NLL Week 4-6

Week 4 had no games anyway, week 5’s were postponed, and week 6 was crazy busy. Here’s wassup.

Awesome

Ryan Benesch

Traded from Panther City to the Albany FireWolves, Beni joins his ninth NLL team (or eighth if you count the old Knighthawks and Halifax Thunderbirds together). Here’s how long Benesch has been around: when he was playing in his ninth season in the league, only one FireWolves forward (Joe Resetarits) had ever played a game in the NLL. There are only five franchises in the league he’s never been a part of: Philly (2.0), Rochester (2.0), Calgary, San Diego, and New York. He’s one of only 11 players to crack the 1000 career point plateau, and a sure-fire Hall of Famer. But more important than any of that for the FireWolves: he’s still an impact player who can help their offense. Benesch scored a couple in his Albany debut.

Image design: Dave SowdenColorado @ Vancouver

Vancouver started out with a 7-0 lead after less than five minutes. Dillon Ward wasn’t seeing the ball well, and everything the Warriors threw near the net went in. The over/under for this game was 21, and we hit that before halftime. But Colorado did the best thing they could have done – stay positive and keep chipping away at the lead. Before the third quarter was done, Colorado had tied it and taken a lead, and they ended up winning the game. Obviously the game (other than the first quarter) wasn’t awesome for the Warriors, but it certainly was for the Mammoth and for any non-Warriors fans watching.

Georgia @ Philly

After seeing a ton of goals scored on Friday night, we were treated to a defensive gem in a rare Saturday afternoon game in Philly. Only four goals were scored in the first half, and each team held the other scoreless in one quarter. Things opened up a bit in the second half but the game was tied at 2, 3, 6, 7, 8, and 10 before Ben McIntosh gave the Wings the lead with only a couple of minutes left. Lyle Thompson had five goals by that point, and the Wings wanted to make sure he wasn’t given the opportunity to score his sixth but to pay special attention to one player, you have to take your eyes off all the others just a little. Brendan Bomberry took full advantage of that and scored the game-tying goal with 0.6 seconds left on the clock. OT only lasted 15 seconds before Blaze Riorden scored to give the Wings the win, but the whole game was close and neither team was out of it until it was literally over, and you can’t ask for more than that.

Tucker out Lymphoma night

Not talking about the game here, just the event. (In fact, as a Rock fan, the game was definitely in the “not awesome” category. See below.) Hats off to the entire Bandits organization for doing this every year. Shawn Williams is one of the most well-respected players in league history, and what happened to his family must have been unbearable. But the Bandits have turned that tragedy into something positive for the Williams family, the lacrosse community as a whole, and the cancer hospitals that all the donation money goes to. It’s heartwarming to hear the players talk about it as not just another game, not just another fundraiser, but an important event. It really has turned into one of the biggest NLL events of the year, and it’s great to see the opposing teams (Toronto in this case) getting involved as well.

Every Child Matters

Speaking of important events… all of the NLL players wore special orange “Every Child Matters” shirts during warm-ups this past weekend. Panther City coach Tracey Kelusky even wore his under his blazer during the game. During halftime of all the games, there was an interview with Lyle Thompson talking about his family’s experiences with residential schools and why this day was so meaningful to them. This was a Halifax Thunderbirds initiative that the league adopted so shout out to the T-birds staff and all involved. If you don’t know anything about residential schools, go do some Googling and find out. If you’re not outraged when you’re done reading, go read it again since you obviously missed something.

These shirts are available for purchase so head over to the NLL Store and order one. FYI, I do not get commission or any kind of kickback for promoting that. I bought one myself.

Not Awesome

Pandemics

Yes, once again we have an entry that basically boils down to “Pandemics suck”. All three games from week 5 and one from week 6 had to be postponed due to the skyrocketing numbers of the omicron variant of Covid-19. Once again, it sucks but it was the right decision. In addition to the players who have tested positive, it’s starting to hit broadcasters as well, as both Brendan Glasheen and Pat Gregoire have tested positive. As a result, we had some guys have to come in and do the broadcasts on a couple of days notice, and one guy (Dave Leno) did two different games on the same day. That part is awesome (and he did a great job on the games too), but the fact that it was required because of Covid is not.

Now we just have to hope things quieten down a little or we might be looking at another… no, I’m not going to say it.

