The Wings fly away, Part 2

In Part 1, I looked at how great the Philadelphia Wings were from 1987 until their 2001 Championship. And make no mistake, they were great. Then I asked how a team as successful as the Wings could possibly fold or move.

To answer that, we need to realize that all of the great numbers I mentioned in that article were only for the first half (well, about 57% to be accurate) of the Wings tenure in Philadelphia. To say the rest of their tenure (2002-2014) was less successful would be quite the understatement.

Instead of being 42 games over .500, they were 30 games under at 82-112. They allowed 161 more goals than they scored. In 12 seasons, they made the playoffs three times (losing all three games) and finished over .500 only once. Their last playoff win will forever remain that 2001 Championship, thirteen seasons ago.

Things got so bad for the Wings that even the loyal fans started to abandon them. In the years following their sixth Championship, attendance dropped, rebounded again, and then dropped again. In 2005, it dropped over 14%, falling below 12,000 for the first time since their 1987 debut. 2008 saw a little rebound once again but after that it dropped between 5 and 10% every year. In the last fourteen years of the team’s existence (starting the year before their last Championship), the Wings reported year-over-year attendance increases only three times.

In 2014, their final year in the league, the Wings averaged a paltry 6,864 fans per game. Only the Vancouver Stealth drew fewer. If your attendance is being compared to that of the Stealth (whether Vancouver, Washington, or San Jose), you’re in trouble.

WingsAttendance

It’s not that ownership didn’t try. The Wings had more rebuilds than Joan Rivers’ face. After Marechek, Bergey, and Ratcliffe it was supposed to be Sean Greenhalgh, Athan Iannucci, and Merrick Thomson. But Greenhalgh was sent to Buffalo, concussions ended Thomson’s career early, and Nooch missed almost two entire seasons with injuries. Kyle Wailes scored 50+ points in 2009 and 2010 and never played again. The Dan Dawson experiment got them to the playoffs but no further than the first round before he was off to Rochester. Brodie Merrill has played well since coming to the Wings in 2012 but the price for landing him was steep – Iannucci, Alex Turner, Brodie McDonald, and three first round draft picks, one of which won’t happen until this coming fall.

They tried having a morning game on a Friday. I’m not sure if this was a conscious decision and they were trying to draw school trips (as it was advertised) or if it was required because of arena availability. It ended up as a dismal failure, drawing the lowest crowd (5139) in Wings history. They tried putting the players’ Twitter handles on their uniforms to draw attention. It did, but not from anyone outside of the lacrosse world, or at least not for more than a few seconds.

They tried rebranding themselves as “America’s team”, drafting and signing lots of American-born players. Most of these guys were field players who had played very little or no indoor lacrosse, and this strategy had varying degrees of success. Some guys like Drew Westervelt took to the game and became strong indoor players, while others like Ned Crotty never saw the same level of success indoors that they had seen outdoors. In 2014, this plan was further scuttled by a number of players including Crotty, Paul Rabil, and Brendan Mundorf bailing on the team sitting out the season to prepare for the World Field Championships.

Can we find someone to blame for the failure of the Wings? Ownership? Players? Fans? Is there really so much competition for your entertainment dollar in Philadelphia that the Wings can no longer compete? Well, when you only play 3 playoff games in twelve years (and lose them all), it’s hard to convince people to continue paying money to watch your team (unless you’re the Toronto Maple Leafs, but they’re a huge anomaly in the world of sports). You obviously can’t blame the fans who kept going to games, and considering the lack of on-floor success over the last twelve years, it’s also pretty tough to blame the ones who stopped.

If we must blame someone, I suppose it’ll have to be ownership, since they’re the top of the food chain and therefore ultimately responsible. But playing the blame game really doesn’t buy us anything. It doesn’t bring the Wings back, and it doesn’t make losing them any easier for fans of the league, least of all the Philly fans.

The Philadelphia Wings were the cornerstone of the NLL for half of its existence. They were so good for so long and were as close to being a solid fixture in a city’s sports scene as the NLL has ever seen. It’s unfortunate that we now have to add Philadelphia to the long list of cities in which the NLL ultimately failed.

The Wings fly away, Pt. 1

Wings

The 2015 NLL season will not include the Philadelphia Wings. For longtime fans of the league, this is unfathomable. It’s the NHL without the Leafs or Canadiens. It’s the American League without the Yankees. It’s the NFL without the Packers. After 28 seasons, the franchise is moving, though we don’t yet know where. It’s possible that they’ll find a new home fairly close to their old one but even if they do, it won’t be the same.

