2021 NLL Week 7

Week 7 was the busiest week in recent memory with eight games, including two OT thrillers on Friday night, a bunch of close games on Saturday plus one blowout, and the Knighthawks continuing their undefeated season on Sunday afternoon. Can they match the Edmonton Rush’s 14-0 start from 2014? I doubt it, but I also doubted they’d be 5-0 at this point in the season.

Awesome

Friday night’s games

Dillon WardI was originally going to list “Goaltending on Friday night” as the Awesome entry, and then I had one entry for goaltending and one for the fact that both games went to overtime, but then I just went with both games in general. In Halifax, it seemed that half of the shots taken hit someone on the way to the goalie (usually a defender but a lot of shots hit another offensive player) but when a shot did make it through, both Doug Jamieson and Warren Hill were unbelievable. Oddly, Hill’s numbers weren’t particularly outstanding  (10.72 GAA, 78.4%), while Jamieson’s were very good (9.75 GAA, 84.1%), but that’s misleading since each made great save after great save and each was instrumental in keeping his team in the game. I wouldn’t call the offenses “awesome” considering they combined for 21 goals, a bit on the low side for an NLL game, but Halifax’s strong offense is highlighted when Cody Jamieson, Randy Staats, and Ryan Benesch can all be held scoreless but the team is still in the game. Kieran McArdle continues his hot season with 4 goals (including the OT winner) and 4 assists. After three games, he’s about a third of the way to his season best of 52 points, which he did last year. McArdle is now on pace for 42 goals and 108 points.

In Colorado, it was more of the same as we had another 11-10 overtime game, and both goaltenders had great nights. Alex Buque kind of reminds me of Nick Rose, in that they’re both big guys but make some surprisingly athletic plays. Rose is more consistent, as Buque can be streaky; last season he had a GAA of 11 or less for 6 of the first 7 games and then followed them up with four straight of 16+. But when he’s on, he sees the ball very well and does a good job of controlling rebounds, which can be huge. Dillon Ward was, well, Dillon Ward. Ward, in my opinion, has turned the corner from a great goaltender to an elite one and just like Matt Vinc, we look at what would be an amazing performance from anyone else and and think “yeah, that’s just typical for Ward”.

I managed to correctly predict guess the OT scorer for Albany. My guess for Colorado (Zed Williams) seemed to make sense at the time but in retrospect, you should pretty much never bet against Rhys Duch late in a game.

The Toronto Rock

As I said last week, the Rock’s only wins this season came at the expense of two winless teams, and they didn’t look particularly good against the Bandits and Knighthawks. I picked the Rock to finish either first or second in the East this year, as did many other people, but four games in I wasn’t quite as confident. But the Rock laid a solid beating on a very good Thunderbirds team on Saturday. Yes, the Thunderbirds played on Friday night as well so maybe they were tired, but for Toronto, it was a true team effort as all aspects of the Rock’s game were clicking. Nick Rose was excellent, Challen Rogers scored on two penalty shots, Tom Schreiber scored five goals, and Mitch de Snoo scored three. With de Snoo, Brad Kri, and Latrell Harris, the Rock have three of the best defenders in the league on their back end, and imagine how that will look once Chris Corbeil returns from injury. This is what it was like watching the Rush with their star-studded defense in the mid-to-late teens.

And damn, does Stephen Keogh ever take a beating out there. It’s like his whole strategy is “I’ll stand in the middle and they’ll pound on me but that will open you guys up to score. And I’ll score a few here and there too.” And he’s done this for eleven seasons. I don’t know how he’s still alive.

Not Awesome

Brett Hickey released

Hickey played a couple of decent seasons with the Philadelphia Wings, but didn’t really stand out as much as they might have liked. He was traded to the Seals but only picked up 14 points in 7 games, and it seemed he just didn’t quite fit in with their offense. He signed with the Roughnecks in the off-season but didn’t fit in there either, and now he’s been released. He missed most of the 2019 season with an injury – is it possible he has never fully recovered? He did score 29 goals with the Wings in 2020 and 23 with the Wings and Seals in 2022, so that seems unlikely, so it’s curious how a former 50 goal scorer can’t buy his way onto an offense. There are still teams struggling to score goals; could Hickey end up in Georgia? Or Las Vegas?

Cory Vitarelli released

The Wings traded for Taite Cattoni and released Cory Vitarelli early this week. Vitarelli is one of those unsung guys – not a Hall of Famer, never the best offensive player on his team, and he never cracked 50 points in a season. But you don’t spend twelve seasons in the NLL without being able to contribute. He kind of played the Stephen Keogh role on the Wings: opened up space for his teammates, dug out loose balls, and scored some nice goals of his own as well. Maybe at 37, Vitarelli’s lost a step, or the Wings decided that Cattoni can play a similar role but is only 24 and costs less so the move makes sense. But just like Hickey, it’s tough to see a veteran like Vitarelli let go.

Angry (Thunder)birds

There were 27 penalties in the Toronto/Halifax game on Saturday, 16 of which went to the T-Birds. There was only one fight, but it did look like more could break out at any time. There were two different boarding majors (one only eight seconds into the game) and five game misconducts. At one point Halifax took three minor penalties on the same play, which gave the Rock a penalty shot. While the refs were sorting that out, Billy Dee Smith, Halifax’s defensive coach and no stranger to the penalty box in his playing career, threw a softball (literally, a yellow softball) into the Rock bench, hitting TD Ierlan. Note that the ball was tossed just to get Matt Sawyer’s attention; it’s not like Smith fired a fastball at him. Once he did get their attention, Smith and either Sawyer or Rusty Kruger had a spirited conversation. I was sitting only three rows back from the Rock bench and couldn’t hear most of what they were shouting but a few of the words Smith was shouting were unmistakeable.

Of course it wasn’t just the ‘Birds who were angry. Various Rock players including Dan Dawson were doing some yelling of their own into the Halifax bench. Despite hearing many times that Dawson is the nicest guy you’ll ever meet, his size (6’6″) and that stare (shudder) means that I wouldn’t want him angry at me.

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