2013 Preview: Colorado Mammoth

MammothThe 2012 Colorado Mammoth season may be one of the biggest turnarounds in recent memory. It isn’t a “worst-to-first” story, since they weren’t in last in 2011 nor were they in first in 2012. But going from a .313 season to a .688 season in one year is pretty impressive. Of course, John Grant having one of the best offensive seasons ever will help, as will rookies scoring 76 (Jones) and 46 (Lincoln) points. Just how good would this team have been if Mac Allen had played more than 3 games?

Roster changes

No huge trades for the Mammoth. They acquired Richard Morgan from the Swarm and signed free agents Chet Koneczny and Matt Roik. They did trade Derek Hopcroft, who has a very promising rookie season, to the Bandits though he didn’t actually make the team. Oddly, just as they get Joel Dalgarno back after he missed 2012 entirely due to firefighter training, they will lose Ian Hawksbee for 2013 for the same reason. Transition guy Jed Prossner retired, Scott Stewart was signed by Buffalo, and both John Orsen and Jarett Park begin the season on the PUP list.

Two surprising cuts during training camp were forwards Jamie Shewchuk, acquired from the Swarm mid-season last year, and Alex Gajic.

Burning question

Is this John Grant guy for real? I mean really, one pretty decent season and people are all “best player ever”…

Prediction

Third in the west.

Haiku

Grant is the leader
Last year was record-setting
Only one Gajic left

2013 Preview: Edmonton Rush

RushAt the end of the 2012 regular season, the Rush were the least likely team to make the finals (other than the Stealth). Despite a strong second half of the season, they were 6-10, had lost two in a row, and faced the 12-4 Calgary Roughnecks in the first round. But the Rush found a way to not only pull off a win against the Riggers, but they did it convincingly, winning 19-11. The next game was even more convincing, a 15-3 drubbing of the Minnesota Swarm which put them in the Championship game for the first time in franchise history. The final game started off looking like it would be more of the same for the Rush, as they led the Knighthawks 5-1 at halftime. But the ‘Hawks scored 8 of the last 9 goals, including 7 in a row, to pull off the comeback. The Rush got farther into the playoffs than they ever had before but I imagine they are still disappointed with the result.

Only one team gave up fewer goals than the Rush in 2012, but nobody scored fewer. Their top two scorers, Shawn Williams and Ryan Ward, were 16th and 28th in the league respectively.

Roster changes

So if your team is struggling offensively but sparkles defensively, what do you do? I know! Trade your top scorer and another veteran scorer who had an off year and bring in transition guys! Sounds dumb, right? Well, maybe not. Yes, losing Williams will hurt, but Wilson wasn’t the offensive threat they expected him to be. Wilson scored just over half the points he had in Minnesota in 2011 and just over a third of what he had in 2010. Scott Evans was also released, though he missed the last few games of the season and the playoffs anyway. But they did get Cory Conway from Calgary, so that will replace some of the offense.

And then there’s Mark Matthews.

The hype around this guy is unreal, and it seems that some people are expecting Matthews to look like John Grant right out of the gate. Obviously that’s a bit unrealistic, but 60+ points is almost expected, and an Adam Jones / Kevin Crowley-type rookie season (75+ points) would not be out of the question. The Rush have also added Alex Turner, who didn’t play last year but picked up 39 points for the Wings in 2011, and rookie Curtis Knight (along with Matthews) has previously played for Rush GM and head coach Derek Keenan in his role as coach of the Whitby Warriors.

The Rush lost Derek Suddons (traded) and Steve Toll (CLax) but gained Jarrett Davis and Jeremy Thompson so defense and transition still look good, and Aaron Bold and Brodie MacDonald form one of the better goalie tandems in the NLL, so no problems on that end.

The loss of Paul Rabil means nothing, since neither he nor the guy he replaced, Athan Iannucci, played a single game for the Rush last year.

Burning questions

Should we just give Mark Matthews the Rookie of the Year award now?

