NLL Chatter: The First Season

So here we are at the end of the first season of NLL Chatter. For those of you who have been reading for the whole season, a very big thank you! I hope it has been exciting and informative! Well perhaps not, but I hope it’s been entertaining. OK, so I hope it didn’t suck too badly. Today I’m going to take a quick look back over the first season of this blog, so please forgive my short journey into narcissism.

My first posting was December 14, 2011, and the article you are reading is the 80th one posted. Many are game reports and there was one “picks” article per week. There were some stats analysis, some opinions, a couple of interviews, and I tried to be funny a few times.

A few of my personal favourite postings, in no particular order:

The most viewed articles over the last six months:

Are you seeing a trend here? My most popular articles are the ones that other people helped to promote. This should not surprise anyone – that’s how the web works. But I think I need to engage my readers a little more. I got a few comments and even a few RT’s on twitter about some articles, but after the 79 postings, there are a grand total of six comments on the blog itself. I didn’t even get any spam comments that I had to delete. Obviously, this means that everyone must have agreed with all of my opinions and comments. Note to self: be more controversial next year!

Anyway, thanks again for joining me throughout this season. I don’t really follow the summer leagues much, nor the MLL, so don’t expect too many new articles over the next few months. I will probably post something when big trades are made, or free agent signings, or at the entry draft, and then again when training camp begins next season. I also have a couple of stats-analysis things in the queue. This season is barely over, and I’m already looking forward to the next one.

Until then, you can follow me on twitter (@graemeperrow), and don’t forget to follow @NLLFactOfTheDay for a daily dose of fun and sometimes goofy NLL trivia (once the NLL season begins again). Enjoy your summer!


Team Summaries and projected changes: West division

Last week we had a look at the teams in the East division, and where each one may look to improve in the off-season. Now we’ll look at the West division.

Calgary Roughnecks

It’s hard to look at a team like the Roughnecks and figure out where they need to get better. Offense? Second-most goals scored in the league, behind the Mammoth by one. Defense? Lowest goals against in the league by five over the Rush and twenty over the Swarm. Goaltender? 2012 NLL Goaltender of the Year should be good enough. Coaching? 2012 IL Indoor Coach of the Year and runner-up for the Les Bartley Award. As long as they can avoid playing Edmonton in the first round of the playoffs, the Roughnecks should be OK for next year even if they make no changes at all.

Colorado Mammoth

Similar to the Roughnecks, the Mammoth are strong on offense, defense, and goaltending. John Grant is unlikely to repeat his 2012 MVP performance next year, but even a pretty good Junior is better than most of the league. There were a bunch of rookies on the Mammoth this season, all of whom benefited from having Grant around. Jones and Hopcroft and Lincoln and McBride all learned a ton from Grant during his best season and will be better players next year because of it. They will likely be able to pick up the slack even if Junior’s numbers do drop. And even if they don’t, the Mammoth scored more goals than anyone else last year – if they’d scored nineteen fewer goals, they’d still be tied for third.

The Mammoth defense wasn’t as great in 2012 as it was in 2011 – in fact, they were sixth in the league in goals against, and only had two games all year where they gave up less than 10 goals. But they were without defensive stud Mac Allen for most of the season, so having him return was huge. Still, the Mammoth gave up 13 or more goals in 7 of their 16 games; if it wasn’t for their outstanding offense, they wouldn’t have ended up with 11 wins.

I don’t see the Mammoth making any goaltending changes and they certainly don’t need a defensive overhaul, but a bit of an offense-for-defense trade wouldn’t surprise me.

Edmonton Rush

Things are looking great for the Rush’s future. Not only did they make it to the finals, but they have a few first-round draft picks coming their way over the next couple of years from Philly and Washington, including first overall in the next entry draft. Welcome to Edmonton, Mark Matthews. On top of that, they have some trade bait in Paul Rabil and Scott Evans. Although according to Stephen Stamp’s article on IL Indoor, Evans is talking about working out and getting into better shape, and if he can do that and conform a little more to the Rush’s game plan, he may fit into their offense after all. That plus the addition of Matthews (I’m making an assumption here, as is everyone else, that Matthews is the guy they’ll pick) could be the offensive spark the Rush need. They seemed to find that spark in the playoffs, but could have used about a half-game more of it.

Shawn Williams is a free agent – will he want to continue travelling west next season? I’m sure he wouldn’t mind returning to his hometown Rock, but they are already kind of full on the left side with Doyle, Sanderson, and Leblanc. Could he return to the Knighthawks? They just won a Championship without him, so unless he’s part of a package that includes younger players or draft picks, I don’t see Rochester pulling the strings on that deal. The Bandits need to get younger, so that wouldn’t make sense either. If I had to guess though, I see him going back to the Rush since they got so close to a Championship, and the team is likely to be even better next year.

Minnesota Swarm

The Swarm have a young team with tremendous potential, and they also have four first round picks in this year’s entry draft. In three or four years, those guys will have a few seasons under their belts, the current group will really be just entering their prime (how scary a thought is that?), and even vets like Benesch and Crawford are young enough that they’ll still be in their prime. This could be a scary good team for a while. Remember how dominant Calgary and Colorado were in 2012? Wait a few seasons, and we might have Edmonton and Minnesota in that situation, and we’ll be talking about the “aging” Roughnecks. Unless they make big changes before then, the Bandits will be sponsored by Ensure.

