Seven games this past weekend, going from Friday at 6:30 Eastern all the way until Monday night. We had four one-goal games, one three-goal game that took place outside, and a couple of others which I wouldn’t call blowouts, but one team was noticeably more dominant than the other.
Whenever a big-name player joins a new team, there is always the possibility that his playing style or personality just won’t fit in on his new team and he ends up being less productive than expected. Mitch Jones seems to be fitting into the Wings offense just fine, thanks. Jones played seven games with the Warriors in 2023, picking up 35 points (11+24). In only four games with the Wings, Jones has matched that total exactly, but with one more goal and one fewer assist. In a rare 11:30am start on Saturday, Jones had a career-best 6 goals and a career-best 8 assists, which resulted in a career-best 14 points. That 14 points is the second-highest point total in a game this season (Tom Schreiber had 15 in early February, also against the Riptide), and is tied for the third highest single-game total EVER. Of course the Wings offense in that game wasn’t all Jones, Joe Resetarits had 9 points, Ben McIntosh had 8, and Riorden and Rambo had five each. Then on Monday night, Jones led the team again with 7 points (2+5), tied with Resetarits (1+6).
If you’re a Philly fan, get used to the offense starting to flow more through Mitch Jones. And I think you might be happy with how that goes.
NLL takes it outside
Saturday featured the first-ever outdoor game in NLL history (double-checks that statement to make sure I’m not forgetting anything, like another league perhaps) as the Desert Dogs travelled to San Diego to take on the Seals at Snapdragon Stadium. This has been something that Seals President Steve Govett has been trying to do for years; he had one planned in 2020 (on an aircraft carrier – how cool would that have been) but then that pandemic thing happened so the game had to be moved back to Pechanga, shortly before the rest of the season was cancelled. This time, it worked out very well. The floor looked good, the weather was nice, the game itself was great, the camera work was outstanding, and there were 8400+ people at the game. I only saw the first half before I had to leave for the Rochester / Toronto game (see below), but this one was tied a few times, and nobody had more than a two goal lead. It was a back-and-forth game in a number of ways; the score was back-and-forth as each team held multiple leads until the Seals began to pull away late in the third, and the game flow was back-and-forth as well, as there seemed to be a lot of fast breaks in one direction or the other. Happily for the home-town fans, the Seals came out on top but the Dogs put up a strong fight.
As I mentioned earlier, the camera work at this game was amazing. They had a number of angles that you don’t usually see at lacrosse games, including a floating camera (I don’t know if that’s what it’s called, but it’s the one on wires – you see it a lot in NFL games) that shot from above the floor but was able to follow the play. There were a couple of plays where the camera was in one of the corners but above the glass. It gave a really interesting and unique viewpoint that allowed you to see the offense setting things up, but you got to view it in a way you don’t often get. I’m sure it would be expensive to add these different camera types and angles to all the other NLL arenas, but if there was a GoFundMe campaign to do that, I’d donate. Of course, first we need to make sure every arena has a camera over the goal.
Rochester vs. Toronto
This was probably the best game I’ve seen in person this season, and one of the top two or three since the Rock moved to Hamilton (the playoff games last year were also pretty great). The game was exciting and close, the attendance was high and the fans were loud, and both teams had strong nights in terms of offense, transition, defense, and especially goaltending. Both Nick Rose and Rylan Hartley were outstanding, and it was really interesting to watch both of them since they have very different goaltending styles. Rose is very good at playing angles and basically forcing shooters to hit him, but it means he doesn’t move around a lot (though Rose is also surprisingly agile). Hartley, on the other hand, seems more reactionary, waiting for the shot and then moving to stop it. This means that he’s moving around all the time, very similar to how Christian Del Bianco plays. This seems like it wouldn’t work so well when a shot is coming at you from 15 feet away at 90+ miles per hour, but Hartley is so athletic, flexible, and fast that he makes it work. As a result of how he plays, his saves frequently look better than Rose’s, but as long as you make the saves, nobody but the TSN Plays of the Week editor really cares what they look like.