Also, will the Rush come back down to Earth after their rise to the Championship game, or did their strong play in the 2012 playoffs give them the confidence the team has lacked for years?

Prediction

By the numbers, Conway + Matthews could offset Williams + Wilson + 3/4 of Evans. But trying to set your offense up to be better than that of the 2012 Rush is not that lofty a goal. As good a goal-scorer as Shawn Williams is, he’s one of the best passers in the history of the league. Can Matthews or Conway or anyone else step up and be that guy?

I’m just not sure about the Rush. Anywhere from first to fifth in the west is possible, but my uncertainty keeps pushing them down. Calgary will be great, Minnesota and Colorado really good, and I don’t think Washington is as bad as last year make them look, which leaves Edmonton. I don’t really see them as a last-place team but someone has to finish last, and I’m just less unsure about the other teams. I’m going to have to say fifth in the west.

Haiku

Lost Williams, Wilson
But wait, help is on the way
Matthews is the man

2013 Preview: Calgary Roughnecks

RoughnecksThe Roughnecks will have almost exactly the same team team in 2013 as they had in 2012, when they led the league during the regular season but flamed out (Ha! Calgary joke) in the playoffs. One of the few changes they did make was to fire head coach Dave Pym after three successful regular seasons (finishing second in the West once and first twice) but a total of one playoff win. Pym is now a western scout for the Rock (although strangely, has retained his “RiggerCoach” twitter handle); obviously the Philadelphia Wings missed my article saying that he’d be a good fit there. At least this way, Pym didn’t have to move from Alberta.

So Curt Malawsky will shuffle down the bench to become the head coach of the Roughnecks after being an assistant coach (under Pym) for three years. Malawsky ran the offense and will likely continue that role, while former Roughneck Bruce Codd, who played for the Rock last year, has retired to become the defensive coach.

Roster changes

On the floor, the biggest changes are the addition of Aaron Pascas from the Rock, the departure of Cory Conway to the Rush, and the retirement of veteran Kaleb Toth. Toth scored 50 or more points in nine of the previous ten seasons, and only missed seven games (playing 179) in his entire career before 2012. But he was frustrated by injuries last year and picked up only 8 points in 7 games. Toth is well-respected throughout the league, particularly in Calgary, but will always be remembered by Rock fans as the kid who scored The Goal, the last goal ever scored at Maple Leaf Gardens.

Pascas only has one year under his belt, while Conway has played 5 seasons, averaging twice the points per game that Pascas picked up back in 2011, so this is a bit of a drop in production. But if any team can handle a bit of a production drop it’s Calgary – only the Mammoth outscored Calgary last season, and they only outscored them by one.

Burning question

Was Dave Pym the problem? Or will the Roughnecks continue their ongoing San Jose Sharks impression of kicking butt in the regular season and underachieving in the playoffs?

Prediction

The current NLL record for most consecutive seasons with 10+ wins is held by both Toronto and Buffalo with five. 2012 was Calgary’s fourth in a row, and I don’t see any reason why they can’t tie the record in 2013. Their offense is outstanding, defense is great, and Mike Poulin is the reigning goalie of the year. First in the west.

Haiku

Dave Pym, Kaleb Toth
Both gone, but no one can get
Through the Poulin Wall

Toronto Rock town hall meeting

On December 18, the Toronto Rock held their first-ever town hall meeting, where season ticket holders were invited to come to the new Toronto Rock Athletic Complex in Oakville and ask questions about the facility, the franchise, or the team itself (or some other team, as you’ll read later) and have them answered by Rock executives and players. This was a great way for the fans to feel more connected to the team and more importantly, listened to by the team. Of course, not every suggestion will lead directly to a change, but owner Jamie Dawick seemed very sincere in his desire to hear what the fans have to say. That was, after all, the whole point of the meeting. All the top brass were there – Dawick, GM Terry Sanderson, Head Coach Troy Cordingley, and players Colin Doyle, Nick Rose, and Garrett Billings.