The biggest issue the Swarm may face is the infamous sophomore slump – if that hits more than one player, they may have a problem. But then again, in recent years Andrew Suitor, Kyle Rubisch, Cody Jamieson, Stephen Leblanc, and Curtis Dickson have all had pretty decent second seasons. I don’t think there’s a single area of concern for the Swarm – third in goals scored, third in goals against, an outstanding goalie tandem, and two of the best transition players in the league in Suitor and MacIntosh. But if the Swarm decide they do need to make some changes, they have a ton of draft picks to fill in the holes, or they could trade one away. A high first-round draft pick will net you a better-than-decent player, and being left with “only” three first-rounders is still pretty good.

Washington Stealth

This is a tough one. On paper, the Stealth shouldn’t need to make huge changes but after missing the playoffs, they have to do something. Obviously players like Duch, Ratcliff, and Iannucci aren’t going anywhere. On the back end, Sorensen and Captain Bloom are locks, and apparently the Stealth refused to part with Jeff Moleski for Iannucci, so he’s likely staying. Tyler Richards didn’t have the greatest season ever, considering he was 3-9 with a GAA well over 12, but he was also injured for part of the year. How much of that record was his fault vs. the defense in front of him I can’t say, since I didn’t see many Stealth games (and the ones I did see were generally late at night so I was sleepy). But Richards did pick up a few IL Indoor Goaltender of the Year votes, so we’ll assume the Stealth agrees and won’t be dealing him.

The Stealth have the pieces, so I don’t see them making huge roster changes or going into rebuilding mode. There will be a few moves here and there, maybe even a blockbuster to shake things up. But it wouldn’t surprise me if the 2013 Stealth isn’t significantly different from the 2012 Stealth. Unlike the Bandits, perhaps the Stealth’s strategy will be “Hope everyone plays better”. But if they have another season like this one, nobody’s job will be safe.

Team summaries and projected changes: East division

Now that the 2012 season is behind us, each team will be looking to 2013 and trying to decide what changes need to be made. Let’s look over each team and see what changes may be in store. We’ll start with the East division, and get to the West in a few days.

Buffalo Bandits

There will be lots of changes coming for the Bandits this offseason, if you believe what Darris Kilgour said a number of times during the season. I don’t know how much of that was said in the heat of the moment, but I don’t imagine his strategy for 2013 will be “Hope everyone plays better”.

Goaltending is not a problem assuming Cosmo stays in Buffalo, and I have no reason to believe he won’t. As good as John Tavares was this year, surely he has to slow down sometime, doesn’t he? Maybe, but I’ve been asking that question for five years. Tracey Kelusky has said that he was pretty unhappy with his own play in the 2011 season, and his point total dropped by half in 2012. Considering the impact he’s had on the league over the last ten years, it would be kind of sad to see a sure-fire hall-of-famer like TK retire after two such lacklustre seasons, but I’m not sure I can see the Bandits taking another chance on him.

In a nutshell, the Bandits need to get younger – though ironically, the Bandit least likely to be traded is 43-year-old John Tavares. They have one first round pick (third overall) in the next entry draft thanks to the Chris Corbeil trade, but their own pick – second overall – was sent to Minnesota for Anthony Cosmo. Their first round pick next year belongs to the Swarm as well. I’d look for a number of players to be moved out for draft picks.

Philadelphia Wings

I’m not sure what to think about the Wings. They had periods where they played really well, and periods where they played really badly. Their defense played well against the Rock in Toronto, allowing 8 and 10 goals in two games, and then allowed 13 or more in five of six straight games (and 12 in the sixth). They were in first place in mid-March and then collapsed, losing their last five.

Dan Dawson was obviously not the problem here. Dawson had yet another great season, but in the NLL one player cannot pull a LeBron and lift a team to greatness pretty much by himself. A quick glance at the individual numbers seemed fine, with Dawson over 100 points and Crowley, Mundorf, Westervelt, and Hominuck all over 50. By comparison, the champion Knighthawks only had four players over 50 points, and the Bandits only had three. But after that, things drop off significantly. Brodie Merrill had 32 points, and Siebald and Crotty had 14 each. Nobody else had more than 8. Of their nine losses, they scored fewer than ten goals in five of them (and exactly ten in two more). Only the Edmonton Rush scored fewer goals than the Wings.

And nobody gave up more goals than the Wings. It seemed that for the most part, when the defense had a bad night, they had a bad night. The Wings gave up 15 or more goals six times, though they won one of those six. This seems odd considering there were people voting for both Merrill and Paul Dawson for Defensive Player of the Year. Brandon Miller didn’t have his best season ever, and yet Kurtis Wagar and Steve Fryer played only 71 minutes combined all season.

