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For years, Eclipse has been considered one of the top clubs in the country.
The Connecticut-based club, run by former pro Jamie Hanford and former Princeton standout Chip Buzzeo, has had its fair share of elite teams, packed with high-level commitments. Its teams have always competed at the highest levels and won a bevy of championships.
Eclipse’s 2022 team, though, had never found itself on the right side of a championship game. Ever. So when they held a one-goal lead in the final minute of the NLF National Championships 2022 final against Team 91 Long Island Smash, it seemed like a gimme, particularly with talented lefty attackman Matthew Minicus running around and trying to ice the game for that elusive first title.
Until Minicus saw an open net and decided that he’d try to put things away. Smash came up with a stop as a melee of bodies jumped in front of his shot, got the ball back and called timeout. That’s when Minicus started sweating a bit, even though he’d pocketed a hat trick, including the go-ahead goal.
No problem at all. Defenseman David Evanchick (Darien, Conn. / Villanova) and goalie Thomas Ricciardelli (Taft, Conn. / Notre Dame) teamed up for a final defensive stand, and finally, Eclipse’s ’22s had their first title after a 5-4 win.
“I almost choked that away, so it was definitely relieving,” said Minicus, the NLF’s No. 44 ’22. “This feels great. This is our first win ever, so it’s a good one to win. It’s very exciting. We just started clicking. We went 6-0 and we’d never done that ever.”
In a game low on offense, Minicus was the difference-maker for Eclipse. He popped the three goals, including the go-ahead goal with less than five minutes to go when he dipped under a defenseman and dunked the ball top shelf. The slick lefty found a way to consistently get open and strain the 91 defense. It was a mirror image of a play from earlier in the game where he’d gotten denied. This time, it was all the offense Eclipse needed.
Best Goalie In The Country
For as good as Minicus was in guiding the offense in a slower, drag-it-out type of game, especially with Eclipse missing fellow top-50 recruit in Ryan Colsey (Ridgefield, Conn. / Virginia) to an injury, Ricciardelli was the story of the tournament for Eclipse. The NLF No. 14 ’22 and No. 2 goalie in the class – it’s hard to envision a scenario where that 2 doesn’t change to a 1 in the next rankings – was flat-out brilliant all tournament long. He stymied an explosive 91 offense, but he was even better in the semifinal, making more than 20 saves in a shutout of a very good Big 4 HHH team.
Ricciardelli is so poised in the cage and he effortlessly tracks the ball coming out of shooters’ sticks. He’s fantastic out of the cage, too, constantly tasking himself with running the ball upfield. The Notre Dame commit – nobody has recruited the goalie position better in the past five years – is unflappable, and he tosses pinpoint outlets. He’s the type of goalie that gets in shooters’ heads when he makes a couple of saves early, and once he got into a rhythm, he was everything that Eclipse needed him to be to secure that title.
“It’s insane. Watching some of his saves is crazy. It’s definitely a relief having him in net and he can make any save,” Minicus said.
As most elite goalies do, Ricciardelli deflected away praise and heaped it on his defensive teammates instead. He also credited his teammates for coming together and rising up in their last crack at an NLF title.
“We always thought that we were lower tier, but I knew that we had the skill in each individual,” Ricciardelli said. “Our team is a little bit special in the fact that there’s not that one guy that’s going to take the ball and score every single time. We came together in the first game, but we really showed in our MadLax (quarterfinal) game that we can beat the best.
“I can’t thank my defensemen enough because in that semifinal game, I don’t think I had a single shot outside of 12 yards that I wasn’t able to track and get my eyes on,” Ricciardelli said. “I can’t thank them enough for locking it down in this game and the semis. D-mids, especially.
It took everyone to do it, and now Eclipse 2022 can finally add the NLF belt to its trophy case.
