New year, new look for the only MLL team north of the border.
What's Changed: The coaching staff. Regy Thorpe and Gary Gait are gone. Re-enter Dave Huntley, the former coach of the Toronto Nationals, now back with the organization as this year's new headman. He's worked with plenty of Canadian teams in his coaching time, including the Canadian national field team.
Biggest Area of Concern: It's the same old song and dance for the Nationals. They have a talented team, but every player is roughly the same. The offense is filled with a plethora of scorers from a box background, textbook for a Canadian team. This prevents them from having a varied offense. Instead, all the goals should come from somebody finishing inside, typically on a Joe Walters feed to Cody Jamieson, Garrett Billings, or Stephen Keogh.
Their 2012 numbers were a testament to their predictability on offense. They have too many inside scorers instead of outside finishers. As a result, Hamilton only had five two-point goals on the season. Five! The next worse team, Boston, doubled that total with ten.
The other problem this presents — for another year — is the delay of the players joining the team as they join following the NLL season ending. Hamilton has the advantage of getting a first-week bye, but still should have trouble with a limited roster against Boston and Long Island in the first two games.
Biggest Strength: Defensive rookies. Hamilton needs top-notch play from its rookies as they shuffle in following the NCAA season. The Nationals drafted very well, picking up All-American defenseman Jason Noble, Virginia middie Chris LaPierre, who is a talented SSDM that can score in transition, and Loyola SSDM Josh Hawkins. All of those guys bring in exceptional talent to force turnovers and generate some offense in transition. As you can deduce from reading the "area of concern" section, that transition offense will be key to offering some variety to produce more scoring.
Perhaps the biggest addition could be Johns Hopkins FOGO Mike Poppleton. He's winning an insanely high amount of faceoffs this year — 67%. That could be a boost to Hamilton's already talented faceoff unit that ranked third in the MLL last season. Overall, this rookie class can help keep the ball away from the defense, but still has the talent to force turnovers and get the ball to the attack.
Projected Record: 4-10. New year, same problems plague Hamilton. It'll be a slow start before the Nationals work a split with Rochester, beat Charlotte at least once, and pull off late season home upsets of Boston and Denver.