The decade-long rebuild of the Wings continues. I’m sure Dawson isn’t going anywhere, nor are Crowley or Merrill. But you gotta wonder if anyone else’s job is safe. Considering the Wings don’t have any first round draft picks for the next couple of years, their best hope for improvement is through trades and free agency. They made a big move last off-season to bring in Merrill, and then had Crowley and Dawson dropped in their laps. I’ve thought all along that Philadelphia would be a good fit for Paul Rabil (can you imagine transition studs Rabil and Merrill on one team?) so it wouldn’t surprise me to see another big trade with Edmonton this off-season. Perhaps the Wings should start looking into what players on their team might consider playing out west. Interestingly, Kevin Crowley is from BC.

Rochester Knighthawks

They won the damned championship, so the Knighthawks obviously don’t need an overhaul. They have a mix of young and veteran talent up front, lots of veterans and a couple of kids on D, and an outstanding goalie with many good playing years in front of him. So what are they in desperate need of? Nothing. What could they use? My only thought here might be to get a little younger on the defense. It’s not like their defense is old and creaky, but McCready, Laverty, and Cousins have all been around for a while, and they also have Campbell, Travis Hill, Smith, and Glaves. The only real young players on the D are Dylan Evans, Tyler Burton, and Mike Kirk.

But I don’t think this is a huge hole that really needs filling. If someone offers the Knighthawks a trade, that may be where they want to focus, but if they do nothing at all, Rochester will be poised for more successful seasons to come.

Toronto Rock

Jamie Dawick said that Nick Rose is their goalie of the future, though Dawick also had nothing but good things to say about Matt Roik – right up until he was released. That said, I’d be surprised if Rose wasn’t the starting goalie for the Rock in 2013. It has been implied that Pat Campbell may hang ’em up, in which case the Rock need a new backup goaltender. Dawick also said that Phil Sanderson may have to retire after the concussion he suffered this season. That would be a huge loss for the D.

The offense looks set, except for one position where there was a bit of a problem. That would be the “Stephen Leblanc” position. The guy playing there had some good nights, but wasn’t nearly as effective overall as in 2010 or 2011, so that needs to improve. Dan Carey didn’t have a huge impact on the offense but like Flip, he suffered a season-ending concussion. Seeing as this was the second time in his career he’s missed significant time because of a concussion, Carey may have to walk away as well.

I think they could use a little more size and toughness from their defense. Considering the firepower up front, could the Rock send one of their O guys off for a big D guy and backup goalie? Doyle and Sanderson aren’t going anywhere, and they’re not likely to trade Billings after the season he just had. Could one of Manning, Leblanc or Beirnes be on their way out? Or will the Rock look to the free agent market to shore up the back end?

2012 NLL Champions: The Rochester Knighthawks

Congratulations to the Rochester Knighthawks, your 2012 NLL Champions. In the lowest scoring Championship game since… last year [OK, that may not have had the impact I was going for], the Knighthawks came back from a one-goal first half and a 5-1 halftime deficit to outscore the Edmonton Rush 8-1 in the second half and win 9-6. Matt Vinc was outstanding in the first half, keeping the Knighthawks in the game when it could have turned into another blowout like last week’s Western final in Minnesota. He was even better in the second half and in my opinion, deserved to be named game MVP.

Instead, that honour went to Cody Jamieson, and I can’t honestly say that Jamieson wasn’t also deserving. He had four goals and four assists, including the first and last goals of the game as well as the game-tying goal. He also had assists on the go-ahead goal and the game winning goal. Zack Greer led the way for the Rush with 2+2 but despite outshooting the Knighthawks 52-35, the Rush just couldn’t solve Vinc. Aaron Bold also had a strong night in the Edmonton net, holding the Knighthawks scoreless in the first quarter and only allowing a single goal in the first half.

There was talk on Twitter about how bad the commentary was on the CBS broadcast – Casey Powell remarking about the ten-second rule being over too quickly – but I was watching the game with friends and we were yapping far too much to hear anything from the broadcast. I thought it was really weird that Powell was a hold-out from the Knighthawks (though he wondered if he’d be getting a ring since he’s on the roster) and yet is doing the commentary on the Championship game involving the Knighthawks. Was Paul Rabil not available?

I loved the picture posted by Paul Stewart of Shawn Williams remaining on the floor to watch the Cup presentation ceremony, the only member of the Rush still there. As someone who played in Rochester for ten years, Willy knew how much this victory meant to the organization as well as the Knighthawks fans. Losing that game after looking so dominant in the first half must have been extra painful, so it was a classy move to remain to watch the ceremony.

So thus ends the 2012 NLL season. The Knighthawks took an improbable road to the Championship by losing three of their first four, and at the half-way point of the season they were 3-5 and third in the East. But they came through in the second half of the season – or did they? Not really. They lost four of their last six and ended up with a losing 7-9 record, but finishing second in the east thanks to similarly lousy seasons by Buffalo and Philadelphia. Give the Knighthawks credit where it’s due though – they came alive in the playoffs, taking out the Wings despite being outscored 7-2 in the fourth, then dominating the Rock in Toronto, and then coming back from a single-goal first half against the Rush.

