With the PLL season less than a month away, Lacrosse Playground will be going through each team in the league to get ready for the upcoming season. With the merger with the MLL and an influx of talent from the college game, the PLL will be more competitive than ever. We’re here to help you sort through it all and get ready for what looks to be an exciting summer of lacrosse. After the preview, I’ll also be predicting each team’s initial 19-man active roster.
Ah, yes. Team Cana… Excuse me, I mean Chaos LC. The Ch-EH-os. A pseudo-Cinderella in the PLL Championship Series, the Chaos really hit their stride when their Canadian and Indigenous-led box-style, two-man games started clicking in harmony with their more traditional, dodging-style offense. Since the offseason began, Head Coach Andy Towers has doubled and tripled down on players with box backgrounds who can fit the team both culture-wise and on the field.
With a clear identity buttressed by a ton of talent up-and-down the field, and a goaltender that, contrary to what Matt Gaudet may say, certainly does not suck, the Chaos look every part a title contender in 2021.
On DraftKings Sportsbook, the Chaos currently sit at +575 odds to win the 2021 PLL Championship. Let’s take a look at their offseason additions, get Coach Andy Tower’s thoughts heading into training camp and see what we can expect from this squad.
2020 Championship Series Results:
Pool Play Record: (0-4)
Playoff Round: Defeated Chrome 19-14, defeated Archers 13-9 and lost to Whipsnakes in Championship 12-6
The Chaos’ run in the PLL Championship Series perfectly embodied the tumultuous year that was 2020. After a disappointing showing in the pool play, the Chaos transformed from the Tin Man to Iron Man in the playoffs, where everything started clicking. The defense was stout in front of an impenetrable Blaze Riorden in the cage. The offense, a mix of lightning quick American dodgers and Canadian and Indigenous pick-and-roll maestros, was diverse and relentless. They had a distinct swagger and flair from the top down.
They got sweet revenge against the Chrome, comfortably handled the Archers and roared out to a 6-2 lead over the defending champion Whipsnakes, a lead they held as late as the third quarter…
Then Joe Nardella happened. Then Zed Williams happened. Then this happened.
“Ideally,” Coach Andy Towers said, “we’re a quarter and a half better than we were last year.”
PLL Entry Draft: Max Adler (FO), Challen Rogers (M), Kyle Jackson (M)
PLL College Draft: Mac O’Keefe (A), Tanner Cook (M), Kyle Gallagher (FO), Jared Bernhardt (A), Kyle Thornton (D), Ryan Smith (A)
Player Pool: Austin Kaut (G), Chase Fraser (A), Dalton Crossan (M)
Trade: Ian MacKay (M), Chris Cloutier (A), Wes Berg (A/M)
No one can accuse Andy Towers of getting complacent, as he was active right up to the PLL transaction deadline trying to make his team better, finalizing a seemingly inevitable trade of goalie Dillon Ward for Wes Berg and a third-round draft pick moments before time ran out.
That eleventh hour move was not his only action on the trade market, however, as he also brought in Ian MacKay and Chris Cloutier, two more Canadian talents via trades.
Stressing the importance of getting guys that are a fit for both the team and culture, Towers is excited about all the ways MacKay can help the team on offense and praised his versatility.
“He can do a number of things at a very, very high level, whether that’s offense, whether it’s SSDM.” Towers said. “He even played LSM for the Canadian National Team.”
Cloutier, a solid goal scorer with the Atlas, is reportedly down thirty pounds going into this season—good reason for some excitement for his time with the Chaos. Towers noted, “We did a lot of due diligence before that trade and all indications are that Cloutier is prepared to have his best season ever. And that’s a scary thought when you think about how good that motherf—er is.”
The trades, however, only tell part of the story. The Chaos also made some big moves in the drafts. Towers made a play for a draw guy in both drafts, taking Max Adler in the first round of the PLL Entry Draft and Kyle Gallagher in the second round of the PLL College Draft, to give the team a few chances at finding their guy for 2021 with the departure of Tommy Kelly.
