Zach Goodrich in despair after the Cannons' loss to the Chrome in Salt Lake City dropped them to 1-8 on the season.

So You're Saying There's a Chance? How Last-Place Teams Cope

Week 9 of the Premier Lacrosse League schedule opened with Redwoods and Cannons squaring off, two teams battling for their playoff lives.

While the Redwoods scored first and held onto that lead for over 30 minutes, the Cannons fought back in the third quarter. A goal by All-Star Lyle Thompson – his fourth of the game – with 8:21 remaining briefly tied the game at 12 before three unanswered goals from the Red-woods finally finished off the Cannons.

Sean Quirk said it was apparent in the locker room the loss had hit the players hard.

“It was like they lost the championship game,” he said. “They were just beaten down. They wanted it so bad. They played hard, and that’s just the attitude of the team. They’re gritty. They don’t stop battling.”

The Cannons had just dropped their seventh consecutive game, leaving them still with only one win on the season and in last place in the standings.

The following weekend wasn’t any kinder. Even after the Chaos, the team they are chasing for a playoff spot, lost, the Cannons lost to the Chrome 11-9. That loss – the team’s eighth in a row – was their fourth by two or fewer goals.

“When it’s not going your way, it’s tough to stop,” Cannons goalie Nick Marrocco said. “It’s definitely very frustrating to see everybody put in all the effort and sacrifice through the week, and when it doesn’t turn into wins, it’s tough. It’s a physically taxing game, but it’s also, men-tally, it can be tough when things aren’t going your way. We have talented players at each po-sition. We’re finding ways to step up and deliver at certain points in the game, but it’s closing it out and figuring out what we need to do to put in a full team effort.”

Not only have most of the games been close, but many individuals on the team are playing to their potential.

The team had four players selected to the All-Star Game: Lyle Thompson, Asher Nolting, Ryan Drenner and Jake Pulver. Through Week 10, Thompson leads the league in points (39) and one-point goals (24). Nolting was 17th in points (21, fourth-best among rookies), and Drenner was tied for ninth in one-point goals (16). Pulver was fourth in caused turnovers (11).

They’ve also gotten solid contributions from defensive midfielder Zach Goodrich, faceoff specialist Stephen Kelly (50 percent, 58 ground balls) and Marrocco, whose 123 saves are sec-ond-most in the league.

While the results may be wearing on the team, the faith in each other doesn’t seem to be wavering.

“The losses are frustrating, but I don’t think we’re frustrated in the group we have,” Goodrich said. “I think we’re trying to build. We’re trying to keep being a better team and keep battling for each other.”

“It was like they lost the championship game. They were just beaten down. They wanted it so bad.”

The Cannons were in a similar situation in 2021, on the brink of missing the playoffs with two wins going into the final game against the Chrome, who also only had two wins. The victor of the final game would secure the final spot in the playoffs; that team would not be the Chrome, coached by Tim Soudan.

He remembers how difficult it was to navigate the end of the season.

“It’s stressful, because everybody’s competitors and when you just don’t have enough,” Soudan said. “You’ve proven that you can’t win those close games, and you’re coming close, and it’s just, you’re just lacking that much, you know, it is a frustrating situation.”

The Chrome fought an uphill battle right from the beginning in 2021. The team’s first-round draft pick, JT Giles-Harris (third overall), never made it to training camp because of an injury and Randy Staats, a highly anticipated addition from the player entry draft, suffered a season-ending injury during training camp. All-Star attackman Jordan Wolf suffered a season-ending injury during the first game of the season and veteran defenseman Jesse Bernhardt played in only three games all season – the first two and the final game – because of an injury.

As the losses mounted, Soudan said he really focused on building relationships with a lot of the new players on the team — players like Colin Heacock, Dylan Molloy, Justin Anderson, and Kevin Rogers — so that they hopefully could be counted on to be team leaders in 2022 and beyond.

“You just try to keep it positive, and I think that’s what the guys appreciated,” he said. “We competed the entire year to the point where you just try to create that culture and character. We were there right until the end.”

Focusing on relationships was one thing Zach Currier said the Waterdogs players focused on during the team’s one-win 2020 season.

Being an expansion team made up of a mixture of players from teams around the league can be a hard enough environment in which to create chemistry. Doing so during a shortened bubble season with four games in two weeks made it even more difficult.

“I didn’t really know how to play with Connor Kelly or Kieran McArdle and guys like that,” he said. “It was not much time at all it felt like we spent half of that in our hotel rooms quarantining.”

Despite the struggles each of those teams faced at the bottom of the standings and on long losing streaks, there is a small lifeline offered by the PLL in the form of a large playoff picture. Since the team expanded to eight teams, seven make the playoffs; in the 2020 Championship Series, all seven teams were invited to play in the playoffs.

Those formats have left all teams with something to play for at the end of the regular season, and with even the slightest of opportunities, something special can still happen, shown by the 2020 Chaos, who lost all four group play games before surprising the league and winning its elimination and semifinal games to secure a trip to the PLL championship game.

