PLL Chatter

The PLL made its first and only Canadian stop on the tour this past weekend in Hamilton. I was a little surprised they chose Hamilton over Toronto, but it was probably way cheaper to rent Tim Horton’s Field than BMO Field, the home of the Argonauts and Toronto FC and former home of the MLL’s Toronto Nationals, which would be the logical place in Toronto to host such an event. And while choosing the Hammer over the Big Smoke was surprising, it was a welcome surprise for me since Tim Horton’s field is maybe 20 minutes from my house.

As I’ve said before, I’m not a field lacrosse guy. I’ve watched some games online but I can count on one hand the number of field games I’d been to before this weekend: the first-ever Toronto Nationals game, and three or four Hamilton Nationals games. As a result, I can’t give much insight on the differences between the PLL and the MLL. The field was noticeably shorter which did speed up the game, but I don’t know enough to have much to say on anything else. I have two comments on field lacrosse players which I’m sure I’ve made before:

  • You know how you see the occasional box player switch hands, i.e. a righty flipping the stick over and shooting as a lefty? It’s rare but you see it now and again. Box players tend to do the “twister” far more often, i.e. a righty shooting as a lefty without changing his hand positions. Field players switch hands all the time, sometimes multiple times in the same possession. It makes so much sense that players would cultivate that skill. I’m sure there are reasons why box players do it so rarely but I can’t fathom what they are. Can you imagine baseball if there were about three switch hitters in the whole league?
  • Field goalies: holy crap. Take a box goalie, take away his padding and make the net he’s protecting bigger, and you have a field goalie. Because of the lack of padding, field goalies don’t want the ball to hit them like box goalies do, so they have to be lightning-fast with the stick to make saves. All the goalies made saves that I thought they had no earthly business making.

Since my knowledge of the field game isn’t sufficient to write about the games themselves, I’ll write about the overall experience and various random musings.

Chaos

Up until this weekend, I still hadn’t figured out whether the PLL’s idea of having a tour format over location-based teams is a good one or not. The fact that it’s tour based does mean that fans in Hamilton saw (or had the opportunity to see) every PLL team last weekend, and thus every player, which is a very good thing. It also means that more than six locations would get to see games; in fact, fourteen different cities have gotten or will be getting PLL games. A lot of lacrosse people talk about growing the game, so kudos to Paul Rabil and the rest of the PLL brass for actually doing it.

On the other hand, the fact that there was no Hamilton or Toronto team for me to choose means I had no particular rooting interest. But I watch NLL games all the time for which I have no rooting interest, so NBD. On reflection, I think the only thing I don’t like about the tour format is that I’m just not used to it. Unless they’re going to create this brand new league with a dozen or more teams scattered in cities across the country (which would be very risky), the tour format makes total sense.

In the first game on Saturday, I liked the helmets and jerseys the Chaos were wearing, plus watching Myles Jones play was awesome so I quickly became a Chaos fan. But I’m also a fan of Tom Schreiber, which made me want to root for the Archers so I was torn. In the second game, I liked the Chrome logo and helmets, but the Atlas jerseys were nicer so that was tough as well. In Sunday’s game, the Redwoods jerseys weren’t bad and both teams had green helmets, but both the Whipsnakes name and sharp red jerseys are very cool so I picked them. So the two games where I had trouble picking a team to root for ended up being very close, while the one where there was a clear winner also had a clear winner.

There was a “fan interaction” area down at one end of the stadium, but I arrived late on Saturday so I didn’t have time to walk around, and I came in a different gate on Sunday so I never got down to that end. There were also a few merch trailers and booths around selling t-shirts, jerseys, hats, and the like. Not particularly cheap – t-shirts were $40 – but I saw a lot of people in the crowd who had bought some.

On Sunday, I sat next to a man and his son from Grand Island, NY. They were both Bandits fans, and the son actually plays for the Jr. Bandits. The dad (whose name I didn’t get, so I’m going to have to just keep calling him “the guy”) also plays summer box with some Bandits players. He had played field lacrosse in the past (as he put it while patting his belly, “a bunch of beers and wings ago”) with and against Greg Gurenlian, Kyle Harrison, and others, so he had some good insights on the game. He wondered about the wisdom of getting near “Rock country” wearing Bandits hats, but I said that’s rarely a problem and that I’d worn my Rock jersey to games in Buffalo many times without incident. He said Bandits fans generally have a friendly rivalry with Rock fans, not so much with Knighthawks fans. “We hate those guys. We own them now, but we’ll still hate ’em.”