Rock and Rush offense

The Rock were without two of their top offensive stars, as Dan Dawson was on the Covid protocol list and Tom Schreiber was with his wife who’s expecting their first child. As a result, Rob Hellyer had to shoulder a lot of the load and Challen Rogers had to move up front. In addition, they decided to shake things up a little (more) by having one player, usually Rogers, stand behind the net and quarterback from there. You see this in hockey all the time but I haven’t seen it much in lacrosse. It didn’t seem to work though, as the Rock could only scrape together 6 goals. The whole game, it seemed like the Rock were killing a penalty, even when playing 5-on-5. It’s like they just couldn’t keep up with the Bandits. Nick Rose played well and other than the first quarter, the Rock defense also played well or this could have been a real blowout.

As for the Rush, they set a new team record by only scoring five goals against the FireWolves. Robert Church scored three but nobody else scored more than one and nobody else had more than 5 shots on goal. I didn’t see much of this game so I can’t comment on what went wrong. Obviously Ben McIntosh and Marty Dinsdale are missing from last season but the team has had some time to deal with that. However Jeff Shattler was also out due to Covid and that had a big impact as well. The Rush are 1-3 to start the season and it’s a little early to be hitting the panic button in Saskatchewan just yet, but I’m sure Jeff McComb and Derek Keenan are keeping an eye on things.

NLL Week 3

Three weeks into the season and now we have to wait TWO WHOLE WEEKS before there are more games. How can we survive without lacrosse for two whole weeks?! After surviving twenty months with no NLL, I think we can make it two weeks.

Awesome

Dane Dobbie

What more can we say about Dane Dobbie? Players always talk about giving 110% – well, if that’s true then Dobbie gives 120%. Maybe 125%. The man works his tail off on every shift, which is what you want to see from everybody, but it’s extra special when you’re as talented as Dobbie is. It sounds like there might have been some animosity between him and the Roughnecks (in a “getting to know you” bit at the beginning of the year, the Seals asked Dobbie his favourite colour, and he responded “anything but red”), so it’s not particularly surprising that he went off for seven goals against them.

Photo credit: unknown

Winning

You know, winning? It’s like, better’n losing? I put $10 on Mark Matthews to score more than 1.5 goals and he got three. My -161 over netted me a cool $6.21. Maybe I’ll treat the family with my winnings – a cup of tea and a box of Timbits may be about it, but dammit, I WON.

Austin Staats returns

One of the most exciting players in the game, Staats was expected to be out for a couple of months, if not half the season. But after missing only two games, Staats surprised everyone by returning early and scoring a couple of goals. That game was obviously the Dane Dobbie show, and it’s too bad it wasn’t in front of the San Diego fans, but it’s great to see Staats back and healthy. His passion for the game is evident whenever he plays, and it’s obvious how much fun he’s having. They play different styles but he reminds me of Lyle Thompson in that respect – they both look like there’s absolutely nothing in the world they’d rather do than play lacrosse. They both have a fair bit of talent too.

End of the Saskatchewan / Vancouver game

Last week it was the second half of the game in Saskatchewan, this week it’s the second half, primarily the fourth quarter, of the game in Vancouver. I gave props to the Warriors last week for being 2-0, and even though they lost this game, they were right in it until the very end, which is saying something against the Rush. The TSN games of the week thus far have all been down to the wire and very exciting, so hopefully (a) that trend continues and (b) it brings in new fans to the league. Speaking of bringing in new fans…

Awesome-ish

Goalie fight in Albany

I struggled with this one – is it awesome or not? I don’t like fighting in lacrosse, so I thought about putting it under Not Awesome. But then it’s getting a ton of press, which could bring new eyes to the sport. Many people who don’t watch lacrosse at all will see the odd highlight here and there and if all they ever see is the fighting (goalie fights, line brawls, etc.), that’s all they think the sport is. I have some friends who are surprised by my interest in lacrosse because “it’s just guys hitting each other with sticks, right?” But we’re getting more and more highlights on ESPN and TSN these days that are goals rather than fights. The “bring new eyes to the sport” bit is important, and maybe a lot of those new people will appreciate that the game is so much more than that and stick around. New fans sticking around is awesome, but there’s no way to know how many people would appreciate the game but are turned off by the fighting and the way that people glorify it, so maybe those uncountable no-longer-interested people qualify as not awesome..