I attended this meeting and even brought a notepad with me, but for some reason I didn’t think to write down the questions and answers as they were asked, so I’m going by memory here. To readers who were also there, please feel free to leave a comment on this article if I’ve missed something or you remember something differently than I do.

As we walked in the door, we were directed into the Rock dressing room, where all the players’ equipment and jerseys were neatly laid out:

Rock dressing room

I tried to figure out what order the players were listed in but couldn’t – it wasn’t alphabetic, it wasn’t by jersey number, it wasn’t by length of time with the team. The goalies were all together in one corner, and each goalie locker was twice the width of the regular ones. Here are a couple of pictures to illustrate the difference in size between Colin Doyle’s locker and that of goalie Tyler Glebe:

Colin Doyle's lockerTyler Glebe's locker

After perusing the dressing room, we made our way onto the practice floor. There was a table set up for distributing season tickets, and another selling Rock merchandise. In the middle of the floor, there was a stage and chairs set up, and shortly after 7:00pm, they got things started.

First to arrive

Dawick talked for a little while, just explaining the purpose of the town hall. He talked, almost bragged (justifiably!) about the new practice facility and how it was the new home of the Rock – not only where the team practices and trains (the gym overlooks the floor and is run by Sean Holmes, the Rock’s trainer), but it’s also the company headquarters. Colin Doyle piped up at this point to echo Jamie’s comments about how this was a professional facility and the best he’s seen anywhere. Rose and Billings also agreed and one of them (don’t remember which) said that they were spoiled and almost felt sorry for members of other teams. Doyle finished this part by saying “It’s way better than San Jose.” 

Once Jamie finished talking, they opened the floor for questions for him. Most of the questions for Jamie involved things like advertising and taking advantage of the NHL lockout, the in-game experience, and games on TV. He mentioned that there is a potential ownership group in Montreal, though he didn’t expand on that. He was asked about the anthem singers this past season and how all but one or two of them were terrible. I don’t remember them being all that bad, except one which he did specifically mention. Without making excuses for Josie Dye, he said that they do have an audition process and don’t just let anyone get up and sing, but singing in front of a handful of people in an audition is very different from singing it in front of 15,000 people at the ACC. That said, they have hired a full-time anthem singer for the upcoming season.

Jamie also said that there will be a TV deal with TSN/TSN2 this year, for ten games. He couldn’t remember if it was 6 home 4 away or 5 of each, but this is great news. He said that getting on TV was very important to them, and getting national coverage is even better.

The next set of questions were aimed at Terry and Troy. They only got a few questions, none of which I can remember. This is why I’m a blogger and not a reporter.

Our esteemed panel

The final group of questions were for the players. There was one about balancing your lacrosse career with your “regular” job. Colin Doyle is a teacher (though he admitted that he thinks of himself as a lacrosse player who also teaches, not the other way around) and both Billings and Rose work for the Rock.

There was one about how to get lacrosse into the schools, and Colin responded saying that they’ve had a program like this for years. A player or two will come to the school with sticks and balls for a class (which the school keeps), and then spends a period showing them the basic skills. Colin said he’d been told by a number of kids that it was the best gym class ever.

Another question, more of a comment, was aimed at Nick Rose, from a guy whose son is a midget lacrosse goalie. He mentioned a few tips that his son had received from his coaches, things like “Keep moving back and forth so shooters have nowhere to shoot”. I’m sure Nick, who has several years of NLL and WLA experience; is one of nine starting goaltenders in the highest-level indoor lacrosse league in the world; and was the WLA goaltender of the year and MVP this past summer, appreciated the goaltending advice.

