I was away on a short vacation last weekend so I saw none of the games. I frequently comment on awesome or not awesome events that happened in games I didn’t watch, but for some reason I felt more uninformed this time so there was no Week 17 report. Apologies to those who depend on that every week. On the upside (?), this week’s article is twice as long as usual.
Karaline and #GoalsForAvery
By now, I’m sure you’ve heard about Swarm goalie Craig Wende and the heartbreaking story of how his daughter Avery was born several months premature and passed away just a week later. You’ve probably also heard about Karaline, the young Georgia Swarm fan who made this video pledging her support in Avery’s name. Karaline plays lacrosse and has pledged to donate $5 in Avery’s name for every point she scores this season to a local children’s hospital. This went viral among the NLL community, and I pledged to match her donation with a donation of my own to The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto. The Swarm is asking for matching donations to local childrens’ hospitals so that this initiative can reach and help as many people as possible all across North America. I salute Karaline for taking this step and encouraging others to do the same.
There’s no way to track the number of people who will donate so we may never know how much money this will raise or how many families it will help. There are very few better causes to support than sick children and their families, so if you’re able, I encourage you to get involved (more information is here on the Swarm web site). Whether it’s donating based on Karaline’s points, or based on someone else’s stats (your own, your child’s, your favourite NLL player’s), or a one-time donation to your local kids hospital, every dollar helps.
A couple of teams have had an Indigenous Heritage night (Toronto, Albany) recently. Saskatchewan has a ceremony before each game, Rochester used to have Smoke Dancers before each game (not sure if they still do), and Halifax’s entire team name and identity is representative of indigenous culture and the history of the game. I’m sure there are other teams that I haven’t listed here that celebrate indigenous culture as well. But given the origins of this sport, I think this needs to be a thing that every NLL team does.
This past weekend, San Diego did a Latin Heritage Night. This is likely the first Latin Heritage night in NLL history, but considering how close San Diego is to Mexico (you could throw a lacrosse ball from downtown San Diego and hit Mexico. Well, Brodie Merrill could, anyway), it makes sense and I think it’s awesome that the team is celebrating that part of the city’s heritage.
It’s been a tale of two seasons for the Georgia Swarm. Given their 0-7 start, you might think (a) the Swarm have no chance of making the playoffs and (b) even if they do, they’ll be easy to beat. You’d be wrong on both counts. Make no mistake, it’s an uphill battle for the Swarm to get back in the playoff hunt, and they can’t just win out, they have to hope for other game results to fall the right way. But they could still finish above .500 and ahead of the Thunderbirds and Wings. And given how they’ve played over the last seven games, their seven-game losing streak seems like a very long time ago.
You could argue that none of the teams they’ve beaten this season currently have a record above .500, and that’s a reasonable point. But they kept Jeff Teat to 7 points in one game and only two in another, and on Sunday they kept the second-highest scoring team in the league to seven goals. I wouldn’t (currently) put them on the same tier as the Rock or Bandits, but if they make the playoffs with the momentum they have now, they have as good a shot as anyone.
Also awesome, as I mentioned a few weeks ago, are the crowds in Georgia. Friday night had over 9700 people at the Swarm game, the highest this season, fifth highest in team history, and only 150 short of the highest attendance since the Swarm moved south.
I don’t think anyone saw that coming. A battle between the 11-3 Bandits and the 11-4 Rock was supposed to be physical (yup), competitive (not really), and close (nope). The Rock took a lead less than a minute in, then scored two shorthanded goals on the same penalty in the next two minutes, and I’m sure many Rock fans like myself thought “OK good start, but it’s Matt Vinc and the Bandits, so let’s not get too overconfident here. They can easily come back”. I kept that feeling for a lot of the game, actually, knowing what Dhane Smith and Josh Byrne and that group can do. By the middle of the third quarter, the Rock had an eight-goal lead and I began to relax. Whether they were facing the greatest goaltender in NLL history or a rookie (technically not a rookie but effectively) with three minutes of NLL playing time in his career before this game, the Rock didn’t care, they could almost score at will. The Bandits offense just couldn’t get anything going at all. When their passing plays weren’t being either broken up or prevented entirely by the outstanding Rock defense, Nick Rose was there to shut the door. A lot of Bandits shots missed the net entirely, which I attributed to the shooters trying to pick corners while (a) shooting through screens or around defenders or from bad angles and (b) getting more and more frustrated as the game went on. The Rock let their foot off the pedal a little bit in the fourth quarter, but not enough to let the Bandits back into the game. They ripped first place in the East away from the Bandits in convincing fashion.
