It was the best of times, it was the worst of times

After the All-Star game in Calgary in 2005, there was some talk about it on the Toronto all-sports radio station by none other than Bob McCown. I believe the lacrosse conversation lasted a couple of minutes tops, but one of the things they mentioned was that the NLL All-Star game was closer to a “normal” game than All-Star games in any other sport. And if you’ve ever watched a 170-165 NBA All-Star game, or an 11-10 NHL All-Star game, you know that All-Star games are rarely similar to typical games. This is true in lacrosse as well, but as Mr. McCown said, maybe less so, at least judging by the score.

The West All-Stars came back from a 9-2 deficit in the second quarter to defeat the East All-Stars 20-18 in the first NLL All-Star game held in Buffalo. Despite the fact that the score wasn’t outrageous – 20-18 is definitely a high-scoring lacrosse game, but not crazy high – the game was not a typical lacrosse game by any stretch of the imagination.

The Best of Times

Obviously the game featured the best indoor lacrosse players in the world. That in itself is reason enough to go. There were some very nice goals, some great saves, at least one great defensive play (maybe two), and some pretty slick passing. Getting to watch passing plays like “Tavares to Sanderson to Dawson to Wiles, he scores!” were amazing. There was lots of ball movement on transition (but I’ll get to why later), and many more behind-the-back or over-the-shoulder passes than in a typical game. Other than a few “Too many men” bench minors there were no penalties called, though this is fairly typical for All-Star games. But most of all, it was obvious that the players were having fun.

The Worst of Times

There was no real defense to speak of. There were no 8-second violations and only a handful of shot-clock violations or moving picks. There were almost no big hits (with one notable exception); in fact there was minimal physical contact of any kind. The reason there was so much transition was because half the time, an offensive player would hang back after a change of possession and not bother running down the floor to play defense or even head to the bench; then when his goalie grabbed the ball, he was able to rainbow a long pass up to him. There were a lot of missed passes (again, not surprising considering these are players who don’t normally play together).

In short, they just weren’t trying like they normally do. Again, this is not unusual or unexpected – first off, the game doesn’t count for anything, and nobody wants to lose the second half of the season because they got injured (or injure someone else) in a meaningless game. Plus everyone except the Bandits played the night before and everyone except the Rock, Knighthawks, and Bandits had to travel from the west either overnight or earlier that day.

I saw at least one tweet asking the Commissioner:

How can you possibly think forcing season ticket holders to watch such a “game” is good for the #nll

First off, he should have been asking the Bandits, not the commissioner. I agree that forcing season ticket holders to pay for a ticket to this game is unfair; the same arguments were made when the game was in Toronto in 2006. I don’t know if the Bandits allowed STH to opt out of that game. The same guy later said that it was a boring game, and I can’t really argue with that; the game didn’t have the electricity or intensity that most NLL games have. But he really should have known that going in and taken it for what it was – a fun game played by the best players in the world.

Some game notes:

  • John Grant shot the ball so hard it went by Aaron Bold and through the net. No goal was called so Troy Cordingley threw the challenge flag and the replay determined that the ball did go in.
  • Jeff Shattler scored a goal in the third and waved it off himself. When the refs said it was a good goal, Shattler shook his head and motioned to East coach Troy Cordingley to throw the challenge flag. No flag was thrown and the goal counted.
  • The one big hit was Luke Wiles on Aaron Bold. Bold had left the crease to corral the ball and Wiles nailed him into the boards. Not the biggest hit ever but certainly the biggest of the night, and since Wiles is a Buffalo Bandit, the home town crowd loved it.
  • Josh Sanderson seemed to be shooting all night but did not score. The scoresheet said he only took six shots, but that seems low to me.
  • After Shawn Williams first goal, the Buffalo announcer (who I’m a big fan of) announced the assists as “from Derek Suddons and #4. Not sure who #4 is, we’ll give it to Gavin Prout.” Both Geoff Snider (who got the assist) and Kyle Rubisch were wearing #4. Prout wears #9.
  • In a normal game, each coach will designate one player to serve all bench minors for that game. When the West got a “too many men” penalty in the first, John Grant served it. I was stunned that Grant was the guy that Chris Hall chose to serve the penalties, but then the other bench minors were served by different people, so obviously that rule was not in effect.

Other notes unrelated to the game itself:

  • There was a wide variety of music played, but I was surprised when I heard Billy Joel’s Piano Man. It’s a great song, but hardly the “let’s get this crowd pumped!” type of music they’d been playing the rest of the night. But then my friend noticed that the first lyric they played was “It’s 9:00 on a Saturday”. We checked our watches and sure enough, it was 9:00.
  • I brought my kids, and bought them a massive tub of popcorn – easily twice the size of the similarly-priced bags at the ACC. Note to First Niagara Center staff: the popcorn was really salty. You might want to tone the salt down a little, because it made me have to go back and buy another drink…. oh.
  • “The wave” started in the fourth quarter, but went the opposite direction (clockwise) to the direction it usually goes at the ACC. My son suggested that maybe this was because we’re in the US and they do things differently south of the border.
  • I love the atmosphere at Bandits games, and this was not much different. My kids noticed right away that the crowd was louder than that at the ACC, as always. But before the game, the PA announcer asked for a moment of silence to honour someone in the Buffalo lacrosse community who had passed away the day before. The silence in the arena during those 15-20 seconds was absolute.

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