The Rush had a similarly rough regular season, starting 2-7 and looking like they might be the lone team left out of the playoffs. But they finished the season 4-3, including wins over the Swarm and the Mammoth. And then came the playoffs. The offense that had been lacking all season long exploded for 19 goals against Calgary – the best defense in the league – and then 15 against Minnesota. They went into the Championship game as the hottest team in the league, and for half the game, that continued. But they seemed to run out of gas after that, and the Knighthawks took advantage. The Rush should be very proud of their playoff run, and considering their first-overall draft pick, they could be pretty good for years to come.

It was an exciting season, to be sure – the parity we expected at the beginning of the year was definitely a huge factor. The whole cliché about any team being able to beat any other team on any given night was true, and yet we didn’t have all nine teams at or near .500, especially in the west. Congrats again to the NLL Champion Knighthawks.

Championship pick

After going 2-2 in the first round, I completely blew the division finals, going 0-2. So it comes down to yet another difficult pick – Edmonton or Rochester.

Edmonton is hot right now, winning two games they weren’t expected to win. Their goalie and defense, which have been great all year, are still great but the offense is the surprising part. It’s only been two games, but after averaging a league-low 10.4 goals per game in the regular season, the Rush are averaging 17 in the playoffs. Can they keep it up for one more game?

Rochester has the best of both worlds – lots of young players like Jamieson, Keogh, and Powless as well as veterans like Vinc (has he really played seven seasons? I still think of him as one of the new goalies on the block), Accursi, McCready, and Cousins. They had an inconsistent season, with two separate three-game losing streaks, but played very well against both Philadelphia and Toronto to earn their way to the Big Game. Can they keep it up for one more game?

Record: 2-4 (.333)





I have to take the hot team here. We’ve known their defense and goaltending was excellent since the beginning of the year, and I had a feeling (and I know others did as well) that their offense was better than they were showing. The Knighthawks have Matt Vinc who can certainly steal a game, and Johnny Powless is quickly turning into one of the most exciting players in the game, but Shawn Williams, Steve Toll, and Aaron Bold are all former Knighthawks, and I’m sure they’d love to win a Championship against their former team. (Scott Evans too, but he’s likely to be on the bench.) This may be Steve Toll’s last NLL season, so his teammates would love to send him off with a Championship.


NLL Referees, Part 2: Bias and conspiracies

This is the second of my two-part series on referees in the NLL. In part one, we talked about how referees have a thankless and difficult job. In addition to that, they have fans constantly complaining about the penalties they call or don’t call. Can they be inconsistent? Absolutely, but who isn’t? Do they make mistakes? Definitely, but who doesn’t? It seems that fans will not accept even the slightest error by an official. When was the last time you heard a fan say “Yeah, that was the wrong call, but hey, he’s only human”?

One of the biggest complaints about refs is that they are inconsistent, and I completely agree that this is a problem. Inconsistency can be a big problem in any sport, but honestly, I’ve never noticed NLL refs being any more inconsistent than officials in other sports. We’ve all seen an umpire that calls a high pitch a strike in the second inning and a ball in the seventh, but nobody pulls the old “All MLB umpires are incompetent and they should all be fired.” You also have to remember that there are two refs, so when they called Mr. Goon on your team for the hit from behind in the first quarter and then didn’t call Mr. 40-goal-scorer on the other team for a similar hit in the third, it may not have been the same ref. The one that called the first penalty may have been fifty feet away from the second, and the one that saw the second hit may not have seen the first and thought the second wasn’t a hit worth penalizing. Two different fans may disagree on what constitutes a clean hit from a dirty one, why wouldn’t two refs?

Another charge leveled at the refs is that they’re biased. Few, if any, refs in lacrosse can be completely unbiased. This is because very few people can be completely unbiased. The only way to make sure you have truly unbiased refs is to have people who DO NOT CARE who wins or loses, which means you need someone who doesn’t know the players or coaches personally, and has no history with any of them or any of the teams. But lacrosse is such a small community that this is pretty much impossible. People can overlook their personal relationships with players and I’m sure most officials in all sports do, but even so, the perception of bias will be there. Say a ref calls a crosschecking penalty against one player and ten minutes later does not call a penalty against another player for a similar hit. But if the ref and one of the players involved know each other from junior lacrosse or come from the same town or something, fans may believe that he has a bias against the first player or is a friend of the second. In actual fact, it could be that the ref just didn’t see the second hit, or from his vantage point the second hit was similar but clean. There’s pretty much no way around this. People are going to believe what they believe, sometimes in spite of the evidence. Refs are just going to have thick skins when it comes to fans accusing them of bias. And considering that in general the fans are actively rooting for one team over the other, having them accuse someone else of bias is just a touch ironic.

C'mon, really?But some people go even further than that, and make accusations that the refs, or the league as a whole, have it out for a particular team or want a particular team to be successful. There is a huge difference between having inconsistent or biased refs and an organized conspiracy. Bias can be explicit – “I don’t like this guy so if he hits someone and and it’s even close to being illegal, I’m going to call a penalty on him” – or implicit, where a ref may call a penalty against a player because he has a history of bad behaviour, and so he’s not given the benefit of the doubt even if this decision isn’t conscious. The former needs to be eliminated, if it can be detected, but there’s not much that can be done about the latter.