Also awesome: attendance of 13,127. Not only the highest attendance since the move to Hamilton (by over 2,000), but the highest at any Rock home game since they beat the Edmonton Rush on April 7, 2012. Almost eleven years.
Yes, I’m listing a team that lost by 11 goals in the “awesome” column, and I’ll tell you why. Given their offense, the Bandits were expected to be one of the top-scoring teams in the league. With only a few games left, they are 6th in the league. Not bad, but not where we thought they’d be. Of course, injuries haven’t helped that – Nanticoke has missed four games and is still out, McCulley and Byrne each missed three, and Cloutier missed nine. I think it was more of a contract issue but Chase Fraser has only played in one game this year. So given all of those missed games, maybe 6th place is actually pretty good. But even with all of those missed games, they are still in second place in the east with an impressive 11-4 record.
One of the hallmarks of most Championship teams is “finding ways to win”, and the Bandits have done that. They scored 18 goals in consecutive games early in the season, and won a few others scoring 16 and 13 goals. But since the beginning of March, they have not scored more than 10 goals in any game, yet they are 3-2 in those games. They only scored 7 in one game and won it. When their offense is clicking, they can outscore anyone. But even when it’s not, their transition can step up and score a bunch (Ian MacKay = monster) and a big mean defense in front of Matt freaking Vinc means opposing scorers have their work cut out for them.
Yes, they had a lousy game on Saturday but it happens to every team now and then. Do you expect the same result when they face the Rock again in three weeks? I certainly don’t. The Bandits are still a team that nobody wants to face in the playoffs.
Don’t get me wrong, penalty shots are awesome. The not awesome part is this sentence from NLL Rule 43 describing penalty shots: “Any dressed player on the offended team may take the penalty shot.” Why? The idea of the penalty shot is to “restore a scoring opportunity which was lost as a result of a foul being committed by the offending team” (another quote from the rule book). In the Las Vegas/Colorado game on Saturday, Reid Reinholdt was on a breakaway and a defender tripped him from behind, taking away the scoring opportunity. Logically, it makes sense for Reinholdt to be given a “replacement” scoring opportunity since his was taken away. Why would it make sense for Zack Greer to be given that opportunity instead?
My guess is that it’s not just to restore the scoring opportunity, it’s more of a deterrent and a little bit punitive as well. I’d guess that most breakaways happen to either (a) transition players or (b) Dane Dobbie coming off the bench. There are a lot of transition players in the NLL who are great scorers but they’re generally not Jeff Teat or Tom Schreiber. As a defender, you might see a transition player with a breakaway and decide to take him down from behind. Hopefully (for you), nothing’s called and you prevented a scoring opportunity. But in the worst case, the transition player gets a penalty shot, which is just a “controlled” breakaway. They already had that anyway, so nothing’s really changed. So why not pull him down from behind? But if the worst case scenario is that their best player gets a penalty shot instead of the guy you took down, you might think twice about taking him down in the first place, and thus the rule has served its purpose. Maybe this isn’t so “not awesome” after all.
Note: this last entry ended up as a sort of stream-of-consciousness thing, as I honestly began writing it thinking “what a dumb rule” and then convinced myself that it wasn’t so dumb after all. I could have rewritten it as “those of you who aren’t as enlightened as myself might think this is a dumb rule, but it’s not and here’s why”, but that would be disingenuous and I thought the discovery process was interesting so I decided to leave it.
Fans who throw stuff on the playing floor
At the end of the Bandits/Rock game, there were several fights. During one of them, a beer can (not an empty one) was thrown onto the playing floor near the fight. I think there might even have been a second one thrown as well. I doubt it’s possible at this point to find out who threw them, but whoever did should be tossed from the building and never allowed inside an NLL arena again. There’s no place for that kind of poor sportsmanship in any sport.