Game report: Georgia 20 @ Toronto 17

So Rock fans, we have good news and we have bad news. The good news is that the offense has finally woken up! 17 goals including 3 by Hellyer and Hickey and 4 by Leblanc, 7 assists from Hellyer and 6 from Doyle, even a couple of transition goals from Brodie Merrill and Rob Marshall. After four games featuring 7 or fewer goals, this was quite welcome.

The bad news is that the fairly solid if unspectactular defense we saw in those four games vanished. When you give up 20 goals, it’s hard not to blame the goaltending and indeed, Rosey didn’t have a great start and Miller wasn’t an awful lot better in relief. But for the most part I didn’t think goaltending was the problem.

Ironically, the Rock offense still didn’t look as good as we hoped. As Colin Doyle said in a post-game interview, they were getting into the middle more and giving themselves better scoring chances, which was good. But just like the previous couple of games, there were a lot of dangerous passes. Many more of them found their intended target than previous weeks (hence the increased scoring), but they were ripe for being picked off, deflected, or missed. I thought the offensive guys were too rushed, continually taking what looked like desperation shots with plenty of time left on the shot clock, and they must have hit MacDonald (or Higgins) square in the chest twenty times. He’s not going to move out of your way, shooters. Shoot it where he ain’t.

Many times, the Rock players held onto the ball too long and ended up getting it stripped away from them. Not everybody can be Mark Steenhuis and hold onto the ball while being triple-teamed – and it’s especially unnecessary when you’re not killing a penalty and there are people you could pass to. It wasn’t just the offense guys, many of the transition plays looked like this as well.

As for the Rock defense and transition teams, they were not on their game either. They were certainly missing Jesse Gamble and Damon Edwards but Swarm forwards found themselves open much more often than they should have. In one case, the Swarm were killing a penalty and Chad Tutton found himself with the ball right in front of Miller, and with no defender anywhere near him. He had an eternity to decide where to shoot and of course, he scored. There’s no way a five-man defense covering four men should allow one of them to be wide open like that.

Dave Thomas/Toronto Sun

But I don’t want to put the loss all on the Rock D and discount the excellent play of the Swarm offense. Even if the Rock was playing at their defensive best, they’d have had a tough time on Friday night. The Swarm had five players with 6 or more points (including two in double digits), and that doesn’t count Randy Staats’s four goals. They were passing well, they were shooting well, and like I’ve said before, they really do look like they’re having fun out there.

Another problem for the Rock was penalty trouble. They took three (three!) too many men penalties and Billy Hostrawser had five (five!) minor penalties, though no majors. As a result, the Swarm had five power play goals. Then again, the Rock scored eight (eight!) power play goals. This has been a common complaint (or at least a common comment) about the Rock in past years – they’re not as good five-on-five as many other teams, but they’re deadly on the power play.

But despite my mostly negative comments above, it certainly wasn’t all bad. In particular, the team was in the game all the way to the end. The Rock were actually leading with six minutes left in the fourth, but Brodie MacDonald played really  well in the last half of the fourth to keep them from coming back. As for Miller, he made a huge stop on a Randy Staats penalty shot five minutes into the fourth quarter to keep the Swarm from taking a three-goal lead. Such a lead might have been deflating considering the Rock had scored three straight to get back into it at that point, but Miller’s stop helped keep the Rock’s momentum and Toronto scored the next three to take that brief lead. It won’t get him any Money Baller points but it was a clutch play nonetheless, so kudos to Miller and the Rock offense for keeping them in the game.

Colin Doyle summed it up perfectly:

The offence was there tonight. Maybe the defence wasn’t. But we certainly can’t say anything because they were there for us the first four games and we weren’t there for them.

