Two years removed from capturing the Major League Lacrosse championship, the New York Lizards are in need of a strong finish to make the playoffs this season but took a considerable step June 29 with a thrilling 15-14 victory over first-place Ohio before a crowd of 5,108 at Hofstra.
Recent acquisitions Will Manny and Joe LoCascio dazzled in their debuts for the Lizards, who improved to 4-5. Manny scored five goals and LoCascio added four, including a game-winning two-point tally with 56 seconds remaining in regulation.
“This was a big one for a lot of reasons and we just have to keep winning games,” head coach Joe Spallina said. “We shook up the team a bit this week with the trade and that’s never easy, but we did it with boosting the offense in mind. To have Manny and LoCascio combine for nine goals in their first game with us is incredible.”
New York trailed 14-11 with 4:10 to go. Paul Rabil and Rob Pannell added two goals and four assists apiece, and goaltender Drew Adams made 18 saves.
“We’re heading into the all-star break now and there’s still a ton of lacrosse to play,” said faceoff specialist Greg Gurenlian, who won 16 of 23 draws in the 2015 title game and is entering the home stretch of his 12th and final MLL campaign. “We have the talent,” he added. “I’ve been in this league a long time and year-in and year-out there are teams under .500 at this point that find their way into the playoffs. It can be done.”
The Lizards have five games remaining, including home contests at Hofstra against Atlanta (July 13), Boston (July 20), and Charlotte (Aug. 5) “It’s a tough league to win and we know every game is going to be close,” said Adams, who’s played all 103 games of his career for the franchise with a save percentage of .534. “We’re capable of going on a run,” he added. “We have a tight locker room and good chemistry.”
Joe Fletcher and Kyle Hartzell anchor the defense in front of Adams, while Rabil (20 goals, 13 assists), Matt Gibson (20, 5) and Joe Walters (13, 12) are the leading scorers through nine games. Gurenlian, Rabil, Walters and Fletcher were named all-stars.
Rabil is arguably the most heralded player in league history and scored 49 goals a year ago to go along with 23 assists. In 35 games with the Lizards since a trade with Boston following the 2014 campaign, he has 101 goals and 56 assists.
Spallina is optimistic the return of Pannell (9 goals and 16 assists despite missing three games) and the recent roster shakeup can spark the Lizards enough to earn one of the league’s four postseason berths. Ohio (7-3) and defending champion Denver (6-2) look to have two of the spots locked, while the other two spots are up for grabs. “If we can take care of business and get in, I don’t think teams are going to want to play us,” Spallina said.
Two days before facing Ohio, the Lizards pulled the trigger on a deal that sent Dave Lawson and Chris LaPierre to Boston in exchange for Manny and LoCascio. Manny was the Cannons’ leading scorer through nine games, totaling 30 points with 18 goals and 12 assists. “Will Manny is an incredible player and has a very high character,” Spallina said. “He is currently top-five in the league in scoring but he is also a great energy guy that can play off the ball well.”
In LoCascio, the Lizards acquired one of Boston’s breakout stars. From May 13 until he was traded, LoCascio collected 10 goals and 13 points in four games; he scored four goals against Rochester to begin the hot streak.
Spallina hailed LoCascio as “another Long Island product that has really figured it out in the MLL this season. He gives us a right-handed shooter and dodger in the midfield.”
Following the July 8 all-star game in Sacramento, the Lizards return to action July 13 and will host their first annual Camp Day with a 12 p.m. start versus Atlanta. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit www.NYLizards.com.