Starting in 1987, they were outstanding. In their first sixteen seasons, they missed the playoffs once, finished under .500 only three times, and appeared in nine Championship finals, winning six of them. They won 100 games while only losing 58, and they scored 316 more goals than they allowed. They had future Hall-of-Famers all over the place: Gary and Paul Gait, Tom Marechek, Tony Resch, Dallas Eliuk, and owners Mike French, Russ Cline, and Chris Fritz. In 2001 they won their sixth Championship, the same number (at the time) as the Rock, Bandits, and Knighthawks combined.

The Wings had arguably the most loyal fans in the league. In 1987, the league’s inaugural season, their average attendance was 10,972 when the other three teams in the league had averages under 8,000. Their average attendance increased each of the next four years, and stayed above 13,000 for sixteen straight seasons from 1989 to 2004.

So how is it possible that a team that successful could ever fold or move? We’ll get into that in part 2.

Game report: Calgary 10 @ Rochester 16, Calgary 2 @ Rochester 3

Wow, I haven’t done one of these game report things in a while! I think talking about the games every week on the Addicted to Lacrosse show has meant I didn’t feel the need to talk about them again on the blog. Also since I spend much of Sunday writing the Money Ballers column, I didn’t make time to write game reports as well. But they’re different media; I can get into more details here than I would on the show plus some people simply aren’t interested in watching or listening to a show but they’ll read a blog, or vice versa.

Blue Cross Arena

Anyway, the game. Or rather, the games.

First off, I make the trek to Rochester for this one, my first such trip in many years. My tickets were second row from the glass, right next to the Rochester bench. This meant that I could watch the line changes and see everything that happened at one end of the floor. It was great. What I didn’t anticipate was the view of the other end of the floor. When play was happening at the far end, this was my view:

 My view of the far goal

I tried yelling “Angus, sit down!” but he wouldn’t. Actually, that was a joke. I didn’t really consider yelling anything but positive encouragement at Angus Goodleaf. Just doesn’t seem like a very bright move.

So I watched half the game from close up in very high definition, and the other half on a grainy Jumbotron at an angle 100 feet away.

We had a plus and a minus just before the game. The plus was the Native American dancers, who I believe perform at the beginning of every Knighthawks game. That was very cool, and the outfits they were wearing were awesome. That was followed by the minus, the national anthems, accurately described as “lounge-y” by Stephen Stamp in his Championship Game live blog, sung by a guy who should probably have waited until afterwards to start hitting the Genny Cream Ale.

The game itself was very entertaining. You already know the result and how the lead changed hands a couple of times before Rochester scored 6 straight, and Calgary almost came back but never tied it, so I won’t go over all of that. One thing I noticed about the Calgary defense (and to some extent the Rochester defense as well) is that they weren’t trying to prevent shots entirely. There were a few shot clock violations and occasions when a player would just roll the ball into the corner with a second left, but the Calgary defenders weren’t as aggressively trying to keep the Knighthawks from shooting as I’ve seen in the past. They seemed to say “Sure, feel free to shoot, but you’re going to have to thread the needle between a whole bunch of people before it even gets to Poulin.” Rochester did shoot in a lot of cases, and more often than not the ball never got anywhere near the net.

One defensive play I must point out is one by Brad Self late in the third. Unfortunately, I can’t link to a video of the play because the camera was on Mike Poulin at the time, but Poulin made a save and then launched the ball down the floor, looking for Dane Dobbie coming off the bench in transition (as he does frequently). Self made a diving catch just past the restraining line, preventing Dobbie from having a breakaway. The ball then got loose and Dobbie ended up with it anyway, but by that point the defense had come out and Calgary never got a shot off at all. It was an excellent play and really got the crowd fired up.

I do have video of a couple of goals to share, both behind-the-back beauties. First is Cory Vitarelli early in the 3rd quarter, and the other is Stephen Keogh with a little over 6 minutes left in the fourth. Vitarelli’s was particularly nice, since most behind-the-back shots come from in close, but his was from way out there.

Both goalies played very well though Mike Poulin seemed to get rattled a couple of times. This is a problem with some goaltenders – once you get them rattled or shaken up for whatever reason, they’re done. Poulin sometimes does that too but once he gets pulled (or pulls himself), he spends five minutes on the bench or in the dressing room getting refocused. He’s very good at this because more often than not, when he comes back he’s much better. He did this twice during game 2, but once the Knighthawks got on a roll in the fourth quarter, nothing could stop them.

So Rochester dominated the 4th to win game 2, and we headed to the mini-game with Rochester holding all the momentum. But then Shawn Evans and Curtis Dickson opened the scoring for Calgary (just as they had in game 2), and still led with less than 2½ minutes left. Nobody believed it was over at that point, but I thought that the Roughnecks had killed whatever momentum Rochester had going in. And maybe they had, but over the next 1:15, Craig Point and Joe Walters grabbed it right back. The Roughnecks poured on the pressure over the last minute, but Matt Vinc stepped up and stopped every shot, the last one just a second before the final buzzer.

