We’re almost there… There are only six games left in the 2023 NLL season, and some playoff decisions have yet to be made. Rochester clinched their spot this past weekend, while the Wings were eliminated. The Bandits locked up first in the East while the Seals did the same in the West. Halifax and Georgia are still fighting for the last spot, and how awesome is it that they play each other on the last day of the season to decide it?
Toronto @ Buffalo
As expected, this was a much closer game than their previous meeting three weeks ago. Tehoka Nanticoke returned for the Bandits, which was huge. Nanticoke obviously scores some pretty amazing goals, but in general he isn’t putting up Dhane Smith-like numbers. However he doesn’t need to; he’s very good at clearing space in front of the net, which opens things up for guys like Smith and Byrne. He makes some goals possible even if he’s not getting credited with an assist on the play. Chase Fraser was there for only his third game of the season, and made his presence felt as well with three goals, including one unbelievable between-the-legs shot. Dan Dawson was missing from the Rock, though that was offset by the return of Stephen Keogh after missing a game.
This game had a defensive first half, with only six goals scored. On the other hand, the second half had six goals scored in the first eight minutes. The fifth of those six goals gave Buffalo their first lead, but Toronto was able to tie it again 30 seconds later. Over the next fifteen minutes, the Rock took three different one-goal leads only to have the Bandits tie it up again. Eventually Buffalo took the lead, scored one insurance goal (which turned out to be the game-winner), and then allowed a single Rock goal to make it a one goal game with under four minutes to play. The Rock had possession for the last 40 seconds or so and had at least four great scoring opportunities but Matt Vinc came up huge. Both goalies played very well, and I thought Rose outplayed Vinc for the most part, but Vinc was exceptional in the last 40 seconds. The two had almost identical save percentages, 81.7% for Rose and 81.5% for Vinc. Both defenses were solid with eight blocked shots each. It was a physical game with a number of roughing and cross-checking penalties but no actual fights.
We expected a great game from these two teams, and that’s exactly what we got. The Bandits clinched first in the East, while the Rock will finish second. One of them will host Rochester in the first round and the other will host either Halifax or Georgia.
Saskatchewan-born goalie gets his first career start and first career win for the Rush in Saskatoon. You couldn’t write a better script than that. Hruska became the first Saskatchewan-born goalie to start a game in the NLL, and didn’t disappoint, playing a great game in front of friends, family, and the Rush faithful. Not only did he win the game, but beat the defending champs in overtime. No, the game didn’t mean anything for the Rush in the standings, but try telling Hruska, the Rush organization, and every lacrosse player in or from Saskatchewan that it didn’t mean anything. You’d be wrong.
In case you need another reason to smile today, watch this video of Hruska’s Rush teammates dumping bottles of water on him as a celebration. It’s obvious that they know how big a deal this is for him. The level of excitement they are all showing makes it truly heartwarming. They are not just happy for Hruska, they are thrilled.
Christian Del Bianco’s record
This is a bit weird to list under “Not awesome”. CDB has had an amazing season, and is being talked about as an MVP candidate, which I fully support. He set a record this year with 1080:19 minutes played, which is every second of every Roughnecks game except one, where Adam Bland came in for 14 seconds. This is impressive too and it’s great that Del Bianco is such a workhorse, so what’s not awesome about it? It does very little for Adam Bland’s development as a goalie. Yes, CDB is only 25 and could easily have another decade or more as a starter, but the team still needs to think about Bland’s progress. Maybe he gets a lot of work during practices but nothing matches actual game play.
It makes sense to think about the team first, and Del Bianco is having an incredible season, so I’m not suggesting the Roughnecks should have started Bland in any games. Obviously Del Bianco didn’t play badly enough in any games to pull him. But in March and April, the Roughnecks won games by 5 (twice), 6, 7, and 8 goals. Could they not have put Bland in for even a few minutes near the end of some of those games? Curt Malawsky is one of the best coaches in the league and has been for a decade, so I feel weird criticizing his decisions, but I really don’t think they’ve done Bland any favours by not playing him at all.
if bland is that good and i did not realize that cbd is so young, blockbuster trades. vancouver, ny and pclc might be interested. ward is getting up there in years and so is vinc.