Balsamo has been incredibly impressive all summer long, and he followed that trend with another standout performance in Amherst. Express trailed Team South early and was struggling to get things going offensively until Balsamo took over with four first-half goals in four different ways. The Duke commit popped out and hit a 10-yard shot, added a pretty finish on an inside roll, converted a bad pass in traffic into a quick goal and then finished it off with a topside sweep. Balsamo has put in some time in the weight room to better withstand punishment from bigger defensemen, but he’s hard for those bigger guys to guard because he does a great job of using his lack of height to his advantage by making it impossible for defenders to get low on him. He also took plenty of midfield runs and relishes the task of playing quality, aggressive on-ball defense.
Nico Berger, midfield, Buckingham Browne & Nichols (Mass.) / Laxachusetts Black
One of the few remaining uncommitted players on Laxachusetts Black, Berger was a difference-maker for his squad, helping his team land in the semifinals. Berger packs some pop into his shot. He also made a bunch of smart decisions offensively and played within himself, and he was a beast between the lines for Boston’s finest.
Chuck Cacciutti, goalie, Haverford School (Pa.) / Mesa / Penn
Cacciutti was a steady presence in the Mesa cage all weekend long and helped his team reach the quarterfinals. An All Inter-Ac goalie this spring in his first year as a starter for the Fords, he made a bevy of impressive 1v1 saves on the doorstep, something that’s become a bit of a norm for him. A very emotional, fiery goalie, he’s constantly communicating with his teammates and does a great job of kickstarting the clear with his pinpoint feeds.
Jack Cascadden, faceoff midfield, Garden City (N.Y.) / Long Island Express / Cornell – NLF No. 34 ’22
Most faceoff guys decidedly don’t look like Cascadden. He’s an absolute unit at the faceoff X, hovering around 6-2, 220, and he’s got the athleticism to go along with that massive frame. Also a standout football player at Garden City – he rushed for 145 yards and a pair of touchdowns in the Nassau County title game to lead the Trojans to a championship this spring – Cascadden moves effortlessly when he’s chasing down ground balls. He was quick on the clamp and popped the ball out to himself a lot, and his athleticism makes him really tough to slow down on the fast break. Cascadden also put the ball in a number of different places, keeping opponents guessing throughout.
There will be a new ‘22 national champion as @MADLAX1 knocks off LI Express in OT to win their pool!
Witt Crawford (St. Stephen’s & St. Agnes, Va.) does the honors with the GWG by sweeping topside and ripping one 5-hole.
— NLF (@natlaxfed) July 17, 2021
Witt Crawford, attack, St. Stephen’s & St. Agnes (Va.) / MadLax Capital
Someone’s going to strike late gold when they snatch Crawford up. It’s surprising to see him still on the board, particularly as he’s been a constant force at attack for MadLax. The tall righty came up big with an overtime winner against defending champion Long Island Express when he snagged a tough ground ball – a common occurrence for him – then swept across the top and fired home a bouncer. Crawford’s good at regularly getting his hands free and he’s a tireless worker at getting open off ball.
David Evanchick, defense, Darien (Conn.) / Eclipse / Villanova
Outside of Ricciardelli, Evanchick was the defensive leader for an Eclipse team that yielded all of 22 goals in six games, including a semifinal shutout. He was the one who came up with a defensive stand on the final possession of the championship game, keeping Joey Spallina away from the cage. He held his own against the NLF’s No. 1 prospect when they matched up against each other, using his strong lower body to offset Spallina’s power-based game. The younger brother of former Penn All-American Mark Evanchick is a bull who doesn’t shy away from mixing it up.
Brendan Donnelly, goalie, Germantown Academy (Pa.) / Big 4 HHH
Donnelly has made significant strides in his development in the past year or so, and a season as the Patriots’ starting goalie sure helped out. At UMass, he was dialed in from the get-go, making a ton of saves all weekend long and spearheading a defense that only yielded 25 goals in five games. He was particularly stout in the quarterfinals against Team 91 Maryland, where he came up with a couple of head-turning saves.
