April 7, 2014 by Alec Surmani in Preview with 7 comments
The Western Conference teams may have soaked up much of the attention last season, largely due to their pool of big names from the likes of Revolver and Sockeye, but it was one of their brothers to the east that walked away with the MLU title in the end.
If the reinforced and even more dangerous rosters of the Eastern Conference have anything to say about it this year, however, the headlines might be telling some different stories—and capturing more of the fans’ fascination.
To be clear, the Whitecaps are still the favorite to win it all again. But given the reinvigorated identities of the Current, Rumble, and Spinners, the path to a repeat is not going to be an easy one.
Here’s a look at the major personnel changes the teams of the Eastern Conference made in the offseason.
Returning: Jeff Graham (The Ghosts), Brandon “Muffin” Malecek (Ironside), Josh Markette (Ironside), Danny Clark (Ironside)
Adding: Matt Rebholz (Ironside), Jeremy Nixon (Garuda), Lee Farnsworth (Wild Card), Piers MacNaughton (Ironside)
Lost: Peter Prial (Ironside), Will Neff (Ironside), Misha Horowitz (The Ghosts)
Coming off their perfect inaugural season, the Boston Whitecaps retain sixteen players from their 2013 championship run and look poised to defend their title. Expect to see Josh Markette, who led the league with 62 points last year (23 goals, 39 assists), leading the cutting, Brandon “Muffin” Malecek putting up monster hucks, and Jeff Graham coming down with even more ridiculous grabs. Add in other solid contributors like Danny Clark, Seth Reinhardt, Alex Cooper, and Teddy Browar-Jarus, and it doesn’t look too good for the rest of the teams in the Eastern Conference. That’s before you add in the additions of Ironside handler Matt Rebholz, Wild Card cutter Lee Farnsworth, and Harvard Redline stars Jeremy Nixon and Piers MacNaughton, the latter of which won College Player of the Year for the New England Region last year.
Perhaps the only questions threatening to dilute the Whitecaps’ dominance are the pieces they’re losing from last year. Peter Prial led the league with 35 goals last year, often while drawing the opponents’ best defenders, but will be playing with the DC Current this season. Former Callahan winner Will Neff will refrain from playing in the MLU to focus on his role on Ironside, citing that he just didn’t have the energy to play both seasons.
Helping manage this new Whitecaps identity will be Sam Rosenthal, who has been a member of the masters team Surly for a number of their title runs and replaces Jason Adams as Boston’s new head coach. Though such changes will certainly demand adjustments, given the strength of their roster across the board — which features more than a dozen Ironside players — the odds of a repeat seem to be in the Whitecaps’ favor.
Returning: Alan Kolick (Truck Stop), Sean Keegan (Truck Stop), Markham Shofner (Truck Stop), Jeff Wodatch (Truck Stop)
Adding: Peter Prial (Ironside), Cody Johnston (Truck Stop), David “Duke” Boylan-Kolchin (Truck Stop)
Lost: Ryan Todd (The Ghosts), Jonathan Neeley (Truck Stop)
After their rough 13-24 loss to the Whitecaps in the Eastern Conference Championships last year, one can bet that the Washington DC Current are bent on vengeance this season. And with eighteen returners and a few key pickups, such a goal seems within their reach. Handlers Alan Kolick and Markham Shofner, who finished second and third in the league in assists at 34 and 33 respectively, will once again anchor the backfield, along with their club teammate, utility man Sean Keegan.
Fellow Truck Stop brethren Jeff Wodatch and Robert Dulabon will reprise their roles as experienced cutters downfield to help them out. On the other side of the disc, big playmakers like Delrico Johnson (Medicine Men) and Dan Kantor (Truck Stop) will return as well, bringing leadership and tenacity to the D line.
In addition to the players that helped make them a force in the east last year, the Current’s new acquisitions are sure to play a big part in their 2014 season. Chief among these is dominant cutter Peter Prial, who finished third overall in points (35 goals, 20 assists) in 2013 with the Whitecaps. His presence on the O line will not only provide the handlers with one of the best targets in the game, but will also often draw the focus of opposing teams’ defenses, opening up lanes for other cutters.
The inclusion of Sockeye mainstay Nate Castine, who was on the roster last year but didn’t play due to injuries, on the O line will also help to make it one of the most formidable in the league. Moreover, ten additional rookies, including William and Mary star Cody Johnston, will round out the roster and look to bring the Washington DC team closer to the title game. Given the overall strength and depth of the league, however, Head Coach Keven Moldenhauer and the Current will have their work cut out for them.
Returning: Chris Mazur (PoNY), Ben Faust (The Ghosts), Dan Heijmen (PoNY), Robbie Gillies (PoNY)
Adding: Jack Marsh (PoNY), Isaac Saul (En Sabah Nur), Sean Murray (Spinners), Kevin Riley (PoNY)
Lost: Kevin Terry (PoNY), Rob Baker (PoNY)
Missing the playoffs in the last game of the season by two points is the kind of motivation that can push a team to come out next year determined to demand the respect they believe they deserve, and that’s just what the New York Rumble are looking to do.
