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The other guys: PLL players who went unprotected are motivated more than ever

It’s been a whirlwind for the Premier Lacrosse League since the end of last summer. A seventh club was announced, later revealed as Waterdogs LC, almost immediately at the close of the 2019 summer. An expansion club in any sport means an expansion draft, pulling players from existing clubs to populate the roster of the new team. Only eleven protected player spots are available per club, with one of them being reserved for a goalie. PLL teams have revealed which players received protected status from their original six club, leaving the remainder of the roster unsure if they will become members of Waterdogs LC, or return to their original club. 

With the expansion draft set for February 12, unprotected players have almost a month until they learn who their teammates will be in 2020. Players spoke to Pro Lacrosse Talk about getting the news, dealing with it, and how they’ll carry the decision in summer 2020.

Drew Snider

Drew Snider has been an outstanding professional lacrosse player for years. After an outstanding career at Maryland, Snider was drafted by the Denver Outlaws in 2012. He would go on to become a six-time all-star, and three time MLL champion. Snider played every game for the Whipsnakes, and scored four goals in the playoffs en route to a PLL Championship. The Whipsnakes decided not to protect Snider.

Pat Harbeson

Pat Harbeson has been doing the dirty work at midfield since his days at UVA, helping them to a national championship in 2011. Before joining the PLL last summer, he spent four years in the MLL, winning a title with the Ohio Machine in 2017. Harbeson dressed in every one of the Redwoods games this year, picking up 21 ground balls in the regular season and scoring three goals. At SSDM, Harbeson was a critical piece of the Redwoods defensive unit, but he’s been made available for the Waterdogs. 

Sergio Salcido

Sergio Salcido is another Redwoods midfielder who wasn’t given protected status by the Redwoods. Salcido played in nine of ten regular season games and was the teams fourth leading scorer, notching 20 points on 10 goals and nine assists in the regular season, including hitting a two pointer. By year’s end Salcido had emerged as one of the most productive middies on the Redwoods, and had been voted into the All-Star game; it was a surprise to many to see Salcido not get protected status. 

Romar Dennis

Romar Dennis dressed for every game with the Chrome. Drafted in 2017 by the Outlaws out of Loyola, Dennis won an MLL Championship with Denver, and came to the PLL with the ability to be one of the league’s most dynamic offensive midfield threats. Low shooting numbers and limited time kept Dennis’s production down, and new Chrome Head Coach Tim Soudan opted not to protect Dennis.

Getting the call… Did you think you’d be protected?

Drew Snider 
“Coach Stagnitta actually started by asking if I was playing this year. I said yeah, definitely coming back for at least one more. So the conversation was just about where I was at. I wanted to keep going with the Snakes and the Maryland guys, and wanted to be protected to some extent, but I’m not hurt over it. It’s 11 total players including the goalie, that’s hard to whittle down and each team looking at unprotected and protected lists, they all have different strategies.”

Pat Harbeson
“I connected with Nat about two weeks or a month after the last game. I called to say look, great season and I loved playing for you. I played for him in Ohio for a couple years. It was a great first season, I thought I played well. But the real reason I called was I was upset with my game in the last game. I wanted to let him know it was on my mind and still bothering me, and I told him I know things are gonna be tough next year, but I want to be a Redwood and I want to play for you. He took it well, he said he had hard decisions. Part of me felt like I would be back.

I saw him again in California in the first week in December at a tournament and we had another conversation. I said look, I know it’s going to be difficult, there’s a lot of great guys on our team, and regardless of what happens I’m appreciative of the time we spent together. The route he decided to go with, he has a great roster and great leadership, and kept the entire attack and defense. And two middies he kept, Brent Adams and Sergio Perkovic, can play two ways. It made sense, and I don’t hold any anger against Nat.”

Sergio Salcido
“Me personally, at first, I humbly assumed I would be protected. A lot of people felt that way too. Then I talked to Nat about a few different options. It wasn’t like, hey you didn’t perform or we didn’t think you were a fit. It was you’ve been playing for three seasons, this will be your fourth, you’re a little more mature of a player, and we wanted to give you an opportunity to get into more of a leadership role and a role where there could be a lot more touches every game to do what you’re capable of, versus trying to fit all the pieces together with the Redwoods.