Leading Edge narrowly missed out on a playoff spot due to a loss to the West Coast Starz, but after dropping their opener, New Jersey’s finest came roaring back with three straight wins to cap their NLF careers. Engelke was in the middle of it all – literally and figuratively – with his presence at the faceoff X and beyond. The lefty won a great deal of his faceoffs and still might be Leading Edge’s most dangerous midfielder when he gets time and room to operate. A 6-2, 190-pounder with a hard shot down the alley, he’s probably got the best stick skills of any faceoff man in the class. He got his fair share of goals throughout the weekend and consistently grabbed his own ground balls off the faceoffs.
Physically, Gallagher looks the part of a future Irish defenseman, and he does a lot of the things that Notre Dame defensemen have done so well in recent years. The 6-2, 190-pounder showed a very active stick and picked off a bunch of passes, hunting out skip passes throughout the tournament for a team that reached the semifinals. Gallagher, who started for the Raiders’ state title-winning team this spring, was also a major asset in the clearing game.
David Link, attack/midfield, Delbarton (N.J.) / Leading Edge / Villanova
Delbarton struggled immensely at finding the back of the net this year – Link was the only player with more than 18 points – but the future Wildcat was a steady presence with 22 goals and 16 assists. Link carried that play over to the summer, and he’s a brilliant, high-IQ player who finds a way to impact the game in a bunch of different ways. He scored in a multitude of ways in Amherst, rode back hard on every possession and seems to score every big goal for Leading Edge. He also took midfield runs and didn’t look like an attackman playing D-middie when it was his time to get dodged. Instead, he prided himself on escorting his matchup out of the play. Every team needs a player like him. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see him eventually be named a Villanova captain with the way he carries himself.
Seamus McCarthy, LSM/defense, Salisbury (Conn.) / Laxachusetts Black
Not the biggest defenseman in the world, but he certainly plays like it. McCarthy is a tenacious on-ball defender who has done yeoman’s work on the back end for the better part of the past year or so. He’s a scrappy competitor who did a great job in coverage without taking too many takeaway chances. McCarthy’s got the footwork to run with anyone to go along with a disruptive stick and nifty stickwork.
Will McCulloch, attack, St. Stephen’s & St. Agnes (Va.) / MadLax Capital / Loyola
McCulloch has been a consistent offensive presence for years for MadLax, and he continued that run with another excellent weekend to help his team reach the quarterfinals. He was the only player who was able to beat Thomas Ricciardelli for a hat trick, popping four on him, and he had a hat trick or better in every game. He’s got a picturesque shooting stroke and has a bunch of diversity in his offensive arsenal, including this absurd goal. Much like Balsamo, he’s good at using his low center of gravity to his advantage when going up against a taller pole and he can slither into tight spaces. McCulloch also has very good vision and finds open guys with ease.
Already known as a lights-out LSM, Miklaszewski has found himself playing more close defense as the summer wore on, and he didn’t skip a beat. At UMass, the lefty predominantly played down low and dominated his matchups. He has terrific footwork, positions his stick well on his approaches and is automatic off the ground. Like any elite LSM, he loves to press out, even at close, and it takes his opponents out of his comfort zones. Miklaszewski is a tough, nasty defender who prides himself on playing mean. He’ll be a perfect fit at Yale.
Max Neeson, defense, Pottsgrove (Pa.) / Team 91 Long Island Smash / Albany
At 6-feet, 215 pounds, Neeson looks like the middle linebacker and fullback that he is for Pottsgrove’s football team and plays like one as a defenseman. He LOVES hitting people and making life miserable. He thrives on initiating contact and very seldom losing the physical battle. It was clear at UMass that he’s put in a lot of time into improving his footwork, and his 1v1 defense was excellent throughout. Neeson was able to get his stick in passing lanes and knocked out a few turnovers, and when he got going in transition, he was able to run by guys with relative ease.