All things considered, I have convinced myself that this is a good thing. A great many of the people who saw that video will ignore it entirely. There are probably some who might have become lacrosse fans but have been turned off by the fighting, but there are others who may start watching more. The loss of potential fans is outweighed by the gain of actual fans.

One part of this that is not awesome is that TMZ tweeted out a video of the fight and if you look at the re-tweets, a lot of them are from lacrosse people tweeting “OMG, TMZ tweeted about lacrosse!” This whole “they’re talking about us!” thing always happens when lacrosse is mentioned, however tangentially, in a TV show (OMG Simpsons!) or movie (OMG American Pie!). I don’t know why it bugs me so much, but then again I do it too when I see a lacrosse stick in a movie.

Not Awesome

Evan Kirk out for the season

Due to work commitments, Knighthawks goalie Evan Kirk will miss the rest of the 2022 season. Kirk is starting police college and while the Knighthawks knew about this, it sounds like the new Omicron variant of COVID-19 forced his hand and made him choose between college and playing in the NLL. While I’m sure Kirk would love to do both, I’m not going to criticize him for choosing his future outside lacrosse over the NLL. It’s not awesome he was forced to make that decision, and it’s not awesome for the Knighthawks that after making one of the biggest free agent signings of the offseason, they only got two games from him.

Vancouver’s offense

The Warriors have looked really good this year, as good as we’ve seen the team since the Washington Stealth days. Keegan Bal and Mitch Jones have been excellent (18 goals in 3 games between them), and Reid Bowering has been all he was hyped to be. But look at the rest of the offense: Marty Dinsdale has three goals. Killen has two. Schuss has one. McBride has one. Charalambides has also looked really good but has also only scored once. Riley Loewen has none. We’re only three games into the season and they’re 2-1, Buque has been fantastic, and the D in front of him has been great as well so all is not lost. But the offense can only go so far if one or two guys are doing all the scoring. If their secondary scoring kicks in, the Warriors could be a serious threat in the West.

Covid-19

Hot take: Covid-19 is not awesome. So far this season, it hasn’t negatively affected the NLL an awful lot, other than killing attendance (5,000 in Toronto Hamilton? 7,000 in Buffalo? 9,000 in both Calgary and Saskatchewan?), unlike the NBA, NFL, and NHL. But a few big-name players have been added to various teams’ Covid lists, including Jeff Teat, Corey Small, and Tom Schreiber. Hopefully the two-week break over the holidays is enough to allow those who might have it to either start showing symptoms or at least get tested before spreading it around their teammates.

NLL Week 2

After two weeks of NLL action, the Rush are 0-2 and the Warriors are 2-0. Just like we all predicted. Of course, it’s way too early in the season to extract anything really significant out of that. Good teams have started slow before (including said Rush), and a 2-0 start doesn’t mean you’ll make it to the finals.

Here are my choices for the awesome things and the less awesome things that happened in week 2.

Continue reading

NLL Week 1

Finally, the NLL is back! In previous years, I wrote an article on each game I attended (last season, not so much) but I saved the commentary on other games and such for the Addicted to Lacrosse podcast, which I hosted for about eight years along with Tyler Fitch and Melissa Dafni. We’re not doing that anymore, so I need a place to vent talk about the goings-on in the league, so that’s here. I’ll do a wrap-up article each week, summarizing my thoughts on what happened the previous weekend.

I’m going to do this using an Awesome / Not Awesome format like we used to do on Addicted to Lacrosse. Awesome is, obviously, things that were awesome. Not awesome is everything else – not necessarily things that suck, though they’d be included, but there may also be things that happened that I’m just not sure about. In general, I try to be positive and have more awesomes than not, but I can’t guarantee that.

Continue reading

Game report: Albany @ Toronto

Saturday night began the next chapter in the story of the Toronto Rock, their first game at the First Ontario Centre in Hamilton. The team made no secret of the fact that this was a cost-cutting measure; Scotiabank Arena is one of the most expensive arenas in North America to rent, and owner Jamie Dawick has said that he needed attendance of 12k just to break even there. That requirement is almost certainly lower at First Ontario Centre.

Continue reading

2022: Who’s in, Who’s out

Here it is: a complete summary of all the roster changes for each team, all in one place.

