Waterdogs LC Defying Preseason Odds, Have Eyes on a Championship


In May, a little less than a month before the 2021 Premier Lacrosse League season opened, DraftKings posted its future odds on which team would win the championship. The second-year Waterdogs opened seventh out of eight teams.

The only team with worse odds was the expansion Cannons.

Judging by the Waterdogs’ finish in 2020, it wasn’t too surprising. The club finished tied for the worst record in the league and posted the third-worst scoring differential.

Plenty personnel changes were made prior to the start of the 2021 season, and through the first five weeks of the season, the fruits of their rebuild have paid off. The Waterdogs are tied for the most wins in the league.

“It’s the whole line about the cruise ships,” head coach Andy Copelan said. “It takes time for them to get going, but once they start, it’s hard to get them to stop. That’s my hope here with the Waterdogs.”

As an expansion side in the 2020 PLL Championship Series, the Waterdogs fought hard — all four of the team’s games in group play were decided by one possession — but it failed to come out on the winning side in most instances. It wasn’t until the fourth game of the Championship Series, the team’s final group play game, that it earned its first victory. The team finished with a 1-4 record after losing by three to the Redwoods in the elimination round.

The offseason provided plenty of options for the team to improve its lineup. Copelan added Liam Byrnes, Mikie Schlosser and Ben Randall in the 2021 Entry Draft, Michael Sowers and Ethan Walker in the 2021 College Draft, and Ryan Brown, Eli Gobrecht and Dillon Ward via trade.

Their arrivals had returning players like Kieran McArdle excited about what was possible.

“They’re great teammates. They’re great leaders. They’re great in the locker room,” he said. “All those guys we did pick up filled a void we had within our team. Being an expansion team, you’ve got guys that were left over from not being on other teams. There were a few spots we needed to fill to be a playoff caliber team, and Coach Copelan did a good job of that in the offseason.”

Zach Currier, the first pick in the 2020 Entry Draft and one of the team’s two All-Stars in 2021 (along with Schlosser) said the new additions have made everyone’s job on the field a little easier.

“My role has been to step back and let them do their thing,” he said. “Last year, we talked about not having a guy the ball would work through, and this year, it’s the same thing. The biggest thing was taking a step back and letting Ryan Brown shoot like he can and letting Mikie Schlosser dodge downhill. It’s more playing my role and helping the team where I can.”

With so many new additions, success and chemistry didn’t come quickly. In three losses, the team has lost by an average of six goals, including a 17-8 thumping at the hands of the Archers in Week 3.

Where the Waterdogs have been successful, however, is on the weekends they’ve played doubleheaders. In Week 2, the Waterdogs beat the Chaos 14-12 on Friday and the Chrome 14-9 on Sunday. In Week 5, the team avenged its early season loss to the Cannons by beating them 19-7 and then beating the Chrome once again on Sunday 12-6.

Copelan said a big difference during doubleheader weekends is that when the team plays Saturday, everyone may only be around each other for 24 hours, as opposed to being together for about four days. McArdle echoed that sentiment while adding that it allows the team to build on momentum.

“It’s getting a full weekend with the guys and the chemistry on and off the field,” he said. “It helps when you get that first Friday win, and things were rolling, and you’re clicking offensively and defensively and at the faceoff and goalie positions. You’re having fun off the field. It just translates into that Sunday game where you have the momentum. You already played a good Friday night game, and you continue to roll.”

While the team has done its best on weekends when the players see a lot of each other, the momentum of the two-win weekend in Minnesota came to an abrupt halt as the league took two weeks off — one for the All-Star game and one a bye week for all teams.

There was some concern that the time off would slow any momentum the team might have earned, but Copelan said going into the break with a pair of victories helped make the time away feel a little better.

“It’s fun going into these stretches where you’re not playing for two to three weeks with a positive taste. It’s just trying to hold onto that for as long as possible,” he said. “I want to make sure we do a good job of staying connected, making sure the focus is on connectivity and team interaction, and guys are taking care of their bodies and keeping the stick in their hand and seeing shots and taking shots is important.”

McArdle and Currier both talked about how much fun the team is having off the field and in the locker room. They’re also enjoying success on the field. They have a 4-3 record, the third-best scoring differential (plus-seven), four players in the top 16 in points (Connor Kelly with 21, Currier with 19 and McArdle and Brown with 17), two players in the top three in caused turnovers (Byrnes leads the league with 16, while Gobrecht is third with 12), and Jake Withers is fourth in the league winning 53 percent of his faceoffs.

But it’s not smooth sailing the rest of the way. The Waterdogs finish the regular season with the two-time defending champion Whipsnakes followed by the equally hot Atlas, winners of four of their past five games. The Waterdogs are up for the challenge. The players have visions of greatness.

“We’re capable of winning it all,” McArdle said. “If we play our game, there’s no reason we can’t be hoisting that trophy in the air at the end of the season. I think we have all the pieces. We’re starting to show it. These next two games are huge as we continue our push to the playoffs.”

“The expectation or this group is to win a championship,” Currier said. “It’s not to finish in third place in the regular season, or first place, for that matter. We’re building to win a championship.”

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