For me, personally, it’s an opportunity to join another club and be in a leadership role and try and be the face of the club, quarterback-type, offensive player. I wasn’t too frustrated or offended, I’m not worried about being put on a team. I know I’m getting put on a team. It’s more the coaching staff making a decision after saying we know kind of player you’re capable of being we know you want to make a run at MVP, but you won’t get the touches you need here because of a need to balance with guys like Jules and Kavanagh. So I felt better about it as a chance to go and do what I want to do and not just be one of the best guys, but the best guy.”

Romar Dennis
“It wasn’t really a surprise. I knew my production was terrible last year. Knowing that, I thought he’d keep me, or Max, or Simon or one of the other younger guys. I did not think he’d keep three 30-plus year old midfielders. That seemed like kind of a stupid thing to do if you’re thinking about the future of the team. So I got the call and it wasn’t a great call, but then I saw that Max wasn’t being kept and neither was Simon, and that didn’t make any sense. It made me wonder if the problem last year was holding onto the past and trying to be the Rattlers and not trying to be the Chrome, and then getting the Rattlers coach makes it seem like that’s what they’re trying to do. I did beat him in the playoffs my rookie season in Denver and then for the championship my sophomore season, so I thought he’d keep me around.”

Did you reach out or speak with teammates once the protected rosters were released?

Drew Snider
“I talked to a couple guys. Just to say good luck, see you out there. The best thing about the PLL is that we all travel together so I see them every weekend. But I’ll miss the locker room. I’ll see them off the field and play against them, and that’ll be fun too.”

Pat Harbeson
“I talked to Salcido, and he was a little ticked off. He’s a great player and last year he showed he belongs in the PLL and he’s one of the best players. His vibe was a little more the mentality with some anger. I could see where he’s coming from. At the end of the day it is what it is. Guys like him and me will use it as motivation every day when we train or step out onto the field.”

Sergio Salcido
“I had a handful of guys reach out. Seasoned guys, it was more of this is a huge opportunity for you and they were excited for me. Then a lot of guys closer to my age were more mixed. Some guys were shocked, they were pissed, saying it was a shame. Other guys were saying it sucks, but we get what the opportunity is for you.”

Romar Dennis
“I talked to pretty much all the guys. We all thought they’d keep some young guys because other guys might not have that many seasons left. We thought they’d keep some of their own youth rather than taking a gamble on getting some new players, since we’ve created all these locker room friendships but we just maybe had some wrong guidance last year.”

Do you have something more to prove in 2020 now?

Drew Snider
“I’d be lying if I said no. I want to prove to them, and to other people, that I still got it. I don’t really give a s*** though. If they protect me great, if they don’t fine. Regardless, I’m going to play with a chip on my shoulder at all times.”

Pat Harbeson
“I have this mentality where I constantly feel like I have to prove myself. Every weekend I was worried, I never thought I was guaranteed to play every game. The PLL isn’t using me in posts or pumping my highlights out, so I have to go out and earn this every day. Even if I get picked up or go back to the Redwoods, there’s going to be good guys in the Entry Draft, there’s going to be guys from college, I’m still going to have to prove it. The fight doesn’t stop.”

Sergio Salcido
“I’m from Florida. There’s only one other kid from that state in the league, Jake Bernhardt, who I grew up watching. I just want to play. I love playing and competing at this level. It’s an honor to play at this level. I’m excited.”

Romar Dennis
“My problem isn’t with my teammates and I’m not spiteful to think of coaches in that way. I just want to play. I’m not going to come in and not play. We put in a lot of work to get into shape and perform. I think I proved myself, so to be on the worst team last year and not get much playing time didn’t make any sense to me.

Usually, you lose six games in a row you change some things, but we didn’t. Coach Soudan said it was a shame I wasn’t having more success because he’d been watching a lot of film. And I don’t think there’s a player in the league who suited up every game but got as little playing time as I got. I got one or two runs at midfield a quarter. Maybe two shots a game for part of the season. There was a point where I rather would have been taken off the active roster or gone back to the player pool. It’s an old MLB tactic of not releasing someone so they can’t go have a great season somewhere else, but holding onto them and keeping them in this purgatory instead. And we did make that mistake with Wes Berg, someone who won a championship at every level, including almost a PLL one. He’s a guy who was an amazing player elsewhere.”

Is it tough going a month without knowing which club you’ll end up on?

