Top 5 non-surprises of 2015

Earlier this week, I listed the top 5 surprises of this season, so now it’s time for the top 5 non-surprises. Here are things that happened that we probably could have foreseen.

 

5. Ben McIntosh and Miles Thompson having strong rookie years

The #1 and #2 picks in last year’s draft, big things were expected from McIntosh and Thompson and they have not disappointed. Coincidentally, both are sitting at 43 points right now (McIntosh has one more goal and one fewer assist) though Thompson has played one more game than McIntosh. In fact, they only differ by 2 in power play goals, by 11 in shots, by 4 in loose balls, and by 1 in penalty minutes. They’re having the same season. Big question I can’t answer yet: how on earth do we pick between them for Rookie of the Year?

4. Edmonton playing strong defensively

The Rush are giving up an average of just under 10 goals per game, ½ a goal better than anyone else (and 5½ better than the Stealth). Aaron Bold’s GAA of 9.36 is the lowest of anyone who’s played more than 19 minutes (hi Angus Goodleaf!) and he’s 5th in save %. Still, even with these outstanding numbers, Bold’s GAA is half a point higher than last year and the team is allowing 1.2 more goals per game than last year, which just tells you how amazing the 2014 Rush were.

3. Brett Hickey scoring a bunch

Brett HickeyBrett Hickey’s career stats before the 2015 season: 5 goals, 5 assists, 9 games, 2 Stealths (Washington in 2012 and Vancouver in 2014). So far this season: 33 goals, 15 assists, 13 games. But as I said in the Top 5 Surprises article, Hickey has been lighting up the WLA for two years, finishing in the top 10 in scoring twice. I certainly thought he’d improve on his 1.11 points per game pace, and I read a number of tweets and blog articles before the season talking about how Hickey was going to light up the NLL as well. I have to admit that I didn’t expect these kind of numbers, but the fact that he’s doing well is not a big surprise.

2. Jeremy Noble traded to Colorado

We knew that Noble wasn’t going to play for the Knighthawks. We knew that he lives in Denver and plays for the Outlaws in the MLL. And we knew that the Mammoth had an interest (and who wouldn’t?). So it was almost just a matter of time before this deal got made, and as I said on Addicted to Lacrosse a couple of weeks ago, it looks like a good deal for both teams. Another big question I can’t answer yet: could Noble be the Rookie of the Year after playing at most 9 games?

1. Dhane Smith emerges as an offensive star

Over his two NLL seasons, Smith has shown himself to be a great offensive player, but the Bandits decided to use him on defense and transition a lot. This was not a terrible decision; he’s very good in that role as well. (And it’s not the first time the Bandits have done this – they made Mark Steenhuis a transition player after a 50-goal 101-point season followed by a 90-point season.) But when they chose to have Smith play a primarily offensive role this season, we all knew the effect he’d have and the numbers he’d put up. And Smith has delivered. After two seasons averaging a little over 3 points per game, he is currently averaging 5.38 points per game and is tied with Ryan Benesch for both the team lead and 4th on the overall scoring list. This surprises me not at all.

Top 5 surprises of 2015

We’re about halfway through the 2015 season, and many of the unusual things that always happen at the beginning of the season have sorted themselves out. Nobody’s winless. Nobody’s undefeated. Nobody’s on pace for 180 points. But as always, there are a few things left over that have not sorted themselves out. Here are the top 5 surprises at the mid-way point of the 2015 season:

 

5. John Tavares’s scoring drought

Due to injuries, John Tavares has only played 7 of the Bandits’ 13 games so far this season, but that’s not the surprising part. What’s surprising is that he only has 17 points. Tavares has averaged 5.8 points per game over 23 seasons and is not only less than half that this year, his 2.4 points per game is a drop of 3/4 of a point per game from last year.

4. Johnny Powless’s scoring drought

When Johnny Powless was brought in to Vancouver, they billed him as the Next Big Thing, the offensive superstar-to-be that was going to help them win Championship after Championship. Of course they didn’t explicitly say those things, but the implications were clear. After 10 games, Powless only has 7 goals and has only scored more than one in a game once. Not only is he nowhere near the league leaders in points, but he’s third on the team, tied with Corey Small who’s played three fewer games in a Stealth jersey. He does have 31 assists, good for 2nd on the team and 14th in the league. This is not to say Powless has been a bust in Vancouver, but if you were expecting him to light up the nets and become half of the one-two scoring punch with Rhys Duch, that’s not what’s happened.

3. Toronto not missing Billings or Doyle

Nobody would deny that Garrett Billings was one of the league’s top players over the last few years, or that Colin Doyle has been one of the best ever. So a team with a .500 record who loses those two players and replaces them both with one guy from the Vancouver Stealth scrap heap will suffer, right? Actually, just the opposite.