Someone asked why we never see Rock forwards crashing the net and getting in close anymore, and Colin explained the pressure defense that most teams are using now. He said that Troy and Darris Kilgour basically invented it in Buffalo a few years ago and almost everyone uses it now. (He mentioned that Colorado and Philly do not but Rochester, Buffalo, Edmonton, and Calgary do.) Garrett said they’ve basically taken away the pick-and-roll and gave a specific example – something like “If Kasey Beirnes sets a pick for me in the middle and then tries to get inside for me to pass it to him, I know he’s going to get destroyed.” Troy, who won three championships in four years using this method, just said “Sorry.”

I even asked a question myself. The Knighthawks had a definite #1 offensive guy last year, and now they’ve added two superstar offensive players, possibly dropping Jamieson to #3. How might that affect team chemistry? I think I worded it badly, because in retrospect it kind of sounded like “How do you think the Knighthawks will do this year?” which is not what I meant at all. I should basically have asked “Is the concept of team chemistry a real thing, or by the time you get to the NLL level is that not really an issue?” Doyle didn’t answer the second question directly (since I didn’t ask it directly), but indirectly I’d have to take it as a “yes, it’s a real thing”. Doyle said that we saw something similar in Boston which didn’t work, but they definitely have to take the Knighthawks seriously because it might. Garrett Billings then chimed in and just said “I hope they tank.”

Thanks to Jamie, Terry, Troy, Nick, Garrett, and Colin (plus the Rock cheerleaders, Rock PR dude Mike Hancock, and the rest of the Rock staff involved) for creating this great event. I imagine this will be a once-a-year thing, though maybe they can hold another at the end of the season, so the fans can talk about what they liked and didn’t like while it’s still fresh in our minds. It could pay off for the Rock as well – maybe there’ll be someone there who can give Terry some advice on being an effective GM.

NLL 2013 rosters: Who’s in, who’s out

Here is a complete list of the changes in rosters from the end of the 2012 season to the roster lists just announced. Players on the Holdout, Physically Unable to Perform (PUP), or Injured Reserve (IR) lists may be moved to the active roster before the season begins. Note that not all teams listed players on the PIP or IR lists so some may be missing.

Names for each list are in alphabetical order.

Buffalo Bandits

In: Carter Bender, David Brock, Glen Bryan, Nick Cotter, Steve Dietrich (GM), Mike Hominuck, Mike McNamara, Jamie Rooney, Dhane Smith, Hayden Smith, Derek Suddons, Kurtis Wagar, Shawn Williams, Aaron Wilson
Out: Kevin Buchanan, Brandon Francis, Darryl Gibson, Angus Goodleaf, Travis Irving, Darris Kilgour (GM), Ian Llord, Tom Montour, Jeremy Thompson, Mike Thompson, Roger Vyse, Chris White
IR: Jordan Critch, Mat Giles, Jamie Rooney
PUP: Jimmy Purves
Holdout: Joe Smith, Scott Stewart
Practice Squad: Kevin Brownell, Craig England, Derek Hopcroft

 

Philadelphia Wings

In: Kevin Buchanan, C.J. Costabile, Kevin Croswell, Ethan Farrell, Tom Hajek (defensive coach), Will Harrington, Kyle Hartzell, Jake Lazore, Mike Manley, Paul Rabil, Kevin Ross, Brian Tueber, Joel White, Chad Weiedmaier
Out: David Brock, Dan Dawson, Paul Dawson, Dan Deckelbaum, Steve Fryer, Tom Hajek (player), Mike Hominuck, Brendan Mundorf (injured), Jordan Sealock, Joe Smith, Kurtis Wagar
IR: Matt Alrich, Jordan Hall, Dan Hardy, Eric Hoffman, Steve Grossi
PUP: John McFadyen, Brendan Mundorf
Holdout:
Practice Squad:

 

Rochester Knighthawks

In: Dan Dawson, Paul Dawson, Matt Hummel, Joel McCready, Casey Powell
Out: Ryan Cousins (injured), Jarrett Davis, Jordan Hall, Travis Hill, Pat McCready, Tim O’Brien, Joel White
IR:
PUP: Ryan Cousins
Holdout: Kyle Laverty
Practice Squad: Ian Llord, Cody McLeod, Tom Montour

