Ready, willing - and able Wings appear to be strong with the season about to begin.

Posted: January 06, 2007

When the Wings kick off their season tonight on the road against the Edmonton Rush, nobody will be expecting bigger things from second-year star forward Sean Greenhalgh than he will himself.

"I just want to continue to build on my previous year," Greenhalgh, a Canadian and Cornell product, said this past week.

His rookie season in 2006 is quite a year on which to build. Although the Wings went 8-8 and didn't make the playoffs, Greenhalgh led the team in goals with 31 and was the National Lacrosse League's player of the week twice and rookie of the week five times.

Add his 42 assists to the 31 goals and it makes for a point total of 73, tying him with forward Dan Marohl as the top point producer on the Wings.

With almost all their offensive firepower returning, plus what the Inside Lacrosse NLL Yearbook calls a "monster" pair of first-round draft choices, the Wings hope to muscle their way into the playoffs for the first time since 2002, a year after they won it all.

First among those touted draft picks is Geoff Snider, a University of Denver product and MVP on the Team Canada squad that won the 2006 World Lacrosse Championships.

Many lacrosse insiders had expected Snider, a feisty, quick-trigger player, to be the No. 1 choice in the draft, so the Wings were surprised and delighted to grab him fourth overall. The Wings were relieved to finally sign him Thursday after weeks of stalemated negotiations.

With their second first-round pick - the fifth overall in the draft - the Wings took defenseman Ian Llord, a strapping 6-foot-3, 220 pounder from the Ontario Lacrosse Association's St. Catharines Athletics. With its third first-round pick, the team added still more offensive punch in forward Athan Iannucci, another bull at 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds, who led Hofstra University in scoring last year with 80 points (62 goals, 18 assists).

The newcomers, of course, join such veterans as Jeff Ratcliffe, who has become the team's second all-time leading scorer after six seasons; Jake Bergey, who is third on the Wings' all-time scoring list going into this 10th year; face specialist Peter Jacobs, in his 11th season; and second-year man John Christmas, an Ardmore native.

"We've got some great veterans but we're still a young team," said Greenhalgh. "Last year, I thought we had a chance to make the playoffs. This year, if we don't, it will be a big disappointment."

Echoing comments from head coach and general manager Lindsay Sanderson, Greenhalgh expects this year's team to be strong and balanced. But the biggest improvement fans may notice is in the speed department.

"Especially coming from the defensive zone, in our transition game," said Greenhalgh, referring to lacrosse's equivalent to the fastbreak in basketball. "John Christmas is lightening-fast and so is Kyle Fiat."

Fiat, from Towson University, is another rookie.

On defense, the Wings took some hits in the off-season. Veteran Glenn Clark retired to become head coach of the Toronto Rock, a division rival. Rich Brzeski and Jeff Spano were picked up in the expansion draft, and Brad Self is playing minor-league hockey in Germany, although he may rejoin the Wings in midseason.

With those veterans gone, the addition of Llord is all the more important, along with help from fourth-round rookie defender Kyle Dixon, from the University of Virginia.

In Ontario, where Greenhalgh grew up, lacrosse is more of a blue-collar game, sort of summer hockey. In the United States, for years, it has been more of an upscale game, almost the province of the Ivy League and the Atlantic Coast Conference. But Greenhalgh thinks that is changing, which might explain the 11,000 or so fans who pack the Wachovia Center for home games.

"When I used to drive around neighborhoods here I would see basketball goals in the driveway," said Greenhalgh. "Now you see more and more lacrosse nets in the yard."

The Wings' first home game is at 7:30 p.m. next Saturday against the Portland Lumberjax.

Contact staff writer Joe Logan at 215-854-5604 or jlogan@phillynews.com. Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/joelogan.

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