“Being able to pick up Max Adler in the [Entry] Draft and Kyle Gallagher from the PLL College Draft and have them compete head-to-head with Henningsen is clearly going to get a new face [at the stripe] for us,” Towers said.
Perhaps the biggest name the Chaos nabbed in the drafts was Mac O’Keefe, the lefty gunner out of Penn State. Towers’ face upon making the pick shows how excited he is about getting his guy and he spoke highly of his versatility.
“Does Mac O’Keefe end up playing midfield for us?” Towers asked. “He could. But he also could play attack, he could play inside, he could play outside, he could play the first midfield, he could play the second midfield.”
Even getting Johnny Surdick back, an impact player on the Chaos roster in 2019 who was on the Military Reserve list in 2020, is like adding another key guy.
“The return of Johnny Surdick at defense [will be] very, very impactful,” Towers said. “I have a feeling that he’s going to be stepping right into a starting position.”
Challen Rogers was also picked up in the Entry Draft, a player who embodies that versatility and toughness that Towers clearly covets. More on him later.
Trade: Dillon Ward (G), Connor Fields (A)
Released: Jason Noble (D), Greyson Torain (D)
Expansion: Tyson Bell (SSDM), Thomas Kelly (FO), Deemer Class (M)
Retired: Kevin Buchanan (M)
The best player leaving the Chaos is, ironically, one that never played a minute for them. Dillon Ward is a multiple-time All-World goaltender, who only didn’t play because he was backing up Blaze Riorden. Fields is a star as well, but it’s clear that the Chaos are moving in a different direction offensively, as is the case with Kelly at the draw. They lost some middie depth with Bell and Class, but brought in a lot of talent at that spot to account for it.
Biggest Question Heading into the Season: The Canadian Border
Although most Canadian players’ situations allow them to be ready for the season, the Chaos’ second leading scorer from the PLL Championship Series, Curtis Dickson, and second round pick from the PLL Entry Draft, Challen Rogers, will not be able to travel back and forth over the border as things stand today.
“It’s really disappointing that we’re not going to have two of the best players in the world in Curtis and Challen, but at the same time it’s a great opportunity for the other guys that we will have to step up and lock their spots up.”
Although both players figure to be key players the moment these restrictions are lifted, some guys like Chase Fraser, who Towers sees as a guy who will “be competing to fill a very important role for us,” have a chance to step up. With Fraser being a righty on offense, he’ll be able to presumably fill Dickson’s spot on the attack for the time being.
As far as updates, Towers notes that the team is “at the mercy of what the country of Canada decides.”
Live by the Maple Leaf, die by the Maple Leaf.
Biggest Strength Heading into the Season: Blaze Riorden
“It starts, obviously, in the goal with Blaze Riorden,” Towers said. “I think Blaze Riorden has proven that he’s arguably the best player in the world right now.”
Blaze is the backbone of the team, the eraser of mistakes, and the man who ruins his opponent’s days. He had the second highest save percentage in the league but made 36 (!) more saves than the next highest goalie. That is absurd.
Towers also loves the base defense in Surdick, Jarrod Neumann and Jack Rowlett, and threw Josh Byrne’s name into the ring as a guy who should be consideration for a top five player in the world. Byrne is at the forefront of the Chaos’ Canadian movement on offense. The defense is tough and talented. The offense is fascinating.
But it starts and ends with Riorden.
Projected Initial 19-man Active Roster:
Attack: Josh Byrne, Chris Cloutier, Mac O’Keefe, Chase Fraser
Midfield: Jake Froccaro, Sergio Salcido, Dhane Smith, Austin Staats, Mark Glicini, Ian MacKay, Wes Berg
Defense/LSM: Jack Rowlett, Jarrod Neumann, Johnny Surdick, Troy Reh, Kyle Thornton
Faceoff: Max Adler
Goalie: Blaze Riorden, Austin Kaut
Reserves: Kyle Jackson, Patrick Resch, Miles Thompson, Tanner Cook, Matt Rees, Kyle Gallagher
Unable to Travel List: Curtis Dickson, Challen Rogers