 

Toronto Rock

In: Kyle Belton, Zak Boychuk, Scott Evans, Rob Hellyer, Brandon Ivey, Cody Jacobs, Chris White
Out: Glen Bryan, Pat Campbell, Dan Carey, Bruce Codd, Steve Dietrich (goalie coach), Scott Johnston, Jamie Rooney, Brendan Thenhaus
IR: Mike Lum-Walker, Phil Sanderson
PUP:
Holdout:
Practice Squad:

 

Calgary Roughnecks

In: Bruce Codd (coach), Jackson Decker, Matthew Dinsdale, Curt Malawsky (head coach), Aaron Pascas, Joe Resetarits, Brad Richardson
Out: Cory Conway, Mike Kilby, Ryan McNish, Dave Pym (head coach), Kaleb Toth
IR:
PUP:
Holdout:
Practice Squad: Barclay Hickey, Darren Kinnear

 

Colorado Mammoth

In: Colton Clark, Joey Cupido, Joel Dalgarno (did not play in 2012), Chet Koneczny, Richard Morgan, Matt Roik
Out: Alex Gajic, Ian Hawksbee, Derek Hopcroft, Jed Prossner, Jamie Shewchuk, Scott Stewart
IR:
PUP: Tye Belanger, John Orsen, Jarett Park
Holdout:
Practice Squad: Alex Demopoulos

 

Edmonton Rush

In: Mitch Banister, Mike Burke, Cory Conway, Jarrett Davis, Curtis Knight, Mark Matthews, Jeremy Thompson, Alex Turner
Out: Scott Evans, Jesse Fehr, Eric Lewthwaite, Derek Suddons, Steve Toll, Shawn Williams, Aaron Wilson
IR:
PUP:
Holdout: Tyler Codron
Practice Squad: Dave Marrese

 

Minnesota Swarm

In: Matt Gibson, Shayne Jackson, Pat Smith, Alex Crepinsek, Michael O’Brien, Kiel Matisz
Out: Todd Baxter, Joe Cinosky, Brendan Doran, Matt Kelly, John McClure, Richard Morgan, Kevin Ross
IR:
PUP: Brock Sorensen
Holdout:
Practice Squad: Zach Higgins, Ryan Masters, Tyler Tanguay

 

Washington Stealth

In: Jason Bloom (coach), Kyle Buchanan, Tyler Garrison, Tim Henderson, David Joyce, Mitch McMichael, Patrick O’Meara, Nick Patterson, Justin Pychel
Out: Jason Bloom (player), Kevin Croswell, Kyle Hartzell, Peter Jacobs, Eric Martin, Kyle Ross, Cam Sedgwick, Chris Seidel, Jeff Zywicki
IR: Billy Hostrawser, Drew Snider
PUP:
Holdout:
Mitch Jones
Practice Squad: Brett Hickey, Mike Mallory, Justin Salt

Guest blogger Jack Goods at Bandits open practice

We have a special guest blogger today: Jack Goods, who has written for both IL Indoor and In Lax We Trust. Jack was at the Buffalo Bandits’ open practice this morning, and filed this report which I am happy to provide here on NLL Chatter.


Bandits Open Practice Recap
By Jack Goods

The Bandits held their annual open practice today at the First Niagara Center and used the occasion to help unveil their new uniforms. The first primary uniform change in over ten years from the team, this year’s jerseys have a more modern feel. Many design aspects are similar to the All Star Jerseys worn in Buffalo last season. A few players, including John Tavares, Mark Steenhuis, Shawn Williams, Jay Thorimbert, and Scott Self were wearing the full uniforms which including name plates and numbers.

Of course the main event for fans was the actual practice and the chance to see many of the new Bandit players in action. After undergoing a pretty big overhaul this offseason many of the names on the roster handed out to fans were different than they names they saw last year. That added even more excitement to a day that usually gets the diehard fans in Banditland pumped up. A few players were notable in my eyes.