A conspiracy, on the other hand, implies knowingly applying the rules and making judgment calls differently based on the team or player that the potential infraction is against. It would also mean that more than one ref must be involved in this, since a single ref consistently calling penalties against one team and not the other would be noticed (and likely questioned) by the other ref if he weren’t in on it. This kind of accusation is serious, and would call into question every game the refs being accused have ever worked. If such an accusation could be proven – that one or more refs conspired to penalize one team more or less heavily than the others – this would be the biggest scandal the league has ever seen. If it could be proven that the league itself was involved, it’s safe to say the NLL would finally be getting the front-page coverage they’ve been seeking for years – right before they fold. Sure, having a Colorado / Toronto final would be better for ratings and publicity than an Edmonton / Rochester final, but the risks to the league of trying to arrange something like this are just too great for such a scheme to even be considered. We have to assume that the league and refs are impartial (or as impartial as possible) and that any claim otherwise is infeasible. You’d need extraordinary evidence in order to make a case for such an extraordinary claim. I’ve heard many such claims but have never seen the slightest shred of actual evidence.

Many people reading these articles will simply brush me off as an NLL ref apologist. Some might wonder if I have a friend or relative who’s a ref. For the record, I don’t. And there is at least one NLL ref who I don’t particularly like. I find he tends to make a big show of some calls, as if he wants it to be about him, making sure everyone knows that he is in charge. As I said before, the best refs are the ones who do their job and fade into the background, not getting in the way unless it’s necessary.

Now I will admit that I may be totally off-base with some of this. Maybe I’ve been lucky and the refs I’ve seen are pretty good while the ones that play Philly and Rochester and out west aren’t as good. It’s possible that never having actually played lacrosse, I just don’t know bad reffing when I see it. Or maybe the overall talent level is not high but is fairly consistent, and I’m confusing that with “they’re all pretty good”.

Yes, there are always going to be bad calls by refs in lacrosse games. But if you don’t give in to confirmation bias, I suspect that in the long run you’ll find that just as many bad calls go against your team as against the other teams. This means that there is indeed a level playing field and so any biases, real or perceived, are eventually cancelled out. NLL games are decided by the players, not the refs.

NLL Referees, Part 1: Judgment calls and consistency

Over the years, I’ve heard countless complaints about NLL refs. They’re incompetent, they’re inconsistent, they’re biased, and they just plain suck are the most popular. There are always going to be complaints about officials in all sports, but they’re generally about individuals or the reffing in a particular game or even on a particular play. In the NLL, it’s more general – it seems that it’s a generally agreed-upon “fact” that all NLL refs are terrible.

Quite honestly, I’m getting tired of hearing about it. After just about every game, you’ll see complaints on twitter or on various message boards that the refs affected the outcome, because of the one bad call that was made (frequently a judgment call that can’t be proven right or wrong), or because they didn’t just “let them play” (OMG, you mean they actually called penalties when rules were broken? Fire ’em all!), or because they did just “let them play”. Obviously there needs to be a balance between calling every “ticky-tack” rule violation and not calling anything unless limbs are removed, but for every call a ref may let go because it’s too minor, half the fans are going to yell because he let it go. For every call he does make, half the fans are yelling “You called that? He barely touched him!” I imagine that refs learn very early in their career that they simply can’t win so they have to do what they think is right and ignore people who yell at them.

I’m of the opinion that the majority of NLL refs are good at what they do, and that significant biases are few and far between. Mistakes are definitely made: mostly minor, occasionally egregious, sometimes completely baffling. But the number of times I’ve come out of an NLL game thinking that the refs had a significant effect on the outcome is pretty low. However, these complaints come up so often that they’re worth taking a look at.

I’ve broken this discussion up into two parts. The first part deals with the job itself and why fans often manage to convince themselves that the refs are terrible.

Few would argue that being an official in just about any league and in just about any sport is a thankless job. There’s a lot of stress and a lot of pressure, and while the players on each team have their fans, nobody comes to see the ref. Some fans will even applaud for a player on the opposing team if he makes a particularly good play, but regardless of how good a job he does, nobody applauds the ref. If you’re a ref that fades into the background and none of the fans know your name, you’re probably doing a good job.

Face off

In many sports refs have to run around almost as much as the players do, and lacrosse is no exception. In fact, since they don’t get to rest for 30 seconds while the play is at the other end of the floor, your average lacrosse ref may run around more than many of the players do over the course of a game. They have to be on the floor, running with the play, making sure to be in a position to watch everything but also making sure to stay out of the way, and making constant judgment calls for the entire 60 minutes.

I’d be interested to know just how many judgment calls they have to make in a game. Did that 100 mph shot ricochet off the post or the goalie’s shoulder? Was that a moving pick or were his feet planted, or was it incidental contact that should just be ignored? Was that a high hit that should be penalized, or a hit to the shoulder that slid up and accidentally made contact with the guy’s head? If the player wasn’t hurt, does it matter? I saw that same hit earlier in the game and called a penalty, but now it’s overtime, do I call it?

