Game report: Buffalo 11 @ Toronto 13

My first game report of the season! And what a game. A back-and-forth game between the Rock and Bandits where the first and third quarters ended up tied, and the second and fourth ended with different teams having two-goal leads. True to form between these two teams, there was a little bit of chippiness and the beginnings of a fight or two though nothing ever came of them except roughing penalties. But unlike most encounters between these two, there was an unprecedented display of class before the game even started, and I give full credit to the Bandits for that.

As the 2015 Rock team was announced, they came out onto the field and started gathering near centre, rather than their customary place on the far restraining line. (“far” meaning the far end of the floor from where they come out as they are announced.) Once most of the team was there, I realized they were forming a big T and that this was likely in honour of Terry Sanderson, who passed away back in November. The team paid respect to a number of people in the lacrosse community that had passed away over the past few months, including Chris Hall, Jim Jennings, Tucker Williams, and finally Sanderson.

After the Bandits took the floor (to their customary chorus of boos), the Rock moved to the restraining line and a video tribute to Terry Sanderson played on the video board, after which came one of the most classy things I’ve seen at a sporting event. The entire Bandits team left their place on the other restraining line and crossed the floor to shake hands with or hug the Rock players. It wasn’t a full handshake line like you’d see after a game, but each player shook hands with a couple of Rock players. Anthony Cosmo actually did go down the entire team shaking hands with everybody, stopping to give Josh Sanderson a hug. (I originally thought this was because he’s a former Rock player until I realized that that was over ten years ago.) The Bandits then came back to their side of centre for the national anthems and the game began.

The Bandits have been known for years as a physical team, frequently undisciplined, and I’ve even heard them described as a team of thugs. The first two are accurate but even at the height of the “Darris’s Bad Boys of Banditland” days, the third is a stretch. But whatever your feelings on the Bandits as a team, the pregame handshake was a classy show of respect and, dare I say, love for one of the most influential men in NLL history.

Here’s a crappy picture that I took of the T:

Blurry T

And here’s one from the Rock web site. If you look between the two goalies and go straight up, there’s a shadowy circle in the crowd. I’m at the bottom right edge of the circle.

#RIPT

But on to the game, which was exciting and entertaining and featured great goals (some of which actually counted), great saves at both ends, ugly goals, lots of posts, and some very angry Bandits.

The first Rock goal at home this season was scored by Brodie Merrill, his first of two, on a pass from Sandy Chapman. His second goal was unassisted and ended up being the game-winner but those two goals provided the only points from Rock transition players or defenders in this game. Not that the transition was bad, just ineffective against the Buffalo defense. They’d get up the floor quickly, then realize that the Bandits defenders got onto the floor just as quickly, and so their transition chance had gone away. Most of the time they’d turn around and wait for the O guys to get out there rather than try to weave their way through for a low-percentage shot. This was almost always the right call.

The game went back and forth throughout the first half, with the Rock thinking they were going to finish the first quarter with a lead but then Ryan Benesch scored with 0.8 seconds left on the clock to tie it up. In the second, three goals were scored in the first minute but then only three more over the next 14, and Buffalo took a lead into halftime. In the third, Toronto tied it up and took two leads but neither one lasted even a minute. Finally in the 4th Brett Hickey gave the Rock the lead they’d never give up, and though Benesch subsequently scored his 4th and 5th of the game, it wasn’t quite enough.

Nick Rose had seen exactly 0 minutes of action this season prior to this game, but didn’t look rusty at all and had a great game. About 6 minutes into the second quarter, he made three outstanding saves in the span of about five seconds. Anthony Cosmo had a pretty good game but seemed off just a bit. A number of times he moved to make a save only to have the ball deflect off of him into the goal. If he’d moved just a touch faster he would have made the save. In one case he made the save, but the rebound hit Mitch Wilde’s foot and rolled under Cosmo into the net.

Brock Sorensen almost scored his second goal of the season in the 4th. Cosmo had been pulled and Sorensen managed to grab a loose ball and fire it towards the empty net. It landed short and bounced over the net, and the Bandits grabbed it. I could see Sorensen berating himself for not getting closer before shooting. He was even more angry with himself when Benesch scored on the very next play so instead of 12-9 Rock, it was now 11-10.

