This NLL season just keeps getting better and better, doesn’t it? This week, we had three one-goal games, all of which had very exciting endings (see below), Indigenous Heritage night in Toronto, and this year’s Calgary Roughnecks are reminiscent of the 2011 team that was supposed to struggle and didn’t. All of that awesome-ness, and the only thing I have listed under not awesome is still pretty good.
Ending of Halifax vs. Buffalo
As expected this was a great game, but the fourth quarter was so much fun. In each of their previous three games, the Bandits were losing at halftime only to come back and win, so when the Bandits were winning at halftime and then allowed the Thunderbirds to come back and take the lead, it seemed they were doing things backwards. But you can’t come back to win if you’re not losing in the first place, so clearly allowing Halifax to get back in the game was a strategy. Well, it worked. Matt Vinc and the Buffalo defense kept Halifax off the board for the last sixteen minutes of the game while scattering the three goals necessary to tie the game over the fourth quarter. Then in overtime, Chris Cloutier, playing in his first game since December 17, scored his fourth of the night to give Buffalo their sixth straight win.
Like I said, the game was great overall, but the there were three dramatic goals and only one penalty in the last quarter, strong defensive plays, saves at both ends, and even overtime. Everything you want in a lacrosse game.
Ending of San Diego vs. Saskatchewan
After being down by six late in the third (and a couple of times in the fourth), it looked like the Rush were just outmatched against the Seals. But you may remember that near the beginning of the season, the Rush were embarrassed by the Seals who came back from being down by seven to win the game. I’m sure the Rush remember – they knew it could be done because it was done to them. They scored five straight in six minutes to get within one with 36 seconds left. Then even though the Seals had possession, the Rush pulled their goalie and their defense managed to prevent Curtis Dickson from getting a shot on their empty net. They strip him of the ball, head up the floor, and after a few passes, Robert Church gets a decent shot but just misses the net. The Seals trap the ball against the wall for the remaining seven seconds and the game is over. The Rush were down by six, not seven, but came this close to paying back the Seals.
So dramatic, so exciting, so close… other than overtime, it was just like I said about the Halifax-Buffalo game – everything you want in a lacrosse game.
Ending of Rochester vs. Georgia
Another dramatic almost-comeback. Georgia is down by 5 but come back to tie it in the second. Then Rochester gets out to a couple of four-goal leads and eventually lead by five with about ten minutes left in regulation. The Swarm score five of the next six to get back within one with 45 seconds left. They have already scored 18 goals so you know Hartley is not having his best game. After some impressive passing, they finally get an almost point-blank shot but that one Hartley is ready for, and that’s the ball game. Once again, other than overtime, everything you want in a lacrosse game.
All one-goal games are “right down to the wire”, basically by definition. But sometimes they end with the winning team running around killing time for the final possession, and the ending isn’t all that dramatic. These three had me on the edge of my seat until the very end.
After the 2010 season, Calgary lost two of its top scorers, as Josh Sanderson was traded to Boston and Tracey Kelusky was traded to Buffalo. It’s not like they had nobody left – Dane Dobbie, Scott Ranger, Jeff Shattler, and Kaleb Toth were still there – but many wondered how the Roughnecks hoped to be as productive in 2011 without those two. How did they do? The 2011 Roughnecks finished first in the west with the best record in the league. Fast forward 12 years, and we’re seeing it again.
They didn’t lose Dane Dobbie and Curtis Dickson in the same season, they were a year apart, but once again, the Roughnecks lost two of their top scorers in short order. How are they doing? Second in the west. It’s not like they don’t miss Dickson or Dobbie, but enough guys have stepped up their games that they have the second-most goals scored in the west division. Of course, Calgary has also given up the fewest goals in the west, despite having played more games than most western teams, so their defense is a big factor in their success. But kudos to the Roughnecks – losing two players of that calibre in two seasons is tough to recover from, but they seem to be handling it just fine.
Attendance in Georgia
Remember back when we used to make fun of Georgia because their attendance was so bad? From the 2016 season (their first in Georgia) until the 2019 season, they were in the bottom three teams in the league in average home attendance. But from 2017 on, that attendance number increased every year, from 3950 in 2017 to 4437 in 2018, then jumped to 6698, 7613 in the COVID-shortened season, 8098 in 2022, and this season they are sitting at 8316 after six home games. And despite starting the season 0-7, attendance has increased at every home game so far this season. For comparison, in 2017 the Saskatchewan Rush averaged almost 11,000 more people per game than the Swarm did. This season, that difference is 45.
This is all assuming that all the teams are providing the real numbers for attendance. There were certainly cases back in the late teens when the Swarm would report 4000 at a game and then you’d see a photo or a frame from a broadcast. Clearly, 3000 of those 4000 were in the washroom or in line for a hot dog at the time the picture was taken. And it’s possible that they’re still exaggerating the attendance figures. You can report tickets sold and given away, not actual people in seats, and just give away a ton of tickets, and suddenly 1000 turns into 4000. But if five years later, you’re reporting 9000 people instead of 4000, I think it would be quite noticeable if there were still only 1000 people in the arena. We may not know the actual number, but attendance in Georgia has unquestionably gone up. This is excellent, but it’s odd that the attendance was terrible when they were a Championship team, and is now much better when they are struggling.
I don’t know exactly what they’ve done to accomplish this, but kudos to the Swarm organization. Maybe you can give the Panther City, Albany, and New York folks a call and share ideas. Then again, maybe we should give them the same five years and see what they can do.
Toronto Indigenous Heritage Night
For the second straight year, the Rock had special jerseys designed by an Indigenous artist. And for the second straight year, they are spectacular. I bought one of last year’s jerseys and I might have to buy one of this year’s as well. But it wasn’t just the jerseys that were awesome, the whole night was great. There were Haudenosaunee dancers who performed twice, a special pregame smudging ceremony featuring Albany captain Brett Manney and Rock alternate captain Brad Kri, and a halftime game featuring men’s and women’s players from Six Nations. The ribbon banner read “Toronto lacrosse” written in Mohawk (apologies if that’s the wrong language), and even the goal announcements on the video board were written in both English and Mohawk. This is something we need more of in the NLL. I know other teams have done this kind of thing as well; Albany had their own Indigenous Heritage Night last weekend, Saskatchewan does a pregame ceremony (at every game, I believe) that involves both head coaches, and a number of teams do land acknowledgements as well. Heading in the right direction.
Toronto acquires Greg Downing
It appears that (a) Mitch de Snoo will be out longer than expected, (b) Chris Corbeil will not be available anytime soon, or (c) both. It’s not like the Rock are in deep trouble defensively anyway, but adding a veteran who’s been described as an underrated defender for years will not hurt at all.
Awesome… and not
Yes, they lost the game, but Doug Jamieson was excellent in the FireWolves net and overall, Albany’s defense made things very difficult for the Rock. Tom Schreiber and Corey Small only scored once each, which implies that they didn’t get many good shots from the outside and had to rely more on getting closer to the net, which is where Stephen Keogh (4G 3A) excels. The Rock have scored 14+ goals six times in their 15 games this season, so for a 2-8 team to keep them to 12 goals (and to keep Schreiber, Small, and Dan Dawson to a total of two) is not bad at all.
However, the Rock were able to pepper Jamieson with 62 shots on goal. Kudos to Jamieson, who had to make 50 saves in a losing cause for the third time this season. Maybe a lot of those shots were from straight ahead where he could see them or from terrible angles, but having your defense allow 60+ shots is not generally part of the typical recipe for a win.
This week, I got nothing.