Derek Hopcroft showed off his skills quite nicely in both the drills and the scrimmage. One goal in particular stood out, a behind the net goal with his off hand. He showed lacrosse intelligence that many players just seem to lack. A young player who scored 15 goals last season for Colorado, Hopcroft could end up being a solid player on this year’s roster.

Nick Cotter, another new name, seemed to be on his game today as well. Although he sat out last season he doesn’t seem to have lost a step. He appeared to be one of the fastest and most in shape players out there, maybe due to playing with the Charlotte Copperheads of the PLL this fall.

This was the first chance for fans to see this year’s draft picks in their Bandits gear, and one thing jumped right out at me. Guys like Dhane Smith and Carter Bender are huge. The Bandits had issues with size recently but seem to have answered them. Dhane Smith made a few moves today that caught my eye and I noticed he is very fast for his size.

Marty Hill, Joel Matthews, Jimmy Purves, Jamie Rooney, and Scott Stewart all did not practice due to injuries. Although both currently on the physically unable to perform list, both Steenhuis and Self participated in practice. Steenhuis did take a Dhane Smith shot to the head early on, but returned after a short time.

This is a very good team this year; Bandits fans should be very excited. I look at this roster and think there are probably 27 players who could easily be on this team. Deitrich has brought in solid competition, winners, and a good mix of experience and youth. Although the Knighthawks have to be thought of as the front runners (especially since the Dawson trade) the Bandits shouldn’t be a push over this season.

The Lou Marsh committee snubs John Grant – and lacrosse

Christine Sinclair, captain of Canada’s national women’s soccer team, was named the winner of the 2012 Lou Marsh award this past Monday. This award is given to Canada’s outstanding athlete of the year, as chosen by a group of sports reporters and broadcasters. Sinclair had an outstanding year, breaking her own record for goals (23), setting an Olympic record with 6 goals, and factoring in on over 65% of her team’s scoring. Without question, she is deserving of the award.

John Grant

Also deserving, in my opinion, is the Colorado Mammoth’s John Grant. Grant set a new NLL record for points in a season and was named league MVP. Then his Chesapeake Bayhawks won the MLL championship, and to cap it all off his Peterborough Lakers won the Mann Cup. Not a bad year for one of the best lacrosse players in history. But how much consideration was he given for the Lou Marsh? None, apparently, as National Post writer, Lou Marsh committee member, and twitter aficionado Bruce Arthur revealed to me in an exclusive interview. OK, I’ll put “interview” in quotes. In actual fact, we had a short twitter exchange:

@GraemePerrow: @bruce_arthur Were you on the Lou Marsh committee? Was John Grant (lacrosse player) given any consideration?

@bruce_arthur: @GraemePerrow he wasn’t, to be honest.

@GraemePerrow: @bruce_arthur Too bad. One of the best lacrosse players ever with one of his best seasons ever, 3* years after life-threatening surgery

@bruce_arthur: @GraemePerrow I’ll look him up. Thanks.

* – it was actually four years. I misspoke.

I’ll look him up.” Not only was Grant not given any consideration at the meetings, but Arthur has never heard of him.

I wish I could say that this reflects badly on Arthur or the Canadian sports media in general, but unfortunately for the lacrosse community, it’s par for the course. I’m sure this is frustrating for fans of a lot of sports – who was Canada’s best rugby player in 2012? Did he deserve to be mentioned? I have no idea, but rugby isn’t Canada’s national summer sport. Lacrosse is.

Should Grant have won the award over Sinclair? There’s certainly an argument to be made for it. More non-soccer fans heard about Sinclair this year than non-lacrosse fans heard about Grant, thanks to the Olympics. That said, it doesn’t seem fair to punish Grant for having an outstanding year in a “fringe” sport.

