September 19, 2012

Cannons make plans to reload

After playoff loss, Boston eyes ways to improve

Cannons coach Steve Duffy, who will return for a second season, will have some key decisions to make this offseason even before the collegiate draft. (photo: Getty Images)

As Boston Cannons coaches and management headed out of Harvard Stadium following a 16-10 season-ending loss to the Chesapeake Bayhawks on Aug. 25, plans were put in place to meet sometime the following week to begin talking about what might have gone wrong this season and to begin planning for next year.

The bitter sting of a second-half swoon on the team’s home field in the Major League Lacrosse semifinals, however, didn’t lend itself to that sort of patience.

Instead, a few hours later, Cannons general manager Kevin Barney said he was getting text messages from Steve Duffy as the team’s head coach rewatched the game. Then the messages started flying back and forth between the entire coaching staff as they ran through the details of a lost afternoon at Harvard Stadium.

Finally, Barney said he suggested everyone had done enough for the night.

But the very next day, he said he and Duffy were again talking about the future of the franchise in the shadow of Chesapeake’s 16-6 victory against the Denver Outlaws in the MLL title game.

“It was a little bit about the game and the things we didn’t do right out there,” Barney said. “But it was more talking about next year. We’re always talking about next year. It was more about our disappointment at the opportunity we had to defend our title at home, with such a great group of guys, and we couldn’t do it.

“Opportunities like that don’t come along that often.”

Barney conceded in the days following the season that the talks this fall and winter will have to be different than the ones within the organization last year as the team basked in the afterglow of its first MLL title. Even as the Cannons went two months without a head coach in place between the retirement of Bill Daye and the hiring of Duffy, Daye’s top assistant, there was a definitive plan for defending the title.

The goal — both before and after Duffy was hired — was to keep the champions as intact as possible. The staff knew Duxbury, Mass., native and sniper Max Quinzani probably was not going to be able to play anywhere this season due to work commitments in New York, and that led to an easy decision to leave him unprotected in the expansion draft. The staff also knew it couldn’t keep former starting goalie Kip Turner on the bench another year after anointing 2011 team MVP Jordan Burke as the starter, so Turner was left unprotected as well in a move that eventually came back to bite the Cannons a bit when Turner returned to Boston as a member of the Bayhawks and shut down his former mates in the second half of the semifinal game.

But the rest of the plan worked well, as Boston brought back almost everyone else it wanted.

The problem with the plan is that it didn’t provide enough to repeat.
The Cannons got off to a hot start, struggled at midseason, then came back to win three games in a row heading into the first-round playoff loss.

“I don’t think it was one thing,” said veteran scorer Kevin Buchanan, who was second on the team in goals (31) and third in points (42) in the regular season. “I think we did get off to a great start. I think everyone is looking to beat us. You could say we are somewhat of the premier team in the MLL, plus everyone is looking to beat the defending champs. We battled back well (from the midseason slump) to have a great season. We had some little bumps here and there. We got to where we wanted to be — that’s back in the playoffs — and unfortunately we came up short.”

Barney said it left the staff believing it was a good season that wasn’t good enough.

And it left everyone on the team knowing that largely standing pat again won’t be good enough to get it done next year either.

“We thought coming out of last year we had the core to do it again,” Barney said. “We weren’t looking to make any major moves.
“We’re still happy with the team we have. We’re not looking to blow it up, by any means.”

Barney did acknowledge, however, that there likely will be more significant changes to next year’s roster than there were last year. While the team will look to bring back many of its established veterans, “we will have to … make sure the commitment level is 100 percent for next year,” Barney said

And Barney conceded the Cannons will have to do a better job bringing in younger players. While rookies had a major impact for the two MLL finalists — especially the Outlaws — this season, the Cannons have gotten relatively little help out of the last two drafts.

Top picks Shamel Bratton and Josh Amidon never suited up for Boston in 2011 — though the team did get a huge boost from third-round pick Brian Farrell in the 2011 playoffs, and throughout 2012. This year’s draft produced only two goals and two assists all season — all off the stick of second-round pick Chris Boland out of Johns Hopkins.

The team’s 2012 Rookie of the Year — Owen “Kit” Smith — came not from the collegiate draft, but from an open tryout the Cannons held in March.

“We’re looking at the draft to be our way of retooling,” Barney said. “We have picks Nos. 6, 9 and 14 this year, and we know we have to make them count. The way this league is, every team is getting better every year. Every team is stacked with talent. We have to get more out of the draft. We haven’t had a lot of slots open for rookies the past couple of years. But for next year we want to have two, three guys come in during the season and making an impact.”

One decision for next year that was made before the playoffs was that Duffy would be back on the sidelines for a second year.

“We wanted to let the team know he was our guy and he is the man in charge,” Barney said. “He did such a great job for us with the timing of when he was hired and how everything happened last year. Anyone would want to take over a champion, but it was not easy with the timing of it.”

Although Duffy does not have an expansion draft to worry about this offseason, some decisions will have to be made quickly with the 23-man protected roster due Sept. 21 in advance of December’s supplemental draft.

For the third year in a row, the collegiate draft will be held in advance of the NCAA season in January.

“The ultimate decisions for a lot of stuff sits with Coach Duffy,” Barney said. “But we will make sure he has a lot of support this year. It’s the evolution of the league that more support is needed. Especially with the draft, you can’t rely on just watching film and talking to a few coaches on the phone anymore. We are going to do a lot of scouting this fall. We’ll be ready for January.”

This article originally appeared in the September-October 2012 issue of New England Lacrosse Journal.