Doyle & BillingsI’m certainly not arguing that the Toronto Rock is a better team because they are without Billings and Doyle. But it’s safe to say that they’ve dealt with the losses rather well. The emergence of Brett Hickey has been a somewhat unexpected windfall – I say “somewhat” because Hickey has been in the top 10 in WLA scoring for the past two years, and finished 4th in scoring last year. It’s not as if nobody expected him to do well in the NLL, but Hickey’s on pace for 45 goals and 66 points. I’m sure many people are not surprised by those numbers but I was. Pleasantly.

Rob Hellyer had a breakout season in 2014 and hasn’t just continued that strong play, he’s exceeded it. Hellyer is averaging 6.62 points per game, third in the league behind Shawn Evans and Mark Matthews, and a full two points per game higher than last year. Stephen Leblanc and Kasey Beirnes are each averaging a half-point per game higher than last year, Kevin Ross is only 2 points behind Beirnes and has played 13 games compared to last year’s 2, and of course Josh Sanderson is having an outstanding year as well, on pace to be his best since 2010.

Rob Hellyer got injured this past weekend and there’s been no word on his status, but talk immediately started about the possibility of Garrett Billings returning to the team. I also heard a rumour today that Colin Doyle may be back before the year is out. But if none of those things happen and Hellyer is back by next weekend, it seems unthinkable that Billings and Doyle could sit out an entire season and not be missed.

2. Who’s not playing

You could make up a team with all the players not playing in the NLL this year for various reasons and it’d be a damn good one. The aforementioned Billings and Doyle are obviously two of the biggest names, but there are lots of others. We’ll start with Matt Beers, Kyle Sorensen, Tim Henderson, Alex Gajic, and Kyle Belton – and that’s just the Stealth. We also have Mike Grimes, Curtis Knight, Garrett Thul, Jamie Rooney, Scott Jones, Cam Flint, Jimmy Purves, Matt Roik, and half of last year’s Philadelphia Wings.

Lewis Ratcliff retired after 4 games, and Athan Iannucci was released after being benched for a few. Shawn Williams was signed by the Rock and then cut before the season began, but I happen to know that he’s been working out and keeping in shape, hoping for a phone call.

An impressive list. And that’s not even including the big-name players who retired after last year, including Ryan Ward, Tracey Kelusky, and Scott Ranger.

1. Calgary in dead last

I think the most surprising thing about the 2015 season, hands down, is the Calgary Roughnecks. They began the season 0-6 thanks in part to a brutal start by Mike Poulin, who had a GAA over 17 after three games and lost the starting goaltender’s job. It’s not as if the team was completely terrible; they lost two in OT and another by a single goal. All the time, Shawn Evans was at or near the top in scoring but neither Dane Dobbie nor Jeff Shattler exceeded 5 points in a game until their 7th or 8th game.

RoughnecksThey seem to have pulled it together since then, having won 3 of their last 5 including a 20-9 blowout of the early-peaking New England Black Wolves. Poulin has pulled his GAA down to 13.75 after a few good starts. But the team is still 3-8 so they’d have to almost run the table just to end up at .500.

No team who’s started the season 0-6 has ever made the playoffs in the NLL. But given the Stealth’s inconsistency so far and the fact that they only have to finish higher than one team in the West, it’s still not out of the question for the Roughnecks.

Game reports: Rock and Bandits split the weekend series

If you’re a Bandits fan, a Rock fan, or just a fan of the game, this was a great weekend to watch the NLL. The Bandits and Rock played back to back games on Friday and Saturday nights, and as expected, both games were close, exciting, chippy, and very entertaining. I got to both of these games but didn’t do a separate game report for Friday night’s matchup for reasons I’ll get to. This article will serve as a game report for both.

I decided to bring my kids to Friday’s game in Buffalo so I messaged my buddy Steve Bermel to see if he could get me tickets. He’s done this for me in the past and gave me hell once because I bought tickets through the box office (and therefore paid full price plus fees rather than Steve’s season ticket holder discount price). Steve called me back and said that Kevin Kennedy, the Bandits anthem singer, wasn’t using his tickets for that game and had donated them to me and my boys. These tickets were “row 3, behind the Rock bench” as Steve put it, so I was excited about sitting only a few rows back from the bench. It turns out that row 3 is the row directly behind the Rock bench, so we we right in the action. This was as close as I’ve ever been to a sporting event (except a spring training Blue Jays game where I was sitting behind home plate, next to the guy with the radar gun) so that was very cool, and my boys really enjoyed it as well.  We were close enough to see that Blaine Manning has a mole on the back of his head. The more you know.

