It’s been 30 months since Executive Vice President Rich Lisk issued a warning to the rest of the league of his intentions to make the Riptide the premier team in the National Lacrosse League upon its return to play after the COVID-19 shortened season in which New York finished 1-12. After hiring NLL Hall of Famer Jim Veltman as the team’s general manager and five-time NLL champion Dan Ladouceur as head coach, the franchise made huge strides forward in season number two, taking their playoff chances to the final two weekends of the 2021-22 season. After a few notable additions this offseason, the Riptide are back on the field again for the 2022-23 season with a chance to take the next step and clinch a playoff spot for the first time in franchise history.
After being in and around the game for so many years, Veltman and Ladouceur found themselves in new roles for the first time approaching last season. They quickly built out their staff, bringing on NLL veterans Jason Crosbie and Pat Jones as Offensive Coordinator and Defensive Coordinator respectively, former Team Canada goaltender Angus Dineley as Goalie Coach and former Georgia Swarm draft pick Bennett Drake as Video Coordinator.
“After going 1-12 in the 2020 season there was a lot of work to do,” Veltman said. “The coaches that we hired to take over the team were unproven but up to the task. I can speak firsthand on the commitment and hard work they have put into turning this franchise into, hopefully, a winning tradition.”
That commitment and hard work resulted in three-year contract extensions for Veltman, Ladouceur, Crosbie, and Jones in September, while Drake was promoted to Director of Scouting, US Scout, and retained his Video Coordinator duties.
One of the big question marks heading into last season was the goaltending situation, especially after Veltman said in his introductory press conference back in July 2020 that he was committed to building the team “from the net out.”
From the start of the season, Ladouceur told his goalies that he was not naming a starter, but rather challenged both Steven Orleman and Gowah Abrams to battle for the starting job. After making his NLL debut, Orleman didn’t look back and seized his opportunity. Orleman went on to break the NLL rookie record for minutes, was named to the NLL All-Rookie Team, and finished fifth overall with just under 987 minutes played. The 23-year old went 6-11 with a .767 save percentage and a 12.1 GAA, finished sixth in the NLL in saves (656), and is the projected starter heading into 2022-23. The Riptide also retained Abrams, who saw 96:51 of game action last season, finishing 0-1 with a 13.63 GAA and a .703 save percentage.
“We are confident in our goaltending duo with Steven and Gowah,” Ladouceur said. “Steven really made strides last year and proved himself to be a starter in this league. We have every confidence in Gowah and have been impressed with his support and level of compete with Steven. We are hoping to strengthen our back end, starting from Steven right out to the defense.”
With a completely new group from the 2019-20 season, the Riptide defense had some questions to answer heading into last season. The obvious one being how the unit would gel together. Veterans Dan MacRae and Damon Edwards were leaned on heavily, and anchored either side of the defensive front.
This season, the Riptide return the core of their defense and added some fresh faces, signing nine-year NLL veteran Kevin Brownell as a free agent and trading with the Saskatchewan Rush for Jordi Jones-Smith. Last season, Brownell played in 16 games for Buffalo, scoring 15 points on two goals and 13 assists, scooping 86 loose balls and causing 21 turnovers. In the 2022 NLL Playoffs, Brownell played in six games, scoring five assists, scooping 26 loose balls and causing four turnovers. Jones-Smith played in 16 games last season, tallying an assist and 12 loose balls.
“Defensively we have added some new faces to a largely returning core group,” Ladouceur said. “The veteran presence of Brownie and the athleticism of JJS will help us play the high intensity, physical defense that we want. We have to be better in our own end to move forward towards playoffs and we have added some depth to help with that.”
From the faceoff circle, Jay Thorimbert was definitely a bright spot in all 18 games for the Riptide last season and went 234-506 (.462), scooped 104 loose balls and caused 11 turnovers. Thorimbert also scored six points on three goals and three assists. On April 16, Thorimbert became the fifth player in NLL history to scoop 1700 loose balls.
The Riptide made some huge strides last season up front. The team scored the second most goals per game in the League, as well as a second-place finish in shooting percentage, improving on their last place finish from the 2019-20 season in both categories.
That of course starts with the first overall pick in the 2020 NLL Entry Draft, Jeff Teat. Teat was named the league’s Rookie of the Year in the 2021-22 season and finished with 108 points on 37 goals and 71 assists. Teat finished fourth overall in the NLL in points, and third overall in assists, while leading all rookies in goals, assists, points, and powerplay assists, despite only playing in 16 games. In addition to being named NLL Rookie of the Year, Teat also earned a spot on the All-League Second Team and All-Rookie Team, and broke single-season NLL rookie records in points and assists, becoming the first rookie in League history to score 100 points in a season.
The Riptide’s second place finish among goals per game came largely from four-time NLL All-Pro Callum Crawford and Connor Kearnan, who along with Teat, led the team in goals. The trio combined for 51% of the team’s 214 goals. Last season, Crawford scored 88 points on 39 goals and 49 assists in 15 games played. On February 26, Crawford became the 10th player in NLL history to score 1100 career points. On March 26, Crawford became the eighth player in NLL history to score 700 career goals. Meanwhile, Kearnan played in 18 games and finished with 62 points on 34 goals and 28 assists, scooping 58 loose balls.
At the 2022 NLL Entry Draft, the Riptide made headlines, acquiring forward Reilly O’Connor and a 2022 first round pick (8thoverall) from the Albany Firewolves in exchange for forward Kieran McArdle and a 2022 first round pick (4th overall). Last season, O’Connor scored 54 points on 15 goals and 39 assists with 65 loose balls in 17 games played. In Albany’s playoff game against Buffalo, O’Connor scored two goals and two assists, scooping three loose balls. O’Connor will join 2021 second round pick Jack Kelly as the two newcomers up front, in a group that remains mostly unchanged.
“We are excited to see how this offense rolls out this season,” Ladouceur said. “They were a force to be reckoned with last year and with the addition of Riley up front we have increased our overall lacrosse IQ level. The group has had a season to work together and will hit that sweet spot of familiarity so much sooner this year which will hopefully show in out output.”
Last season, the Riptide made significant strides forward, and will look to push for their first NLL Playoffs appearance. The league announced Tuesday that the top four teams from the East Conference and top three from the West Conference will qualify, plus a “wild card” entry with the best record between the fourth-place team in the West standings and the fifth-place finisher in the East. This “wild card” will play in the West Conference side of the bracket as the fourth seed.
“With all the changes coming into last season, it took some time to find our groove and identity, but I believe our record in the second half showed that we are trending in the right direction toward a playoff spot.” Veltman said. “That is our goal and I believe our coaches have developed the relationships and built a culture with our players to be successful in this league. Time will tell but I like our chances.”
Armed with some fresh faces and many returning ones, the Riptide hope to make some waves in the NLL in their third season.