Welcome back to our Season Preview Series! So far we’ve taken a look at Ohio and Charlotte. Continuing our move south, we turn our attention to the Atlanta Blaze.
The Blaze were another team that had a disappointing season. Finishing with a below .500 for the second year in a row (6-8), and tied with Charlotte for second-worst record in the MLL, Atlanta left their fans wanting more. Sure, it was only their second season as a franchise, but there is enough talent on that team to really make something happen.
Atlanta’s only “signature” win, if you want to call it that, came against Florida, an eventual playoff team. The Blaze absolutely worked the Launch to the tune of 17-4, at home. That served as a revenge game for the Blaze, avenging a 19-16 loss a couple of weeks earlier.
Another former Marquette Golden Eagle was on the move this offseason. This time, it was Liam Byrnes, D, being acquired by the Blaze. Atlanta traded picks 11 and 24 in this years Collegiate Draft to the Florida Launch in order to add the big-time defenseman.
Byrnes, a resident of Atlanta, was another key contributor to Marquette’s Big East championship run. Easily recognizable by his beyond-shoulder-length hair, Byrnes is versatile. He can play both close defense and run some LSM (long-stick midfield), as he did in college.
Another key part of Byrnes’ game is his ability to scoop GB’s. This guy is an absolute ball-hawk and, more often than not, you’ll see him come out of a scrum both with possession and with his head up looking to move the ball.
Not to get too somber here, but I’d be remiss if I used this section for anyone other than Dave Huntley. Coach Huntley passed away this offseason at the age of 60, and the cause of death was not released.
Huntley is a legend (member of both U.S. and Canada Lacrosse Hall of Fame), and did so many great things for the game of lacrosse. Most recently, Huntley was the Head Coach of the Blaze, but he was so much more than that in the lacrosse community.
Coach Huntley, who played at Johns Hopkins and won both the ’78 and ’79 national championships, meant so much to so many big-name players in today’s game. Players like UNC’s Timmy Kelly, who requested to wear Huntley’s jersey number, 18, for the Heels’ game against Hopkins. Kelly then went off for a career-high four goals while playing on Huntley’s college field.
The Blaze, along with the entire lacrosse community, will miss Coach Huntley greatly.
Player To Watch:
This year, I think Dylan Donahue has a breakout season. The Syracuse-product has been on the cusp of MLL greatness for a couple of years now, and I have a feeling this is the year he breaks out.
Donahue, who is 7th on Syracuse’s all-time goal scoring list, has been productive in the pros, but not the player he was in college. Perhaps this is the season that he and Kevin Rice, whom he played with at ‘Cuse, re-discover that same chemistry from college.
Last year, Donahue scored 11 goals and recorded 8 assists in 10 games for Atlanta. This season, he will be flanked by Rice, as previously mentioned, as well as Matt Gibson, who was recently acquired in a trade with New York.
Hopefully, Donahue plays a full 14 games and we can see how this attack unit meshes as the year goes on. While, yes, there is only one lacrosse ball on the field at a time, I see Donahue taking said ball and delivering it to the back on the net many, many times this season.
Full disclosure: I am a big fan of all black uniforms. Murdered out, if you will. I think, when done right, they look awesome.
With that being said, I think the Blaze have a good starting point here. Do I love these? Unfortunately, no, I do not. The logos on the sleeves are huge, and I’m not a huge fan of the font for the numbers.
Additionally, I wish the shorts had a touch more of that orange-yellow color. Some kind of stripe up the side or something. When the top part of the uniform has the flame design, I think the shorts need a bit of that same scheme to tie it all together.
However, the good news for the Blaze is that there are easy improvements that can be made. Add a little bit of color to the shorts, find a new number font, tone it down on the sleeve logos, and we’re cruising.
Final Grade: B+
7-7, miss the playoffs.
It depends on who they draft, but I think the Blaze stay right around the same record this season. While I think Donahue will have a big year, I don’t see the rest of the offense picking up the slack.
Atlanta has Scott Ratliff at LSM, who is legit, but there isn’t much depth behind him. Maybe the addition of Byrnes helps, but I see him playing mostly close-defense. James Fahey, who entered the league via an open tryout with Boston a couple seasons ago, is the next man up in terms of LSM depth.
Maybe look for the Blaze to draft John Sexton out of Notre Dame to address the LSM needs. But, keep in mind, they traded two picks to Florida for Byrnes, so they’re going to need to hit on their first pick in order to avoid burying themselves for the future.
We’re less than a week away from the start of the season! Get pumped! More previews to come, so stay tuned.