Note that these are the changes as of the final roster from last season, so a player might be listed as “In” even if he played for that team during 2020 (eg. Dhane Smith). And a player who’s injured but still part of that team will be listed as “out”. Not all teams have announced who’s on their IR, PUP, or holdout lists so take “None” with a grain of salt.

Teams and players are each listed in alphabetical order. This article will be updated as things change up until about a week into the season.

FireWolvesAlbany FireWolves

In: Curtis Conley, Charlie Kitchen, Jacob Ruest, Adrian Sorichetti, Tanner Thomson, Garrett Thul
Out: Adam Bomberry, Callum Crawford, Mack Mitchell, Tristain Rai, Creighton Reid
IR: Eric Shewell
PUP: Adam Bomberry
Holdout: Johnny Pearson
Practice Roster: Jackson Brown, Curtis Romanchych, Brad Smith


BanditsBuffalo Bandits

In: Kyle Buchanan, Connor Fields, Brad McCulley, Tehoka Nanticoke, Ethan O’Connor, Justin Robinson, Devlin Shanahan, Dhane Smith, Jordan Stouros
Out: Garrett Billings, Frank Brown, Doug Buchan, Mitch de Snoo, Matt Gilray, Jon Harnett, Dan Lintner, Ian MacKay, Corey Small
IR: None
PUP: Frank Brown, Ian MacKay
Holdout: None
Practice Roster: Tye Argent, Nolan Clayton, Sam LaRoue, Dalton Sulver


RoughnecksCalgary Roughnecks

In: Tanner Cook, Landon Kells, Jesse King, Marshal King, Liam LeClair, Harrison Matsuoka, Carter McKenzie, Andrew Mullen, Ethan Ticehurst, Kyle Waters
Out: Tyson Bell, Tyler Burton, Chad Cummings, Dane Dobbie, Dereck Downs, Rhys Duch, Greg Harnett, Anthony Kalinich, Tyler Pace, Tyler Richards
IR: Tyler Burton
PUP: None
Holdout: None
Practice Roster: Adam Bland, Lyndon Bunio, Tyler Pace, Cole Pickup


MammothColorado Mammoth

In: Jalen Chaster, Ron John, Sam LeClair, Connor Robinson, Erik Turner, Zed Williams
Out: Dan Coates, Brett Craig, Kyle Killen, Jake McNabb, Jacob Ruest, Jeff Wittig
IR: None
PUP: None
Holdout: None
Practice Roster: Nate Faccin, Noah Lebar, Brett McIntyre


SwarmGeorgia Swarm

In: Tanner Buck, TJ Comizio, Vaughn Harris, Jeff Henrick, Robert Hudson, Connor Kirst, Ethan Riggs, Thomas Semple, Ethan Walker, Craig Wende
Out: Alex Crepinsek, Zach Miller, Jason Noble, Kevin Orleman, Connor Sellars, Randy Staats, Leo Stouros, Miles Thompson, Zed Williams
IR: None
PUP: None
Holdout: None
Practice Roster: Laine Hruska, Russ Oakes, Aden Walsh


ThunderbirdsHalifax Thunderbirds

In: David Brock, Rhys Duch, Aaron Bold, Stephen Leblanc, Tyson Bell
Out: James Barclay, Ryan Benesch, Mike Burke, Pete Dubenski, Chet Koneczny
IR: James Barclay
PUP: None
Holdout: Brandon Robinson
Practice Roster: Cory Becker, Braden Hill, Ryan Terefenko, Connor Watson


RiptideNew York Riptide

In: Andrew Borgatti, Callum Crawford, Scott Dominey, Damon Edwards, Leroy Halftown, Connor Keanan, Matt Marinier, Mack Mitchell, Steven Orleman, Adam Perroni, Darryl Robertson, Leo Stouros, Larson Sundown, Jeff Teat, Jay Thorimbert, Bryce Tolmie
Out: Tyson Bomberry, Alex Buque, Jean-Luc Chetner, Ryan Fournier, Scott Johnston, Myles Jones, Connor Kelly, Dan Lomas, Travis Longboat, Cody Radziewicz, John Ranagan, Pat Saunders, Ethan Schott, Andrew Suitor, John Wagner, Alex Woodall
IR: Ryan Fournier
PUP: Dan Lomas
Holdout: None
Practice Roster: Will Johnston, Ty Thompson, Kris Veltman


Panther CityPanther City LC

In: Everybody
Out: Nobody
IR: Harrison Smith
PUP: None
Holdout: None
Practice Roster: Taite Cattoni, Cam MacLeod, Ryan McLean, Liam Phillips


WingsPhiladelphia Wings

In: Alex Crepinsek, Angus Goodleaf, Kyle Marr, Ben McIntosh, John Ranagan, Jackson Suboch, Corey Small
Out: Kevin Buchanan, Liam Byrnes, Josh Currier, Brandon Miller, Liam Patten, Eric Shewell, Nate Wade
IR: None
PUP: None
Holdout: None
Practice Roster: ?