In the last 30 seconds of the game, the Bandits got possession and started to come up the floor but before they could get their offense set up, the Rock managed to grab the ball and start coming the other way. That’s when I noticed Troy Cordingley making the “time-out” signal towards the ref but of course you can’t call a timeout when the other team has the ball. Cordingley started shouting at the ref so I assumed that he had been calling for a time-out ever since the Bandits got the ball, but the ref didn’t notice. Suddenly something flew from the area of the Bandits bench towards the referee – it looked like a shoe. My first thought was “Troy’s in trouble now”. The ref’s hand immediately went up but the game ended before any penalty was assessed. Troy immediately went over to the ref area to return his challenge flag and have a conversation with the ref, which I’m sure began “Excuse me, my good man, but I was wondering if I might have a word.” But while Cordingley was mad, Anthony Cosmo was LIVID, and I don’t know if it was even about the same thing. It was almost funny – he was at the refs semi-circle yelling and jumping around, then stopped to join the handshake line, then went back to shout at the refs some more. Eventually Troy had to put his arm around Cosmo and lead him away, but he was even yelling at someone on the Bandits bench as he headed to the locker room. Think of how angry you’d have to be for Troy Cordingley to say “OK, let’s just take it easy here.”

In the game sheet, Billy Dee Smith was given an unsportsmanlike conduct minor AND misconduct as well as a game misconduct at 15:00 of the 4th, so perhaps it was Smith and not Troy who threw whatever it was.

Other game notes:

  • In addition to the pre-game handshake, there was another thing I had never seen before: Nick Rose made a save in the first and the ball went into his equipment and he couldn’t find it. He tried shaking his leg pads, shoulder pads, jersey, shorts, no ball. He jumped around a bit, trying to dislodge it from wherever it was. Eventually (this whole thing took over a minute) he dropped his gloves, reached up his shorts, and managed to find it, to great applause. There’s an inappropriate joke in there somewhere, but I just… can’t… quite…
  • The posts are a goalie’s best friends. Less than ten minutes into the game, the Bandits had already hit both posts and the crossbar. I think they hit at least 7 posts during the game. Ryan Benesch hit three posts on one shot: it hit the right post, then the left post, then the right post again and finally dropped in the net.
  • About mid-way through the second, Dhane Smith scored a beautiful goal, jumping to catch a pass and shooting while still in the air. Unfortunately for him, the shot clock buzzer sounded while he was in the air but before he shot so the goal didn’t count. Similarly, Stephen Leblanc scored a nice one later in the game that also went in after the buzzer.
  • Toronto fans are generally pretty knowledgeable about the game, but in the 2nd they blew it. Brodie Merrill threw the ball into the corner well after the shot clock buzzer sounded, resulting in a well-deserved Delay of Game penalty. Rock fans booed the call, even though Buffalo had already gotten a similar penalty for a similar infraction, and the Rock had already gotten away with one without a penalty (and got away with another one in the third). When your team does something clearly against the rules (and that the refs are cracking down on) three times and only get called for it once, you should probably not complain about the once.
  • The Rock had two short-handed goals while the Bandits had one. But the Rock’s were both in the 4th quarter and included the game-winner.
  • I didn’t know this until after the game, but a former NLL player named Joe Hiltz (scored 80 points with the Baltimore Thunder in ’99) was sitting behind us and the guy next to us was a former NLL ref.

Non-game notes:

  • Thanks to GO Transit and the Rock for getting us home for free! My son and I took the train in to the game, which was nice and relaxing. Got to read and doze a little on the way in and not worry about traffic or construction, and also knew that the ride home would be free. We went for dinner with a bunch of friends, which was great (other than the wind in the restaurant – see the next note), then walked to the Rock game, which was exciting and they won. A relaxing return trip to Burlington on the train (more reading and dozing), and a short drive home. A lovely evening.
  • Note that if you ever go to Fran’s on Front just east of Yonge in Toronto, don’t sit by the door in the winter. The glass in the front vestibule doesn’t go all the way to the wall, and when the outside door is open, cold air comes in through that one-inch gap. This is even worse when the outside door is broken and the wind holds it open until you go and pull it closed, which we must have done twenty times during the meal. We also stuffed a coat into the gap, which made it a little more bearable. The food was good, as it always is, but the draftiness was unpleasant. I tweeted this information to Fran’s twitter account, and they’ve responded saying that maintenance is already scheduled. Good news.

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

Weirdest. Season. Ever.

I know it’s only two weeks in and things can certainly change but I think I can safely say that nobody would have predicted many of the things happening so far this season. Give yourself a pat on the back if you saw any of these things coming:

  • Brett HickeyThe New England Black Wolves start the year 2-0 with a convincing win against the Bandits and a blowout against the Knighthawks
  • Rochester starts the year 0-2, averaging <10 goals per game
  • Edmonton starts 0-2
  • Calgary starts 0-2 despite averaging 15 goals per game
  • Matt Vinc, Tyler Richards, and Mike Poulin all have GAAs above 15
  • Dillon Ward’s GAA is over 14 and he’s 2-0.
  • The Toronto Rock replaces Colin Doyle and Garrett Billings with Brett Hickey and NOBODY ELSE (on offense) and still averages >16 goals per game
  • Josh Sanderson is averaging over 10 points per game
  • Johnny Powless has 1 goal and 5 assists in 2 games. Transition player Ilija Gajic has more points for the Stealth than Powless.

