Can you talk about the upgrades made on defense this offseason? A concern last year was the inability to clear the ball and giving second and third chances. Will there be new defensive schemes or was it about player personnel?
“We identified the defense as a place for upgrade based on the fact that we tied for the most penalty minutes in the league last season, had the second-highest goals against average and were eighth in both goals allowed and shots allowed per game. We made some key additions to help retool the back end to play the style of play we would like to play. We added John LaFontaine from the Saskatchewan Rush. John was key piece to the trade of Evan Kirk who we identified early in the off season. He is responsible in his own end and can move the ball. We then did a deal to get Adam Bomberry, another defenseman who has a winning pedigree, including a silver medal with the Iroquois National Team at the last World Indoor Championships. He is big, athletic and again, can play defense in his own end and push the ball up the floor. At the end of the summer, we also signed David Brock through free agency. David was a key piece for us as he is big, strong and tough, but can also run the floor. We went into the draft with our sights on two defensemen who fit this mold — Colton Watkinson, who we drafted 7th and Anthony Joaquim, who we drafted eighth. We wanted a more athletic, big, strong defense with great stick skills that could also push the ball up the floor. We want to dictate the play and not have the play dictated to us. I think we accomplished this in our off season moves.”
David Brock and John LaFontaine have played in the Champions Cup. How important is that kind of experience?
“Invaluable. It’s an intangible for the locker room, and is something we actively sought out in the offseason. We are surrounding our young players with veterans who have reached the pinnacle of our league and raised the Champions Cup. John has won two and played in three and David adds a veteran presence, who has been to a championship as well. Again, this was really important to us.”
It appeared that you had all the pieces in place on offense last year. Were there any adjustments made in that area?
“We added some help on the left side with Mark Cockerton, JP Kealey and Nick Mariano. Garret Thul is another fantastic addition, but we haven’t seen him yet due to his responsibilities with the Army. We feel those additions helped us round out our offense.”
Five of the 2017 Draft picks made the roster. Who impressed you in camp?
“They all did to be quite honest. We have seen a trend in the league with getting the right draft picks mixing them with your established guys and letting them gel. Every year we go into the draft with our strategic plan. Obviously you have to adjust based on what happens with the other teams. But this year, we went in with our plan and we came out with exactly what we wanted. The board fell our way. Colton Watkinson and Anthony Joaquim fit exactly what we wanted. Then we went and got JP Kealey who will fit in nicely on the left side and will fill the void left by the retirement of Chad Culp. Nick Chaykowsky was available and he fit that utility player we were looking for – he can play on the back end and then, if we need him to, he can move up to the right side on offense. One of the surprises of camp was Nick Mariano, an American field lacrosse player who expressed interest in playing box. We thought his athleticism would fit in and he earned a spot on our practice roster on the left side. So I would say between this draft and last year’s draft (Seth Oakes, Joel Coyle and Doug Jamieson) we got some building blocks of our foundation for the future, and I am happy to say they all signed multiyear deals so they can start to gel.”
There are a lot of new faces this season, especially in goal with the addition of Aaron Bold. What do you think he’ll bring to the team, especially with someone like Doug Jamieson, who had a great summer, as his backup?
“Doug had a great summer no doubt, but Doug is still young and learning the nuances of being a goalie. Aaron Bold is one of, if not the best goaltenders in the NLL. I measure success on how many championships you have won. Aaron has won two of them and been to the last three. That is so invaluable when you are talking about the goalie position. He is a veteran and a true professional who will also aid in Doug’s continued growth. Aaron is in phenomenal shape, understands the game and yet still looks for ways to constantly improve. As I said in an earlier question, I like to surround myself and this team with people who will make us better. Who better to have in goal than a two-time winner of the Champions Cup? If you want to win, surround yourself with winners.”
You brought some quality MLL guys to camp, such as Jake Froccaro, CJ Constabile and Larken Kemp who failed to make the team. Is it too much of a project or cross-over issues?
“No I don’t think so. I think this camp was the most competitive camp I have ever been involved with in the last six years. There are only 216 NLL jobs at this moment and there are many great players. The MLL guys we brought in did a very good job and some barely missed making the team, but the margin of error is so slight. A lot of the MLL guys didn’t have much NLL experience, but really impressed us, and they just need to play. With expansion coming next season, more jobs will open up and you will see many of these guys in the league.”
Were any roster moves made to protect the current guys from expansion?
“Of course. We know it is coming next year with two new teams and we have to think about the future of the organization and what that will look like. Some guys have earned the right to be a free agent and they can choose where they want to play so we need to know that and prepare for that. So yes, we did take that into the equation to shape the roster.”
Can you talk about the decision to release Bill O’Brien, seeing how popular he was with Black Wolves fans?
“I appreciate this question. First and foremost, on behalf of our entire organization, I want to thank Billy for all he did for and gave to the Black Wolves. Billy came to us three years ago as a free agent who was still learning the game. His athleticism and his willingness to be coached earned him a spot on the roster for three years. As with any player, he had to fight for his job every day. Our defense needed some retooling after last season and as a result, made Billy’s position one of the most competitive in camp. Every player had the same opportunity in camp. Very simply, players who made the team outplayed the ones who did not. That included Billy. Billy humbly and graciously acknowledged this in the letter he wrote to fans this weekend. (Click here to read)
“On a personal note, I was part of the team that found Billy in a free agent camp and signed him to his first professional lacrosse contract. I worked closely with him on many projects and we became and will remain good friends. It is always hard to make those calls to any player, but I assure you, this was the toughest one in all my years in sports. As expected, Billy handled himself with such class, despite a very difficult discussion for both of us. Billy gave so much to this organization and from ownership down, we are grateful for that. He helped build the foundation of the Black Wolves. No matter where life takes him, he will always be part of the pack!
“One question I want to clear up is about Billy signing a contract earlier in the fall and then being cut. Every player in training camp signs a contract, regardless of tenure with the team or in the league. Even with that contract, every player in camp must still try out and make the team. No spot is guaranteed.
“Finally, many fans asked about Billy being used to market the team. In his three seasons, Billy absolutely stepped up to help us build the organization, but many times was featured alongside Shawn Evans, Kevin Crowley, Kyle Buchanan, Kevin Buchanan and other long-tenured Black Wolves. Billy is unique in that he is exceptional at marketing via social media and he did a lot for us through his own personal channels. We are certainly grateful for his willingness to do that. While we know it’s tough to see Billy go, my hope is that fans will continue to support the team of 24 guys who will take the field for YOUR team on December 8th. They are ready to give their heart and soul to this franchise and to our great fan base.”