KnighthawksRochester Knighthawks

In: Charlie Bertrand, Dan Coates, Shawn Evans, Matt Gilray, Thomas Hoggarth, Evan Kirk, Ryan Smith, John Wagner, Jeff Wittig
Out: Dallas Bridle, Dylan Evans, Steve Fryer, Julian Garritano, Dan Michel, Liam Osborne, Darryl Robertson, Craig Wende
IR: None
PUP: Mike Manley
Holdout: None
Practice Roster: Tyler Halls, Mitch Ogilvie, Joel Watson


SealsSan Diego Seals

In: Dane Dobbie, Jacob Dunbar, Tre Leclaire, Mac O’Keefe, Patrick Shoemay, Chris Origlieri
Out: Kyle Buchanan, Nick Damude, Connor Fields, Connor Kearnan, Garrett MacIntosh, Austin Staats
IR: Tyler Garrison, Mikie Schlosser, Austin Staats
PUP: Tyson Bomberry, Jay Carlson, Teddy Leggett, Danny Logan, Devyn Mayea, Mike McCannell
Holdout: None
Practice Roster: Mathieu Biossenault, Reed Rezanka, Skylar Whinery


RushSaskatchewan Rush

In: Matt Beers, Josh Currier, Pete Dubenski, Bobby Kidd, Dan Lintner, Mike Mallory, Connor McClelland, Marshall Powless, Tristan Rai
Out: Travis Cornwall, Marty Dinsdale, Matt Hossack, Evan Kirk, Ben McIntosh, Austin Murphy, Connor Robinson, Justin Robinson, Jeremy Thompson
IR: None
PUP: None
Holdout: None
Practice Roster: Cameron Dunkerley, Clark Walter, Keegan White


RockToronto Rock

In: Mitch de Snoo, Jamieson Dilks, Aaron Forster, Latrell Harris, Jason Noble, Justin Scott, Brandon Slade, Chris Weier
Out: David Brock, Sheldon Burns, Scott Dominey, Damon Edwards, Johnny Powless, Taylor Stuart, Alec Tulett
IR: Sheldon Burns
PUP: TD Ierlan
Holdout: None
Practice Roster: Troy Holowchuk, Phil Mazzuca, Jordan McKenna


WarriorsVancouver Warriors

In: Reid Bowering, Alex Buque, Adam Charalambides, Marty Dinsdale, Steve Fryer, Anthony Kalinich, Kyle Killen, Garrett McIntosh, Brett Mydske, Justin Salt
Out: Matt Beers, Keegan Bell, Lyndon Bunio, Sam Clare, Nolan Clayton, Ian Hawksbee, Mike Mallory, Chris O’Dougherty, Eric Penney
IR: None
PUP: None
Holdout: None
Practice Roster: Keegan Bell, Isaac Bot, Brody Harris, Ryan Martel


The Rock Relocate: Thoughts from a Hamiltonian

It’s a little bit of hyperbole, but not a lot: the lacrosse landscape in southern Ontario changed dramatically this week.

Of course, we all know now that the Toronto Rock are sort-of relocating, and by “sort-of” I mean that they are remaining the Toronto Rock but will be playing their home games in Hamilton for at least the next five years. The jersey and logo will be the same, the staff and roster will be the same, everything to do with the TRAC will be the same, but when the team bus leaves the TRAC for home games, it’ll head west on the QEW instead of east.

For me personally, this is great news. I live in Waterdown, which is part of the city of Hamilton, and my house is about 10 km from the First Ontario Centre. If a game ends at 10:30pm, I’m easily home by 11, and that’s if I stroll to the parking garage. There are not that many people who can say that the relocation of their nearest NLL team is good news, but I imagine Rock fans anywhere from Oakville to Kitchener-Waterloo to Six Nations are all pretty pleased with this move. Fans in Banditland who like to cross the border for Rock games just found their travel time cut in half.