Play at the far endSitting so close had some advantages: we could see that the Rock have a special stick they use for face-offs. Whenever a player went to take a face-off or came off the floor after one, they’d swap their regular stick with the face-off one. Nicky got high-fives from most of the Rock players as they came out for the second half, and one of the Rock employees gave them each a ball after the pre-game shoot-around. I could hear Brett Hickey trying to get the team fired up (“Come on guys, let’s do this. Let’s go”) as they took the floor before the game and after halftime, as well as when they left the floor just before halftime. I’m more impressed with that guy after every game and thanks again to the Vancouver Stealth for releasing him.

But sitting so close has some drawbacks too, the main one being that we couldn’t see the game. The players and coaches never sit down during the game (and I wouldn’t expect them to), so we ended up watching play at the far end on the Jumbotron (see the picture above for our actual view of the far end) and play at the near Selfie showing my view of the gameend through a maze of players. During the 1st and 3rd quarters, we were staring at Dan Ladouceur’s back (picture at right) and during the 2nd and 4th it was Blaine Manning’s.

As for the game itself, I honestly couldn’t see enough of it to have a good opinion on how the teams played. I thought the Rock offense looked kind of haphazard in the first. They didn’t seem to be getting many good looks and their ball movement wasn’t great. It was better in the second half. Cosmo played well and Rose was pretty good with flashes of greatness here and there.

Hey, remember that game where Mark Steenhuis didn’t play very well and didn’t seem to be trying very hard? No, me neither. That man’s only playing styles are HARD and HARDER.

The end of game 1 was beyond chippy. At one point, Troy Cordingley was yelling at John Lovell and had to be physically restrained from leaving the Bandits bench. Brodie Merrill came back to the Rock bench near the end of the 4th and literally punched the wall in front of the bench three times. Good hard punches too. I don’t know what he was so pissed about, but on his next shift, he fought Steve Priolo and was tossed from the game. Then a couple of other fights started as well, and it looked like it was going to get out of hand, but it stopped just short of that. The game eventually ended and the players lined up for the handshakes. Brodie’s brother Patrick Merrill led the line for the Rock, and the teams went through the line just fine until the Rock got to Cordingley who immediately started yelling at Merrill (“F**K YOU” was clearly the take-home message for Merrill here) and once again had to be pulled away by his team. It seemed like a typical Bandits “We’re losing so let’s start some fights” move, except that the Bandits weren’t losing. Again, I couldn’t really see much so I don’t know how the fights started or what Cordingley was so mad about.

Fast-forward almost 24 hours, and both teams are at the ACC in Toronto for the rematch. I was in my regular seats for this one, so I have a better idea of who played well and who didn’t. Answer: the goalies played well, the offenses not so much.

This started off looking like it was going to be a repeat of the previous night’s game. There were penalties all over the place including a fight. I imagine the refs were just waiting for Priolo and Hostrawser to go at it so when each gave the other a couple of shoves, the refs sent them off for roughing. I didn’t think penalties were warranted here and I guess Priolo wondered the same thing out loud since he got an extra 2 for unsportsmanlike conduct.

There were a few other incidents where players were almost looking for penalties. Hostrawser hit a Bandit with a full crosscheck right across the back, knocking him down, in full view of the ref with no call. Mark Steenhuis got a penalty early in the second but when they showed the replay of why he got the penalty, you got a good view of a Rock player punching Ryan Benesch in the side of the head. Someone slashed Kedoh Hill who waited a second before falling down. My son said it looked like a soccer play but the slash was called and not the dive.

One of the best plays of the game (and penalties were neither called nor deserved on this one) was Billy Dee Smith racing down on an almost-breakaway and then deciding that rather than trying to deke or shoot around Rob Marshall he’d just go straight through him. Both players are 6’3″ but Smith has 35 pounds on Marshall. But Marshall lowered his shoulder at just the right time and while he did get knocked over, Smith went down too and the Rock recovered the loosie.

I don’t know if the coaches were warned by the refs at halftime or if they both decided to just drop all that revenge crap and play lacrosse instead, but the second half wasn’t chippy at all and it turned into a great game. The Rock were up by 3 going into halftime but Toronto’s offense came out flat in the third for their first scoreless quarter of the season. Just like part of the previous night, the Rock couldn’t seem to get their offense going and couldn’t get in close. They took a lot of shots from way out and with lots of time left on the shot clock, and many of those shots hit Cosmo square in the chest. After the Bandits took the lead midway through the third, both goalies stepped up their games but the Rock managed to tie it twice in the 4th before we headed to OT.

