New York In Line To Win Second MLL Championship In Three Years, Thanks To One Shrewd Move By Front Office

By Peter Schwartz
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I remember how angry Yankees haters were prior to the start of the 2009 season.

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The Bombers had already signed free agent pitchers CC Sabathia and AJ Burnett, but they didn’t stop there. Just to give them an even better chance at a World Series title, the Yanks opened up the checkbook again and brought in free agent first baseman Mark Teixeira.

It was mission accomplished as the Yankees went on to win their 27th world championship.

Now the money is not nearly as big in Major League Lacrosse, but the New York Lizards are making it easy for fans of other teams in the league to really dislike them.

Winners of the 2015 MLL title, the Lizards failed to repeat last season, losing in the semifinals. But with a roster full of stars like midfielder Paul Rabil, considered by many to be the best player in the world, along with attackman Rob Pannell, faceoff specialist Greg “The Beast” Gurenlian, and goalie Drew Adams, the Lizards still had to be considered one of the teams to beat in 2017.

But why just settle for just being a good team?

“Good doesn’t cut it,” said Lizards owner Andrew Murstein. “You have to strive to be great.”

So in November, the Lizards took advantage of the new Player Movement Policy to sign superstar midfielder Joe Walters away from the Chesapeake Bayhawks. Just like the Yankees in 2009, the Lizards are playing by the rules and are going for it all in 2017. The goal is simple — to win another title, and ownership as given the green light to do whatever it takes.

“Whether in business or in sports, you can never sit still and be satisfied,” Murstein said. “You always have to try and improve. You have to have the attitude that your competitors are coming for you, because they are.”

And now those competitors will have to deal with a Lizards team that has added another piece to the puzzle in Walters, who tallied 27 goals and 50 points last season for Chesapeake. He’ll join his new teammates for the first time this Saturday when training camp starts. Needless to say, he’s pumped to now be part of a team that has a chance to win it all.

“I can’t wait,” Walters said. “They’re obviously a storied franchise in the league and a first-class organization and I’m really excited to get started with the team. I think it shows that they’re committed to winning.”

Joe Walters

Joe Walters, left, of the Chesapeake Bayhawks runs with the ball against the Denver Outlaws on June 6, 2015, in Annapolis. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)

The addition of Walters will not only help the Lizards on the field, but also at the box office and in merchandise sales. Walters is one of the most recognizable names in the lacrosse world and he comes to a team that plays on Long Island, where there are so many fans and a plethora of kids that love to play the sport.

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There’s no question he’ll help the Lizards add to their strong fan base and sell plenty of No. 1 jerseys, starting with the home opener against Denver on April 29 at Hofstra.

“Joe is not only one of the most talented players of all-time, but is also a full-time lacrosse guy,” Lizards CEO Jeffrey Rudnick said. “We are confident that people will want to come watch Joe’s special talents on the field, which will no doubt help us bring more championships to New York.”

Speaking of championships, the Lizards have won three in their history and their most recent came two seasons ago after a blockbuster trade with Boston landed them Rabil, who is under contract through 2018. The Lizards have also locked up Pannell, who scored 42 goals and dished out 32 assists last season, to a two-year extension through 2019.

Now with Walters in the fold, the objective is to win multiple championships with these superstars in tow

“The goal is clearly to win the championship every year,” said Murstein who purchased the Lizards in 2012. “With the superstars we have, that definitely gives us a leg up.”

Walters, a native of Rochester, will make his first public appearance for the Lizards on Saturday when he conducts a youth clinic at the All Star Sports Arena in Selden on Long Island. On the same day that the Lizards begin their quest for the MLL Championship, the team’s newest superstar will get a chance to rub elbows with Lizards fans and give the kids a pointer or two.

“They’ve done a good job putting together this first clinic and I’m excited to come down and show my face in the area and meet the fans and to finally put that shirt on to represent the franchise,” said Walters, who will travel back to Chesapeake to face his former team in the season opener on April 22.

“It’s a great way to jump start his new affiliation with the team and our season” Murstein added.

When the Lizards acquired Walters, they sent a message to the rest of the MLL that this organization expects to be in Frisco, Texas on Aug. 19, not just to compete for a championship, but to win the whole thing. Walters is hungry for a title and came to New York to join a group that wants another taste.

“That’s they’re goal and that’s my goal, so it just makes sense to join forces,” Walters said. “We have one goal and that is to win the championship.”

With players like Walters, Rabil, Pannell and Gurenlian, the Lizards have the pieces in place to win the MLL crown for the fourth time. Nothing is for certain as the UConn women’s basketball team found out the other day. But if you’re a Lizards fan, you can’t help but ooze confidence right now.

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Don’t forget to follow Pete on Twitter at @pschwartzcbsfan. You can also follow @jwalters1 and @LizardsLacrosse