ILIndoor Roundtable: Unbeaten Wings look good, but can they sustain the momentum?

Drew Westervelt, left, and Brodie Merrill give the Wings a balance of Yankee and Canuck talent. (Photo: Larry Palumbo)
Drew Westervelt, left, and Brodie Merrill give the Wings a balance of Yankee and Canuck talent. (Photo: Larry Palumbo)

We see it every year in the National Lacrosse League and 2013 is no different. A surprise. There’s always a surprise. And this year, it’s the Philadelphia Wings. The franchise packed with so much history and so much winning has fallen on hard times as of late when it comes to the NLL playoffs. Even last year, the team started well before it unraveled down the stretch. But today, the Philadelphia Wings are the NLL’s lone undefeated team. Yeah, the only one. And we here at ILIndoor believe that qualifies for at least a minor surprise, so staffers Bob Chavez, Stephen Stamp, Casey Vock and Ty Pilson tackle the issue.

Is the American experiment in Philadelphia working?

CHAVEZ: We’re just 3 weeks in and there’s just 1 undefeated team left, which to me speaks volumes already about the parity around the NLL. And that undefeated team is the one we all projected to finish at the bottom, the Philadelphia Wings. That could still happen, of course, but right now the Wings are the talk of the league following Friday’s big win at Toronto. So let’s talk about the Wings and what they’re doing right. Is the American experiment working?

STAMP: It’s just two games, so we don’t want to get ahead of ourselves, but I see some really good things happening with the Wings. Their chemistry in the offensive zone has developed very quickly. They made some really nice passing plays against the Rock that show a comfort level with each other that I wouldn’t have expected to see from them this early in the season. Kevin Crowley is showing poise and leadership that make you understand why Johnny Mouradian felt comfortable trading away Dan Dawson. Brandon Miller has had another terrific start to the season. … But the big thing is the defence. … It helps that the Wings employ a defensive system that emphasizes their strengths in one-on-one coverage rather than elaborate systems. I’m just really surprised that they are playing this well already. Now the big test will be what happens when things break down and they lose some games, because with all the teams in the league so good it will happen. Their response will speak volumes.

VOCK: My view coming into the season was that the Wings were trying to stack too many Americans on one roster with only marketability in mind. I was off base. … The Wings are benefiting from both the Americans’ familiarity with one another, as well as a few well-placed Canadians … As Brendan Mundorf pointed out when I spoke to him last week, the team is full of big, strong, fast guys, most of them former college stars. You see that in the likes of Kyle Hartzell, CJ Costabile, Mike Manley, Chad Wiedmaier, and Joel White … (who) could end up being the steal of that big wild trade if Paul Rabil doesn’t blossom this season into the 25-30 goal scorer he wants to be, and probably can be. But look no further than Drew Westervelt to see that Rabil doesn’t necessarily NEED to produce that much; he just needs to be himself and his team will benefit.

PILSON: Two games does not a season make. The win over Toronto was very impressive, but the Wings came out of the gate hard last year, too, before sputtering out. If they play like this all season, we can say the American Experiment has worked. I still don’t think they have enough punch on offence. Brandon Miller has been hands down the league MVP to this point. He has played simply incredible and is one big reason they have started 2-0. This team deserves a pat on the back for what they have done to this point. Now, can they keep doing it?

CHAVEZ: I agree with Casey 100% about White. I loved the way that kid looked last year in Rochester but his reps there obviously were limited. I think he’s got a bright future. And for as many points as you guys all make, I think the addition of Kevin Ross can’t be understated. He brings some the kind of grit that Philly hasn’t seen in a while. The Wings were 7-4 last season before losing their final 5 games and they did win 2 of 3 against the Rock, but this there’s just something different about this year’s squad. Put yourself in Johnny Mouradian’s shoes: What do you tell these guys to help them maintain their mojo?

STAMP: They won their first two games, but they scored exactly ONE goal in the first half Saturday. So on offence they had better be ready to keep working hard and moving the ball if they want their success to continue. The players will realize how much they had to do to create eight goals against the Rock and know they can’t coast at all. On defence, he needs to reinforce exactly what Ty pointed out. Miller has been the MVP of the league and without him playing the way he did has they could just as easily be 0-2. They’ve earned their wins but they’d better not be counting on Miller maintaining an .865 save percentage the rest of the year, because the shooters in the NLL are just too good for anyone to do that. The key is to keep using their brains as well as their brawn.

VOCK: I’d tell them to maintain their underdog attitude as long as possible. Like Stamp’s nailed here, the Wings could easily be 1-1 or even 0-2, as we saw Buffalo basically look like a totally different team the night after losing to Philly. It just seems in this league that you’ll want to do everything you can to not get too caught up in your own success, because the next game is always right in your face. The Wings need to take what they can from these first two wins and try to find a way to improve. Adjusting to other teams is important, but they’ll need to adjust internally with one another as they evolve. Change is afoot with the looming addition of transition man Max Seibald, and later, talented forward Brendan Mundorf, which should be positives if the team congeals. There’s good reason for Philly to be on an early-season high, but there’s a lot of lacrosse left to play.

PILSON: There have been lots of surprises early this season, but should we really be surprised? We talk all the time about parity and ‘Any Given Sunday’ and we are seeing it so far. The Wings have only averaged 10.5 goals a game but it’s been enough to go 2-0. Calgary has scored 11.5 and are 0-2. No team can get too low and the Wings can’t afford to get too high. I agree keeping the underdog mentality is definitely the way to go. In my mind, they still are underdogs. They have a lot to prove this year — just like the Rush and the Knighthawks did last year. No one will remember they started 2-0 when the season ends and the playoffs start. Keeping the momentum is the real task at hand for Philly.

CHAVEZ: If last season wasn’t a lesson for the Wings, I don’t know what can be. But it points to what you guys are saying in that there’s a lot of ball left to play so the Wings need to stay on point and make sure teammates are doing that, too. That comes from coaches, but it also needs to come from the guys actually wearing the colors. The young guys in Philly need to see a teammate — whoever that is — to continue to be a leader and remind them that whatever they’re all doing right now is producing wins. And that’s why they’re there, because Philly and the NLL needs the Wings to be back on top.

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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