Drew Snider
“Coach Stagnitta talked to me about that and made it somewhat clear that I was right there. It’s a tough decision for them, but I understand. We’re all professionals and we’re going to play regardless.”

Pat Harbeson
“We’re definitely in limbo. It’s awkward. I coach youth lacrosse and everyday it’s ‘hey coach, why didn’t you get retained, are you gonna be Waterdog, how do you feel about Nat’, so it’s a little awkward. And it’s a little blow to the ego. Look at guys like Connor Kelly, Drew Snider, Drenner, Cuccinello, they’d be fools not to take those guys. Salcido, those guys are locks. Guys like me, I’m in a different position. I’m a d-middie. The past two years I primarily played defensive middie, but when I first got into pro lacrosse I was strictly an offensive middie, so my goal is to get to be a two way guy.

It depends on what Copelan wants to do though. There’s so many great players out there. Like I think Copelan would be crazy not to take Ryan Conrad. If Conrad goes back to Atlas, I think he’s a lock to play every game. He’s a two way guy and doesn’t get tired. There’s other d-middies on that list that are good, so I feel like I’m in limbo. I haven’t talked to Copelan or been in touch with anyone from the league or the Waterdogs or anything. I’m just going to let the process play out.”

Sergio Salcido
“If I don’t get put on a team I’d be shocked. It is what it is. Moping about it for a month won’t change anything. I stay in a serious and focused routine through the offseason, so wherever I land, I know I’m going to perform. I’m just trying to build on what I did last year and do my best to be a good teammate and a good leader. I’ll play wherever I get a chance next.”

Would it be awkward to return to your original club?

Drew Snider
“It’s a little out of my control and their control. You see that it is what it is. I’m not worried about it.”

Pat Harbeson
“If I end up back on the team, I don’t think it’ll be weird in any way. It’ll be me working hard to prove that I belong and I want to be a key member of the team. If I get picked up in the expansion draft, I’ll say it’s time to get to work. We’re a bunch of guys who weren’t asked to come back, and now we have to use that as motivation to have a great season.”

Sergio Salcido
“There’s going to be more players that don’t leave their teams. I could see it being top names like Snider and Connor Kelly and Cuccinello getting swept up pretty quick. But a lot of guys will just get put back on their teams, and then guys just have to battle for their roster spot. I talked to a few guys who said that if they don’t get picked up by Waterdogs, they don’t want to go back to their old team. But these Head Coaches have a hard job, including managing the roster. The entire roster for each team, picking ten names is impossible. If I sat and did it for an hour, the list would look different every time. And I told Nat that when we had our conversation. With mixed emotion of releasing me and trying to decide if he’s going to keep me. He wanted to keep me because we are a lot closer than we’ve been. But then, this could be a really big opportunity. Nat was the first pro coach I spoke to on the phone out of college. Our relationship dates back a lot farther than just the PLL. And he said he really wanted me to go do this. I don’t think he’s blowing smoke, I called him out on it and he was deliberately honest about how he thinks of me as a player.”

Romar Dennis
“If a player’s coach did a great job of explaining the decision, it won’t be weird to go back to a team at all. But that wasn’t how my situation was handled, so I don’t really want to be there. We were all great friends, we talk all the time and it sucks we might be in other places. I don’t know what the new trade window is, so I don’t know if I can say if the Waterdogs don’t pick me up can you trade me.”

Are there specific unprotected players you’d want to wind up on a roster with?

Drew Snider
“I gotta say the guys that I played with on the Whips. Ben Reeves, Drenner, Connor Kelly, Joe Locascio. You go to look at the other teams, Wes Berg, Steve Denapoli, Kieran McCardle, Joel Tinney, Charlie Cipriano, Jack Kelly, Noah Richard, there are so many people.”

Pat Harbeson
“It’s funny. Mark McNeill for the Archers is one of my best friends. I guess their coach didn’t call them until the day before, or at least not Mark. But he said I want to be back on the Archers, I said the same for the Redwoods, but if we can’t, how incredible would that be to play together. But there are some ridiculously good guys out there you can build a really good team on.”

Sergio Salcido
“I reached out to Drew first. But there are some guys where I see and I laugh because I know them outside the game and it would be fun to get in the locker room with them and pick up where we left off. Then there are guys I don’t know very well, but I know they’re great lacrosse players and great people. As Coach Copelan goes through the process, I’m sure we’ll keep in touch to see who we think or don’t think is a fit. But it’s ultimately his call and he’ll do an awesome job putting together a team.”