Matt Nilan, goalie, Bayport-Blue Point (N.Y.) / United
Nilan saw the lion’s share of the action for a very good Bayport-Blue Point team that made it to the Suffolk County title game after upsetting defending champion Shoreham-Wading River. He was great again once again in the United cage, using his big frame to block a ton of shots and being very active out of the crease. He’s also constantly talking to his defense, the hallmark of a veteran goalie. There aren’t many better uncommitted goalies in the class.
Ryan O’Connor, LSM, Springfield (Pa.) / Big 4 HHH / Penn State
A recent flip from Villanova to Penn State, O’Connor continued to build off of an all-state junior season where he led the Cougars to a PIAA District One championship. He’s an on-ball fiend, never yielding an inch of free space, guarding guys out to the parking lot and regularly taking the ball away. It was his precise check that landed a takeaway that helped Big 4 HHH start its comeback to put away a feisty United team in pool play. O’Connor is a tall, athletic LSM who runs very well and has an outstanding stick. He’s perfectly comfortable with the ball in his stick in tight spaces and doesn’t have many moves or passes that he won’t try. His coverage has gotten significantly better in the past year, too.
Mason Quick, midfield, Corner Canyon (Utah) / Team 91 Maryland / Utah
Quick’s last name is fitting, because he’s got a legit first step and hooooo boy can he fly. Quick, who led Corner Canyon to a 22-0 season with an incredible 105-goal, 43-assist season, was almost unguardable for much of the weekend, particularly when he got matched up against defensive midfielders. He emerged as the go-to offensive threat with his ability to strain defenses down either alley with that speed, and he can score righty of lefty.
Pang, who committed to the Mountain Hawks a few days after the event, teamed up with Kevin Barrett (St. Anthony’s / Boston University) to form a terrific duo in the 91 cage. Pang was terrific throughout, gobbling up a ton of shots and leading a defense that yielded all of 24 goals in six games. He’s cool under pressure and finds a way to play big in big moments. Pang’s athleticism allows him to take chances that other goalies can’t, and he was a reliable stopper throughout the weekend.
Jack Rideout, faceoff midfield, St. Sebastian’s (Mass.) / Laxachusetts Black / Michigan – NLF No. 26 ’22
A well-established commodity at the faceoff X for Laxachusetts, Rideout continued his stalwart play by dominating the X for most of the tournament to lead his team into the semifinals. The future Wolverine is very explosive out of his stance and scoops up ground balls with ease. He’s got a really good stick and is comfortable playing midfield. Rideout is a significant threat for defenses off the faceoff win and has the grit and toughness to scrap at the X.
When Schaller throws checks, it’s done with every intent of hurting the ballcarrier. He arrives at the ball with a purpose on every possession, and he plays with a nasty disposition all day long. A tenacious pitbull in coverage who embraces contact, he also runs the field really well and always has his head up when running in transition. Schaller led a defensive effort that only yielded 19 goals in four games en route to a quarterfinal berth.
Joseph Sheridan, midfield, Malvern Prep (Pa.) / Mesa / Richmond
A solidly-built midfielder who played major minutes for NLFRankings.com’s No. 2 high school team this spring, Sheridan was a force throughout the weekend for Mesa. He uses his size and toughness to make things happen in the middle of the field as a dodger, but he also more than holds up his end of the bargain defensively. A high-IQ middie, Sheridan got up and down the field and made plays all over.
Max Sloat, midfield, Sacred Heart Prep (Calif.) / West Coast Starz Gold / Duke
Sloat was good enough as an attackman to land with the powerhouse Blue Devils, but he’s taken his game to another level since dropping to midfield. His shots and the back of the net got well-acquainted at UMass, where he averaged a hat trick per game and had five goals in one game and four in a quarterfinal overtime loss to Laxachusetts. A big body – 6-3 and close to 200 pounds – Sloat gets topside with relative ease and can hammer a hard, heavy shot. His time at attack has served him well in developing his handle in tight, too.