“At the end of the day, we’re all doing it because we love to compete and be a part of a team and effort to be a part of a championship,” Marrocco said. “When you have that little bit of hope that things could turn around, and you can make the playoffs, you have to give one percent more. You have to leave everything on the field.”

“One game gets you in [the playoffs], and then, once you’re in the playoffs, anything can happen,” Currier said. “In reality, you have to go out there and win one game, and if you break that down to each individual, you just have to win one matchup, whether it’s the faceoff guy or defenseman winning his matchup with an attackman or a shooter trying to win his matchup against the other goalie. When you’re in those tight games, it’s all about winning the tight matchups and doing whatever you can to help your team out. With the talent in this league, anybody can win any matchup on any day depending on how the ball is going that day.”


As the losses mounted for the Chrome in 2021, coach Tim Soudan focused on building relationships with newer players like Colin Heacock. The only team to miss the playoffs last year, the Chrome have bounced back with six wins this year.

Quirk said that although making the playoffs and winning a championship are always the team goals, they aren’t what the coaches and players talk about in the locker room. Especially at this point in the season, with their backs against the wall, Quirk said it is precisely winning those small moments and matchups that the coaching staff preaches to the players.

“We break it down very small: offense, defense. Limit turnovers on offense. Let’s get a shooting percentage of this. Faceoffs, let our unit strive to win the ground ball battle and get a percentage of this. Defensively, the same thing,” he said. “[We] really have focused on, ‘Guys, there’s 48 minutes in a game. Don’t even focus on that 48 minutes. Focus on the first one. Get to the first TV timeout, and we’ll regroup, whether we’re up or we’re down.’ It’s playing one-minute games for 48 minutes and resetting after each minute, whether we scored a one-pointer or two-pointer, or we’ve given up a goal, or we’ve missed a ground ball. It’s constantly telling the guys to reset every minute. You hear guys on the sideline yelling it. It’s become our mantra this season.”

Going into the final week of the 2022 season, the Cannons still have a chance to make the playoffs despite only having one victory to their name. It isn’t as simple as winning the final game of the year like in 2021; they will need some help from the Atlas winning in a blowout against the Chaos. Still, there’s a chance.

Even if the final week of the season does not break in favor of the Cannons, there is precedent in the PLL for the fortunes of teams to change very quickly.

In 2020, both the Atlas and Waterdogs won only a single game in group play and were eliminated in the first round of the Championship Series. In the following season, both teams tied for the best record in the regular season.

While the Chrome were the only team to miss the playoffs in 2021, the team bounced back in 2022. Through nine games, the team is in second place with six victories, one fewer than the combined total from all three previous years of existence.

Currier pointed to the college draft as a big opportunity for teams at the bottom of the standings to turn things around quickly.

“There are only eight teams, so all of the top college players have to find a spot somewhere,” Currier said. “You look at the Chrome, and they landed [Brendan] Nichtern and [Logan] Wisnauskas, some pretty good players coming out of college. They have a pretty big advantage playing all season, and then going right into a pro season.”

The draft isn’t the only way to add players, however, and Soudan said teams at the bottom of the standings have to be willing to reevaluate.

“You just have to embrace change,” he said. “There’s a lot of really good players if you’re willing to move on from guys that are not getting it done. Atlas had a big change of heart, and they restructured their whole thought process. And there’s the Waterdogs, from where they started their first year, they revamped their entire defense. They got better, younger. You’ve got some veterans, and then they got some young kids that work really well together, so it’s just kind of trying to find that match.”

The Cannons already shook up the roster prior to the team’s Week 8 game against the Waterdogs. The team released Christian Cuccinello, Shayne Jackson and Tyson Bell to the player pool while picking up Andrew Newbold, Chris Aslanian and Mark Cockerton.

In that game against the Waterdogs, those three additions combined for seven goals (three from Cockerton, two from Aslanian and one from Newbold) and two assists (both from Aslanian). Overall, Cockerton has scored five goals in two games, and Aslanian has registered at least one point in each game he’s played for the Cannons, for a total of three goals and four assists.

The changeup hasn’t resulted in any extra victories in the standings for the Cannons, but Quirk feels the lessons learned from this year can help the team build into the future like other last-place clubs before them have done.

Quirk, himself, has been in a similar position in professional lacrosse. In his first three years as the head coach of the Boston Cannons in Major League Lacrosse, his teams failed to make the playoffs, and one of those seasons the team finished in last place with a 3-11 record. By his fifth season, however, the team – featuring current Cannons players Marrocco, Goodrich, and Cockerton – won the league championship.

“You think about their journey, and that’s the thing we talk a lot about at training camp and when new guys join our team throughout the season. We talk about their journey and where they’ve been individually and where we’re going as a team, most importantly,” he said. “I mean, these guys have played in national title games. They’ve won national titles. They’ve played in Big Ten tournaments. They’ve been around it. When you start getting too giddy and focusing on that big prize, that’s when you lose touch with the journey, and that’s when things can go south.”

“All eight teams have that goal [to win the championship],” he added. “It’s the journey together to get there collectively that we’re really focused on.”