Romar Dennis
“Not really. I didn’t think about it like that or think that far ahead. I’ll end up with good players along side me anyway.”

Do you think building chemistry on a team that wasn’t pre-constructed by the league will be difficult?

Drew Snider
“With only eleven total players being protected, there are really good guys unprotected. With 18 straight picks, Waterdogs are gonna be set to go right off the bat. Especially with high draft picks in the entry draft and the college draft. I think there’s a good chance we are gonna be just fine off the bat.”

Pat Harbeson
“From a professional standpoint, if the team that gets formed can put egos aside, the team should be good and propelled just by the revenge factor. From the beginning, you’re going to have teams with a defense of all Notre Dame guys be ahead of other guys, especially with a year under their belt. Similar to the first season, chemistry will be built early on in the season. I think the Waterdogs are going to be a dangerous team those first few weeks while they are really playing for revenge.”

Sergio Salcido
“The college atmosphere on some clubs really helps with the chemistry piece. You’ve got your playing relationships. You’ve got your friends you know from college and you can trust and rely on. And you’ve got the ones you develop when you meet new guys. At this level, everyone’s a pro. Just because I’m not on the Redwoods doesn’t mean I won’t hang out with other Syracuse guys or talk to friends from Maryland. Once the roster gets compiled, the guys will come together who don’t know each other, and I’m sure a lot of guys on the roster will know each other already. It may be tougher in terms of X’ and O’s. Notre Dame guys have a system they used in college, the Maryland guys have a system. But we’ll adapt to overcome anything.”

Romar Dennis
“I think they actually have an advantage. You’re stripping away cliques, primadonnas, ego guys or social media guys, and taking guys who might be on the fringe but are clearly good enough to play in the PLL. So I think that team is going to be like a top 3 team. I think they’ll be one of the better teams. That’s kind of like what Loyola was about. It just would so happen we didn’t land top recruits from top schools or had no under armour all americans or whatever. So everyone just worked super hard. We bought in and there wasn’t a guy who thought he was any better than anyone else. I like that team dynamic.”

Do you want to go to the Waterdogs?

Drew Snider
“Our team, the Whipsnakes, leaned a little more heavily on the defensive side of things for protected players. That left a couple offensive players outside looking in. The expansion draft is pretty cool, it’s a new team and I could have a big role on that team. I look at it as a fresh start. I will say I have a good relationship with Andy Copelan. He recruited me to Maryland and he was Offensive Coordinator when he brought me in. Ever since he left to take the Head Coach job at Fairfield I’ve stayed in touch with him, and it feels like now things are coming full circle.”

Pat Harbeson
“A little bit. If I’m on the team, I already got some hashtags brewing in my head. We can be the ‘Revengers.’ I just play that stuff through my head. If I was to join the Waterdogs, it would be cool to be part of a group of guys that weren’t asked to come back. That alone can really propel the team. Part of me is like I want to be back on the Redwoods, we have unfinished business.”

Sergio Salcido
“I’m excited. I’d love to get on the Waterdogs. Drew and I talked as soon as the PLL posted his instagram and mine. I reached out to Drew and said I know it’s tough leaving the Maryland guys, but it looks like there’s a high likelihood we’ll be playing together. We’re friends. I reached out to Coach Copelan personally just to introduce myself and get a sense of what his viewpoints are with the league and what his roster is going to look like in terms of the brand of lacrosse he wants to put together.

I also wanted to give him a chance to ask me anything about everything that’s going on. We had an awesome conversation. There’s no personal vendetta for me towards the Redwoods. It’ll be fun to play against our defense considering I practiced against them for a year. I always play with a chip on my shoulder because I’m from a non-hotbed and I frankly don’t feel like I get enough credit for what I’ve done. But that’s going to be a theme for a lot of guys. I can see them being a little more chippy.”

Romar Dennis
“The first thing [the Chrome] said to me was that there was a question mark by my name. I didn’t want to potentially play somewhere I’m not wanted, so I see this as a great thing.”

Dan Arestia is a lacrosse fanatic first, writer second. He is a frequent contributor to Lacrosse Playground and has been published on College Crosse and Inside Lacrosse.

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