Travis Smith, midfield, John Carroll (Md.) / Crabs / Penn
It’s hard to miss Smith out of the midfield, what with him towering over everyone else at 6-4. Once that big frame gets rolling downhill and his hands get free, look out, because there’s a rocket headed your way lefty or righty. He parlayed his strong weekend at NLF into a commitment to the Quakers. Penn’s getting a guy who can stretch defenses out with his shooting range.
Two goals and an assist is a decent day for almost any attackman. Eclipse won the tournament because it limited Spallina to that. The No. 1 recruit in the country was outrageously dominant in a quarterfinal win over Mesa (eight goals and one assist) and in the semifinal win over Laxachusetts Black (five goals and one assist). That’s… a lot of goals. He did it with his usual flair, including a ridiculous BTB from 5 and 5 against Mesa, but also with some new wrinkles, including a lefty finish and a couple of snipes from well above the cage.
The goal tally stands out, but he’s also adept at beating teams as a passer if that’s what the situation calls for. Spallina draws so much attention when he starts backing down defenders that it leaves backside windows open, windows in which he’s easily capable of threading the needle. He’s tough as nails and never backs down from an opportunity to mix it up physically. He’ll continue his stranglehold at No. 1 in the next ’22 rankings, especially after posting a ludicrous 45-goal, 77-assist, 122-point junior campaign in just 17 games, in which he led Mount Sinai to a Long Island Class C championship.
Will Snyder, goalie, St. Anthony’s (N.Y.) / Long Island Express / Fairfield
Snyder, who was part of a 1-2 tag team in the Friars’ cage this spring, continued his outstanding summer with a lights-out performance in the cage. He’s a towering presence in goal, his frame getting close to 6-5, but he’s nimble and he tracked shots very well. Opponents see how tall he is and assume it’s fair game to shoot low. The future Stag had other ideas, routinely denying low attempts by dropping well and taking away a ton of the net. He made a number of quality outlet passes to kick off transition the other way.
Samari Staten, midfield, Mater Dei (Calif.) / West Coast Starz Gold
Staten is an elite athlete at short-stick defensive midfield, one that was unbeatable all weekend long and elevated the Starz’s defense throughout the weekend as they earned a spot in the quarterfinals. At 6-2 and cut up, Staten’s got a prototypical frame to get up and down the field at the next level. He won’t be on the board for much longer.
Hopper Zappitello, attack, Boys’ Latin (Md.) / Crabs
The brother of Maryland pole Ajax Zappitello, the younger Zappitello is a smooth dodger who’s at his best operating from X, where he can hang defenders up with his silky footwork. He’s got good vision and keeps his head up and often makes the play that starts everything, picking up hockey assists in the process. He’s also got soft hands to finish in front.
Kevin Barrett, goalie, St. Anthony’s (N.Y.) / Team 91 Long Island Smash / Boston University
Max Busenkell, midfield/attack, Garnet Valley (Pa.) / Big 4 HHH / Notre Dame – NLF No. 13 ’22
Jonny Cool, LSM, McDonogh (Md.) / Team 91 Maryland / Ohio State – NLF No. 23 ’22
Hugh Conrad, goalie, De La Salle (Calif.) / West Coast Starz Gold / Yale – NLF No. 37 ’22
Aidan Fairchild, defense, Patriot (Va.) / MadLax Capital / Richmond
Oran Gelinas, goalie, Middlesex (Mass.) / Laxachusetts Black / Ohio State
Petey Malitas, attack, Penn Charter (Pa.) / Big 4 HHH / Duke
Ryan McLaughlin, LSM, Mountain Lakes (N.J.) / Leading Edge / Penn / NLF No. 42 ’22
Timmy McNamara, goalie, Tabor (Mass.) / Laxachusetts Black / Denver
Jameson Smith, midfield, Bayport-Blue Point (N.Y.) / Team 91 Long Island Smash / Johns Hopkins
Jacob Urbano, midfield, St. Thomas Aquinas (Fla.) / Crabs
Michael Valentine, defense, Massapequa (N.Y.) / Long Island Express