I know there are people who don’t like the idea of the mini-game but after this year’s playoffs, I don’t think it’s going away anytime soon. The first two were very exciting to watch on TV and I imagine this one was too, and it was amazing to see live. I imagine it was everything the NLL was hoping for when they made the decision to move away from single-game elimination.

I have to say that it was pretty painful to watch the Roughnecks leave the floor. Scott Ranger in particular looked absolutely devastated. He was the last Roughneck through the handshake line and it didn’t look like he said a word to anyone.

Scott Ranger

A few more celebratory pictures:

Players, cheerleaders, families, and confetti

Not completely full but LOUD

At least the photographer is in focus. Sorry Curt

So congratulations to the 2014 NLL Champion Knighthawks, and even more congratulations for the unprecedented three-peat. Rochester is a class organization from the top on down, so it’s nice to see them rewarded with so much success. But hey, three’s enough, dontcha think?

Other game notes:

  • Saw a report before the game that Derek Hopcroft had been activated and was very excited about it. Then he was scratched. Ouch.
  • I knew the Philadelphia Wings fans yelled “SUCKS!” after every name when the starting lineups are announced. I didn’t know they did that in Rochester too.
  • After Rochester’s 3rd goal in the mini-game, Dan Dawson was the first offensive player back to their bench. He made a point of telling everyone “Calm down, it’s not over yet” to make sure the defenders didn’t get too excited and let their guard down. That’s the kind of veteran leadership a guy like Dawson bring to the team. The fact that he’s one of the best scorers ever is a bit of a plus too.
  • In a lot of cases, a player who returns to an arena where he used to play is given some positive acknowledgement from the crowd, perhaps in the form of some extra cheering. Colin Doyle got a very nice reception in Toronto when he first played here as a member of the San Jose Stealth. This is particularly true if the player helped his former team win a Championship, as Doyle did in Toronto a few times and as Shawn Evans did in Rochester in 2007. But I didn’t see any of this recognition on Saturday with Evans. He didn’t seem to get any love from the Knighthawk fans who even booed him briefly after he fell, appeared injured, and then got up and ran to the bench. I even saw a sign saying “My 4-year-old is taller than Shawn Evans”. But who was the first Roughneck in line for the handshakes after the game? Shawn Evans.
  • Cody Jamieson is quickly becoming one of my favourite players but I didn’t realize until this game that he’s not the biggest guy out there. In fact, he’s only 5’9″, the shortest guy on the Knighthawks and only an inch taller than little Evy. Note, however, that he weighs 40 pounds more than Evans.
  • Y’ever notice that Dane Dobbie talks a lot during the game? To his teammates, to his opponents, to the refs, to everybody. Very social dude.
  • During the warm-ups, my son (who’s in grade 9 – a freshman in high school if you’re south of the border) pointed at a particular passing drill and said “Hey, we were doing lacrosse in gym last week and we did that same drill! But it’s a bit different because they’re actually catching the ball.”

Some general notes about my trip to Rochester

  • Wow, is the New York State Thruway a cheap toll road. Cost me $2 to get from Buffalo to the Rochester exit, about 41 miles or 65 km. If I take the 407 across the top of Toronto from Dundas Street in Burlington (near my house) to Highway 400 (to head north of Toronto), that’s 61.6 km and at the cheapest possible time, it would cost me $12.74. At the most expensive time, $19.26. More if I didn’t pay $1 per month for a transponder.
  • Here’s a handy tip for Canadians going to the US or Americans going to Canada. What a Canadian calls “tea” an American would call “hot tea”. What an American calls “tea”, a Canadian would call “iced tea”. In the US, however, there are two types of (iced) tea: sweetened and unsweetened. Sweetened is what a Canadian would simply call iced tea. Unsweetened iced tea is not available in Canada, and is an interesting drink similar to sweetened iced tea except that it has the unique property that no matter how much sugar you add to unsweetened iced tea, you can’t make it taste good.
  • We stayed at the Rochester Plaza, about a five minute walk from the BCA. Very convenient, but there weren’t a lot of places to eat nearby. We walked up to the arena (this was well over 2 hours before game time) and found nothing except a closed Tim Horton’s (in Canada, I don’t think they’re allowed to be closed), a closed pizza place, and another closed place (maybe Jamaican?). We ended up back at the hotel and ate there, though later I did notice a couple of places across the street. The next morning, the Tim Horton’s was still closed (WTF?!) so we found a Denny’s on the GPS.
  • Dear Garmin: The Denny’s that you said is here isn’t.