But I think it’s more than fair to say that Grant deserved to be in the conversation. Someone in that room should have said “Hey what about this John Grant guy? Won championships in two different leagues and was MVP of a third.” With a little research, they could have discovered that Grant had had knee surgery in 2008, which was not just career-threatening but life-threatening. There was talk of amputation, and Grant was told he’d never play again. Four years later, he’s the best player in the NLL. Again.

If someone in the room had brought that up and after some thought, it was decided to give Sinclair the award, I’d be fine with that and this article would never have been written. I might disagree with their decision, but they have their opinion and I have mine. But not to have Grant’s name even mentioned is a travesty.

Unbelievably, 2012 wasn’t even Grant’s best year. In 2007, he won the NLL Championship and the Mann Cup. He was named MVP of the NLL, the NLL Champions Cup game, the MLL, and the Mann Cup, and was also Offensive Player of the Year in the MLL. And since that wasn’t enough, he also won the World Indoor Lacrosse Championship as part of Team Canada. But did he get any consideration for the Lou Marsh award that year either? As far as I can tell, nope.

The Lou Marsh trophy was first awarded in 1936. Since then, 12 hockey players have won it along with 9 figure skaters. There have been runners, skiers, baseball players, golfers, swimmers, and now a soccer player. There have even been two wheelchair racers. But in 76 years, zero lacrosse players. Lacrosse has been one of Canada’s national sports since 1994 and was Canada’s only national sport for well over a hundred years before that, but the best lacrosse players in the world don’t seem to be considered for this award. This needs to change, but if John Grant can have the seasons he had in 2007 and 2012 and not even get mentioned, it doesn’t look like it will.

Pre-season game report: Edmonton 12 Toronto 8

The NLL is back! After seven months of NLL withdrawal, NLL fans were treated to three pre-season games on Saturday night as the teams get ready for the 2013 season. Only one of the three games actually took place in an NLL venue, as the Rochester Knighthawks held off the Minnesota Swarm 11-10 at the Blue Cross Arena in Rochester. The NLL returned to the Vancouver area for the second straight year as the Calgary Roughnecks beat the Colorado Mammoth 20-11 in a high-scoring affair, while the Toronto Rock hosted the Edmonton Rush at the new Toronto Rock Athletic Centre in Oakville. This was pretty convenient for me, as the TRAC is about halfway to the ACC from where I live.

Edmonton took an early 2-0 lead before the Rock got their first goal, but 2-1 was as close as the Rock would get as the Rush led the rest of the way, winning 12-8. Considering this was the first game of the pre-season, both teams played pretty well with a few missed or dropped passes but no obvious signs of rust. None of the goalies were spectacular but all played well. The Rush defense, unsurprisingly, was the star of the game, frustrating the Rock offense by not letting them get good looks. Blaine Manning looked really good, and Josh Sanderson got back on defense a couple of times, which surprisingly did not make me cringe. If there’s one thing that future Hall of Fame lock Sanderson is not known for, it’s his defense but he seemed to be playing with a new intensity – and even got a penalty while he and Leblanc were preventing an attempted incursion into Rock territory. Great to see.

This game was the NLL debut of Edmonton’s first-overall draft pick Mark Matthews, and he certainly did not disappoint. I don’t have any stats on the game, but Matthews picked up at least three goals and a few assists as well. Matthews looked comfortable on the floor, and seemed poised to take control of the Edmonton offense, similar to the way Cody Jamieson did with the Knighthawks a couple of years ago. The Rock were without many of their big offensive players, with Colin Doyle, Garrett Billings, Dan Carey, Kasey Biernes, and Phil Sanderson all sitting out. There were a bunch of new names (Belton, Andrews, Caravello, Ivey) as well, though a couple of notable absences were draft pick Bradley Kri and the newest Rock Scott Evans. As is frequently done in the pre-season, some of the Rock players only played the first half (Nick Inch, Cam Woods, Chris White) while others only played the second (Damon Edwards, Stephen Hoar), and both teams swapped goalies a couple of times.

