By Chris Goldberg
Phillylacrosse.com, Posted 1/6/11
John Tucker believes the Philadelphia Wings have the potential to be a contender in National League Lacrosse this year.
Tucker, in his first season as head coach after serving as an assistant last year, said fans should be excited about the season opener Saturday night (7:00) when the Wings begin their 25th season against the Boston Blazers at the Wells Fargo Center.
“I think our team chemistry is a lot better and we’re a lot more dangerous offensively than we were,” said Tucker. “We are multi-dimensional. Last year we didn’t have a lot of weapons.
“Defensively, our scheme this year is a lot simpler. We’ll be playing a much more aggressive style and we’ll be a lot smarter. I think we’ll be able to defend well.”
Last year the Wings failed to make the NLL playoffs for the seventh time in eight years, finishing just 5-11 – dead last in the East Division. The disappointing season led the franchise to make sweeping changes – bringing in a a new coaching staff and 14 new players.
The biggest change, though, is the return of 2008 league MVP Athan Iannucci, who sat out all of 2010 with recurring knee problems. Iannucci, who scored a league-record 71 goals in 2008, was limited to 23 tallies in a half-season in 2009 when his health issues began.
But this year Iannucci reports he is at full strength. His return, along with the arrival of Ryan Boyle and Brendan Mundorf, and the return of 2010 leading scorer Drew Westervelt (32 goals, 40 assists), should give the Wings plenty of firepower.
“I think we’ve certainly made a number of changes to the roster and overall we’re much more athletic,” said Tucker. “We’ve added some experience in certain key positions and we’ll play at a faster pace and really concentrate on trying to defend a little bit better. I am real happy with the direction of the team.”
Tucker – a charter member of the Wings who played for the team from 1987-93 – was head coach of the former Baltimore Thunder in the late 1990s. He was out of the league for a while, but also coached outdoor lacrosse for the now-defunct Los Angeles Riptide.
Last year he assisted Dave Huntley, who was let go in the house cleaning. Tucker’s assistants are defensive coordinator Tom Slate (former coach at state champion Downingtown East and a former Wing) and offensive coordinator Blane Harrison. Also, Canada’s All-World goalie Chris Sanderson is back to serve as a goalie coach. The well-respected Johnny Mouradian is the new General Manager.
“Athan is a dynamic player and the big thing is that he takes pressure off of everyone else,” Tucker said. “He is kind of the focus of the opponents’ defense and he makes everyone better.
“The thing that impressed me the most with him is his attitude and willingness to help younger guys. He offers suggestions. He also is a very tough guy; he is much more physical than I thought he would be. He is willing to take a hit to score. He’ll give up himself to free someone else up.”
The Wings do return many key players, some with Philly ties. All-star transition player Kyle Sweeney (Springfield-Delco) was a member of the US team that won the FIL championship in July at Manchester, and is a key to the defensive side of the floor. Sweeeney had 90 loose balls last year.
Also on defense are returnees Taylor Wray (Lehigh assistant coach/51 loose balls), Pat Heim (Conestoga). and Shawn Nedelen. Key newcomers on defense include Paul Dawson (75 loose balls for Boston Blazers), Jeff Bigas (Penncrest/33 loose balls with Orlando Titans last year), Matt Alrich (played with Titans) and Brett Manney (Holy Ghost Prep/Univ. of Delaware), a member of the defending champion Washington Stealth last year.
The offense features two Wings veterans, Bill McGlone (Ridley/19 goals, 16 assists) and John Christmas (Lower Merion/34 loose balls). Mundorf had 28 goals and 31 assists last year for the Titans; and will be joined up front by Westervelt and Ryan Boyle (60 points with Titans). Some keys at transition are returnees David Mitchell (57 loose balls) and second-year Max Seibald (54 loose balls).
The goalie is returnee Brandon Miller, who played all 16 games and had 581 saves in 885 minutes with a goals against average of 12.40.
Tucker said this week the Wings are meeting to set goals for the 2011 year. Clearly, one will be to make the playoffs.
“We’ll create those goals together,” he said. “It’s safe to say we all want to get back to making the playoffs and hopefully hosting a playoff game. That would be a big step for our franchise and get us going in the right direction.
“I think it’s important to capture the fans’ passion and get them back into the building, supporting us like they always have. We want the players to play hard and to play with passion. We’ll give it out best shot and show that the organizations has made the effort.”