2023 NLL Playoffs and Awards

I spent most of the last 3 weeks on vacation in Italy, and it was fabulous. Of course, you’re not here for details on my trip so let’s get into what I missed: a couple of rounds of playoff action, as well as the announcement of the annual NLL awards nominees. The winners of those awards have been announced this week as well, so I’ll touch on those and how I screwed up my vote on one of them.

I’ve seen none of the playoff games so far, since they all took place starting at 1am Central European Time at the earliest. So other than a few video highlights here and there, all of my comments below are based solely on the game summaries and various comments on the games that I read on twitter. I’m going full boxscore cowboy this week.


The first round of the NLL playoffs used to be called the “Division semi-finals” but this year the league started calling it the “quarter-finals”. There were a couple of surprises in that round, though nothing jaw-dropping. First off, I’m not sure anyone saw a 20-8 blowout coming. Then again, Dhane Smith and Josh Byrne picking up 10 and 9 points respectively is no surprise, nor is Matt Vinc only allowing 8 goals, so maybe we should have seen it coming.

The other surprise was the Mammoth taking out the division-leading Seals, but then again (a) the Mammoth are the defending champs, and (b) they did this last year as well: a very important piece is missing (Joey Cupido, last year it was Ryan Lee) but the team rallied anyway. Cupido missed most of the season while Lee was only out for the end of last year, but the depth of the team is such that they are able to deal with that loss.

In 18 regular season games this year, Nick Rose only allowed 11 goals five times, so it was a bit surprising to see the Thunderbirds score that many against him. Luckily for the Rock, the offense peppered Warren Hill with 50 shots and was able to outscore the Thunderbirds. I didn’t see the game but it appears that the game was a little closer than the score might indicate.

Kudos to Panther City on their first-ever playoff game. It looks like they gave the Roughnecks a good fight for 45 minutes but just couldn’t keep up the pace. Or they couldn’t keep up with Pace. Or something. Christian Del Bianco and Tyler Pace both dominated the fourth quarter at opposite ends of the floor, and gave the Roughnecks what looked like a character win.

Division finals

I was really looking forward to a Bandits/Rock eastern final, and that’s what we had. Actually, I was looking forward to the powerhouse Rock against the powerhouse Bandits, but that’s not what we had. When one team wins the two games 31-11, one of them is not a powerhouse. Yes, the Rock were without their top scorer Tom Schreiber for one of those games, but not for the other, and they scored fewer goals in the game he played in than the one he missed. Matt Vinc had a very good regular season, but Rose’s was better. But in this series, Vinc was lights-freaking-out. A 6.73 GAA and an 86.7% save percentage? After 7.81 / 86.3% in the quarter-finals? Those are otherworldly numbers. With that in goal, you don’t need a ton of points from Smith, Cloutier, and Byrne in order to win, but they got them anyway.

Matt Vinc

After losing to the Roughnecks in 2019 and the Mammoth last year, the Bandits were driven to get back to the finals and finish the job they just haven’t been able to finish, and there was clearly no way in hell they were going to let the hated Rock get in the way of that.

Meanwhile out west, the Mammoth and Roughnecks had a series for the ages, featuring two one-goal games and one that would have been if not for an insurance goal with 15 seconds left. Ward/Del Bianco was every bit the amazing goaltending matchup we all hoped for, and both teams got production from all over their lineups. From the sounds of the comments online, this was a very exciting series and I might be even more sorry that I missed this one than the Rock/Bandits one.


The annual award winners have now been announced and for the second year, I had an official vote for these awards. This is a very big deal for me and it’s something I don’t take lightly. But for one of the awards, I blew it big time.

Only three of the people I voted for actually won the award: Christian Del Bianco for MVP, Zach Currier for Transition, and Jonathan Donville for Rookie. I voted for Nick Rose for Goaltender, Graeme Hossack for Defender, Tracey Kelusky for the Les Bartley Award, Patrick Merrill for GM, and Kyle Buchanan for Sportsmanship. Of course the actual winners of those awards are all deserving and I certainly cannot say the voters (collectively) got any of them wrong. In fact, the actual winner of each award was in my top five in every case… except one.

Where I blew it was the Les Bartley Award. I thought Tracey Kelusky did an excellent job with his team, expanding on their impressive debut season to get PCLC into the playoffs in only their second season. Kelusky was the runner-up for the award so it’s not like I was alone in those thoughts. My mistake was somehow not including Curt Malawsky on my ballot at all. This was simply an oversight, it’s not as though I didn’t think he was worthy. Malawsky lost superstar offensive players in consecutive seasons and made no blockbuster trades to replace them, and had the third-youngest team in the league. Yet his teams made the playoffs in both seasons, setting a franchise record for wins this past year – and that’s a twenty-year-old franchise with a lot of great seasons. Yes, he had the Goalie of the Year (and MVP) and Transition Player of the Year on his team, but there were two dozen other players who didn’t win awards. He got the best out of all of them. I don’t know how I missed him, so my apologies to Curt Malawsky for that oversight, and congratulations on his very deserving award.

The finals begin (and potentially end) this weekend, with the Bandits hosting the Mammoth Saturday night, and then the Mammoth hosting a rare Monday afternoon game. If there’s a split, game three is next Saturday night back in Buffalo. The Bandits have been strong in every facet of the game all season long. The Mammoth have been less consistent but have been good enough to win more often than not, and that’s certainly been true in the playoffs so far as well. Thus it’s easy to say the Bandits are the favourites to win, but that was pretty much true last year when the Mammoth prevailed. Two comments about the Mammoth:

  1. Never count out a team with Dillon Ward in net
  2. The Mammoth may not be the powerhouse team that the Bandits are, but they have the depth to compete with anyone.

Having said all that, I think this is the Bandits’ year. They steamrolled over both the Knighthawks and Rock and show no signs of stopping. Josh Byrne is listed as questionable for game one, but I imagine that unless body parts are falling off the man, he will play. The Mammoth will give them a fight, no question, but my prediction is Bandits in two.


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