OT only lasted a couple of minutes, but both teams had some good chances to end it. Brandon Miller and Anthony Cosmo both stood tall, as they had all game. But Brett Hickey managed to get one past Cosmo a couple of minutes in to send the crowd home happy. The Rock and fans celebrated the goal while the refs went to review it and we thought about how deflated the crowd would be if they came out and waved it off. There was even a Bandits player who got himself set up at the restraining line. He looked like he was getting ready for the ensuing face-off – which was weird because if the goal didn’t count, there wouldn’t have been a face-off anyway.

I really don’t know if there was bad blood during the handshakes on this night too but the refs were ready for it. The teams went through the line and I paid special attention to Troy Cordingley, who simply shook everyone’s hand. When he got to the Rock coaches, it looked like he gave Lovell a sincere handshake and even patted Dan Ladouceur on the chest. But then the refs came running over. I don’t know if words were said that made them think something was going to happen, or if they just saw the coaches together and thought something might happen, but nothing did.

As I said, we had two entertaining games between these two teams, as we frequently do. I like a chippy game with lots of hitting as much as anyone, but the second half of Saturday’s game was great because it had none of that. There was the potential for it to turn into a bench-clearing brawl, but instead we had some great goaltending, solid defense, and some nice goals (and some ugly ones too).

Next weekend: the Edmonton Rush are in town. This will be another great game.

Garrett who?

Garrett Billings has been out of the Rock lineup all season but his agent tweeted last week that Billings has been cleared to play. So where is he? Not only has he not played, but the Rock haven’t said a word about him. No tweets, no mention of him at games, nothing. I’m hearing that Billings is an RFA but has not signed a contract with the Rock. Now that the team is 8-1 and first overall, they’re not exactly desperate to get him back into the lineup, so the combination of Billings being ready and the Rock’s silence has raised rumours that he’s going to be traded. The two big questions here are: 1. Where? 2. For who?

Seeing as he’s from Langley BC, the obvious choice is the Vancouver Stealth, and I do remember seeing a tweet this past weekend (though I can’t remember who and I can’t find it now) that implied that Billings would only play for the Rock or the Stealth. Then on Saturday night, Teddy Jenner tweeted:

This startled a few people but he clarified later that there had been no move and he was just referring to the rumours.

Garrett Billings

Interesting aside: Note the similarity in the picture above to the player in the NLL logo.

The “for who” question is even more interesting. What would the Rock want in return? Billings is arguably the best player in the NLL over the past three seasons (though Cody Jamieson might disagree), so any deal better be significant. But the Rock are 8-1 and don’t really need anything. They have the best 1-2 goaltender combo in the league. Their defense is also among the best in the league and they’ve scored more goals per game than anyone except, ironically, the Stealth. If the Rock trade Billings anywhere in the east or for anything less than three first round draft picks, Jamie Dawick should fire himself as GM.

Personally, I think the best idea for the Rock would be to keep Billings and drop a defender (likely Bill Greer since he was just called up, though I’d be OK with Patrick Merrill or Bill Hostrawser since they take too many penalties). But if they decide they can’t and they want to trade Billings for Rhys Duch, I guess I could live with that. Or I’d take Tyler Digby and a couple of first rounders. But Duch and Digby are both right-handed, as is Billings, so the Rock would end up with the same “problem”, if you want to call having too many talented players a problem.

Maybe Billings can get together with Jeremy Noble and just hang out until their teams stop playing so well.

Update: As Tyler brought up on Addicted to Lacrosse, this was the same injury that Athan Iannucci had back in about 2008 and he was never the same afterwards. In my discussion above, I was assuming that Billings will be 100% back to his old self – if not right away, then shortly thereafter. But it’s possible that he may never get back to where he was. Perhaps three first round picks for the old Garrett Billings might have been fair but until we know how full his recovery was, nobody’s going to give up three firsts for an unknown.


Here’s an unrelated thing I want to bitch about but doesn’t warrant an entire article: the Western Union commercials that have been playing during NLL games. One features Swarm defender David Earl talking about when he was struggling at college and his father came to visit him and helped him get back on track. The other has Mammoth forward Drew Westervelt, who talks about discovering his dyslexia and how his family was very helpful and supportive while he worked to overcome the academic problems that came with that. But then the narrator says “Western Union is there for you”. Are they really trying to equate or even compare their services with the support and care that a family provides? And what the hell does “Moving money for better” mean? It’s not even an English sentence. Are these commercials supposed to make me want to use their services?

Game report: New England 12 @ Toronto 13

I said in my contribution to this week’s Winners and Losers column on IL Indoor that everything is going right for the Toronto Rock. Friday night’s game was kind of a microcosm of that – they played their worst game of the season and still won.