Downtown Hamilton

(Image: downtown Hamilton. The tall black building in the middle is Stelco Tower. Just to the left of it, you can see part of the white roof of the First Ontario Centre.)

Of course, that’s not the case for thousands of others coming from north or east of Toronto. I know my friends in Newmarket and Stouffville have decisions to make, not to mention my friends downtown who used to be able to walk home after Rock games. There are likely a ton of people from Peterborough who are willing to make the hour-and-a-half-in-good-traffic drive downtown for Rock games, and they will all have to decide if they are willing to add an extra hour-in-good-traffic to each direction of that trip. Remember too that most NLL games occur in the dead of winter, and so the “in-good-traffic” part can really come into play.

The Rock have said that they plan to have most home games on Saturday evenings, so the Monday-Friday 9-5 crowd won’t have to worry so much about getting from work to the arena. But make no mistake, I’m not dismissing the additional travelling a great many fans will have to do if they want to see the games in person. It’s a big deal and I wouldn’t blame anyone for deciding to either scale back from season tickets to going to a game or two per season, or just not going at all.

Rock owner and GM Jamie Dawick said that ticket prices will be lower in Hamilton, and things like parking and concessions will be cheaper as well. I am looking forward to paying less than $6 for a can-sized bottle of Coke Zero.

The Rock are returning to the same place where the franchise began, as the Ontario Raiders back in 1998. But they only played there a year before moving to Toronto where their popularity skyrocketed. But after five Championships and seven straight years of 15,000+ attendance, the Rock’s numbers dropped to around 10,000 in 2010, and haven’t recovered, which brings us to where we are now. I’m pretty sure Dawick said a few years ago that he needs attendance of 10,000 per game just to break even. [Aside: I have a feeling I’m misremembering that and the number is actually higher.]

Half of the 65 Rock home games since 2015 have been below 10k and only two have been above 12k. Surely nobody expects Dawick to continue losing tons of money every year renting the Scotiabank Arena. Does it suck for many Rock fans who don’t live west of the city? Absolutely it does, but it’s a business decision. I’m impressed he stuck it out this long.

Another odd part of this whole scenario is the fact that Toronto and Hamilton have been sports rivals forever, mainly the CFL’s Toronto Argonauts and Hamilton Tiger-Cats. This is a rivalry that compares to that of the Maple Leafs and Canadiens, and so I’ve seen comments that this endeavour will fail because any real Hamiltonian wouldn’t be caught dead supporting a team with Toronto in the name.

But I’ve lived in Hamilton for almost 25 years. I don’t buy it.

No, I don’t see a lot of Argos gear around town, but that’s because Hamilton has its own team. I do see Leafs, Blue Jays, and Raptors gear all over the place. I personally have worn shirts and jerseys from all three of those teams (plus the Rock of course, and I even have a Toronto FC hat), and nobody in Hamilton has ever mentioned anything to me about having a problem supporting Toronto teams.

Nonetheless, the fact that a team with Toronto in the name will play its home games in Hamilton is a little unusual. According to people on twitter, only the San Francisco 49ers play their home games further away from the city they’re named for (in a normal non-pandemic year, anyway). Now, the Vancouver Stealth didn’t pull in great numbers when they played 40 km away from Vancouver in Langley, but let’s be honest, the team wasn’t very good. The Chicago Shamrox also didn’t pack the building in Hoffman Estates, 53 km away, but they weren’t great either and they were only given two seasons to figure it out.

The Rock were 7-4 during 2020’s partial season and 12-6 in 2019. There’s no reason to believe they won’t at least contend in the North division next season. The team may not be the powerhouse team they were in Toronto in 1999, but Toronto fans who make their way down the QEW for Rock games next season should still see a strong team and entertaining games. Other than transportation costs, they’ll also spend less money to do it.

I have intentionally refrained from making any predictions about how successful the team will be in Hamilton. The Ontario Raiders averaged 4,810 people per game in 1998. But that was an expansion team in an unknown league. Thanks to 22 seasons of the Toronto Rock, the lacrosse scene in southern Ontario is quite different now, and so I don’t think comparisons to the Raiders are really meaningful. Even if they don’t pack the building every night, the lower arena costs will hopefully mean the team can stay alive. Moving the team to Hamilton may not be good news for many Rock fans, but I’m sure most will agree that it’s preferable to losing the team entirely.

