The Wings are back and better than ever. With a new look and updated branding, the NLL expansion team has begun to establish an identity off the field, but I’ve been wondering what the on-field product will look like. Last weekend, I spoke with NLL champion Kiel Matisz and rookie La Salle College High School grad Matt Rambo.

Kiel Matisz

I asked Matisz what it’s like to be traded from a championship team to one looking to build an identity and establish themselves in the league. We also talked about Matisz’ interest in history and food.

Russ: You just came off the pinnacle of any player’s career, winning the NLL championship in a 66 point season. When you come to a new team, is there any kind of a culture shock? What does it feel like coming from a championship club to someone who’s trying to reestablish an identity in Philadelphia?

Kiel Matisz: I’m super excited about the opportunity. Obviously, when you’ve spent your whole professional lacrosse career with one organization, you don’t really know anything different. To leave Georgia, the friendships I that I’ve built for the last six years, was tough. That’s the reality of it. The Swarm organization is a fantastic organization for the time I was there. I’m super excited personally to be coming to this organization, the City of Brotherly Love is fantastic. Bringing Jordan Hall, my old teammate to my new team is fantastic. I know a lot of the guys; lacrosse is a small community. I think we’re gonna build a  good team, a great culture. It’s exciting getting to establish that. All your ground rules, all your guidelines, how you want to play, your identity. I’m excited to get that going. I’m kind of in the middle of my career. It’s good to get a fresh start.

More after the jump:

Russ: Is there anything from off the field that you might miss about Georgia? Something cultural that you might seek out in Philadelphia?

Matisz: Atlanta is a really big city, kind of a cultural hub, but for me honestly I’m more excited to learn more about the history of the city of Philadelphia. We were here a month ago right after we got drafted. I’m not necessarily a history buff, but as we toured the city, people were throwing out tidbits about the history this city has. I kept saying, “I wanna learn more! I wanna learn more!” I haven’t moved down here yet, but I’m definitely excited to experience and immerse myself and my family into this culture. Our Wings’ organization has been fantastic, getting my family involved. I just had a newborn son, first son, he’s four months old now. It’s a family-first organization, so I’m happy to immerse myself into Philadelphia.

Russ: Let’s get one of the stereotypical questions out of the way. Have you been touring the cheesesteak joints in the area?

Matisz: Yep.

Russ: Give me some honest feedback. Don’t feel like you have to pick one over the other or go with something obscure.

Matisz: What are the two touristy ones? Geno’s and Pat’s?

Russ: Geno’s is the one that has the neon lights. Pat’s is the low-key one across the way.

Matisz: More of a traditional vibe… I was a Pat’s guy. When we tried them both, Pat’s kind of mixed everything together. Geno’s was more layered, so I’m a Pat’s guy.

Russ: Are you open to exploring more options as your career continues?

Matisz: Totally. That’s my type of food. I’ll try ’em all.

Russ: What was your cheese preference? Did you go with the whiz, American, Provolone? These are important things. People want to know.

Matisz: I went with the whiz. That’s the authentic style, right? I was surprised though. I kept calling it a bun, right? You guys call it a roll. I was getting chirps left, right, and center about the fact I kept calling it a bun. I didn’t know that people judged their cheesesteaks on the fact that it’s about the bun… the roll. It’s a cheesesteak. You should be judging on the cheese and the steak, but… I’m a Pat’s guy.

Russ: Since you just won a championship, you’re trying to establish a new culture, you’re certainly going to be leaned on as a leader here. As you try to build the identity collectively as a team, if you had to give me one thing that Philadelphia Wings fans can look forward to in terms of playing style on the field, is there anything that stands out to you that people can expect on day one when this team takes the field?

Matisz: I think the best and simplest M.O. is to have as a team is to work hard, play hard. When you do those things to establish work ethic and push through. Everyone loves the pride in the city of Philadelphia, the blue collar mentality. I grew up in a blue collar mentality. As a first generation lacrosse player, I had to work hard myself to get to where I am today. I think a lot of guys are in the same boat in this group. We’re gonna be a hard working team. We’re not going to take any shifts off. Hopefully we’re gonna be a physical team and we’re gonna have that in-your-face attitude and hopefully the fans get behind that, support that, and rally around that.

