After 19 long months, the New York Riptide are ready to take the field once again in their quest for an NLL championship. The team you’ll see on the field is not the same one that fans last saw inMarch of 2020. After the COVID-19 shortened season in which the Riptide finished 1-12, Executive Vice President Rich Lisk gave the team almost a complete makeover, hiring NLL Hall of Famer Jim Veltman as the team’s general manager and five-time NLL champion Dan Ladouceur as head coach. Through the midst of a global pandemic, Lisk has strived to make the Riptide the premier team in the National Lacrosse League upon its return to play and issued a warning to the rest of the league of his intentions. With the great success that the team has had off the field over the last 19 months, we now head into Training Camp presented by Orlin & Cohen and with just a month out from the season, it is time to let the players do the talking.
In June 2020, Lisk issued a warning to the rest of the NLL: the New York Riptide will be the premier team in the league inside and out, and that it was essential for the long-term success of the organization to change the culture. Lisk created the team’s mantra P4, which stands for Pride, Passion, Promises, Premier, and the front office has approached every aspect of the teams redevelopment with the mantra in mind.
The first task of Lisk’s makeover of the team was to rebuild the lacrosse operations department from the ground up. Lisk’s initial move of bringing in NLL Hall of Famer Jim Veltman as the team’s general manager and five-time NLL champion Dan Ladouceur as head coach was a pretty good start. It was clear from the beginning that the trio would aim to establish an inclusive culture amongst the players.
“We want the guys’ input,” Head Coach Dan Ladouceur said. “What’s working for them? What’s not working for them? Of course, the tail can never wag the dog, but we find value in their input. Our team just has too much experience for me to close my door on them”
Veltman and Ladouceur find themselves in new roles for the first-time approaching Training Camp presented by Orlin & Cohen, but this isn’t their first rodeo. The pair hope to use their previous experiences— and each other— to form the best possible roster to elevate the Riptide in on-field performance.
“I’m really looking forward to the vision piece that you’re putting a team together,” Veltman said. “That’s what I enjoy about the GM role. I have to kind of look ahead, look at what we had, and where are we going forward. So I’m really excited about that evaluation piece and visionary piece.”
“For me it now includes more delegation,” Ladouceur said. “It’s about providing [Offensive Coordinator] Jason Crosbie and [Defensive Coordinator] Pat Jones with the opportunity to build relationships on the floor and having a bigger oversight about the messages that they’re relaying and how the two ends are coming together and meshing. In training camp, we try to do that as quickly as we can.”
One of the big question marks heading into the offseason was the goaltending situation, especially after Veltman said in his introductory press conference that he was committed to building the team “from the net out.”
The Riptide return Gowah Abrams, who had a promising finish to the 2019-20 shortened NLL season. Abrams finished with a .773 Save Percentage, as well as a 11.98 Goals Against Average across his eight games played with four starts.
“Obviously with a lot of time we watched a lot of film, and I really like Gowah’s game,” Ladouceur said. “I think that if we can influence some of the changes that Pat [Jones] has in mind for the defensive end, I think we’re going to let him see a more restricted area of shots and that will help him and his game.”
New York also brought in some new faces to stand alongside Abrams to fill out the goalie core.
On the first day of the 2020 free agent period, the Riptide signed Steven Orleman who was selected 19th overall by the Georgia Swarm in the 2018 NLL Entry Draft, and spent the 2018-19 and 2019-20 NLL seasons as a member of the Swarm’s practice squad.
“There’s a lot of hype around him as an up and coming goaltender,” Ladouceur said. “We’ve talked and I think he’s got the right approach to this. He’s willing to work to live up to those expectations. He wants to come in and battle for a number one starting job.
A few days later, New York brought in goaltender Nolan Clayton to bolster the room. Clayton saw action in six games for the Vancouver Warriors during the 2020 season, playing 22 minutes in net. He had a 18.96 goals against average and a .708 save percentage while stopping 17 shots. Fast forward a year to the 2021 NLL Entry Draft, and the Riptide selected goalie Will Johnston at 34th overall. In three games played in 2021 for the Toronto Beaches, Johnston had a 6.67 goals against average and a .710 save percentage.
“We wanted to create this competitive culture right off the hop,” Veltman said. “I feel like our goaltending situation, although it’s new and we don’t have a set number one starter, I think we have several of those guys that could turn into it.”
Arguably the biggest turnover that the Riptide had this offseason came on defense. Coming off a season in which the team was last in the league in goals against and goal differential, Veltman and Ladouceur set out to put some veteran pieces in place to lead the unit, and Ladouceur says that he hopes that veteran defenders such as Dan MacRae, Ryan Fournier, Jay Thorimbert, Darryl Robertson, Damon Edwards and Leo Stouros can influence the younger players brought in.