Finals game 2/3 picks

Overture, curtains, lights. This is it, the night of nights.
And oh, what heights we’ll hit, on with the show, this is it.

Well, since I’m writing this on Friday it’s actually tomorrow night, but this is indeed it. The finale of the longest NLL playoffs ever, following the longest NLL season ever. Here is my pick for the final game of the year.

Final regular season record: 58-23 (.716)
Record: 6-3 (.667)

Game
Comments
Pick
CAL @ ROC Dan Dawson and Geoff Snider are both apparently game-time decisions, but it seemed last week that as important as Snider is to the Roughnecks, Dawson is even more so to the Knighthawks. Their offense looked like it was in need of a quarterback, so having Dawson back would be a huge boost for them. On the other hand, players love to show their former teams that trading them away was a mistake. Shawn Evans has only played one game in Rochester as a member of the Roughnecks, a 6-point performance in a losing cause back in 2012. But he’s had an MVP season since then.

I think Rochester will come out much stronger in this game than in game 1, but I am predicting a game 2 victory for the Roughnecks. However since I will be in attendance at the game, seeing Rochester win and force a mini-game would be damned exciting so I wouldn’t be averse to being wrong in my pick.

Roughnecks

Finals game 1 pick

Second last pick of the season! I still haven’t decided who I think will win it all, but I’ve made my pick for game 1. I think winning game 1 gives you a huge advantage, so I guess I’ve kind of made my final pick, but we’ll see how this weekend’s game goes first.

Final regular season record: 58-23 (.716)
Record: 5-3 (.625)

Game
Comments
Pick
ROC @ CAL Like I said, I’m not 100% convinced that the Roughnecks are my pick to win it all. But neither are the Knighthawks. It sounds like both teams will be healthy again, with Dan Dawson returning to the Knighthawks and Geoff Snider returning to the Roughnecks. Either goalie can steal a game even if the rest of the team doesn’t play that well. I imagine that between this game and the next, we might see the best lacrosse of the season, though topping last week’s Calgary/Edmonton games might be tough.

I think both the drama and excitement of last weekend’s almost-comeback and mini-game victory and the fact that they’re at home in front of an almost-if-not-complete sellout will push the Roughnecks to a game 1 victory.

Roughnecks

Division Finals picks

Once again, I didn’t write up my picks before game time. Oops. That pesky job got in the way.

If you were to tell me after I made my picks last week that I’d go 1-1, I’d have assumed I got the Edmonton game right and got my Buffalo prediction wrong, since that was the one I was less confident about. Of course, I nailed that one and got Edmonton / Calgary wrong. I guess I’m expecting a couple of mini-games this weekend.

Final regular season record: 58-23 (.716)
Record: 2-2 (.500)

Game
Comments
Pick
CAL @ EDM I think it would really be a shame if Edmonton didn’t win the Championship after the season they’ve had. But I doubt Calgary shares that feeling, and as we’ve seen twice in the past few weeks, the Roughnecks have the ability to beat the Rush. But I haven’t bet against the Rush at all this year, and I’m not starting now.
Note that I announced this pick on Monday’s Addicted to Lacrosse show. The fact that the score is 9-2 Edmonton early in the second quarter as I write this is not related.
Rush
BUF @ ROC Rochester’s offense seemed disoriented or something last weekend while Buffalo’s defense was very strong. I can see the latter continuing this weekend but not the former. The Knighthawks will come out strong and make sure they get to their third straight Championship game/series. Game 2 might be a serious blowout. Knighthawks

Division finals game 1 picks

I usually “announce” my weekly picks on the Addicted to Lacrosse show on Monday nights, but not this week. I had network problems during the show and wasn’t able to re-connect in time, so I never had a chance. I’m quite unsure about my picks this week though, so perhaps that’s for the best.

Final regular season record: 58-23 (.716)
Record: 1-1 (.500)

Game
Comments
Pick
EDM @ CAL The age-old question: which will prevail – a strong offense or a strong defense? This season, the answer is clearly the latter as Edmonton’s D has stifled everyone. The Rush have dominated the Roughnecks this season, though Calgary is one of only two teams to have beaten them. But I’m sticking with the Rush. rush
ROC @ BUF I just have a gut feeling about this game. The Bandits came off of an 8 game losing streak to beat the Rock, and they looked pretty good doing it. I think that renewed confidence along with 19000+ very loud people in Buffalo will push the Bandits to play well again and sneak by the Knighthawks. Not sure that I’m picking the Bandits to win the series though. bandits