Among the thirteen returners are Eastern Conference MVP Chris Mazur and Ben Faust, the two driving forces behind the O line. Mazur tallied the second most points in the MLU with 24 goals and 32 assists, while Faust broke the top ten as well with 16 goals and 29 assists.
Although the D line wasn’t quite as stacked — and will be losing one of its leaders in Rob Baker, who finished first in the league in D’s with 21 — the New York team re-signed a number of standouts from last year, including defensive guru Jonathan Cox, and will seek to build a stronger chemistry and presence with them this year.
Aiding in this quest for improvement will be a number of strong additions that make the Rumble look like a potential top contender in the east. PoNY captain Jack Marsh, along with club teammates Kevin Riley, David “T-Lake” Vuckovich, and Michael Hennessy all join the team to round out the 13 active PoNY players on the roster.
The Rumble will also be welcoming Sean Murray from the Spinners, who finished with 26 goals last year, Pitt graduate and solid handler Isaac Saul, Marques Brownlee from the now-defunct AUDL team the New Jersey Hammerheads, and Adrian Banerji from the world champion U-23 team. Given this bolstering of an already talented squad, along with a new head coach in Anthony Nuñez, New York might very well find themselves in a position to challenge Boston for the best team in the east.
Returning: Art Shull, Patrick Diviney, Dan Furfari (AMP), Trey Katzenbach
Adding: Alex Peters (AMP), Matt Esser (Phoenix), David Brandolph (Phoenix), Jake Rainwater
Lost: Sean Murray, Nick Purifico (AMP)
Though they once again come into the MLU season with the fewest number of big names from club circuit, and their last place finish last year didn’t turn any heads, the Philadelphia Spinners just might be a different team this season. They re-signed most of their main contributors last year in Art Shull, Patrick Diviney, Dave Baer, Trey Katzenbach, and Nick Hirannet, almost all of who have been playing with the team since their inaugural 2012 season in the AUDL. While the team will be losing its main goal scorer in Sean Murray to the Current, the addition of some much-need firepower added over the offseason should more than make up for the loss.
Jake Rainwater, 2012 AUDL MVP and perhaps the biggest single factor in the team’s championship run that year, will return to the Spinners after taking a year off from professional ultimate. David Brandolph and Matt Esser will also be coming over from the AUDL’s Philadelphia Phoenix. Brandolph earned Eastern Conference MVP in 2013, racking up the second most assists in the league at 70, while Esser dominated in various categories as the only player last year to tally at least 35 goals, assists, and D’s.
Moreover, the Spinners also mined the rosters of two teams that each had a great 2013. Six players from Philadelphia’s AMP, a Pro Flight mixed team, will be playing for the city’s MLU team this season, including newcomers Alex Peters, Matt Zumbrum, and Matt Paparone. Another six players from back-to-back college champions Pittsburgh En Sabah Nur will also be joining the Spinners after the college season ends: Callahan nominee Marcus Ranii-Dropcho, Nexgen star Trent Dillon, Max Thorne, Pat Earles, Aaron Watson, and Jonah Wisch. This massive influx of ultimate talent, along with Wild Card’s Gabe Colton, will no doubt turn the Spinners into a new force to be reckoned with in 2014.
With an even deeper and more talented roster than they had in 2013, the Boston Whitecaps are once again the odds-on favorite to take the Eastern Division. But their undefeated season from last year doesn’t look likely to repeat.
Every other team in the East has upgraded as well — and arguably more than the Whitecaps. New York adds Jack Marsh, Isaac Saul, and Marques Brownlee; Washington steals away Peter Prial. Philadelphia may still be the underdog in the division, but the addition of Jake Rainwater and Matt Esser gives them two big downfield weapons they lacked last season.
The Whitecaps had some close calls on the road last season, including a one point nailbiter against the Current in Week 2. They aren’t likely to come away from those kinds of games with wins this season.
The Rumble look like the team best positioned to grab the second playoff spot in the East this year. After a late season letdown saw them miss the postseason last year, the Rumble have come into 2014 hungry and focused. With some big upgrades on the roster and many of their players coming off of a highly successful club season with PoNY, they look poised for an improved year.
The DC Current hopes to, once again, bury those hopes. The Current were more mentally dialed in for their close battles with the Rumble late last year; that psychological edge will still be there. How will new players like Prial and their large number of rookies mesh with an experienced DC core? If they can develop chemistry quickly, they could easily outshine the Rumble and perhaps finally get one in the win column against the Whitecaps.
Philadelphia still looks to be a notch below the rest of the East in the talent department. Getting Jake Rainwater back is huge for them, but do they have the role players to match up with the deep benches around the league? A big question mark this season will be how the team integrates the Pittsburgh contingent in late May and early June. Getting elite, young talent during the middle of the season could prove to be a shot in the arm for the team, but only if they can incorporate them into the team’s sets quickly.