Other game notes:

  • No player intros, just “here’s your Toronto Rock!” and the whole team came out. When the team is 0-4, I guess you try anything to shake things up.
  • Of the Rock’s five losses, they’ve scored first in four of them, and taken 2-0 leads in three of them.
  • This was a game of runs. Starting from 5:17 of the second, Toronto scored four straight in less than five minutes, then Georgia scored seven straight over about 15 minutes, then Toronto scored six in about eight minutes, then Georgia finished up with four in six.
  • Dan Lintner scored his first career goal… again. In game 1, Lintner scored a goal but it was called back after a review because his foot was in the crease. In this one, the goal was also reviewed but held up.
  • Maybe the game was just so fast that it was inevitable, but the Rock seemed to have a lot of people on the “wrong” end of the floor. A number of times we saw four Rock offensive players passing around the Swarm net and Glen Bryan or Brock Sorensen setting picks, or Kevin Ross trying to get in Shayne Jackson’s way in front of Miller.
  • I did not hear the Mission: Impossible theme during the fourth quarter of this one. Maybe someone at the Rock offices read my last game report. Now if they could just get rid of that annoying “Holla Holla” song they play before the game starts.

Let the music play

When you watch an NHL game, there’s frequently music playing between plays. But the second the puck is dropped, the music stops. One of the things about the NLL that’s unique in the world of professional sports is that the music doesn’t stop. (“Can’t stop the Rock” one might say.) It surprised me the first time I went to a game. It surprises people I bring to games. My wife comes to one or two games a year and she says it still surprises her sometimes. You hear “They don’t stop the music while the game is on? Wow!”, frequently followed by either “that’s cool” or “that’s weird”.

So this is unique to the NLL – almost. CLax plays music but MSL and WLA do not. But is it a good thing? Let’s look over the pros and cons. I asked what peple on Facebook and Twitter thought, and I’ll include some of their comments below.

A few people (including Stealth player Jarrett Toll) simply liked my tweet but didn’t respond. I don’t know if that means they are for or against.

Pros

It’s unique and memorable. It’s something interesting about the whole experience that might catch first-timers’ memory and give them something to talk about at the water-cooler the next day.

It can get people pumped up and excited. This is useful if, for whatever reason, the lacrosse game isn’t exciting enough already.

It makes sure the place isn’t silent if the crowd isn’t in it.

Pro comments:

  • Darci Becker: “Vancouver would be a library without it!”
  • Ron Flesher: “I have no issue with music being  played during game play.”
  • Travis Holland: “Rock on”
  • Grant Miller: “Feels like it’d be quiet without. Maybe do NBA style with nothing heavy but still something”
  • Craig: “Don’t mind music, but for whatever reason it sometimes gets turned up to 11 at Pepsi Center”
  • Luscious Dick Tacoma: “conundrum. I like it live. Don’t like it watching outside the arena.”
  • J Bro: “the kids LOVE the music aren’t on Twitter and won’t vote. They are the future players that will grow the sport”
  • Bob Cox: “Music is one of the great things that makes NLL games more fun than other sports”
  • Carmen Widdess: “It makes for a great atmosphere with the music cranked.”
  • Chuck Hill: “I sometimes don’t even notice the music anymore (if it’s a good game and I’m into it) but I enjoy the music”

Big crowd in Buffalo

Cons

The fact that the other major sports (NHL, NBA, MLB, NFL, even MLS if you want to count them) don’t play music during the game may make the NLL seem a little more bush-league.

The actual sounds of the game – the grunts, the hits (ball hitting goalie, sticks hitting each other, sticks hitting players, players hitting boards, etc.), the yelling of coaches and players – get drowned out. I went to a pre-season game at the TRAC back in December and there was no music playing. Hearing what a lacrosse game really sounds like was fantastic.

When watching on TV, music playing is terrible. It seems much more distracting on TV, especially when the commentators have to talk over it.

