Help the Iroquois get back in the blue

This is not an issue affecting the National Lacrosse League, which is what I usually write about. But this is an important issue for lacrosse in general and your help is needed.

In 2010, the World Lacrosse Championships (field lacrosse) were held in England. A controversy erupted when the UK refused to allow the Iroquois Nationals team into the country. The Iroquois team is entirely separate from the Canadian and US teams and is one of the top teams in the world. The team uses passports issued by the sovereign Haudenosaunee nation*. Citizens of the Haudenosaunee consider themselves neither American nor Canadian, and have their own passports which, I believe, are accepted in Canada and the US and recognized by the UN.

* – Haudenosaunee is the native word for the Iroquois people, which consists of six Native American tribes (known as the “six nations”) banded together in New York and southern Ontario.

Iroquois players

Originally, the UK refused to grant visas to the players because there was no guarantee that the US would allow the players back into the country. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton got personally involved and offered to grant US passports to everyone on the team but they were determined to travel using their own passports. Clinton then granted the team a waiver that effectively constituted the guarantee the UK was looking for, but they refused to change their minds. As a result, the team missed the entire tournament.

The tournament is held every four years, and the next one will be held in Denver in July of 2014. While travelling to the tournament will not be a problem this time around, the FIL (Federation of International Lacrosse) has decided that since the Iroquois did not compete in the last tournament, they will be seeded 30th. This puts them well out of the Blue division, which traditionally represents the top six teams from the previous tournament. Many lacrosse people, Iroquois and otherwise, are protesting this decision. There is only one reason why the Iroquois team was not in the top six, and that reason had nothing to do with lacrosse – it was entirely political. Punishing the team for decisions that were not only unfair but beyond their control only serves to legitimize the UK’s decision.

It’s not just the Iroquois team that would be affected by this decision. Lacrosse is hundreds of years old in North America, but it’s quite new in a number of countries that are participating for the first time. Consider the countries that are just good enough to make it to this competition (think the German or Latvian Olympic hockey teams in 2010) and then find out that they are in the same group as the Iroquois team. If your position in the next tournament depends on how you do in this one, do you want to be disadvantaged by having one of the strongest teams in the entire tournament in your division when they really should be a few levels up?

The game of lacrosse was invented by Native American people many hundreds of years ago in eastern North America. The Iroquois people are directly descended from those people – in a nutshell, this is their game. Should the Iroquois team automatically be put into the top division just because of that? Honestly, no. But it does earn them some respect from the lacrosse community. That in addition to their play in other competitions should earn them some flexibility on the part of the FIL.

The Iroquois have earned their place among the best lacrosse teams in the world. They should not be punished because of a purely political incident.

Iroquois_thumb1

An online petition has been created to attempt to convince the FIL to reverse this decision and allow the Iroquois team to play in the top division, where they belong. I am asking my readers to please sign this petition and help restore the Nationals’ rightful standing as one of the top lacrosse teams in the world.

Update: The FIL has voted and decided that the Iroquois will be in the Blue division in 2014. I don’t know whether or not the petition had anything to do with the decision, but it’s not unlikely that the outcry from the lacrosse community was a factor. Thanks to everyone who signed the petition!

2013 NLL season wrap-up

Well, that’s it for one of the most exciting and entertaining NLL seasons ever, thanks in part to the parity in the league. Almost every game was unpredictable, and there wasn’t a single game all year where anyone would have been honestly shocked if the losing team had won. Incidentally, that’s my excuse for finishing below .500 in my predictions.

A lot of interesting things happened in the 2013 season, some of which were expected, some of which were not. Let’s take a look at a few of each.

Five things we expected

  1. Parity. As I mentioned above, the parity in the league is unprecedented. The Bandits only won 6 games, but four of them came against the Champions, the Championship runners-up, and the Rock, who had the best record. The team with the best record was ahead of the team with the worst record by only 4 wins (10-6 vs. 6-10), the smallest that number has been since Detroit finished 6-2 and four teams were 3-5 back in 1992.
  2. The Stealth didn’t suck. Nobody expected their 2012 season to be as bad as it was, but I’m pretty sure that nobody realistically expected it to happen again.
  3. Garrett Billings cemented himself as one of the top offensive players in the NLL with his second-straight 100-point season.
  4. After one of the best offensive seasons ever, John Grant returned to earth with a pedestrian (for him) 91 points. Matt Vinc
  5. Matt Vinc won his third Goaltender of the Year award. Another few years of this type of performance, and the “best of all time” argument between Watson and Eliuk will become a three-way conversation. In fact, it’s almost there now.