Aaron Bold started against Nick Rose – at least I’m pretty sure it was Bold; Edmonton must have forgotten their Twitter handle jerseys at home and played with practice jerseys with no names. Edmonton brought out Brodie MacDonald (who didn’t even get a practice jersey – his was just plain gray with no number or logo or anything) to start the 3rd quarter while the Rock countered with rookie Zac Boychuk. Rose came back in the fourth, and another rookie, Dave Marrese, finished the game for the Rush.

Part of the reason for these pre-season games is to give the rookies time to show their skills, and both Kyle Belton and Dustin Caravello took full advantage of this. I wouldn’t be surprised if Caravello played more minutes than Leblanc. I was pretty impressed with both but especially Belton, who looked like a Josh Sanderson-type “floor general”, controlling the offense and setting up plays. Caravello, on the other hand, was more of a Kasey Biernes type, sneaking around (or through) the defense to get shots from in close. I’m pretty sure Stephan Leblanc did not score, though I think he had an assist or two. I wouldn’t say he looked lost, but I didn’t see the improvement in play that I was hoping for. He seemed to have a lack of confidence last year, and I saw that again here.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the venue itself. This was my first visit to the Toronto Rock Athletic Centre, and it was pretty impressive. There are two rinks, one with turf and one without. The turf one has bench seating for about 700 along one side, similar to your local hockey rink. There are also offices upstairs. Make no mistake though, this is not a hockey arena where you can play lacrosse once the ice is removed – I confirmed (with a security guard who seemed to know what he was talking about) that there is no ice-making equipment – this is a lacrosse facility.

Other game notes:

  • It was very cool to see Bob Watson at the game. I heard some guys a couple of rows behind me talking shortly after Whipper walked by, and one said “I will always have time for Bob Watson. As good a goalie as Watson was, he was a better person.” I have never met the man personally, but this is consistent with everything I’ve ever heard about him.
  • My son and I were sitting right next to the Edmonton dressing room – you can see us during Derek Keenan’s interview before the game. My son (green baseball cap) waves at the camera. I noticed Chris Corbeil standing around before the game while the rest of the team was practicing, but it wasn’t until much later that I noticed the cast on his right foot. No idea how serious his injury is.
  • Watching the Calgary-Colorado game, there were five or six “illegal equipment” calls because of loose chin straps. This is apparently something they’re going to be calling more this season, but obviously nobody told the refs at the Toronto-Edmonton game. Edmonton players lost their helmets at least three times.
  • They also did stick checks during the second quarter, and I believe Jeremy Thompson was caught. The ref handed his stick to a Rush trainer, and then signaled to either Thompson or Derek Keenan that there was a problem, though this was on the other side of the floor so I couldn’t tell what he was saying. Thompson immediately left the bench, ran to the dressing room, and returned a minute later with a new stick. There was no penalty assessed.
  • The first goal of the night was scored by Edmonton, but announced as “Jesse Gamble from Mike Hobbins and Brendan Thenhaus” all of whom are Rock players. Someone was looking at the wrong list. The rest of the goals were fine, but there was no correction on the first one.
  • Phil Sanderson, Garrett Billings, and Colin Doyle were up in the “owner’s box” with Jamie Dawick, except for halftime when Billings and Sanderson were on the floor taking shots. Terry Sanderson, usually behind the bench, was also up in the box.
  • Overheard: “The Rock goalie, what’s his name? Pete Rose?”
  • While Brodie MacDonald was in net, someone near me was yelling “five hole!” every time the Rock had the ball in the offensive zone. Sure enough, MacDonald’s five hole was half the net. But I guess that’s what happens when you’re 6’7″.
  • One lesson I learned from this game is not to tweet updates constantly on my phone. More than once I was tweeting about one goal only to miss the next one. If I had had my laptop with me it would have been easier, but I feel that I missed half the game because I was tweeting about the other half.