Matt Rambo

I asked Rambo about making the transition from a national championship University of Maryland team to his hometown club. We also discussed whether or not personal accolades mean anything to him as he enters his rookie season.

Russ: As you make the jump from reaching the pinnacle in college of winning a national championship to your hometown team, First of all what does it feel like to be playing for a team that at one point did exist, went away for awhile, now has reemerged, what does that feel like?

Matt Rambo: It’s a dream come true, playing in your home city. I wouldn’t wanna play anywhere else. It’s going to be so much fun this year with the atmosphere the Wings have. I used to go to the games when I was little, I have pictures of myself with Wings gear on. Now, they’re back and season tickets are selling like crazy. Everyone seems so excited for it. Our fans are excited. I’m grateful to be playing in Philly.

Russ: As you continue to make this transition, is there anything you’ve learned so far in terms of getting set up for what NLL competition is going to look like?

Rambo: Yeah, I’ve been talking to a lot of guys about playing. I’ve played box (indoor lacrosse) a bit before. I’m a big guy, I’m physical. All the physicality I can. I’m just gonna learn from these older guys and follow in their footsteps and give it my all.

Russ: Looking ahead to the season, is there anything you think is going to be challenging as a professional? Travel? Do you like to travel? Do you like to fly? Are you more of a bus guy?

Rambo: I fly a lot. I travel a lot with the outdoor game, I do camps and clinics. I travel all over the country every other weekend. I love the travel and seeing new cities. The best thing is all of these guys I’m going to be friends with, the team camaraderie is what I look for. A lot of people don’t get that after college. I’m lucky enough to play at the next level. Being able to have that team camaraderie and make more friends and have friends for life.

Russ: Let’s get the stereotypical one out of the way. You’re a local guy, so I expect a really good answer on this one. Best cheesesteak place? I hate asking the question, but people want to know.

Rambo: That’s easy, man. I think Steve’s Prince of Steaks is the best.

Russ: What makes Steve’s the best?

Rambo: I like Steve’s because they have the long meat. They don’t chop it up. I love that. The bread’s great, obviously you have to have good bread to make a good cheesesteak. I do whiz, I do American, but at Steve’s they have the melted American, which is like a whiz, but it’s American so you can just pour it on. I love theirs and I think it’s the best, that or Dalessandro’s. Steve’s is my #1.

Russ: Expectations for this season for yourself and your team?

Rambo: I think our team will do well. Obviously we’re hanging out now, it’s all about team chemistry and team bonding. You can’t have a great team without getting along, so I think so far everyone’s been getting along super. I’m not going to say we’re going to win or we’re going to lose, I don’t really know what’s going to happen. We’re just starting training camp, but I know for me I’m going to give it my all. All these guys are gonna bust their ass 24/7, so that’s all you can ask for someone.

Russ: Do you worry about any of the personal accolades or do we just go with the standard corporate answer of, “It’s all about the team?” Does any of that kind of stuff mean anything to you as a player in your first professional season?

Rambo: No, I think it’d be cool to win something or it’d be cool if I got a rookie accomplishment, but you don’t really make individual accomplishments without having your teammates back you up. When I was at Maryland, I won my accomplishments, but I wasn’t able to do that without my teammates being so good. I was just in the right spots. If everything falls in the right spots, hopefully I can win some personal ones, but it’s all about the team first. Personal things don’t really mean anything in the long run. It’s all about whether or not you win  a ring.

Russ: You talked about how the team had gone away for a while and you attended games as a kid. What’s the one thing you want to express to fans who might be new to the sport in the time that the Wings have been gone that you think they’re going to be able to look forward to when they fill the arena?

Rambo: Back in the day, the Wings games were electric. They were so much fun. It’s a family thing and it’s affordable. If you don’t know the game, you should come out to the game and watch. I guarantee you’ll love it. It’s like a mixture of hockey, basketball, and a bunch of sports. It’s fast-paced, lots of goal-scoring. You can’t really not have fun there, so if you wanna have a good time and have fun cheering on another Philly team – because we have the best fans in the world – come out and support!