On the other hand, there are definitely things that we did see (or could have seen) coming:

  • Miles Thompson and Ben McIntosh have both been impactful in their first couple of NLL games
  • Evan Kirk is looking like a Goaltender of the Year candidate. Kirk was outstanding in his rookie year of 2012 but after a dismal sophomore year, he came back a little last year in Philly and has been lights-out so far this season in New England.
  • The top of the scoring leader list contains names like Sanderson, Grant, Evans, Duch, Jones, Jamieson, Crawford.
  • Anthony Cosmo’s GAA and save % are both among the league leaders
  • Colorado beat Calgary in overtime – their fourth straight OT game

 

Like I said though, all of these unusual things can and probably will change. Powless will get hot. The goalies mentioned will undoubtedly get better. The undefeated teams will lose and the winless teams will win. The Rock scoring average will probably drop, though how far is anyone’s guess.

But the unexpected is one reason why I love the NLL.

Week 1 picks

Here we go again! Just like I’ve done over the past couple of years, I’m posting my picks for each and every game this season. Last season I did great with my picks, ending up with a 58-23 record, or 71.6%. The previous years weren’t nearly as good. I finished the 2013 season at 33-39, or 45.8%, and the 2012 season at 31-41, or 43.1%. My percentages are getting better though, and if I jump 25.8 percentage points like I did last year, I’ll be at 97.4% which means I’ll get 2 picks wrong all season. I’m all for optimism and everything, but I’m going say that’s unlikely. Honestly, I’ll be happy if I’m over .500.

Record: 0-0 (.000)

Game
Comments
Pick
BUF @ NE I picked the Black Wolves to finish last in the East, but I kind of hope I’m wrong and they have a great season. It would be better for new fans to have a successful team – I mean, look at how the Washington Stealth’s attendance increased when they were successful! OK, bad example.

New England has a bunch of good players but no great players. With the right team chemistry, this can still bring success but it’s too much of a crapshoot so I have to pick against them at least until we get more familiar with the team.

Bandits
EDM @ BUF After the season Edmonton had in 2014, how can you pick against them? Rush
TOR @ ROC The Rock are my team and I hate picking against them, but I have to go with the three-time champs here. Once I see how the Rock offense is handling the loss of Doyle and Billings I may change my mind but for now, their offense is a bit of a question mark. Knighthawks
COL @ MIN The Mammoth have been a mystery for years. Grant, Iannucci, Jones, and Westervelt could all end up in the top 10 scoring-wise, or the team could finish 6-12. That said, I think they’re a better team than last year which is something I can’t honestly say about the Swarm. Mammoth
VAN @ CAL Vancouver got better on the offense and transition but not on defense. Calgary changed very little from the 12-6 team they had last year, so I have to go with the Roughnecks. Roughnecks

2015 NLL Predictions

My predictions for the final regular season standings as well as the major annual awards.

Final Standings

East

  1. Rochester
  2. Buffalo
  3. Toronto
  4. Minnesota
  5. New England

West

  1. Calgary
  2. Edmonton
  3. Colorado
  4. Vancouver

Individual Awards

MVP

Dan Dawson

Winner: Dan Dawson
Short list: Cody Jamieson, Ryan Benesch

Goaltender of the Year

Winner: Aaron Bold
Short list: Matt Vinc, Mike Poulin

Defensive Player of the Year

Winner: Kyle Rubisch
Short list: Chris Corbeil, Brock Sorensen

Transition Player of the Year

Winner: Jeremy Thompson
Short list: Geoff Snider, Karsen Leung, Jordan Hall

Rookie of the Year

Winner: Miles Thompson
Short list: Ben McIntosh, Chris Attwood

Les Bartley Award

Winner: Curt Malawsky
Short list: Mike Hasen, Troy Cordingley if Buffalo’s longest losing streak is 4 games or less. If the Rock can lose Doyle and Billings and still finish second or higher in the east, John Lovell should be considered as well.

GM of the Year

Winner: Terry Sanderson. This would obviously be posthumous but if the Rock does well this year, I can see it happening.
Short list: Curt Styres, Steve Govett if the Mammoth don’t tank, Chris Seinko if the Black Wolves are third or better and above .500 in the East.