After the Boston Cannons traded Paul Rabil before the 2015 season, the team found itself seeking an identity. Some of that was around attackman Will Manny, a local UMass product who had emerged as one of the top scorers in the league. Some of that identity was also around long-time Cannons Kevin Buchanan and Mitch Belisle.
Following a surprising 2015 playoff run to the semi finals, Boston found itself without nearly its entire 2011 roster that won the franchise’s only title. With the losses of both its goaltender Jordan Burke and Adam Ghitelman, and after trading Scott Ratliff and Ryan Tucker to Atlanta, the Cannons also lost its head coach in John Tucker.
Sean Quirk jumped into a situation where the Cannons had to discover who they were. Despite missing the 2016 playoffs, the Cannons’ 8-6 season found them finding that identity through unexpected avenues.
The defense was anchored by Belisle and Brodie Merrill, but newcomers Mike Pellegrino and James Fahey stepped in and became regulars. Pellegrino, acquired in a trade with Atlanta before the season, impressed during camp and earned himself a role, especially early in the season when Merrill was still playing in the NLL.
“Mike is a competitor, he gets fired up more than most guys,” said Quirk. “His energy and passion is contagious in the locker room. We were very pleased with what he did throughout the entire season.”
Fahey earned his role on the roster after trying out in the pre season. After splitting time early in the year, he became a regular in the lineup.
“He was very consistent throughout the season, he got better and knew his role on the defense,” said Quirk of Fahey. “He had some big goals for us in transition as well. He will continue to improve and work hard for next season.”
Of all the players who broke out in 2016, Josh Hawkins may have been the most explosive. The defensive midfielder became one of the Cannons most valuable players, earning Boston clears off defensive stops and helping win draws from the wing.
Hawkins earned his first all star appearance, and emerged as an offensive force late in the season with several second half goals that keyed the Cannons to several important victories.
“Josh is the top defensive midfielder in the league in my opinion, he can take wings, plays great defense and scores a lot in transition,” said Quirk. “He is an unselfish player that wants to win as much as the player next to him. Josh will once again be instrumental in our games plans in 2017.”
If one player in the league was snubbed an all star appearance or external recognition, it may have been faceoff specialist Joe Nardella. Nardella took over the role as the starting FOGO in the second game of the season when he began to get more time than Craig Bunker.
Nardella was second in the league in faceoff percentage of qualified leaders, behind just the FOGO of the year, Greg Gurenlian of the New York Lizards. The Rutgers alum has become one of the tops in the league, and his efforts did not go unnoticed by the coaching staff.
“Joe was fantastic and dominant in so many games this past season,” said Quirk. “He communicated and worked really well with him wing play. He has worked so hard on his game to get to the elite level that he is at.”
Of all the rookies joining the Cannons in 2016, Bellistri was the only one to go undrafted. The Brown grad was overlooked in January’s draft, and ended up being second in the nation in points, behind only his teammate Dylan Molloy.
“Kylor was excellent from day one, we see him having the same role next season,” said Quirk. “He will come back knowing what to expect and will have a breakout season in our minds!”
With this week being the final deadline for players to declare for player movement, it should be a busy couple of weeks for the Cannons making their off season moves. No matter what happens, it seems they have identified their core moving forward into 2017.