The NLL is back! Actually, I’m a week late with that since almost every team played at least one pre-season game last weekend, but this is the first one I was able to see. Saturday night’s tilt at the TRAC involved the Mammoth taking on the Rock, and it was interesting to see a couple of different coaching decisions on who plays.
For the Rock, pretty much everyone in the lineup played the whole game. There were a couple of people who I think only played the second half, like Kyle Aquin and Brodie Tutton, and one or two who I didn’t see at all, like Reid Reinholdt and Damon Edwards (who I was looking forward to seeing again), but I think most who played at all played the whole thing. Starting goaltender Nick Rose played the first three quarters while Steve Fryer played the fourth. Brandon Miller wasn’t even listed on the roster. There were a couple of major Rock retirement announcements this summer, but I don’t think I missed any…
The Mammoth had a slightly different approach, as Zack Greer, Ilija Gajic, and Callum Crawford didn’t play at all (though I saw Crawford at the rink), and John Grant only played the first half. Starting goaltender Dillon Ward was also in the building but didn’t play at all; Zak Boychuk and Alexis Buque split the goaltending duties.
It was an entertaining game – back and forth in the first half and then the Rock pulled away and the Mammoth never really got back into it. But as we all know, it’s the preseason so coaches care less about whether they win or lose the game and more about what they see from their players. The game was intense enough to look like a regular season game. There were no fights and few penalties, but the players were playing hard.
Sorry Mammoth fans, but I did pay a little more attention to the Rock, as I tend to do. Toronto’s offense looked good, even without Josh, Colin, and Rob Hellyer. It was great to Brett Hickey back in form, and Kasey Beirnes continues to be one of the hardest-working forwards in the game. Stephen Leblanc played, but I didn’t really notice him all that much. That may be unfair though, since I was mainly concentrating on the new guys, Mikey MacDonald, Tom Schreiber and Kieran McArdle. MacDonald had a cup of coffee with the Black Wolves last year, only picking up one assist in two games, but has had a great preseason with the Rock. Not sure he’ll be another Brett Hickey, scoring 50 goals out of nowhere, but should be a welcome addition to the front end.
Schreiber looked good, a big bull-in-a-china-shop kind of guy. He wasn’t worried about going around defenders or finding an open lane, he’d just push through and make an open lane for himself. He was working hard but that said, he couldn’t hit the net. He must have had 10-12 shots but most missed the net entirely and I don’t think he scored any.
I was really impressed with McArdle. He scored a couple, at least two on passes from Schreiber, but had a mittful of assists as well. He really looked comfortable in the offensive end and made some really dynamic plays, impressive for someone so new to the box game. (Not that field lacrosse players don’t make dynamic plays, but they’re different.) At one point in the second, he took a shot which missed the net, grabbed the rebound and shot again, and then grabbed that rebound and shot again. Three shots in about five seconds.
Another new face I was watching was draft pick Challen Rogers. Rogers is a big, solid defender but also has some speed up the floor on transition. I liked what I saw from Rogers, which was a lot since he was everywhere and seemed to get a lot of floor time. With Rogers, Gamble, Edwards, and Brodie Merrill (who, at 35, still has some serious speed), Toronto’s transition could match up against anybody’s.
For the Mammoth, I did notice Greg Downing a lot, and Jeremy Noble played a lot as well. Noble made an outstanding interception of a Nick Rose outlet pass, jumping and stretching his 5’9″ frame as far as it would go. Don’t remember if it led to a goal, but was a great play nonetheless. John Grant only played the first half, but scored three including a patented over-the shoulder shot. There are times every now and again when Grant seems to be able to simply score at will, or almost force plays to happen the way he wants them to. There was a 3-4 minute span in the second quarter where he seemed in total control. He’s the oldest player in the league, three years older than the next oldest and ten years older than his next oldest teammate, but after all this time, he’s still John Grant.
- At one point Challen Rogers was defending John Grant, and Grant spun away from him and scored. Rogers looked frustrated for losing him but as I tweeted to him at the time, don’t worry about it. He beats everybody.
- Jordan Magnusson seemed to get a lot of floor time, and I thought he played hard and looked pretty good. Latrell Harris made some good plays but at other times looked lost, as if he wasn’t sure who to defend or what to do.
- Dan Lintner’s second goal was a beautiful reverse backhand sort of thing. Lintner also looked good though now that I think about it, I don’t remember seeing him in the second half.
- Nick Rose must have been working on outlet passes in the offseason. He’s really becoming a master. He’s no Bob Watson yet, but was pretty accurate on passes to teammates up near centre.
- You know how you see players chewing on their mouth guards while on the bench or between plays? Rogers was chewing on his during play. Doesn’t that defeat the purpose of the thing in the first place?
- Alexis Buque played really well in the second half, making a few outstanding saves. He didn’t look like someone trying to make the team as a backup goalie, he looked like he wanted that starter’s job.