As he’s done every season since taking over as Head Coach/General Manager of the New York Lizards in 2012, Joe Spallina is willing to make whatever moves he feels will improve the roster and put the team in position to challenge for the Major League Lacrosse (MLL) championship.
This year is no exception.
On June 8, the Lizards acquired faceoff specialist Tommy Kelly, a local product out of Rocky Point High School, from Denver in exchange for their first-round pick in the 2019 draft. An all-star last season, Kelly made an immediate impact in his first two games with New York, winning 18 faceoffs the day after the trade in a tough loss to visiting Florida and then dominating draws (26 of 37) to help lead an important 20-16 home victory over first-place Charlotte on June 16.
“I’ve never been shy about making a move to help the team,” Spallina said. “I’ve known Tommy a long time since he was a high school student of mine. It’s been incredible to watch him grow into one of the premier faceoff guys in the league. We gave up a lot, but he’s a gamechanger.”
New York’s offensive stars — Paul Rabil, Rob Pannell and Will Manny — scored five goals apiece in the win over Charlotte as the Lizards got back to .500 at 4-4. Drew Adams, the franchise’s fixture between the pipes, made 18 saves and got additional support from defenders Joe Fletcher and Austin Pifani, who both scored their first goals of the season.
“Having Paul, Rob and Will on attack puts a lot of stress on a defense,” Spallina said. “When they’re on the same page, we’re tough to stop.”
Manny’s 28 goals ranked him tied for tops in the league with Florida’s Dylan Molloy and Dallas’ Ty Thompson despite playing one fewer game. Pannell leads the MLL in points (51) and assists (28), while Rabil added to his legacy recently with his 542nd career point, making him the league’s all-time scoring leader, and goal No. 300. Michael Bocklet (16 goals) and Joe Walters (12 goals, 15 assists) are also key offensive pieces.
Rabil, the No. 1-overall pick in the 2008 draft by Boston, was acquired by Spallina on the cusp of the 2015 campaign and helped lead the Lizards to the league title. Pannell has 184 career goals, all with New York after he was chosen No. 1-overall in 2012. After Manny came to town in a trade from Boston midway through last season, he scored 17 goals in six games.
“We put a lot of pressure on ourselves to win,” Pannell said. “We like the way we’re playing lately and we absolutely have what it takes to go all the way. We have one of the best players in the league at each position. We just have to play with confidence and play smart.”
The Lizards are back home this Saturday against Ohio in another pivotal game. The 7 p.m. start caps a special day at Hofstra that begins five hours earlier with a girls’ lacrosse clinic. At 3:30 p.m., the New York Fight will face the Upstate Pride in a Women’s Professional Lacrosse League game. The Lizards, in partnership with the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, will honor 13-year-old Mason Batz of Lindenhurst in a Random Act of Light. Batz will sign a one-day contract, partake in a press conference, be assigned a locker, given a jersey, announced as part of the starting lineup, and watch the action from the sideline.