We were sitting closer to the ends than usual, and I ended up watching the defenders more than the forwards, which I don’t often do. The Rochester defense was strong and seemed to block a lot of shots before they ever got to Hartley. Ryland Rees did an excellent job covering Tom Schreiber; there were a few times where Schreiber tried a couple of fake-one-way-run-the-other attempts, but Rees didn’t fall for them, even when there were multiple fakes before Schreiber actually took a real step. In one case, Schreiber was standing against the boards with the ball for a good ten seconds, being covered by Rees the whole time, and eventually had to just toss it in the corner because the shot clock was about to expire and Schreiber knew he had no real chance to move, shoot, or pass. The Rock D had a great night as well, and I was particularly impressed with a play by Latrell Harris, though this happened in the offensive zone. After the shot clock expired, a Rochester defender picked up the ball and started up the floor. Before he got far, he was pushed by Harris, just a little, but enough that he lost his footing and took a step inside his own crease. You can’t do that, so this forced a turnover and the Rock regained possession. Smart play.
The attendance was the highest since the Rock moved to the Hammer, and only the second time in those two seasons that it hit the 10,000 plateau. Earlier in the season, I said that the crowd at a particular game was loud but not “electric”. This crowd was electric. They booed the Knighthawks when they took the floor, they cheered loudly for the fights, they booed when a Toronto goal was overturned on review (even though it was the right call), they gave Dan Dawson a big ovation when his 1500th point was announced, and they gave Phil Mazzuca a big ovation for scoring his first NLL goal. All in all, it was just a great NLL game, and as a Rock fan I even got the added bonus of the Rock winning.
“Our MVP is Trevor Baptiste. He’s the first Black lacrosse MVP, professionally speaking.”
That was a quote from Paul Rabil, founder of the PLL, in an interview last week. Rabil was wrong. Dhane Smith has been named NLL MVP twice, in 2016 and again in 2022. AND he plays in the PLL. There’s no way Rabil didn’t know that. To his credit, he did apologize and acknowledge Smith as an “incredible player” when NLL player Travis Cornwall (among many others) called him out on this statement. He said that the interview was about the PLL, and he was just thinking of the PLL and MLL. But he didn’t just say that Baptiste was the first Black lacrosse MVP, he tacked on “professionally speaking”, which means that college lacrosse came to mind, and he felt the need to clarify that. Odd that the NLL, a league he played in for five years, won a Championship in, and is clearly his league’s biggest competition, did not.
Of course, this is not the first time Rabil (and the PLL in general) has been accused of disrespecting the NLL. I wrote about this last year and of everything I wrote there, the only thing that has changed is the number of times the PLL has posted this kind of thing. In fact, a month after I wrote that article, the PLL announced the “Professional Lacrosse Hall of Fame”, which is obviously the MLL/PLL Hall of Fame.
I won’t go into any more detail here since as I said, things haven’t changed significantly. Suffice it to say that I’m not the only person who’s getting more and more frustrated with the PLL and their persistent implicit assertions that box lacrosse doesn’t exist, isn’t lacrosse, isn’t professional, or just isn’t important.
Panther City attendance
I mentioned this a couple of weeks ago, though I didn’t have numbers. Now I do. Panther City is averaging attendance of 3116 per game this season, a drop of almost 1900 (over 37%) from their average last season. Their lowest attendance in a game last season was 3587 in their second home game. This year, only two of their five games have been that high. Their lowest, also in their second home game, was 1842, which is the third-lowest attended game in the history of the league. Those are not just low numbers, they are abysmal. The Panther City crew seem to be doing a lot of public outreach, they’re active on social media, they had Texas-themed jerseys on Saturday night, and they have an exciting young team that’s contending for a playoff spot. It sounds like they’re doing everything right, but clearly something is missing. I really hope it’s not just “Fort Worth is a lousy lacrosse market”, since that would mean yet another team moving, yet another new market to test (unless they move to Edmonton or Minnesota or something), and yet another major North American market added to the very long list of markets in which the NLL has failed.