We were sitting right in the front row behind the Redwoods bench, and he called out to Gurenlian a couple of times and even got responses. Greg won a faceoff and went straight to the net but didn’t shoot. The guy called out to him asking why he didn’t take the shot, and Greg turned and said he didn’t have a shot. Another time he did shoot but missed the net. Later Greg did get a shot on goal after a face-off, but the goalie stopped it. This time when the guy called to congratulate him on getting the shot, Greg turned around, smiled, and said “That one was on goal! That guy [the goalie] is just a jerk.”

I’ve heard lots of NLL players referred to as “a beast”. Greg Gurenlian’s nickname is “beast” and it fits him better than any NLL player. The man is built like a truck – and not like your Ford F-150 or Dodge Ram pickups, I’m talking one of those big dump trucks with ten-foot tires. I watched him practicing face-offs near the bench and the muscle definition in his arms was unbelievable. I didn’t get to see Scotty Rogers play on Saturday (he’s been injured most of the season) but I’ve seen videos of him and he’s also massive.

Myles Jones is pretty damned big as well and as I tweeted during the game, I really hope he plays in the NLL this coming season because he was amazing to watch. When you watch some players, a single word comes to mind. For Josh Sanderson, it was “vision”. For Lyle Thompson, it’s “dynamic”. For Myles Jones, that word for me is “power”.

Redwoods (left) and Whipsnakes (right)

Connor Farrell is the face-off guy for the Chrome. He’s not built quite like Gurenlian, but he’s a pretty big dude. With that, his beard, and his long flowing blond locks, he’s known as Thor. Many players wear eye black but his was basically a big black triangle under each eye covering most of his face. Gurenlian’s eye black was also significantly more than just rectangles under his eyes. They both looked like they’d fit right in as part of Marilyn Manson’s band.

At one point, I could see Joel White giving some tips to Farrell. I couldn’t hear any of it but it looked like how to get around a guy setting a pick on you – “hold your stick like this, take a step that way, then spin around and go the other way”. Awesome to see the seasoned vet passing on his wisdom to the younger players.

The announcer had the perfect FM radio voice and announced most goals the same way: “And that’s a goal for the Atlas!” followed shortly after by the name of the goal-scorer. He said things almost exactly the same way on every goal, and I wondered if it was actually a recording rather than someone talking live. But some of the goal announcements were different and a few referenced something that just happened so it couldn’t have been a recording. One odd announcement he made numerous times was when announcing a save: “A big save in goal by <goalie name>” – of course it was “in goal”, where else would you make a save?

As I said, I’ve seen only a handful of field lacrosse games, but when the Hamilton Nationals were here, I started to appreciate the outdoor game a lot more, and enjoyed watching the intricacies of the game. Because it’s slower than box, it’s sometimes easier to see the strategies playing out. Because of the smaller field, the PLL version of the field game had the best of both worlds: the finesse and strategy of field lacrosse with (almost) the speed of box. On the whole, I still prefer box but the PLL was exciting to watch. It sounds like Paul and the boys have had a successful debut season, and I intend on being in attendance if the league returns to Hamilton, or Toronto, or Buffalo, next summer.

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2019 Expansion draft

I imagine the last few weeks have been a nightmare for NLL GMs, and the next couple won’t be much better. The second expansion draft in two years is coming up in a couple of weeks so each GM had to go through their roster and choose eleven players to protect, knowing they could lose anyone not on that list. Then you need to call more than half of your players and tell them they’re not protected. Then you will lose two of them and need to adjust your team afterwards. Luckily they have five months or so before the season starts to do that. Just like last year’s draft, some GMs will have some big holes to fill after the draft, others might barely notice the difference.

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The Raptors and the Rock, part II

Yesterday I talked about the Raptors winning the NBA Championship and how the reaction of the City of Toronto (and much of Canada, actually) made me sad for the state of the NLL. It’s not because the NLL isn’t at the same level of popularity as the NBA, it’s because I’m not confident it’ll ever get there.

