By Chris Goldberg
Phillylacrosse.com, Posted 1/10/09
The 2008 season was a successful one for the Philadelphia Wings for many reasons.
The fast-breaking Wings got off a 6-0 start in the National Lacrosse League (NLL) and, after a mid-season slump, used a clutch win to qualify for the playoffs for the first time since 2002.
The team’s top player, Athan Iannucci had one of the best seasons in the history of the NLL. Iannucci shattered the league’s scoring mark with 71 goals and was named the Reebok Most Valuable Player for the 2008 season.
Former Wings also earned honors. Former player and coach Tony Resch, who played six seasons with the Wings and guided the team to four NLL championships from 1994-2001 was inducted into the NLL Hall of Fame. Meanwhile, former Wings great Tom Marechek was inducted into the US Lacrosse hall of Fame.
The team’s highlight came on the final day of the regular season when it defeated host Toronto, 15-14, on a shorthanded goal by Iannucci with 44 seconds left in the game to finish 10-6. The Wings had actually clinched the playoff berth the day earlier when Rochester was beaten in its final regular-season game, but the final victory gave the Wings momentum heading into the playoffs.
In the playoffs, the gritty Wings played well in a 14-12 loss to eventual championBuffalo. The Bandits actually trailed, 10-9, heading into the fourth period, but scored five of the next six goals to seize an insurmountable 14-11 edge.
“This was really the first time for this team going through this,” said Wings coachDave Huntley. “We were playing in Buffalo’s building in front of a tough crowd. We stayed in it through the whole game and I was proud of our effort.”
Despite the loss, Iannucci’s accomplishments will go down in the books alongside those of former greats like Resch, Marechek, Dallas Eliuk and brothers Paul and Gary Gait.
Iannucci is only the second Wings player to win the award. Gait won three straight MVP awards as a member of the Wings between 1995 and 1997.
“Winning the MVP award is a great honor,” Iannucci said. “I owe my success this season to all of my teammates and coaches who made me a better player out on the field.
Iannucci broke Gait’s record of 61 and also received the NLL’s Player of the Month Award three times (January, February, April), a league first. Iannucci won the league’s scoring race (100 points) and led all forwards in loose balls (138).
Iannucci, who was named to the NLL’s First-Team All-Pro squad, was selected to his first All-Star Game in 2008 and was the Wings only starter in the game.
“Athan’s accomplishments this season are quite remarkable given that this is only his second professional season,” said Huntley. “I’m looking forward to seeing him continue to develop as a lacrosse player and I think he’ll be a star player in this league for many years.”
In only his second season, Iannucci is already moving up many of the Wings All-Time lists. He is sixth on the Wings All-Time goal scoring list (98) and tenth in Wings history in overall scoring with 147 points (98 goals, 49 assists).
“I am excited about the future of this team,” Iannucci said. “We are a young, talented group and we plan to build on the success we had this season.”
The Wings also placed transition player Geoff Snider on the All-Pro Second Team. Snider, the MVP of the 2008 NLL All-Star Game, broke the Wings’ single-season loose ball record by collecting 244.
Snider (51 points) also matched the single season record for face-off wins with 318. Snider led the NLL with 103 penalty minutes in 2008, a new NLL single season record.
Resch, a Philadelphia lacrosse icon who also coaches the outdoor Philadelphia Barrage and is the assistant coach at scholastic power La Salle College High, was recognized in a special halftime ceremony of a Wings regular-season game.
“When you commit and dedicate as much time and effort as I did over the years it’s great to be recognized,” said Resch, who was also inducted into the Pennsylvania Lacrosse Hall of Fame in 1998. “I had an incredible opportunity to work with some outstanding men, not only players but the staff and ownership.
“I see it as much of a group award as anything else because without my teammates as a player and the players I had as a coach, I certainly wouldn’t be receiving this wonderful honor.”
Resch played for two league champion teams with the Wings from 1988 to 1993, serving as team captain for three years, and was named to the Wings All-Time Team in 1996. Resch took over as Wings coach in 1994 and guided the team to four NLL titles, eight straight playoff berths, and a record of 59-27 during the regular season and 10-4 in the postseason.
Marechek, also a 2007 National Lacrosse League HOF inductee, was an All-American at Syracuse, a member of Canada’s national team, and now a successful coach at the scholastic level in Maryland.
During his pro career, Marechek became the Wings’ all-time leading scorer over his 12 seasons with the franchise. He won four championships, and following his retirement the Wings retired Marechek’s #42 and raised a banner to the rafters of the Wachovia Center to commemorate the achievement.
Also in 2008, forwards Merrick Thomson and Jamie Rooney were selected as members of the 2008 NLL All-Rookie Team
Thomson, the Wings’ top draft choice (2nd overall) in this year’s NLL Entry Draft, had 55 points (26 goals, 29 assists. Rooney finished the 2008 season with 43 points (20 goals, 23 assists) and 59 loose balls. Other key contributions were made by goalie Rob Blasdell, defenders Kyle Sweeney (Springfield-Delco), Thomas Hajek,Shawn Nadelen and Taylor Wray, transitions player John Christmas (Lower Merion) and forwards Jake Bergey and Jason Crosbie.