Considering all the hits, shots, changes of possession, shot clock resets, loose balls, face-offs, penalties, and goals, it wouldn’t surprise me if there were a few hundred judgment calls in each and every game. Many of them are minor and many of them are technically judgment calls but there was no real decision to be made. There are a lot of plays, however, where a actual judgment is required. But the fans don’t think about that. You get one of those few hundred judgment calls wrong, and you’re not very good. Two wrong and you’re incompetent. Three or more wrong and you are the worst official ever to set foot on the floor in any sport. Three mistakes out of three hundred judgment calls is a 1% failure rate. How many other industries can you get 99% of your decisions right and still have people booing you and talking about how completely useless you are?

So why is it that fans think the refs are so bad? Could they be hockey or field lacrosse refs who recently started working indoor lacrosse games. Maybe, though the field lacrosse connection is more likely to be a problem with refs from Colorado and Philadelphia, and less so in Edmonton and Toronto. Do they not know the rules? I suppose that’s possible, particularly with the field guys I mentioned. It’s also possible that these refs work the NLL, the MSL or WLA, and any number of junior and minor lacrosse leagues, all of which have slightly different rules. I sometimes run on autopilot and call my younger son by my older son’s name. Nobody thinks I don’t know his name, it’s just a minor “brain fart” which happens to everybody. If it can happen to parents with their children, arguably the most important thing in their lives, it can certainly happen to a ref who works part-time for three different lacrosse leagues.

We also have to consider that the refs are on the floor and see things differently than people in the stands or on TV. They don’t have the benefit of slow motion. They don’t get to watch the Jumbotron. They can’t see the entire floor at once. They may have a player or several players standing in their field of view. They have to move around to make sure they have the best view possible but when the ball moves at 100 mph, that’s not always possible. There are only two of them, watching twelve players. Believe it or not, they’re human and they make mistakes. Sometimes those mistakes are going to come at crucial times and that’s unfortunate. But expecting 100% error-free officiating is simply not realistic.

A lot of fans go into a game already believing that the refs suck, and if they see one bad call (not even necessarily an incorrect call – just one that a fan disagrees with), they’ll call that proof of the ref’s incompetence. The other 299 correct calls go unnoticed. This is what’s called confirmation bias.

Confirmation bias occurs when you have a pre-existing belief (“refs suck”) and ignore evidence that contradicts it (the few hundred correct judgment calls) but remember evidence that confirms it (that one call you didn’t agree with). This is extremely common and happens to everyone, and is almost always unconscious and unintentional. But it happens. Ever get a “reading” done by a psychic? If you have, I guarantee that you remember the three or four guesses “predictions” she made that ended up being correct, but forget the fifty or so she made that were wrong. In this case, you walk into a lacrosse game thinking “So what are these incompetent refs going to screw up today?”, and walk out thinking “See? They called a penalty on Joe Awesomeguy for that crosscheck that was totally legal.” But you forget the challenge that the coach made that was overturned because the original call was correct. You forget the correct penalty call that led to your team’s power play goal. You forget the hundred loose ball calls and shot clock resets and such. And how many times have you heard home team fans yelling at the refs because they called an unfair penalty against the visiting team? Are you really complaining about their incompetence, or only when it disadvantages your team? Who’s really biased here?

In our second installment, we’ll expand on the concept of bias and talk about when fans accuse the refs of being biased – or worse.

Game Report: Rochester 17 @ Toronto 13

The Toronto Rock 2012 season came to a crashing halt on Saturday while the Rochester Knighthawks will now host the Championship game. Long story short: the Knighthawks came to play, literally bringing busloads of fans with them, and destroyed the Rock 17-13, in a game that wasn’t nearly as close as the final score might indicate.

The early part of the game was back-and-forth, with the Knighthawks taking leads three times before the Rock tied it up again. Rochester managed to grab a two-goal lead by the end of the first half, but the Rock were definitely still in it at that point. The Rock were frustrated by the Knighthawks defense, who just weren’t giving them any shots. Now and again they’d get a look from way outside, and a few times they seemed to get a lane right up the middle, but the only thing to shoot at was Vinc’s chest, which they hit on a number of occasions.

Rock fans were hoping the team would be fired up to start the second half and tie the game up quickly, but it just didn’t happen. Instead the Knighthawks scored three within 4½ minutes to start the third, and then three within 2½ minutes to start the fourth. But by that beginning of the fourth, we knew it was effectively all over but the crying, and the Rochester goal-scoring. The Rock offense just couldn’t solve the Rochester defense and when they did, Matt Vinc was there. Vinc played a great game while at the other end, Nick Rose didn’t have his strongest outing. I didn’t think he was terrible and I wouldn’t pin the loss on him, but he certainly wasn’t as strong as last weekend. The Rock defense hung him out to dry on a number of occasions, and he let in a few softies as well. In the third, Stephen Keogh ran right through a pair of Rock defenders like they weren’t there and scored, and that was the game in a nutshell. The Rock D did pick up in the second half of the third quarter, when the Rock were only down by 4. It looked like they were trying to pull the same comeback thing they pulled last week. But then the Knighthawks had another run and Toronto just couldn’t get back into it.

If I have one complaint about Nick Rose it’s that he allows too many rebounds. Many times he came up big and made a huge save but gave up a huge rebound at the same time, and the Knighthawks would bury the rebound as Rose was recovering. I first noticed that tendency in Rose’s first game in Buffalo, though in that game as well as the one last week, he made a lot of the second saves as well. On Saturday, not so much.