I tried to imagine how the NLL can go from what we have now to a league where people who don’t follow lacrosse and don’t know anything about the game are caught up in the hype of a Championship and start watching. Lots of changes are necessary but first and foremost, it would require that many if not all games (and definitely all playoff games) are available on network TV, not through some paid streaming service. I had no problems with BR Live this past season (though I know others did) and I thought 40 bucks to watch every game all season was a pretty good deal. But I’m a die-hard who is willing to pay to watch lacrosse games. The vast majority of people are not. We’re just not going to gain new fans by making them pay to watch.

Of course the league is constantly trying to get on TV but let’s face it: despite the fact that the NLL has been around for thirty years and has been on TV in the past, it’s still unproven and the TV execs don’t have the confidence that televising lacrosse will make them money. Perhaps the league needs to pay them for a year or two to build up the audience. They don’t need to get NBA-type viewing numbers but if the numbers are good enough, then maybe the networks will start paying the league rather than the other way around.

That said, the Toronto Rock did pay for their games to be televised on Sportsnet in Canada for several years. They don’t do that anymore. I don’t know the reasoning behind why they stopped, but I think it’s fair to say that if televising the game drove up attendance (at least enough to cover the cost of TV), they’d still be paying for it. Clearly it didn’t.

Bob Watson hoists the Champions Cup

The PLL made its debut a couple of weeks ago and some of their games are televised on NBC. I haven’t seen any actual numbers but the word is that they’re pretty good. If the PLL can introduce enough people to field lacrosse and get decent numbers, maybe the Rabil boys can help a brother out and start pushing NBC to talk to Nick Sakiewicz about the NLL.

A lot of lacrosse fans have been playing and watching their whole lives so interest in lacrosse has just always been there. Much of the rest of the lacrosse world, myself included, were introduced later and fell in love with the sport. But many people watch and just aren’t interested. The old adage about bringing someone to a lacrosse game and they’ll be a fan for life just isn’t true in general. We dream about getting the NLL on TV and millions of people watching and wondering why nobody told them about this amazing sport and suddenly the players are full-time lacrosse players making big bucks. Yes, that’s the goal but it’s been the goal for a couple of decades and I’m not sure we’re any closer.

The NBA is huge in terms of popularity. Think of the celebrities you routinely see attending NBA games. Drake is always behind the bench in Toronto. Jack Nicholson has been going to Lakers games for many years. During the finals we saw President Obama, Beyonce and Jay-Z, various NFL players, golfers, hockey players, and lots of former NBA players. It’s likely that these people were given free tickets but it’s also not unlikely that many of them went looking for the tickets. They didn’t have the league or hosting team contact them and ask if they wanted tickets, or pay them to attend.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. After originally being sad, I’ve regained my optimism about the NLL. The fact that celebrities are not spotted at NLL games should not be a reason for pessimism. There are many levels of success between where the NLL is now and the NBA. We may not be able to #GrowTheGame to the same level as the NBA, NHL, or NFL, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be more popular than it is, and it’s certainly no reason to stop trying.

The Raptors and the Rock

The 2018-19 NBA season ended this past Thursday with my hometown Toronto Raptors winning their first-ever NBA Championship. I will admit that I’m mostly a fairweather NBA fan. I don’t watch very many games, but I keep an eye on the Raptors, and have even made my way to the ACC for a few games. I generally jump on the Raptors bandwagon when they hit the playoffs, and this year is no exception.

I remember watching Vince Carter miss the buzzer-beater in game seven of the Conference semi-finals against Philadelphia in 2001 so I understand the multi-level significance of Kawhi Leonard making the buzzer-beater in game seven of the Conference semi-finals against Philadelphia this year.

So congratulations to the Raptors. I’m thrilled that they were able to win it all, and I’m happy for my city. But during the Finals I tried to relate the whole Finals experience to the NLL and it kind of made me sad.

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Various musings lacking statistical correlation

I guess it’s been a while since I’ve written anything here. I’ve been writing weekly for IL Indoor and one article for Lacrosse Flash, podcasting every week, and active on twitter, so I guess my thoughts have been dispersed enough in other venues that I didn’t think to write about them here. That ends now.