Now, the phrase “their worst game of the season” doesn’t tell the whole story. The Rock have played very well so far this season, and even their loss to Rochester was a solid performance – I did not see it but John Lovell said that it was their best game to that point despite the fact that they lost. So with such a high bar, “worst game” doesn’t mean they played badly. But they weren’t great.

Both teams started out strong, with both goaltenders making some pretty impressive stops and both defenses preventing the offenses from getting good shots off. Evan Kirk was lights out and the New England defense was also playing very well. The Rock offense couldn’t get much going – they managed a 3-on-0 breakaway in the second quarter as two Black Wolves defenders bumped into each other and both fell, but didn’t score. Brandon Miller made some good stops but got beat by a number of low shots and rollers.

I tweeted at halftime that “One of these teams is looking like they’re 3-4. And it’s not the Black Wolves.” I blew it a little because the Wolves were actually 2-3, not 3-4, but the idea is the same. The third quarter was even worse for the Rock, and might have been the worst quarter they’ve played this year. Four New England goals within five minutes put the Rock down by five, which seemed to be the nail in the Rock’s coffin. Brandon Miller was replaced by Nick Rose after the third of those four goals and Nick had a much better game than Brandon did. Miller wasn’t terrible but didn’t seem to be seeing the ball well, while Rose saw everything.

Then late in the third, Stephen Leblanc scored a nice shorthanded goal on a pass from Nick Rose, where he spun around and backhanded it over a sprawling Evan Kirk. Brett Hickey scored just two minutes later and the Rock went into the 4th quarter only down by 3. This seemed to energize them, and they realized that they were still in this game. Josh Sanderson and Joel White traded goals in the first half of the fourth and then the Rock offense started clicking just as the New England defense stopped. The Rock scored their own four in five minutes and took a one-goal lead with under three minutes left.

That lead only held up for a minute and a half before Kyle Buchanan’s 4th of the game tied it again, and we were off to overtime. Given the season he’s having, it’s only fitting that Josh Sanderson continued his crazy scoring pace by scoring the OT winner only 40 seconds in. It’s a great story – the former superstar player on the down side of his career who has a big comeback after the death of his father and mentor. But Josh isn’t just having a good season – he’s making a serious bid for league MVP here. I haven’t seen him work this hard in years.

There was a pretty decent fight in the second quarter, which I’m sure we’ll discuss on Sunday night’s Addicted to Lacrosse show. Jamie Lincoln picked a fight with Jesse Gamble which turned out to be a bad idea. It wasn’t exactly a heavyweight bout; Gamble is only 5’9″ and 180 lbs, while Lincoln is taller at 6’1″ but only 185 lbs. They wrestled to get their helmets off but Gamble managed to keep his on the whole fight. Gamble demolished Lincoln, landing punch after punch, but the fact that he never got his helmet off changed things a little. It’s highly possible that Lincoln didn’t want to throw bare-knuckle punches at Gamble’s helmet so he ended up just taking the punches and so the fight looked a lot more one-sided than it would have been. On the other hand, it could be that Gamble’s helmet was of little consequence because Lincoln never landed a punch anyway.

So the Rock are now leading the league at 7-1 while the Black Wolves fall to 2-4 and last in the East. Toronto plays in Edmonton next Friday night while the Black Wolves host the Mammoth on Sunday afternoon.

Other game notes:

  • Obviously the two teams scored the same number of goals in regulation time. But here’s how they did it:
    • Rock scored 2, then Black Wolves scored 2
    • Rock scored 1, Black Wolves 1, Rock 1, Black Wolves 1
    • Black Wolves scored 6 of the next 7
    • Rock scored 6 of the next 7
    • Rock scored 1, Black Wolves scored 1
    • OT: Toronto scored 1
  • After a good Brandon Miller save, Bruce Barker announced “A thrilla by Milla!” My son remarked “It’s not as bad as ‘You’ve been Roiked!’ but close”
  • (Warning: old guy comment coming) Please ACC, turn the music down. It has nothing to do with my hearing – I don’t want to feel my chest vibrating in time with the bass at a sporting event. A concert, maybe, but not a lacrosse game. Even my 15-year-old son who listens to nothing but Billy Talent and Rush thought it was a bit loud.

The NLL Pronunciation Guide 2015

Presenting the NLL Pronunciation Guide for the 2015 season. I did this once a few years ago and now it’s become an annual tradition – here’s last year’s guide. People have even started giving me suggestions for players to include, which is awesome.

This was originally done because I got tired of hearing play-by-play guys and other announcers talking about NLL players and butchering their names. Four years later… same. Ah well. But this isn’t really done as a criticism of these announcers; many of them are new to lacrosse or the NLL so they’re simply not as familiar with the players as others.