Five things we didn’t expect

  1. Sophomore slump? Never heard of it. If you look at the top rookies of 2012 – Kevin Crowley, Adam Jones, Jordan MacIntosh, Tyler Carlson, Evan Kirk, Johnny Powless – only Kirk dropped off significantly from his rookie performance. Powless dropped from 50 points to 40, but he had to start sharing the ball with the likes of Dan Dawson and Casey Powell. The rest all stayed about the same or got better.
  2. Getting rid of Casey Powell won’t hurt your offense. The Knighthawks averaged 11.1 goals per game before the trade, 11.3 after. Cody Jamieson and Dan Dawson both saw their points/game averages go up to make up for the loss of Powell, Dawson from 4.2 to 5.1, and Jamieson from 5 to 6.3.
  3. Mike Poulin had a distinctly un-Poulin-esque season. His 12.70 GAA was the highest of his career, almost 2.5 points higher than 2012. The only starters who finished with higher GAAs were Evan Kirk and Anthony Cosmo. But his performance in the Roughnecks’ 12-11 OT victory over Edmonton at the end of the season was outstanding, and he played well against both the Mammoth and the Stealth in the playoffs. Shawn Evans
  4. Shawn Evans has been a very good player for years, and taking his game to the next level wasn’t wholly unexpected. But this year, Evans jumped the next level and went to the one after that. He bested his career high in points by 33 and won the scoring title by 12. His 112 points is tied for the 5th best season ever, putting Evans among the Gaits, Grants, and Tavares’.
  5. The Knighthawks started the year 0-3, were never above .500 at any point, and only two teams scored fewer goals. But they are the Champions. Actually, we should have expected it, since it’s almost what they did last year.

So there’ll be no more NLL games until at least December when training camps open. Don’t worry folks, it’s only… um… seven months. (sigh) Until then, we still have the MLL for outdoorsy types, and the MSL and WLA for people who like sweating in arenas in July. There may or may not be other American indoor leagues as well, such as NALL, PLL, MILA, and possibly others; so many of them started up so fast I kind of lost track of which ones still exist.

So enjoy your summer and fall, whether it’s filled with lacrosse or not! NLL Chatter will be more or less quiet over the summer, but we’ll publish the odd story as things unfold: the new CBA, trades, the entry draft, rule changes, the 2014 schedule, things like that. And we’ll be back next season with the usual mix of relevance and irreverence. See you then!

Championship game pick

I went .500 during both the first and second weeks of the playoffs, and all I know about the third week is that I won’t go .500.

Regular season record: 33-39 (.458)
Playoff record: 3-3 (.500)

Game

Comments

Pick

ROC @ WAS Neither team had their best regular season, but the regular season means zilch at this point. There are great coaches at both ends. Given the breakdown below and adding in the home-ish floor advantage, I have to go with the Stealth. Stealth4

Goaltending: Richards vs. Vinc is one of the best goaltending matchups in a Championship game in recent years. I’d call that a draw but if I had to pick one, I’d probably give Vinc a slight edge.

Offense: We have Duch, Ratcliff, Nooch, Bucktooth, Hill, and Smith on one side and Jamieson, Dawson, Powless, Vitarelli, Point, and Accursi on the other. Powerful on both sides, but I’m giving the Stealth the edge there, especially if Jamieson and Vitarelli are not at 100%.

Defense/Transition: Rochester has the Selfs, Dawson, Smith, Kirk, and McCready but the Stealth has Sorensen, Grimes, Moleski, Garrison, Snider, Henderson, and Beers. Again, both are strong, but Washington wins there.

How do we avoid moving the Championship game? And should we avoid it?

