Two weeks in and still nothing but close contests. Eight games, six of them decided by a single goal, two in OT, and the closing seconds of games are already providing incredible moments. Each week, teams are making a statement about not just who they are that week, but if they are contenders for the crown or not. At this point, all eight teams have had great moments and not so great moments. Top Four still make the Championship Series, and there’s a case to be made for all eight teams to finish in that group. This week, here’s how we see it:
1. Archers (2-0)
The retool is working. Versatility has been the theme of the offense, not just for the Archers but for everyone. Archers have nailed it though. Connor Fields in his natural position looks great and has found a great balance between iso ball and being a facilitator. Schreiber at attack in the absense of Ament (or just forever, because why not) is working out incredibly well. Matt Moore can play anywhere, Connor DeSimone can move between attack and midfield, the rope unit can all play both ends. The rookies and young players, particularly Bond and Maher, have been outstanding. Lattrell Harris looks like a Boiardi winner. And Brett Dobson (this week’s guest on the Sticks In Podcast) is leading the league in saves and save percentage. The major problem for this team, the faceoff spot, has found a Sisselberger sized solution
2. Redwoods (2-0)
Tough to find a spot where the Woods can improve right now. The win over Waterdogs is a good one, and in a few weeks, it’ll just be a digit in the win column. But that was a game the Woods don’t win last year. Garrett Epple talked about it this team being different last year, using their game against Chrome in week two a season ago as an example. They got blown out in the game, and didn’t show a ton of fight. This was the opposite. From the moment they got on the board, and once they switched Epple to Sowers, the Woods oozed belief and fight. The defense is still outstanding, and 2nd overall pick Owen Grant likely joins them soon, as does Ryan Lee and Eli McLaughlin. Jack Kelly is off to a tremendous start. Gameplanning for the Redwoods right now must be brutal, because there’s just nothing to attack on either end.
3. Atlas (1-1)
Atlas got the monkey off their back and beat the Whips for the first time. I don’t fully trust the Atlas yet. They still feel a bit inconsistent to me. They’ve had to shuffle defensive matchups in both games so far to get Adler in a better position to impact the opposing team’s top weapon. The offense overcame a down day from Chris Gray, who outside of the game winner went 0-9, and Xander Dickson, who had a rookie-ish stat line. But they won anyway. And them going to Gray with the game on the line, despite that stat line, shows how much trust they have in each other. Jeff Teat will steal wins for this team on his own, he’s been the best player in the league through two games in my opinion. Midfield production needs to be consistent, and they need to establish a clear pecking order on defense to get matchups worked out in a way that makes players comfortable. When that happens, Atlas are excellent.
4. Waterdogs (1-1)
The defending champs drop from the top spot, in a pretty big way considering there are only eight teams. The Waterdogs defense has been strong, and Matt DeLuca has been outstanding in place of Dillon Ward. the Waterdogs have given up just 17 goals, the fewest in the league. The problem is, they also have scored just 17 goals, also the fewest in the league. Through two weeks, the team has gone how Michael Sowers has gone. Jack Rowlett won the matchup, the Waterdogs offense stalled. Sowers had early success against Arden Cohen of the Redwoods, but then a switch happened. Once Garrett Epple took over, and won, the Waterdogs again came to a grinding halt. Hopefully 1st round pick Thomas McConvey can join the team soon, but in the meantime, some more dodging threats need to emerge to carry the load.
5. Chaos (1-1)
Another week where I think the Chaos are better than their ranking, but they have that OT loss to the Waterdogs on the resume now. The Bandits are back, and that means Josh Byrne is out there to terrorize your defense again. There are a handful of players in the league who look like they can just decide to score, and then go score, on a given play. Byrne can look like that. Dhane Smith will return to the team likely following the World Championships, and with this team whole, they’ll be scary. Faceoffs look solid, rookies like Brian Minicus and Will Bowen both look outstanding, and the defense might be the best in the league. I haven’t checked the odds, but I’d Chaos are a team I’d check the title odds for now.
Chrome took a tough beating at the hands of the Archers in Charlotte. After a stellar first week, Cross Ferrera had a bit of a “welcome to the league” game as Graeme Hossack was all over him all night. There aren’t too many teams who can match up with the Chrome on pure physicality. Farrell facing off, Manley and JTGH down low, Terefenko and Messenger in the midfield, Handley and Heacock running over people, it’s just a team throws a wall of beef at you. Archers managed to stand up to it and eliminate transition, and Chrome were clearly frustrated. I’m expecting Dylan Molloy to be back with the team this weekend, as he looked like exactly what the doctor ordered for their offense on Friday. Chrome will get the Cannons,
7. Whipsnakes (0-2)
When the Whipsnakes are at seven in the power rankings, it’s time to go outside and see if the sky is falling. This just does not compute. But like the great Bill Parcells said, you are what your record says you are. Matt Rambo really elevated his game last week, but really, this team hasn’t solved a problem it had coming into the year. They drafted Dordevic to take pressure off Rambo, Zed, and Brad Smith. Brad Smith has been out, so basically Dordevic is now Brad Smith, and the Whips have the same problem. The team defense has had some lapses in big moments, which is difficult to believe. No dynasty lasts forever, but this is as mortal as the Whips have ever looked. They’re still good enough to beat anyone, but 0-2 is 0-2.
8. Cannons (0-2)
An OT loss to Chaos was a tough break. Cannons remain looking like a team on the cusp. Coach Holman said as much, in post game, it’s tough to sell that to guys who are 0-2, some of them haven’t had a win now in over a calendar year in a Cannons uniform. It’s a hungry group, they play like it. They look like a team that believes. I’ve talked to pros around the league who have played against them in camp and in games. The opinion of this team around the league is that they are competitive, they play hard, and they are improved, all that despite Lyle Thompson spending the summer playing box. Matt Campbell looks like a home run pick. A rookie midfielder who has the confidence to pull the trigger from two point range on the best goalie alive with the game on the line, that’s a special player. He and Ryan Drenner have been massive for these team to start the year, and as they continue to develop an identity, the Cannons will contend. They won’t be the best team in the league, but I’d give them an outside shot at sneaking into the Top Four near the end of the regular season.