New-look Lizards a work in progress

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The landscape of professional lacrosse has changed, but the goal for the rebuilt New York Lizards remains the same — compete for the Major League Lacrosse (MLL) championship.

Five games into the 2019 campaign, the Lizards, with only a few returning starters from last season’s playoff team and a new coach, are still trying to find their way. They took a big step towards establishing some momentum with a 13-9 victory over the Dallas Rattlers on June 29 at Hofstra — the first of 10 games shown on MSG Networks.

Dylan Molloy and Ryan Walsh both had a hat trick, while Rob Pannell, the reigning league MVP, added two goals and three assists as the Lizards gave BJ O’Hara his first win as coach. New York dropped each of its first four games, with three defeats coming by a combined five goals.

“We’ve had one stinker but overall we’ve played pretty well, we just couldn’t close one out until tonight,” said O’Hara, who brought tons of coaching experience to the Lizards as well as championship pedigree, having won four MLL titles in 16 years including last season with Denver. “Probably us and the Rattlers brought back the fewest players from last year,” O’Hara added. “So we’re still a work in progress but we like our roster.”

The Lizards trailed Dallas 6-3 midway through the second quarter before finding another gear. Goaltender Austin Kaut made 11 saves, including several from point-blank range in the first half. Even defensemen Brett Osman and Scott Corcoran found the net in the fourth quarter to seal the outcome. Pannell’s assist on Corcoran’s goal made him the franchise’s all-time leading scorer with 388 points.

“I was telling coach during the week how this is the most frustrated I’ve ever been playing lacrosse,” said Pannell, a native of Smithtown and three-time Ivy League Player of the Year (Cornell) who was drafted No. 1 overall by the Lizards in 2012. “How we started the season wasn’t because of a lack of talent or effort,” he added. “Tonight we stayed positive and I thought the third quarter was really important. We’ll look to build off it.”

Pannell has led Lizards in scoring in each of his six professional seasons, including a career-high 78 points in 13 games a year ago on the way to earning MLL Most Valuable Player honors. Through five games this year, he has a team-leading 21 points (nine goals, 12 assists.) Last June 9, Pannell, a key member of the 2015 championship team, recorded a career-best 10-point game (three goals, seven assists) against Florida.

Molloy, who grew up in Setauket and starred at St. Anthony’s High School, was the No. 1 pick of the 2017 MLL draft by Florida and spent his first two seasons with the Launch. Like Pannell, he was also Ivy League Player of the Year (Brown University, 2015.) Molloy led Florida in scoring last season with 59 points, with eight of those (six goals) coming June 9 against the Lizards. He leads New York in goals with 10.

Kevin Crowley, who played collegiately at Stony Brook, is in his 10th MLL season and first with the Lizards. A midfielder, he spent the previous three campaigns with Charlotte after previous stops in Hamilton, Florida and Chesapeake. He was the league MVP in 2013 and so far has six goals and four assists.

Mark Matthews (four goals, three assists) is in his eighth MLL season and second stint with the Lizards after playing eight games for New York in 2013. Nicky Galasso and Justin Reh both appeared in three games for New York in 2018 and have taken on larger roles. Through five games, both had four goals and one assist. Jack Carrigan (Rockville Centre, Chaminade High School) is a three-year starter on defense, while Greg Puskuldjian leads the league in faceoff percentage.

“Greg’s work in the X always gives us a fair chance to stop the bleeding,” O’Hara said of Puskuldjian.

The Lizards have five home games remaining at Hofstra. Next up is Boston on July 11 at noon.