Yesterday, we talked about the 2013 NLL Championship game being held in Langley, BC because of scheduling issues at Comcast Arena. But could this have been avoided? Yes. How?

Money.

It would have been relatively easy to avoid, actually, though pricey. When the regular season schedule was being made, the NLL would have figured out when the final week of the season was going to be. Each team would then book the Saturday night of the next weekend for the Division Semi-Finals, the Saturday night of the following weekend for the Division Finals, and the Saturday night of the next weekend for the Finals. If they wanted to be really thorough, they would have booked Friday night, Saturday, and Sunday of all three weekends. Then there’s no chance that the arena would be booked for the playoffs, and everything’s good. Right?

Well, yes, except that for most teams, booking their arena for three entire weekends in a row during the NHL playoffs is completely impossible. Every NLL team except Washington and Rochester has an NHL team playing in the same arena. In every one of those cases (even the ones where the NHL team doesn’t own the building), I’ll give you one guess which team would get priority during those weekends. Hint: the answer rhymes with NOT LACROSSE.

So let’s say we decide that some playoff games are going to be Friday night, some Saturday night, and some Sunday afternoon, and the building owners all agree with the dates. Now the team owners have to pay for those dates, and I don’t imagine that paying to rent the ACC or Rexall Place is overly cheap. In fact, since there are only 8 home games (for now) and you just added three more, you’ve increased your arena costs by 37.5%. Sure, most teams will be able to cancel one or all of those dates eventually and presumably get some of their money back, but (a) you might not be able to cancel the dates until a week before, and b) there will very likely be a steep financial penalty (even more so because of the late notice). The non-hockey-team NLL owners (Toronto, Washington, Edmonton, Philadelphia, Rochester) are used to putting down their own money knowing they’re unlikely to get it all back, but they’re only so altruistic, and frankly I think it’s unfair to expect the owners to pay that out of their own pockets. The franchises or the league would have to foot the bill, and I’m pretty sure there just isn’t that much money floating around the NLL’s bank accounts.

Is every ticket-buying fan in the league interested in bumping ticket prices across the board to avoid the exceptionally slim possibility of both (a) their team making it to the finals and (b) the arena not being available? Some might, others won’t. It wasn’t the case this year with the parity we currently have, but some years it’s obvious from the start that one or more teams are just not good enough to make the finals. Would fans of those teams want an increase in ticket prices so they could book their arena for a Championship game that they have almost no chance of hosting?

I would think that if such a decision had to be made, pissing off a few fans in one city by moving the Championship game is the lesser of two evils when compared with pissing off more fans in all the NLL cities.

So yes, it could have been avoided. But the only real way to do it is by spending money that the league doesn’t have. Maybe when negotiating the TV deal for next season, the league could try and squeeze a few more bucks out of it, and then use that extra to book the arenas. But with all due respect to Stealth fans, in my opinion it really isn’t a big enough or frequent enough problem to warrant spending bucketloads of money on solving.

Langley hosts the NLL Championship

The NLL Championship game in 2013 will, for the first time, be held in a neutral site arena, kind of: the Langley Events Centre in Langley, BC. Langley is about 90 miles north of Everett and is the closest arena that the Stealth could find to host the game. Comcast Arena, the normal home of the Stealth, is booked this Saturday for a Christian music concert. The Key Arena in Seattle, a much closer alternative, is also booked with roller derby, and thanks to the CBS Sports TV contract, changing the date was not an option, so the Stealth were forced to either go to Langley or give up the game and allow the Knighthawks to host.

This would have been more than a little ironic, since a similar thing happened in 2007 when the Knighthawks were unable to host the Championship game because of a circus booked at the Blue Cross Arena. The Knighthawks had to win their first Championship in ten years in front of the fans of their opponents, the Arizona Sting.

The Langley Events Centre

There’s been a lot of talk on twitter and on the IL Indoor forums about this, most of which is negative, and phrases like “unprofessional” and even “bush league” have been thrown around. So I asked on twitter “How would you have solved the problem? Here are some of the responses:

@Amypriddy12: put the game in Rochester where they could sell out the arena…

@bradmacarthur: hold it in Rochester? ’07 games was moved to AZ when BCA wasn’t available.

