Wings bring a different look to new season

The Wings' Kevin Crowley , scoring one of his 34 goals last season, is coming off an MVP year in the outdoor Major League Lacrosse season with Hamilton. TODD BAUDERS
The Wings' Kevin Crowley , scoring one of his 34 goals last season, is coming off an MVP year in the outdoor Major League Lacrosse season with Hamilton. TODD BAUDERS
Posted: December 29, 2013

A few minutes into his first weekly teleconference as head coach of the Wings, Blaine Harrison filled a brief pause with laughter.

"I can see these are going to be fun," he said.

The first-year boss kept his good humor earlier this week as he fielded more questions than any other coach in the National Lacrosse League. But the volume of queries reflected the uncertain position his team faces as it opens the season Saturday night with a game against the Bandits in Buffalo.

The Wings finished 7-9 last season and exited in the first round of the playoffs, losing by two goals to the eventual champion Rochester Knighthawks. But for the Wings, it won't be a matter of picking up where they left off.

The Wings' 20-man roster includes 10 new players, an unusual amount of turnover, even in an itinerant league. The Wings are home to a significant amount of American talent, and several national-team players skipped the indoor season to prepare for the World Outdoor Lacrosse Championships coming in July.

The Wings also traded one of their top scorers, Drew Westervelt. Their No. 1 goalie, Brandon Miller, remains unsigned.

"We know that everyone has us picked as the ninth team of nine teams, the last horse in the race," Harrison said. "We'll put that on the bulletin board and we'll use it to motivate us. But our expectations are for us to win."

Although the goaltending situation begins the season in flux, Harrison expects it to wind up as the club's backbone. The Wings acquired goalie Evan Kirk from Minnesota in the offseason, part of a three-team deal that included Westervelt, who scored 30 goals in four of the last five seasons.

Paired with Miller, the Wings starter for the last five seasons, Kirk would give the Wings one of the league's more accomplished goaltending duos. The two backstopped the Six Nations Chiefs team that won the Canadian senior championship over the summer.

"I'm optimistic that Brandon comes back, sooner than later now," Harrison said. "Once he does, it really sets us up for the kind of success we never had at that position before, where on any given night we've got a stellar goalie between the pipes."

The Wings will be without transition player Paul Rabil, perhaps the sport's most recognizable name, who is coming off surgery and is a part of the U.S. National team.

Other national team members absent from the Wings roster include forward Kevin Buchanan, third on the team in scoring last season, transition player Kyle Hartzell, faceoff specialist and transition player Jeff Reynolds, and forward Ned Crotty.

Their absence will put more of the focus on forward Kevin Crowley, who led the team last season with 34 goals. Crowley is coming off an MVP season in the outdoor Major League Lacrosse season with Hamilton.

"I'd like him to have an MVP season with us, as well. I say that sort of tongue-in-cheek, but sort of not," Harrison said. "We've gone out to try and find the personnel to put around him to give him the kind of time and space he needs to have a great year, because we need him to have a great year."

There will be some familiar faces. Transition player Brodie Merrill will be captain for a third season. Defenseman Brett Manney, a Newtown native and Holy Ghost Prep grad, is back for his fourth year.

The Wings added veteran forwards Ryan Ward and Tracey Kelusky to bolster the attack.

But the Wings will be young. The roster includes five rookies, four of them Americans with little experience in the indoor game.

"[If] you've got a rookie [from] up in Toronto . . . he's a rookie with 20 years experience," Harrison said. "We've got rookies that have 20 minutes of experience. We've got to get them up to speed real quick so we can hit the ground running."

Harrison, who joined the team in 2011 as defensive coordinator, took the head coaching job over the summer. He replaced Johnny Mouradian, who remains as the general manager for a third season.

The Wings have won six championships, but the last came in 2001.

"There's a lot of expectations for anyone who wears that hat," Harrison said. "It's certainly a very historic franchise."


Wings Preview

Last season: 7-9, third place in East, lost in first round of playoffs.

Key returners: Forward Kevin Crowley, transition player Brodie Merrill and defenseman Brett Manney.

Key losses: Forwards Drew Westervelt, Kevin Buchanan and Ned Crotty; transition players Paul Rabil and Kyle Hartzell; defenseman Jeff Reynolds; and goalie Brandon Miller.

Key additions: Forwards Ryan Ward and Tracey Kelusky and goalie Evan Kirk.

Outlook: The Wings will be a team in transition. Half of the roster has turned over since last season, and several of their top players took the season off to focus on the U.S. outdoor national team.

- Tim McManus

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