“With them anchoring our defense, I think the other guys are going to pick it up really quick,” Ladouceur said. “We drafted some pretty young talented players, IQ smart ballplayers so we’re really hoping that they except that influence from the more veteran guys and start that gel process really early.”
Obviously when creating an entirely new group, the elephant in the room is that they haven’t played together yet as a unit, but Veltman is not worried about that and is looking forward to the process set forth by the coaching staff of bringing them together as one.
“We’re excited about what we brought,” Veltman said. “Now how do you acclimate them? It just takes time. We will have the weekends together now, and they’ve already had some captains’ practices that happened over the summer, so we feel that all of that contributes to getting acclimated together.”
While the team ranked 11th in the league last season in goals for, there were quite a few glimmers of hope for the Riptide on offense. That of course starts with the first overall pick in the 2019 NLL Entry Draft, Tyson Gibson. Gibson was named the league’s Rookie of the Year in the 2019-20 season and finished with 43 points on 16 goals and 27 assists in 12 games. In addition to being named NLL Rookie of the Year, Gibson also earned a spot on the NLL All-Rookie Team.
“Tyson proved to everyone what kind of player he is by winning the Rookie of the Year honor last year,” Veltman said. “But more importantly, Tyson is the kind of character person that we value as an organization. His devotion and commitment are what it will take to build a winner here in New York.”
Just days after Gibson was named Rookie of the Year, the Riptide send shockwaves around the league, inking four-time National Lacrosse League All-Pro forward Callum Crawford to a multiyear deal. The 6-foot-3 righthander was named an NLL MVP finalist and led the league with 76 points on 33 goals and 43 assists in just 11 games for New England before the season was cancelled due to COVID-19.
“You need guys who are creative. You need guys who can adapt to what the defense is showing them. You need guys who can finish. There’s just so much to being an offensive player, which includes a lot of talent to begin with. And that’s why we went really hard after Callum when he became a free agent and we were thrilled we convinced him to come.”
A month later, New York selected three-time USILA All-American and four-time Inside Lacrosse Media All-American Jeff Teat with the first overall pick in the 2020 NLL Entry Draft. Teat finished his college career third in the Cornell record books with 268 points and 152 assists while also cracking the top-10 in ninth place with 116 career goals. He is one of just two players in Big Red history to post three consecutive 30 goal, 30 assist seasons and is one of just four to record 70 points in three straight campaigns.
“Jeff Teat is a young guy and a rookie but he’s an amazing talent,” Veltman said. “I can’t wait for people to see him play. I watched him play in different leagues in the box game and he’s just a phenomenal mind and can come in and be our number one lefty right away.”
Add Teat and Crawford to an existing core of Gibson, Dan Lomas (who is rehabbing an Achilles injury and is hoping to be back later this season), Jake Fox, and Kieran McArdle, and the Riptide would be much improved, but the team wasn’t done building yet. The team acquired Dereck Downs and Connor Kearnan via trades and drafted players such as Ty Thompson and Larson Sundown, setting them up to have threats all over the floor. Ladouceur will be tasked with finding a way to give everyone a role but says he will take the same approach that he did as the offensive coordinator with the Georgia Swarm, working with big names such as Lyle Thompson, Randy Staats, and Shayne Jackson.
“We’re going to let these guys be creative,” Ladouceur said. “Of course, there’s going to be some structure. When you have the ball swinging from side to side and you have threats all over the floor like we’ve created here, they’re very difficult to defend against. But that only works when you have selfless players and we’re going to go into the season like that. In this organization an assist is just as good as a goal.”
While many in the media are pushing for the Riptide to be an immediate contender, Ladouceur says that his staff is going to go into the season by setting the bar realistically.
“I’m a big fan of setting attainable goals and my approach to this year is a bit of a roadmap,” Ladouceur said. “We set stops along the way and just do a reevaluation of ‘Hey are we where we thought we should be or could be at this point?’ If we’re ahead of the curve, then great and we will readjust our goals. If we’re not, then we need to do a quick assessment and a deep dive into why we’re not there and make those adjustments. I think we’re going in with some realistic expectations and I’m excited to see where we match up in the first quarter of the season.”
Veltman agreed and said that while it will be a process, the team will be sure to be competitive.
“We’re going to be patient but at the same time, winning sells tickets, creates a great culture, and there’s nothing like it,” Veltman said. “So, we want to win obviously and we want to be competitive right off the hop, but it will take a bit of time. We understand that. But this is the pros. We want to make sure we are competitive right off the bat, and we’re going to do that with good goaltending, good defense, and some creative minds on offense.”