There have been some amazing games so far in the 2023 NLL season, and this past weekend was no exception. We had two previously winless teams win their first of the season, one of which was a franchise first too. We had three different teams take eight goal leads, though only two of those teams actually won their games. We also had two huge comebacks. One was a team being down by eight goals at the half and winning the game, and the other is a player who hadn’t played in the NLL in several years but has managed to make his way back, fighting against more obstacles than most players have to. Let’s start with that one.
Joel Tayler’s return
Formerly Joel Matthews, Tayler has been out of the NLL since 2017. I didn’t know the story until this weekend but Tayler had some significant substance abuse problems, documented in this interview for the Peterborough Examiner. After seemingly ending his lacrosse career as well as losing his job and many personal relationships, Tayler turned things around near the end of 2019 and the possibility of returning to the NLL was part of his recovery. That interview was done back in 2020 and since then, Tayler has changed his name away from Matthews (the name of his abusive father) and chose Tayler after his supportive step-father. Friday night was his return to the NLL for the Bandits, and not only did he successfully complete his comeback to pro lacrosse, he picked up his first goal in over six years and an assist as well. Congratulations to Joel Tayler on this remarkable story.
Ryan Hartley and the Knighthawks
Obviously Hartley is having an excellent season stats-wise – a 6-0 record, GAA of 10.00, and a save percentage over 80%. But he’s what you don’t see in the numbers is the way he plays. He’s very athletic and active around the net, similar to what you’ll see from Christian Del Bianco. He’s also very flexible, occasionally looking like a gymnast with goalie pads on. On top of all that, his stick skills are excellent and he controls rebounds very well. He’s one of the most entertaining goalies in the league to watch.
As for the team itself, I have to admit that I chose the Bandits to win this game. I did believe the “this team is for real” talk, but I guess I figured there were different levels of “for real”. Initially, after maybe their second win, “for real” just meant “they don’t suck”. After another win, it changed to “they are quite a good team” but it took beating the Bandits for me to fully realize how good they are. Apologies to the Knighthawks – I find my own lack of faith disturbing. Now there are four teams with a legit shot at winning the East: Rochester, Halifax, Toronto, and Buffalo. Not that the other East teams have no chance at all, but they have a lot more work to do to get there.
Desert Dogs comeback
Joel Watson started the game for Las Vegas and did not have a great start. He was pulled after less than six minutes, with the Dogs already down 4-0. Landon Kells wasn’t much better, giving up three more goals in the first quarter and five in the second. Meanwhile the Desert Dogs were doing a pretty good job with their passing but just couldn’t finish, which has been the story of their season. At halftime, the Dogs were down 12-4, were already playing two men down due to penalties, when Emerson Clark lost his mind and was given the standard 2-5-game (2 minute instigating minor, 5 minute fighting major, game misconduct) for starting a fight. This meant that the Desert Dogs began the third quarter losing by eight, facing a penalty shot, still two men down, and now had one fewer player on the bench than the Warriors. Recipe for a lousy half, or at least a lousy quarter, right? Nope, not even close.
Kells saved the penalty shot, and just about every other shot for the rest of the game, and the Desert Dogs outscored the Warriors 11-2 in the second half. Kells was outstanding, providing the opportunity for his team to come back, but the Dogs defense deserves credit as well, blocking a bunch of shots and preventing the Warriors from getting all that many good looks in the first place. The offense finally figured out how to finish all of those nice passing plays, and the crowd getting louder and louder on every goal must have been a big help.
This game tied for the biggest comeback to win a game since stats became available in 2005. Colorado came back from being down by 8 to win just over a year ago. See the Not Awesome section.
This was a huge win for Las Vegas for several reasons:
- It was the first win in franchise history and featured a big comeback in front of their home crowd, so that will certainly help keep the local fan base engaged.
- It was a full team effort, getting great performances from their goalie, defense, and offense.
- It was a big confidence boost for the Dogs, just at the time when another loss might have killed any confidence they had left.
- It showed them that the old “we need to stick to our game plan and we’ll be ok” isn’t just a thing you say during an interview when you’re losing, it actually means something.
I listed the Rock under Awesome last week, so I won’t go into great detail here but they are still awesome. Rosey was amazing, the D was amazing, the offense was amazing, they just played a complete game against the Wings. It was also the first time that any team scored 13 goals in a row.
Riptide in the win column
I didn’t see much of this game so I can’t say much about it, but congrats to the Riptide on their first win of the year. What I can say is that Jeff Teat is everything he was hyped to be, and could possibly become only the second player in league history to be named MVP in his second season in the league, after Lyle Thompson. Teat now has 10+ points in five different NLL games, and he’s only played in 21.
Steven Orleman only allowed ten goals but only faced 38 shots, which maybe tells you more about the Albany attack (HA!) than the New York defense. Brett Hickey scored two and added four assists in his New York debut; those six points were more than Hickey had in any game with the Roughnecks or Seals and any game with the Wings except two.
Vancouver and 8-goal leads
I tend to avoid putting really negative facts out for @NLLFactOfTheDay, so I’ll put it here:
Only two games (since 2005) have featured a team coming back from an eight-goal deficit to win the game. Vancouver lost both of those games, a year and two weeks apart.