For many expansion clubs, the thing fans look forward to the most in their first season is, well, their second season (or beyond). The Las Vegas Knights making the Stanley Cup Finals in their first season is a decided outlier. Locally, it took the Cowboys six years, the Mavericks four, and the Rangers 35 to make their first postseasons. In the early part of last season, it looked like Panther City Lacrosse’s first campaign would closely resemble those of the 100-loss Senators/Rangers, the winless 1960 Cowboys, or the first-year Mavs who posted the NBA’s worst record. The local LAX squad lost four contests to open 2021 and went 1-8 through the first nine games in franchise history. However, four of those losses came by a single goal, and in late February, things began looking up. They won a pair of one-goal games and reeled off a five-game win streak, including two against the eventual champion Colorado Mammoth.
The team didn’t quite come all the way back to make the playoffs, but they proved they could compete in the world’s best box lacrosse league. The end-of-season rally felt especially encouraging when one considers the roster makeup that did it. Patrick Dodds led the team in assists and points as a rookie and fellow first-year men Dean Fairall, Josh Medeiros, and Nathan Grenon contributed significantly. None of the team’s top offensive threats, all of whom will return this season, have turned 30, nor have any of their goalies.
In addition, they will add Jonathan Donville. The team had selected him first overall in the entry draft before last season, but the Cornell star elected to complete his college eligibility with a season at Maryland before turning pro. He refined his game further with the Terrapins while also winning a national championship. He’ll join one of this year’s first-round picks, Mathieu Gautier, on the roster.
General Manager Bob Hamley signed Dodds to a contract extension this offseason. Next season they’ll add this year’s fifth overall pick, Ohio State’s Jason Knox and they’ve also acquired additional draft picks in future years thanks to trades of veterans like Ryan Benesch and Randy Staats (whose transaction yielded the pick used to select Gautier). They hope it’s a recipe for a roster filled with exciting young players they can keep together for successful campaigns to come.
Last season’s win total was more than the National Lacrosse League’s last two expansion teams combined. The league named Tracey Kelusky a Coach of the Year award finalist as a result. In the video interview that serves as the centerpiece of this post, he offers insight into how he sees his young roster coming together to build on the successes of 2021-22. They’ll start the season December 9 at Dickies Arena against a new team that no doubt hopes to imitate PCLC’s instant competitiveness, the Las Vegas Desert Dogs.
A final note: I am somewhat obsessed with the opponent they’ll play on the road December 31 this year (and again March 4 in Dickies Arena): The Saskatchewan Rush. So, of course, I asked Coach TK about it. I wonder what there is to do in Saskatoon on New Year’s Eve – anybody up for a road trip? If you had a team that shared your name, perhaps you’d obsess about it, too. It’s possible Dwayne Johnson feels the same way about the Toronto Rock or the singer Seal has a thing for the San Diego NLL team.