As per usual, Garrett Billings was tops on the Rock scoring list, with Doyle and Sanderson right behind him. Also as per usual (this year), Stephen Leblanc got a few points but was mostly invisible. Toronto’s transition played pretty well – damn, it’s nice to have Rob Marshall back – but the loss of Damon Edwards didn’t help. Something that not only didn’t help but actually made things worse was the addition of rookie goon Scott Johnston. In the fourth quarter, with Pat Campbell in net (he and Rose swapped on almost every shift for a while late in the game), Campbell came way out of his net to grab a loose ball and then started to run up the floor on transition. He got blocked near the centre line (!) and Pat McCready hit him into the boards. This was a weird enough play (one could argue it was a stupid play – what the hell was Campbell trying to accomplish? With his pads on he runs way slower than anyone else), but then Scott Johnston jumped McCready and tried to fight him. Both got fighting majors but Johnston was tossed and given an instigator penalty, so the Knighthawks went on the PP. Just what we needed when trying to get back into the game. And for what – to come to the aid of Pat Campbell? Who on the Rock can stand up for themselves better than Pat Campbell? This is a guy who instigated a fight with Geoff Snider earlier this year. He doesn’t need Scott Johnston to stand up for him, and he certainly doesn’t need Johnston to put his team a man down while desperately trying to come back in the fourth quarter of a playoff game. As I tweeted during the game, that might have been the dumbest play I’ve seen all year. And good god, man, lose the bad Movember ‘stache.

Other game notes:

  • The Harbour Sports Grille is apparently a popular place with lacrosse people. Not only did we see a bunch of other Rock jerseys, but Knighthawks assistant coach Paul Day was sitting with his family at the table next to us, and our waitress told us that both of the refs were there earlier – though sitting separately. They have TVs all over the place, and at one point we were watching baseball, cricket, golf, and two different highlights shows all at the same time. I assume they changed all the TVs to the Rock/Knighthawks game once that began.
  • Cory Vitarelli had a great game. Not only did he score four goals, but at one point in the second he stopped Rob Marshall against the boards and wouldn’t let him go. It would have caused an 8-second violation but instead Marshall dropped the ball and Vitarelli picked it up. An outstanding defensive play.
  • Johnny Powless scored Rochester’s 14th goal (the game winner), and it looked to me like his foot was on the crease line. I went through the TV replay when I got home and it was indeed a good goal, but just barely. It was close enough that I’m surprised Cordingley didn’t challenge it. There was still over 12 minutes to play at that point, so I hope it wasn’t because he figured it just didn’t matter.

Division finals picks

I was 2-2 in my first week of playoff picks. I felt relatively confident in my western picks, Calgary and Colorado, and not very confident on my eastern picks, Toronto and Rochester. The result: I totally nailed the east and totally pooched the west. But that said, who would have predicted both Edmonton and Minnesota upsets? I said last week that I could see Minnesota pulling off the upset in that game, but went with Colorado anyway. I thought that the chances of Edmonton pulling off such an upset were non-zero, but pretty darned small. Obviously, I did not give Edmonton the credit that they deserved. Apologies and huge kudos to the Rush, and kudos to the Swarm as well for their first-ever playoff win. One of these teams will advance to the Championship game, a place that neither has ever been before. This is fantastic not only for these two franchises and cities, but for the league as well.

Of this weeks picks, I feel relatively confident on one (Rock) and not at all confident on the other (Swarm). If last week is any indication, that means I’ll totally nail the west and totally pooch the east.

Record: 2-2 (.500)




ROC @ TOR The Rock were 3-0 against the Knighthawks this year. They also have an eight game winning streak against Rochester, and have won ten of the last eleven games (we won’t talk about the previous nine, all of which the Knighthawks won) so that means the Rock will win, right? Sure. Just ask the Roughnecks.
The Knighthawks have the firepower, defense, goaltending, and veteran leadership to beat anyone. But the Rock have more of all of those things. Normally I’d rank Matt Vinc above a rookie starter who’s only started 7 games in his career, but Rose is on a roll and the team has a lot of confidence in him. I think the Rock will ride that wave right into their third straight Champion’s Cup game.
EDM @ MIN Wow, this might be one of the hardest picks all season. Both teams are brimming with confidence right now and both have hot goaltenders. Minnesota has had the better offense all season, but the Rush put up 19 against the Goaltender of the Year (though recovering from concussion) last weekend. But I can’t call a tie – I gotta pick someone. The Rush lost their last two games of the season and then beat the Roughnecks so that could be a fluke, while the Swarm have won five in a row now. I’m going to have to go with the Swarm. Swarm

Game Report: Buffalo 6 @ Toronto 7

For the third straight year, the Rock have bumped the Bandits out of the playoffs. This game was very similar to the last Bandits game in Toronto, where the first half and the second half seemed like completely different games. In the first half of Saturday’s game, the Rock put forth a pretty uninspiring performance while the Bandits played solid defense and Anthony Cosmo was excellent. In the second half, the Rock finally came alive (if you can call five goals in a half “coming alive”), and the Bandits forwards were shut down by a great goaltending performance by Nick Rose. The final score was 7-6, making this game the second-lowest scoring playoff game in NLL history. The NLL later tweeted that 7 is now the lowest winning score of a playoff game in history, and ties the all-time (i.e. non-playoff) record.