I did not grow up watching the Rock play. I was in my early thirties before I ever saw a lacrosse game. But an entire generation of lacrosse players, broadcasters, and fans have grown up in southern Ontario with the Rock as a major part of their lacrosse world. Things will be different going forward but hopefully the new location will allow the Rock to continue to be a huge influence on the lacrosse community in this area.

NLL team movement: Here we go again?

It was announced on Monday (and the league confirmed it on Tuesday) that the New England Black Wolves will be relocating to Albany for the 2021-2022 season.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.

OK, maybe that snarky comment is a little unfair since we haven’t had nearly the team movement over the past ten seasons or so as we did over the previous… all of them.

In the ten years from 2002-2011, the NLL added 11 teams, remove 10, and relocated 5. Not a single season began with the exact same teams as the previous year. In fact, in the nineteen seasons from 1994-2012, there were no consecutive seasons with the same teams. At least one team was added, moved, or folded every single year. “Stability” was not a word the NLL was familiar with at the time.

In contrast, from 2012-2021, there were four teams added (Philly, San Diego, Rochester, New York, plus Panther City coming next year), one removed (Boston), and five relocations (six if you include the Vancouver Stealth becoming the Vancouver Warriors). There were three seasons in that time where the number and location of teams didn’t change from the previous season, and for the first time in the thirty-year history of the league, we had three consecutive seasons (2016-2018) with the same teams.

But back to New England. No reason was given by the Black Wolves ownership group for selling the team, but it’s very likely the same reason as the sale of just about every other team: they were losing money. It’s no secret that attendance in New England wasn’t stellar. Most games in Buffalo or Calgary had double the attendance of your average Black Wolves home game, and most games in Saskatchewan had triple.

Aside: the Mohegan Sun group (owners of the Black Wolves) made no secret of the fact that they bought the team mainly to bring more people into the casino, or at least have them spend more time (and thus money) there. The COVID-19 pandemic likely cut Mohegan Sun’s revenue significantly, and so it likely played a big role in this decision, but we have no way to know. I’m not going to pretend that attendance was the only reason for selling the team, but it’s the only real numbers we have.

Photo credit: Sarah Gordon, TheDay.com

In their six seasons in New England, the Black Wolves averaged 4,871 fans per home game. This is 35th overall in the history of NLL teams, which is not great but it’s ahead of 11 other teams including the New York Riptide, Ontario Raiders, and each of the San Jose, Washington, and Vancouver Stealths.

But if you exclude their first two seasons, their average jumps to 5,420 per game. Still not spectacular, but higher than the Georgia Swarm and last year’s Knighthawks.

So how does Albany compare? Albany’s four-year average was 4,201. Oddly, their lowest season average was 3,508 when they were 14-2 and lost in the Championship game to the Rock. That said, they did get over 5,000 fans out to the semi-final game that year and almost 9,300 to the final.

But the Attack played in the NLL from 2000-2003, so the numbers we’re talking about here were literally decades ago. An awful lot can change in that amount of time. I won’t go over all of the recent changes in Albany since Bob Chavez already has on IL Indoor.

The Black Wolves were bought by an ownership group led by a man named Oliver Marti, who played in the NLL for the New York Saints in 1994-1995. He and others in his investment group are also investors in the PLL. Does this mean that the team will definitely succeed in Albany? Of course not. But in the 2000’s, the NLL was filled with rich team owners who seemed to have watched half a lacrosse game and thought “I can bring this sport to <random city> and make some bucks!”. The entirely of the league’s due diligence was the question “Do you have the $2 million expansion fee?”, after which the rich guy was granted a franchise which they sold or folded a couple of years later.

Marti was a good enough lacrosse player to make the NLL, which means he’s probably played since he was a kid. He’s been around the sport and the league long enough to know how difficult it is to make money as an owner of an NLL team. This is also the first NLL team that’s been purchased and moved since, ironically, the Philadelphia Wings were bought and moved to New England in 2014. I have a lot more trust in the league’s ability to vet potential owners and markets now than 15-20 years ago.