Names are organized alphabetically within teams.

Buffalo

Ryan Benesch – buh-NESH

Kevin Brownell – brow-NELL. brow rhymes with COW. Like half of the other names in the league, as you’ll see.

Chad Culp – CHAD CULP. Like BIG GULP. Probably the easiest name to pronounce in the league. Except for maybe John Grant, but then you have to remember the whole “silent h” thing in John.

Davide Diruscio – Never heard this name said aloud, but I’d guess it’s duh-ROOSH-ee-o. I’m assuming his nickname is ROOSH. If not, it should be. I’m also assuming that “Davide” is pronounced like “David”. The guy’s 6’3″ and 300 lbs so I really hope I got it right.

Alexander Kedoh Hill – Kedoh sounds like KID-o. Apparently nobody calls him Alex or Alexander.

Steve Priolo – pree-O-lo

Joe Resetarits – res-uh-TARE-its

Dhane Smith – DANE

Mark Steenhuis – STAIN-house

John Tavares – tuh-VAR-es

Jay Thorimbert – I believe it’s THOR-im-burt though I can’t stop myself from saying it as THOR-im-bare

Nick Weiss – WEES

 

Calgary

Dane Dobbie – DOUGH-bee. Not like Dobby.

Karsen Leung – lee-UNG

Jeff Moleski – muh-LESS-ski

Mike Poulin – POO-lin

Frankie Scigliano – shill-ee-ANN-o

Geoff Snider – JEFF SNY-der. One of my pet peeves is when he’s called SHNY-der.

 

Colorado

Alex Buque – boo-KAY

Tyler Codron – COD-run

Joey Cupido – koo-PEE-do

John Gallant – gull-ANT

Athan Iannucci – eye-uh-NOOCH-ee. Or just NOOCH.

Eli McLaughlin – E-lie muh-GLOCK-lin

Sean Pollock – SHAWN POLL-uck

Creighton Reid – CRAY-ton

Bob Snider – SNY-der

Drew Westervelt – WEST-er-velt

 

Edmonton

Nik Bilic – BIL-itch

Chris Corbeil – cor-BEEL

Riley Loewen – LOW-en. LOW is like the word low, not rhyming with COW.

Brett Mydske – MID-skee

Adrian Sorichetti – sore-i-KET-ee

Kyle Rubisch – ROO-bish.

 

Minnesota

Mitch Belisle – buh-LYLE

Callum Crawford – CAL-um. Not CAY-lum.

Alex Crepinsek – CREP-in-seck

Kiel Matisz – KYLE muh-TEEZ

Logan Schuss – SHUSS (rhymes with BUS). Not SHUSH.

Corbyn Tao – COR-bin TOW (TOW rhymes with COW)

 

New England

Tye Belanger – buh-LAHN-jay

Matt Crough – CROW. Like the bird.

Kevin Crowley – CROW-lee. Not like the bird. In this case, CROW rhymes with COW.

Michael Diehl – DEEL

Ryan Hotaling – ho-TAL-ing

Brian Megill – muh-GILL

 

Rochester

Stephen Keogh – KEY-o

Matt Vinc – like the name VINCE. Not VINK

Cory Vitarelli – vit-uh-REL-ee

 

Toronto

Kasey Beirnes – BEERns. Not BEER-ness and not BURNS

Nick Diachenko – dee-a-CHENG-ko.

Rob Hellyer – HELL-yer. Don’t forget the Y – it’s not HELL-er.

Billy Hostrawser – HO-straw-zer.

Stephen Leblanc – STEFF-in luh-BLONK. Not luh-BLANK.

 

Vancouver

Colin Boucher – Rhymes with the word VOUCHER. Scott Arnold said it better: “it’s pronounced like pouch, like a kangaroo pouch, but with a B (& obviously an er at the end)” and Colin confirmed.

Rhys Duch – REES DUTCH

Ilija Gajic – ILL-ee-ya GUY-ch

Tyler Hass – HASS. Rhymes with pass.

 

Non-players

Steve Bermel – BERM-ull. Rhymes with “thermal”. Bandits beat writer.

Aime Caines – I believe his first name is pronounced like AMY.  Swarm assistant coach.

Melissa Dafni – DAF-nee. One of my co-hosts on Addicted to Lacrosse.

Jamie Dawick – DOW-ick. DOW rhymes with COW. Owner & GM of the Rock.

Tyler Fitch – TY-ler FITCH. My other co-host on Addicted to Lacrosse.

Mike Hasen – HAY-zen. Knighthawks head coach.

Marisa Ingemi – muh-RISS-a in-JEM-ee. In Lacrosse We Trust writer.

Darris Kilgour – DARE-iss KILL-gore. Not DARE-ee-us. Former Bandits coach/GM.