The Rock were shut out entirely in the first quarter, while Buffalo scattered four goals. The second quarter wasn’t much different from the first, though the Rock did get on the scoreboard. But John Tavares scored 30 seconds after the first Rock goal and 3 minutes after the second, each time deflating the crowd and taking the wind out of the Rock’s sails. The Rock offense was starting to get some good looks though, and at one point beat Cosmo but not the posts and crossbar about four times within two minutes including three shots in a row. Cosmo never touched any of them, and may not even have seen them, but according to the rule book he’s credited with a save for each one. In general though, Cosmo played unbelievable in the first half, and only allowed five in the second half as well. Buffalo’s defenders played very well, but Cosmo was easily Buffalo’s game MVP.

At the other end, Nick Rose was good in the first quarter despite the four goals allowed. He was even better in the second – I don’t fault him for the two goals in the second quarter either, since they were both from John Tavares who was left open. No goalie can be faulted for giving up goals to Tavares when he’s open. The Bandits didn’t figure, however, that JT’s goal at 10:57 of the second was the last they’d score in the game. Rose was positively Watson-esque in the second half, and there’s no higher compliment from a Toronto Rock fan. The Bandits were held scoreless for a little over 34 minutes.

The crowd started to get into the game by the end of the third, and even when the Rock were still down by two, the volume was continually growing. Once folks realized that Rose and the defense were playing well enough to keep the Rock in the game and that they really did have a chance to win this, it got even louder. Garrett Billings scored to get the Rock within three, and then Kasey Beirnes (who’d be the Rock game MVP if it weren’t for Rose) scored a few minutes later to get the Rock within two to end the third. Beirnes scored again a couple of minutes into the third, and then completed the natural hat-trick by tying the game three minutes later. But it took until there was only 1:35 left in the game before Brenden Thenhaus scored to give the Rock the lead for the first time in the game. By this point, the crowd was going insane, possibly as loud as I’ve heard the ACC all year.

With less than ten seconds in regulation time, Bill Greer took a penalty for holding the stick, which he vehemently tried to argue but to no avail. His argument was valid… sort of. On watching the replay, Stephen Hoar knocked the stick out of Culp’s hands with a legal check, and then Greer crosschecked Culp in the back of the head. I didn’t see anyone holding anyone else’s stick. Greer certainly could have gotten two, or five, for the crosscheck though. And Stephen Hoar could have gotten two for yanking on Kelusky’s jersey a few seconds before.

At this point, there were 7.5 seconds left on the clock, and my son says “Ha! Only 7.5 seconds left! It doesn’t matter anyway!” I responded “Oh yes it does. This is lacrosse.” And sure enough, John Tavares puts one in just under 7.5 seconds later. The refs began to review the goal, as they always do with under two minutes to play, and they showed the replay on the Jumbotron. Right away Josh Sanderson and a few other Rock players ran over to Nick Rose to give him a celebratory hug. They could see on the replay that the goal wouldn’t count because Tracey Kelusky was standing fully in the crease. I’ve seen a few tweets and articles that say he was pushed in, but first off, it doesn’t matter since pushing someone into the crease isn’t illegal. Secondly, I’ve watched the replay from the TV broadcast a number of times and I see no evidence that he was pushed in. He was behind Chapman who was walking backwards, but so was Kelusky. Maybe Chapman was pushing him and maybe not but it’s impossible to tell from the replay. After a review that only took a few seconds but felt much longer, the crowd erupted as the “no goal” sign was given, thus ending a game that started off fairly boring but then became one of the most exciting lacrosse games in recent memory.

The Bandits are done for the year, and the Rock will host the Knighthawks next weekend for the East division title. Since Edmonton took out Calgary, Toronto will host their second straight Championship game if they beat the Knighthawks.

Other game notes:

  • Kevin Buchanan managed to launch his stick over the glass in the first quarter and was booed when he convinced the fan (a Bandits fan, too) to toss it back to him. I expected to see Buchanan run over with an extra stick or something later on to give the guy as a thank-you, but it didn’t happen.
  • Glen Bryan’s helmet got knocked off in the third, and he made a move towards the bench but then turned around and continued play for a while. The rule book is clear – if your helmet comes off you must either put it back on or leave the floor immediately. Seeing as Bryan was defending the guy with the ball, there was no way the refs just didn’t see it. Easy call, but the refs totally blew it.
  • At the end of the first, Damon Edwards hit Ian Llord into the boards with a crosscheck from behind, and Llord suffered a separated shoulder. No call on that one either. Llord had the ball at the time, so if the refs didn’t see it, I don’t know where they were looking.
  • There were only 9400 people at the game, which I thought was quite disappointing for a playoff game against the Bandits on a Saturday night when the Leafs and Raptors are done.
  • Who was first in line for the handshakes after the game, less than a minute after the no-goal call? Darris Kilgour.