@tfernaays: The same way the did in 2007: give the other team the game.

@RichCumpston: Just play it in Rochester, like they did in 2007 when Arizona couldn’t host it.

Is it just me, or is there a trend here? Yes, the option to move the game to Rochester was likely the next step if Langley was unavailable. The difference between this case and 2007 is that in Rochester’s case, there was no alternative. Presumably there are other arenas in the Rochester area, but if it’s too small, the league won’t want to hold the game there. If you think moving the final game to another arena is bush league, try televising a national championship on CBS Sports from a dinky little arena that holds 300 people. Any other arenas that might have been even close to the BCA in terms of capacity were booked, and the Board of Governors nixed an idea to hold the game in Buffalo. The only option at that point was to move it to Arizona.

In this case, there is another option available, and that’s Langley. Yes, the fans will have to drive a couple of hours north and cross the Canadian border, but if it’s either that or watch it on TV from Rochester, I imagine most Stealth fans will make the drive – or at least they’ll be happy that they have that decision to make.

I did get one other suggestion:

@GlenMcDole: I believe in the early 90s, highest attendance city held it. Denver would be a good place this year

On the surface, this seems like a decent idea – this way, you’re rewarding the city that has the most fans, and making fans happy is certainly good for the league. But first off, it means that most years, the Championship game is in a neutral site unless the team with the highest attendance also happens to make the finals. This is fine for the Super Bowl, where a city needs to prepare for a year just to host the game, but that’s not the case in the NLL.

Secondly, it would mean that the NLL would have the Championship in Colorado or Buffalo every year. Could this increase attendance in the other cities, with fans trying to get the Championship there? That seems like the goal, but I honestly doubt it would have any impact on attendance. Even if it does, it wouldn’t help the fans in small arenas (ironically, I believe Rochester and Washington are the two smallest). Buffalo’s First Niagara Centre can hold over 19,000, and the Bandits had that many out to their final game. But most of the other arenas just plain can’t hold that many people. Everyone in the entire City of Rochester could be lining up for Knighthawks tickets, but only 11k of them can fit in the arena, and so without building a new 20,000-seat arena, Rochester would have no chance of ever hosting a final. That’s unfair to them.

The league could make provisions, saying no team can host twice in a row, or that they alternate between the top three, or base it on the average percentage of capacity, but quite honestly, these schemes are starting to sound hokey to me.

Personally, I think the highest-seeded team that makes the final has earned the right to host it, and so that’s where it should be held. If that’s not possible, as is the case this year and was in 2007, the home team should be allowed to attempt to find an alternate location for the game, within reason. If the Stealth had said “Yes, the arena we used to use in San Jose is available, we’ll play there”, that’s no good since they’re well over 800 miles apart. Asking fans to travel that far is silly, though I understand the complaints about having to cross the border.

Does this suck for Stealth fans? Of course it does. But could it have been avoided? Check back tomorrow for the answer.

Division final picks

I went 2-2 in last week’s first-round games, just as I did in the first round last year. I continue to get the Stealth completely backwards – they lose when I pick them to win and vicy versy. I knew the Swarm were going to be a tough opponent for the Rock, but not that tough. The predictions only get tougher from here. Hopefully I do better than my Swarm @ Rock finals prediction from 2012.

Regular season record: 33-39 (.458)
Playoff record: 2-2 (.500)

Game

Comments

Pick

MIN @ ROC After watching the Swam dismantle the Rock last weekend, it’s hard to bet against them. Knowing that Cody Jamieson will be at best playing hurt (and more likely not playing at all) and they may also be without Cory Vitarelli doesn’t help the Knighthawks’ cause. But I agree with Teddy Jenner: if the Swarm don’t start Tyler Carlson after his recent performances, they’re nuts. Carlson vs. Vinc – this will be a great goalie battle. Swarm
WAS @ CAL Was this one ever tough to call. Both teams have it all. Great goaltending? Check. Lots of firepower up front? Check. Transition? Defense? Great faceoff guy named Snider? Check, check, check. The biggest difference here is coaching. Chris Hall was my second choice for the Les Bartley award and has taken the Stealth to the Championship in 2 of the last 3 years, while Curt Malawsky is a rookie. Gary Gait won the championship as a rookie coach so there’s precedent there, but I still think I’m gonna have to give this one to the Stealth. Stealth

Welcome to the NLL 2023 season!