Curt Malawsky – muh-LOW-skee. LOW rhymes with COW. Or Brownell. Or Dawick. Or Tao. Or Crowley.

Dan Perreault –purr-O. Not pair-ALT. Sounds similar to my name but the emphasis is on the O. Stealth head coach.

Graeme Perrow – GRAY-um PAIR-o. Yours truly. Sounds similar to Perreault but just like Dolly Parton, the emphasis is on the PAIR.

Craig Rybczynski – rib-CHIN-skee. Knighthawks broadcaster.

Grant Spies – SPEEZ. NLL ref.

Kaleb Toth – KAY-leb TOE-th, not TAW-th. Stealth assistant coach.

Game report: Buffalo 11 @ Toronto 13

My first game report of the season! And what a game. A back-and-forth game between the Rock and Bandits where the first and third quarters ended up tied, and the second and fourth ended with different teams having two-goal leads. True to form between these two teams, there was a little bit of chippiness and the beginnings of a fight or two though nothing ever came of them except roughing penalties. But unlike most encounters between these two, there was an unprecedented display of class before the game even started, and I give full credit to the Bandits for that.

As the 2015 Rock team was announced, they came out onto the field and started gathering near centre, rather than their customary place on the far restraining line. (“far” meaning the far end of the floor from where they come out as they are announced.) Once most of the team was there, I realized they were forming a big T and that this was likely in honour of Terry Sanderson, who passed away back in November. The team paid respect to a number of people in the lacrosse community that had passed away over the past few months, including Chris Hall, Jim Jennings, Tucker Williams, and finally Sanderson.

After the Bandits took the floor (to their customary chorus of boos), the Rock moved to the restraining line and a video tribute to Terry Sanderson played on the video board, after which came one of the most classy things I’ve seen at a sporting event. The entire Bandits team left their place on the other restraining line and crossed the floor to shake hands with or hug the Rock players. It wasn’t a full handshake line like you’d see after a game, but each player shook hands with a couple of Rock players. Anthony Cosmo actually did go down the entire team shaking hands with everybody, stopping to give Josh Sanderson a hug. (I originally thought this was because he’s a former Rock player until I realized that that was over ten years ago.) The Bandits then came back to their side of centre for the national anthems and the game began.

The Bandits have been known for years as a physical team, frequently undisciplined, and I’ve even heard them described as a team of thugs. The first two are accurate but even at the height of the “Darris’s Bad Boys of Banditland” days, the third is a stretch. But whatever your feelings on the Bandits as a team, the pregame handshake was a classy show of respect and, dare I say, love for one of the most influential men in NLL history.

Here’s a crappy picture that I took of the T:

Blurry T

And here’s one from the Rock web site. If you look between the two goalies and go straight up, there’s a shadowy circle in the crowd. I’m at the bottom right edge of the circle.

#RIPT

But on to the game, which was exciting and entertaining and featured great goals (some of which actually counted), great saves at both ends, ugly goals, lots of posts, and some very angry Bandits.

The first Rock goal at home this season was scored by Brodie Merrill, his first of two, on a pass from Sandy Chapman. His second goal was unassisted and ended up being the game-winner but those two goals provided the only points from Rock transition players or defenders in this game. Not that the transition was bad, just ineffective against the Buffalo defense. They’d get up the floor quickly, then realize that the Bandits defenders got onto the floor just as quickly, and so their transition chance had gone away. Most of the time they’d turn around and wait for the O guys to get out there rather than try to weave their way through for a low-percentage shot. This was almost always the right call.

The game went back and forth throughout the first half, with the Rock thinking they were going to finish the first quarter with a lead but then Ryan Benesch scored with 0.8 seconds left on the clock to tie it up. In the second, three goals were scored in the first minute but then only three more over the next 14, and Buffalo took a lead into halftime. In the third, Toronto tied it up and took two leads but neither one lasted even a minute. Finally in the 4th Brett Hickey gave the Rock the lead they’d never give up, and though Benesch subsequently scored his 4th and 5th of the game, it wasn’t quite enough.

Nick Rose had seen exactly 0 minutes of action this season prior to this game, but didn’t look rusty at all and had a great game. About 6 minutes into the second quarter, he made three outstanding saves in the span of about five seconds. Anthony Cosmo had a pretty good game but seemed off just a bit. A number of times he moved to make a save only to have the ball deflect off of him into the goal. If he’d moved just a touch faster he would have made the save. In one case he made the save, but the rebound hit Mitch Wilde’s foot and rolled under Cosmo into the net.