Yes, this kind of thing used to happen all the time in the NLL, and so a lot of long-time fans are probably thinking “here we go again”. But it’s not nearly as common anymore. I’m not saying Albany will be the next Saskatchewan, but they probably won’t need to pull in 15,000 people per game in order to make money. I’m hopeful but since I was around during the crazy 2000’s, I’ll call it “cautious optimism.”

Fort Worth, Panther City

Back in July, the NLL announced that its latest expansion team would begin play in the 2021-2022 season in Fort Worth, Texas. This week, the name, logo, and colors of the team was announced, and lacrosse twitter went nuts over the Panther City Lacrosse Club.

With any announcement like this, you’re going to get people who love it, people who hate it, and those in the middle. The most recent NLL team name announcements (the Wings, Thunderbirds, Seals, and Riptide) were generally well received. I did hear a couple of complaints that the Wings should have chosen a new name but those  people are simply wrong. The new Knighthawks team name and the rebranding of the Stealth into the Warriors weren’t quite as well received, but weren’t universally despised either. But like most internet-based complaining, haters hated for a short while, then whatever they hated became the new norm and they forgot that they hated it.

The Panther City announcement might have been the most polarizing of them all. There were many, myself included, who weren’t really sure what to think at the beginning. I certainly didn’t think “Wow, that’s awesome!” when I heard the name, but I didn’t hate it either. I saw a lot of positive comments, some from fans (or hopefully-soon-to-be fans) in Texas who are excited to have a team near them.

Panther City logo

But there were a fair number of negative comments as well, from fans, journalists, and even former NLL players. There seemed to be two major problems:

  1. With this name, it’s not clear where the team plays, and
  2. The “Lacrosse Club” part of the name is unusual

Have you ever heard of Fort Worth referred to as the Panther City? I hadn’t. Some cities have nicknames that are known far and wide: Chicago is the Windy City, Portland (Oregon) is the Rose City, New York is the Big Apple, etc. but many others have nicknames that are only known locally. Ever heard of Hamilton, Ontario referred to as the Waterfall City? I hadn’t until I moved here, and I suspect nobody outside Hamilton knows that name. This one is likely the same: people from that part of Texas may know what “Panther City” refers to, but others won’t.

I’m curious what people thought when the name “Golden State Warriors” was announced in 1971. I think California having the nickname of “Golden State” is a little more well-known than Panther City, but it’s still not obvious. Most comparisons have been made to European soccer; there is no city or town in Italy called “Juventus” and the team called Rangers that plays in Glasgow is not the “Glasgow Rangers”, it’s just “Rangers Football Club”. North American soccer is similar – a team called “Chivas USA” played in MLS for ten years. They were based in Los Angeles, but I had to look that up.

So “Panther City” doesn’t tell most people where the team is based. But really, so what? The Georgia Swarm, Colorado Mammoth, New York Riptide, and Saskatchewan Rush use the name of their state or province rather than the city they play in. The New England Black Wolves are even less specific, using the collective name of a half-dozen states all gathered together.

As for the Lacrosse Club part of the name, that’s also drawn comparisons to soccer teams as well as to the PLL. All of the PLL teams have “Lacrosse Club” in their name, but nobody says that part of it. It’s just Atlas and Chaos. Now and then you might see Atlas LC or Chaos LC written, but not usually. Hell, the name of the Toronto Maple Leafs is officially “The Toronto Maple Leafs Hockey Club”, and other teams in the NHL and other leagues do the same thing.

Personally, I think the name is growing on me. There are teams in other leagues with a location and no nickname (Toronto FC and a few other MLS teams), and I find those boring and unimaginative. There are teams with a nickname and no location (Juventus, Rangers), and that’s more interesting. This one is different because the nickname is the location but it’s obscure.

“Fort Worth Panthers” would have been fine. Not fantastic, but fine. If it was just “Fort Worth Lacrosse Club”, I wouldn’t have been thrilled with it. But I’m sure they’ll be referred to as “the Panthers” now and again, and the fact that they sort of have a nickname in there makes it unique and interesting, and that might get people talking. If you tell your non-lacrosse friends that your team is playing Panther City next weekend, they may ask what that means. Will some of them say “that’s stupid” and come out with a negative view of the NLL? Probably but you can’t avoid that entirely. Others might just think “Huh, that’s interesting”.

When people outside the NLL are talking about the NLL, and it’s not related to a big-name player getting suspended, that’s a good thing.