 or higher including three of at least .800. The rest of the way he posted a .715 mark that was a major factor in those five straight losses. Trouble was, the Wings didn’t really have anyone they felt confident turning to. With Croswell in town, they could give Miller some nights off during the season to help him stay fresh down the stretch. In fact, given that Croswell sported a .789 save percentage and 9.60 goals against average last year in the NLL then led MSL in both stats this past summer, Miller will need to stay sharp to keep his starting job. A real goalie competition could be just what the doctor ordered for Philadelphia.
The keepers had better be solid, because another high-turnover offseason in the defensive zone will likely mean a process of gelling for the new defenders on the Wings roster. Throw in the field-to-box transition for rookies CJ Costabile and Mike Manley and you’ve got a recipe for missed assignments and open looks. The newbies are athletic and talented, though, so they will get it eventually. The key to surviving while things get sorted will be whether last year’s breakout performers can continue the evolution of their games. Steve Holmes emerged as one of the best defenders in the league last year. Jeff Reynolds improved by leaps and bounds and Brett Manney showed signs of increasing consistency.
Then there’s the X factor. Paul Rabil is comin’ to town (seemed an appropriate turn of phrase with this article appearing on Christmas Day). Rabil is the best field player in the world and once hit Bob Watson with a shot so hard that it knocked Whipper backwards into the net as his gear flew all about him. That goal in the 2011 Champions Cup final was the kind of “did that really just happen” moment that not many players can produce. Now that Rabil is where he’s wanted to be for years, will he channel all of his vast potential into becoming a difference-making force on a nightly basis in the indoor game? You know Philadelphia sports fans…they’ll believe it when they see it. And they’re really hoping this is the year they see playoff success return to their franchise.Stamp is a TV sports announcer and lacrosse lover whose skill set made him a defender but who always dreamed of being a goal-scorer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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