Brock Sorensen almost scored his second goal of the season in the 4th. Cosmo had been pulled and Sorensen managed to grab a loose ball and fire it towards the empty net. It landed short and bounced over the net, and the Bandits grabbed it. I could see Sorensen berating himself for not getting closer before shooting. He was even more angry with himself when Benesch scored on the very next play so instead of 12-9 Rock, it was now 11-10.

In the last 30 seconds of the game, the Bandits got possession and started to come up the floor but before they could get their offense set up, the Rock managed to grab the ball and start coming the other way. That’s when I noticed Troy Cordingley making the “time-out” signal towards the ref but of course you can’t call a timeout when the other team has the ball. Cordingley started shouting at the ref so I assumed that he had been calling for a time-out ever since the Bandits got the ball, but the ref didn’t notice. Suddenly something flew from the area of the Bandits bench towards the referee – it looked like a shoe. My first thought was “Troy’s in trouble now”. The ref’s hand immediately went up but the game ended before any penalty was assessed. Troy immediately went over to the ref area to return his challenge flag and have a conversation with the ref, which I’m sure began “Excuse me, my good man, but I was wondering if I might have a word.” But while Cordingley was mad, Anthony Cosmo was LIVID, and I don’t know if it was even about the same thing. It was almost funny – he was at the refs semi-circle yelling and jumping around, then stopped to join the handshake line, then went back to shout at the refs some more. Eventually Troy had to put his arm around Cosmo and lead him away, but he was even yelling at someone on the Bandits bench as he headed to the locker room. Think of how angry you’d have to be for Troy Cordingley to say “OK, let’s just take it easy here.”

In the game sheet, Billy Dee Smith was given an unsportsmanlike conduct minor AND misconduct as well as a game misconduct at 15:00 of the 4th, so perhaps it was Smith and not Troy who threw whatever it was.

Other game notes:

  • In addition to the pre-game handshake, there was another thing I had never seen before: Nick Rose made a save in the first and the ball went into his equipment and he couldn’t find it. He tried shaking his leg pads, shoulder pads, jersey, shorts, no ball. He jumped around a bit, trying to dislodge it from wherever it was. Eventually (this whole thing took over a minute) he dropped his gloves, reached up his shorts, and managed to find it, to great applause. There’s an inappropriate joke in there somewhere, but I just… can’t… quite…
  • The posts are a goalie’s best friends. Less than ten minutes into the game, the Bandits had already hit both posts and the crossbar. I think they hit at least 7 posts during the game. Ryan Benesch hit three posts on one shot: it hit the right post, then the left post, then the right post again and finally dropped in the net.
  • About mid-way through the second, Dhane Smith scored a beautiful goal, jumping to catch a pass and shooting while still in the air. Unfortunately for him, the shot clock buzzer sounded while he was in the air but before he shot so the goal didn’t count. Similarly, Stephen Leblanc scored a nice one later in the game that also went in after the buzzer.
  • Toronto fans are generally pretty knowledgeable about the game, but in the 2nd they blew it. Brodie Merrill threw the ball into the corner well after the shot clock buzzer sounded, resulting in a well-deserved Delay of Game penalty. Rock fans booed the call, even though Buffalo had already gotten a similar penalty for a similar infraction, and the Rock had already gotten away with one without a penalty (and got away with another one in the third). When your team does something clearly against the rules (and that the refs are cracking down on) three times and only get called for it once, you should probably not complain about the once.
  • The Rock had two short-handed goals while the Bandits had one. But the Rock’s were both in the 4th quarter and included the game-winner.
  • I didn’t know this until after the game, but a former NLL player named Joe Hiltz (scored 80 points with the Baltimore Thunder in ’99) was sitting behind us and the guy next to us was a former NLL ref.

Non-game notes:

  • Thanks to GO Transit and the Rock for getting us home for free! My son and I took the train in to the game, which was nice and relaxing. Got to read and doze a little on the way in and not worry about traffic or construction, and also knew that the ride home would be free. We went for dinner with a bunch of friends, which was great (other than the wind in the restaurant – see the next note), then walked to the Rock game, which was exciting and they won. A relaxing return trip to Burlington on the train (more reading and dozing), and a short drive home. A lovely evening.
  • Note that if you ever go to Fran’s on Front just east of Yonge in Toronto, don’t sit by the door in the winter. The glass in the front vestibule doesn’t go all the way to the wall, and when the outside door is open, cold air comes in through that one-inch gap. This is even worse when the outside door is broken and the wind holds it open until you go and pull it closed, which we must have done twenty times during the meal. We also stuffed a coat into the gap, which made it a little more bearable. The food was good, as it always is, but the draftiness was unpleasant. I tweeted this information to Fran’s twitter account, and they’ve responded saying that maintenance is already scheduled. Good news.