Con comments:

  • Marisa Ingemi: “YES YES YES YES” (to the question “Should the NLL stop playing music during play?”)
  • Stephen Stamp: “I personally dislike it but have gotten used to it so doesn’t bother me too much”
  • Richard Bell: “May be up to the team”
  • Marcel Paillard: “Only if it flows with the game! Play whole song”
  • Marko Ćelić: “Only when the play is going on is it annoying….but I’m assuming it would be relatively quiet for the non uber lacrosse fans at the game.”
  • Brad Challoner: “No music is great if concrete or wood floors, you hear game sounds but turf is very quiet. I vote no.”

Interesting: other than Marisa’s rather unequivocal comment, even the “con” comments aren’t entirely “con”.

The Science

OK, that title is a joke. There’s no science here, it’s entirely opinion.

In a Twitter poll, 57% of votes chose “Love the music” over “No music please”. There probably should have been a “don’t care” option, and there were only 28 votes in the first place so it doesn’t tell you much.

I had a good chat over twitter with a fan named Nick who said that “it’s one of the reasons the casual fan enjoys the game” and that the lack of music would drive away fans. He said that he’s talked to many fans at many NLL games and they say they like the atmosphere better than at NHL games.

However talking to fans at NLL games doesn’t give you all the information, nor do polls on Twitter. It could be that many people came to NLL games, were turned off by the music, and never came back. And if they were turned off, they’re not there to talk to you about it the next time, and they’re very likely not answering lacrosse polls on Twitter. What if there are twice as many of those people as the ones who like the music and still go to games? Until we can find the people who left because of the music and include them in the numbers, we don’t know the whole story. Of course, finding those people is the challenge.

Other than Toll’s non-response, I didn’t hear from any players (though they might have voted in the poll) so I don’t know how they feel about it. I imagine they’re so dialed into the game itself that they don’t really notice the music.

Personally, I lean towards the “no music” side of things, though I’m not cancelling my season tickets over it. A lot of the music they play at the ACC is classic rock, which is my jam, so I tend to get into the music and the game (and the music selection is even better at the First Niagara Center in Buffalo – Dream Theater and Metallica!), so I’m kind of good either way. But like I mentioned earlier, the music-free game I saw at the TRAC was amazing, with nothing to distract you from the sounds of the action, and I enjoyed hearing the players calling to each other or yelling from the bench. But judging by the poll and the comments I got on social media, it seems that I’m in the minority.

Game report: Rochester 12 @ Rock 7

The Toronto Rock started 2015 with three straight wins. That possibility was gone after game one this year. The 2015 Rock won 10 of their first 12 games. While that’s still technically possible in 2016, I’m going to go out on a limb and call it unlikely.

The Rock’s first two games had different expectations. One was against a team that finished well under .500 last year and missed the playoffs. They are a much improved team this year, but it was still a game that the Rock probably thought they should win. The other was against the perennially strong Rochester Knighthawks, 12-6 last season and only a year removed from three straight Championships. Nobody would count the Rock out entirely, but even they would probably agree that a win in that game was slightly less likely than the Georgia game. But regardless, the outcomes were the same: for the most part, they were barely in either game and lost them both 12-7.

There were also a number of similarities in the two games besides the score. Colin Doyle had two assists in each game, Turner Evans had one. The goalies saved around 3/4 of the shots they faced (Rose 74.4%, Miller 73.3%) while the opposing goalie was well over 80% (MacDonald 83.3%, Vinc 85.1%). They scored a single goal in the second half of game 1 and two in the first half of game 2. Put another way, they went over 71 minutes scoring 3 goals.

In the first quarter, both teams were missing the net all over the place. At one point a few minutes in, there had been about 8 shots between the two teams and only one didn’t miss the net entirely. The Knighthawks got better. The Rock didn’t. They were missing the net a lot but also missing passes and being intercepted and as Mike Wilson said on twitter, they were playing like they’d never played together before. They were rushing transition chances, shooting early in the shot clock, and there seemed to be a lot of cross-floor passes through traffic, many of which never reached their intended target. They really needed a quarterback out there to set up plays and settle things down when guys wanted to shoot early, but Josh Sanderson, who’s filled that role very well for years, was obviously not available.

