Box-Oriented Chaos Offense is Just Out There Having Fun


Chris Cloutier's backhanded shovel in the first quarter had the ESPN broadcast fawning.

In a rematch of the 2021 Premier Lacrosse League semifinals, the Archers and Chaos squared off in the 2022 PLL semis, and the Archers drew first blood thanks to a Matt Moore goal just about two minutes into the game.

Then it was time for the Chaos offense to go to work. Chris Cloutier struck first at the 9:24 mark of the first quarter. He received a pass bottom-left from Josh Byrne and swept to his right, and with the defender turning him away from the middle, he turned back to his left. With a slide coming to double him, he unleashed a shovel shot from a few yards inside the two-point arc that went from low to high and over Archers goalie Adam Ghitelman’s shoulder.

On the ESPN broadcast, Paul Carcaterra yelled, “Get it on SportsCenter Top 10!” and the cameras caught backup goalie Austin Kaut with his hands on his head and his eyes wide in amazement.

The Chaos weren’t done yet.

A few minutes later, Byrne, coming off a pick top left, cut down the middle, and in front of the net, unleashed a behind-the-back shot past Ghitelman. Two minutes after that, Cloutier capped the first quarter scoring with another shovel shot for a goal.

In just one quarter, the Chaos offense had the broadcasters fawning, Twitter buzzing and the Archers on their heels.

The Chaos offense keeps things fun, and that is a big reason why the team is playing in its third straight championship game — a Sunday matchup against the Waterdogs at 3 p.m. at Subaru Park in Chester, Pa.

“I’ve got to give a lot of credit to [Chaos head coach] Andy Towers and [assistant coach Matt] Panetta to be ourselves and be creative and not punish us when we make a mistake or we might throw it into a window that’s a little bit too tight and the ball gets turned over or whatever it may be,” Byrne said. “I think each and every one of us are at our best when we are playing freely and really just having fun.”

While the fans and broadcasters are typically amazed by the unorthodox goals Chaos players score, those types of goals seem to come naturally to Byrne, Cloutier and others.

The two credit their upbringings in Canada for being able to score in atypical ways.

“A lot of people think the shovel shots are a wishful shot, but we grow up practicing that,” Cloutier said. “Against the wall, I’m not just throwing overhand. I told Ghitelman in the game, ‘I practice that shot at home.’ That is something I’ve been doing all through college, and it’s just a second nature. Now, it’s honestly more comfortable than a right-handed regular shot for me. But it’s also not forcing it. Doing it so much, you know when you can pull it and when you can’t and what’s good for the team. If it’s an even game or if we’re down one, maybe I hold onto that one.”

Byrne shared his thoughts on why Canadian players tend to be more daring and creative on offense than their American counterparts.

“A lot of it is box lacrosse. In the game of box lacrosse and the game of field lacrosse, the differences are very simple,” he said. “When you grow up playing field lacrosse, you are more worried about taking care of the ball. There’s no shot clock, and you can win games 5-4 when you’re younger if you just take care of the ball and control it. On top of that, if you shoot a stupid shot, half the time, somebody else won’t run it out, or it might not even work, and you’re probably not going to get another chance because of how little possessions there are in the game of field.

“But, for us, playing box, there’s a 30-second shot clock on every time. So, you know you’re going to get the ball back in 30 seconds. So, our coaches would rather us get a shot off than not. They ask us to do whatever we can to get a shot off, and sometimes, that means forcing the ball through a tight window. Sometimes, that means trying to surprise a goalie with a shot they’re not used to. That’s just part of our DNA. Fortunately for us, it’s paying off in the pros.”

Chaos midfielder Dhane Smith — who teams with Byrne, Cloutier, Chase Fraser, Ian MacKay and Max Adler on both the Chaos and the National Lacrosse League’s Buffalo Bandits — describes himself as a player who is not very flashy.

That said, he admits that being so close to Byrne and Cloutier so often makes the creativity infectious.

“Against the Chrome, I did a shovel shot,” Smith said. “It almost went. I was like, ‘Oh, what if?’ But then I got out of there and was like, ‘I’ve got to play my game. I shouldn’t be shooting that shot.’ But yeah, it’s funny. It kind of wears off on you a little bit. I start doing some crazy stuff I’m not used to doing.”

As Byrne admitted, the offense’s style can lead to some unsavory results. During the regular season, the Chaos tied for the league lead in turnovers (176).

Against the Archers, the Chaos turned the ball over 20 times, yet only two of those turnovers were caused by the defense. The team even lost the ground ball battle by three. Typically, losing the turnover and ground ball battle can lead to defeat, but Smith said the success the Chaos defense — including former PLL MVP Blaze Riorden — and faceoff unit have had recently allows them to feel free and take chances.

In two playoff games, the Chaos defense has allowed 10 goals on 75 shots (13 percent), and Riorden has a 74-percent save percentage. At the stripe, the Chaos have won 63 percent of the faceoffs.

“One thing, obviously, off the hop is our defense and goaltending are unbelievable,” Riorden said. “They give us those second opportunities. Now that Max Adler has found his stride, getting those extra possessions is huge. When we have the ball more, we are able to be a little more aggressive and force things inside.”

Additionally, Byrne describes the high-risk, high-reward style as a give-and-take. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but whatever the result is, he needs to keep playing.

“At the end of the day, I’m not going to get down on myself if I take a shot, and it doesn’t go in a game,” he said. “At the end of the day, lacrosse is halfway mental, and if you are ever doubting yourself taking a shot, then I can tell you, you’re not only going up against the goalie. You’re going up against yourself as well.”

Because of the overlap between the end of the NLL season and the start of the PLL season, Bandits players — who went to the NLL Finals but lost in the third game of the series — missed at least the first three games of the summer. Smith admitted the players that came back were not 100 percent due to the physicality of the NLL championship series, and that contributed to the slow start to the Chaos’ slow start. They started 0-4 and failed to score double digits in three of those games.

Towers said it wasn’t until the final weekend of the regular season when he felt the offense played a great game, and Byrne said he felt it wasn’t until two weeks later against the Chrome in the playoffs that the offense was really clicking.

Smith said being the final seed in the playoffs and having only won two games during the season has left the team as the underdogs, which allows the offense to take risks with nothing to lose. He also said as players have come back to the lineup, the chemistry has improved, and they’ve been able to work out the kinks.

The Chaos are at their best, however, when the offensive players are enjoying themselves.

“We knew, as a group, we’d find our stride,” Smith said. “Obviously, running the type of offense we do, teams can plan for it, but at the same time, we’re the type of offense that plays freely. You can gameplan for what we kind of do for the most part, but that being said, we kind of play backyard lacrosse. We have fun with it. You can’t really plan for that, so I think teams are going to have trouble down the stretch with that. You’re seeing that now.”


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