Welcome back! We’re back for the 12th year of NLL Chatter, as we get ready for the 2023 NLL season. We’ve had a busy off-season with some trades, free agent signings, and for the first time in six years, league expansion so there’s lots to talk about. Let’s get to it!

Expansion

The NLL is now the biggest it’s ever been, with the 13th and 14th teams joining for this season. For the first time since 1999, the NLL will have a team in Baltimore, as the Lightning join the Eastern division. Too bad the old Baltimore Thunder name wasn’t still available, as the Mammoth still own that, but Lightning is a pretty good homage to the old Baltimore team. In the West, the Victoria Islanders join their British Columbia cousins in Vancouver. The league announced that only two of the expansion bids would get a team this year, and the Baltimore bid was pretty much a lock, but I thought the Winnipeg one had a better shot than Victoria. The announcement that the Islanders were joining was a little surprising, but we must assume that Commissioner Jenner had good reasons for that decision.

As I said, this is the first league expansion since 2017 when the Vancouver Rough Riders and Chicago Beagles joined, just a year after the Detroit Hammerheads gave the league an even ten teams. Considering the issues the league had in the 90’s and early 2000’s with teams folding and moving all over the place, it’s amazing that the nine teams from the 2012 season (that’s all there was at the time!) are still around, though I think the Stealth might have been gone if Rhys Duch hadn’t married Dakota Fanning in 2014, thus bringing lacrosse into the national spotlight and sending the Stealth attendance through the roof.

Personnel changes

Obviously every team had some changes with the expansion draft, and there were a couple of trades as well. The most surprising was the trading of Garrett Billings from Toronto to Vancouver, so he can play closer to his hometown of Langley. Giving up seven-time MVP Billings was huge for the Rock, though receiving veterans Kiel Matisz and Johnny Powless, prospect Cam Sanderson (son of Toronto GM Josh), and two first round draft picks is a pretty good return for the only 200-point player in NLL history.

Dan Dawson joins his eleventh NLL team by signing with the Washington Stealth. At 41, Dawson can still put the numbers up, and by joining the defending Champion Stealth, he sets himself up pretty well for finally winning that first Championship. Of course, that’s what he thought when he joined the 2013 Knighthawks, the 2020 Bandits, and the 2021 Roughnecks.

In Buffalo, nothing new under the sun as John Tavares returns for his 32nd season as a Bandit, and 21st playing for head coach Darris Kilgour. Ever since Tavares had his knees, hips, ankles, elbows, and shoulders replaced with titanium joints, he’s been unstoppable, even over a 24-game season. And to think we called him “ageless” ten years ago!

Only one coaching change, as Kevin Finneran steps down as Wings coach after their first time missing the playoffs in over a decade. Another former Wing player, Brodie Merrill, takes over the reins. Merrill will try to bring the Wings back to their glory years when they won all those Championships in the 1990’s and from 2014-2018.

Predictions

In the East, I have to go with the Knighthawks in first yet again. We’ll see if Matt Vinc can break his own record of three shutouts in a season. After that, we have the Rock, Bandits, Wings, and expansion Baltimore Lightning.

The Central division will be interesting, as the Swarm try to extend their seven-year streak of finishing first, while the Mammoth, newly retooled by GM and head coach John Grant, attempt to improve on their three consecutive second place finishes. Detroit should do OK if Dane Dobbie’s switch to goaltender goes as smoothly as last year, and Chicago will probably suck again since Nick Rose’s switch to forward didn’t work out quite as well.

Defending champs Washington have to be the favourite in the West, closely followed by Edmonton and Calgary (featuring the first player-GM-head coach in NLL history, Andrew McBride), with Vancouver and Victoria duking it out for last.

This is going to be one crazy season! But it’s the NLL and it’s late October, so bring it on!