A beautiful goal by Vitarelli. Photo from Dave Abel/Toronto Sun/Postmedia Network

Colin Doyle has also filled that role in the past, but he just didn’t seem up to it on Thursday. Quite honestly, he looked old and slow. He’s never been Mr. Speedy anyway, but there were times where he’d cut to the middle, receive a pass, then miss the net. Or cut to the middle and miss the pass entirely. By the fourth quarter, it looked like each of Doyle, Hellyer, and Hickey were thinking “I need to score a couple to get us back into this” and so they’d be shooting when they probably shouldn’t have been.

Now, they were also facing the Knighthawks defense and Matt Vinc, so you can’t fault them too much, but I’ve seen many games where an offensive unit is playing well but the defense is just too good, and this wasn’t that.

Brandon Miller played pretty well, for the most part. He made a few “OMG how did he stop that?” saves, but also let in a few “OMG how did he not stop that?” goals too. The first two Rochester goals were identical shots over his left shoulder, and the third was under his left arm. He seemed to have a three minute span in the first where he couldn’t see anything and let in three goals, but then settled down after that and most of the rest of the Knighthawks goals were scattered.

Dan Lintner made his NLL debut and almost scored, though his foot was on the crease line so it was reversed. He’s small and quick and totally not the same player as Kevin Crowley but he may fit in well on this offense, assuming this offense begins playing at the level they’re capable of. I’m not sure if Luc Magnan is a defender who’s fast or more of a transition player (generally defined as “a defender who’s fast”). He did play some solid defense and had a couple of transition chances though didn’t bury them. He’s no Damon Edwards but since Edwards is injured, you could do worse than having Magnan to replace him.

The bottom line: The Toronto Rock have the biggest home floor advantage in the league. The vast majority of Rock players (possibly all of them?) live near here so very few of them have to travel great distances for games here (then again, that’s true for some visiting teams too). They have a great practice facility and lots of veteran players. There’s no excuse for not being prepared for this game, especially after getting beaten the week before, and they weren’t.

Other game notes:

  • On a rare Thursday night, the announced attendance was 9387 but I doubt that many people were actually there. Didn’t look like 9k to me.
  • Dan and Paul Dawson were both wearing white leggings and mismatched shoes. The leggings were weird enough but the shoes were dark on the inside (i.e. the left side of the right shoe and vice versa) and light on the outside (right side of right shoe, left side of left). I noticed at least two other Knighthawks (Searle, Llord) who were wearing the same shoes.
  • Rob Hellyer must have tried the ol’ roll (not shoot)-the-ball-through-the-five-hole trick at least four times. Never worked.
  • For the second straight game, the Rock seemed to lose their discipline right at the end of the game and in both cases, it was unexpected players that got involved. In game one it was Colin Doyle, in game two it was Brett Hickey. After Hickey and Jon Sullivan were sent to the box, Derek Searle cross-checked some Rock player (don’t remember who) in the back, and Billy Hostrawser took exception. They fought and Searle took his hits and went to the box. Rock owner and GM Jamie Dawick wasn’t happy about it, calling Searle “some rookie punk” and said that he got his ass kicked and deserved it. While I don’t entirely disagree with him (though the fact that Searle’s a rookie doesn’t play into it – hitting someone from behind at the final buzzer when you just won by 5 is a dick move regardless of your NLL experience), I’m still unsure how I feel about an NLL executive making those kinds of comments. The fans, definitely. The coach or players, sure. But the GM? He’s got to keep a cooler head, in my humble opinion.
  • I know I’ve said this before but the music guy needs to change things up. When the Rock are down late in the fourth, playing the theme from Mission: Impossible is probably not the message you want to send. Play it when the Rock are winning (by a few) or don’t play it.