Congrats

First off, congratulations to the 2019 NLL Champion Calgary Roughnecks. Their season didn’t start they way they wanted it to, with Curtis Dickson and Wes Berg holding out and Jesse King injuring his knee during the preseason. But Dane Dobbie grabbed the team by the lapels and said “Let’s go out and win this f**king thing”, or words to that effect. A month later they had Dickson back and while Berg never returned at all (and likely never will; any bargaining power he might have had vanished as soon as Duch’s shot hit the back of the net), King was able to return for the last two games of the regular season, just as the team was peaking.

Getting hot heading into the playoffs is never a bad thing, and that momentum led the Roughnecks all the way to the title. They weren’t most people’s favourites to win the west, and in fact they finished third. But at the same time, given the strength of the team and particularly Dobbie and Christian Del Bianco, nobody’s really surprised.

Curtis Dickson

I’m sure it doesn’t mean much but I offer my congratulations to the Bandits as well on their amazing season. After missing the playoffs two straight years, the Bandits were many people’s favourites to win the East, myself included. Obviously the biggest addition was Matt Vinc, who had an outstanding season and will probably win his eleventy millionth Goalie of the Year award, but the additions of Corey Small, the emergence of Thomas Hoggarth as a serious scoring threat, and a crop of amazing rookies in Ian MacKay, Chris Cloutier, and Matt Gilray were also instrumental in the Bandits’ success.

MVP

Until a couple of years ago, I wasn’t a big fan of Dane Dobbie. There was no question that he was a great lacrosse player, but I thought he was a bit of a hothead and a little too arrogant for my taste. Not really a team guy.

DEAD. WRONG.

After paying a little more attention, I started to see some of the unselfish plays he would make and it became obvious that his main goal was not to pad his numbers but to help his team win. I had always appreciated the heart and effort he gave game in and game out. The celebrations that I interpreted as “I scored another goal, I’m so awesome” started to look more like “we scored another goal”. Imagine my surprise when I realized I was a Dobbie fan.

Then came the 2019 season. As good as Dobbie was before, he got better. He managed to tack on an extra 25 points to his best season total. He played with more heart and intensity and carried the Roughnecks through their challenges in the early part of the season. And it wasn’t just until Curtis Dickson returned; Dobbie kept up that intensity the rest of the season and throughout the playoffs. And if that wasn’t enough, in a post-Championship interview, the Finals MVP basically deflected all the credit to his teammates and coaches. Yes, he plays with passion but he’s clearly not a hothead, not arrogant in the least, and there’s no bigger team guy in the NLL. Congratulations to Dane Dobbie on an MVP-worthy season and post-season, and a Championship.

Awards

This afternoon, the NLL announced the nominees for the annual awards. Not a lot of surprises but I found it interesting that some categories are near or perfect clones of last year while others are entirely different. None of the players nominated for MVP in 2018 (Matthews, Church, Crowley) were nominated in 2019. Similarly, none of last year’s Les Bartley award nominees were nominated this year. On the other hand, the Transition Player of the Year list contains two players (Zach Currier and Challen Rogers) who were nominated last year, which means that at least one of the two will lose it two years in a row. Defender of the Year also has two (Graeme Hossack and Kyle Rubisch – Hossack won last year), and the third is Steve Priolo who’s been nominated in five of the last six years. The 2019 Goaltender of the Year nominees are Vinc, Del Bianco, and Ward: exactly the same as last year.

I’ve worked with two of the three nominees for the Tom Borrelli award: Bob Chavez is my editor at IL Indoor and has been amazingly supportive of my lacrosse writing for eight years. I wrote an article for Tyson Geick’s Lacrosse Flash website this past season, and may be doing more there in the future. They are both deserving but since Chavez has won it before, my vote (though I don’t have one) would go to Tyson. I know very little about Barstool Jordie but I find it difficult to believe that his impact as a member of the NLL media was as big as Teddy Jenner, Jake Elliott, Evan Schemenauer, Stephen Stamp, Pat Gregoire, and others. I’m not a fan of Barstool Sports in general, so I’m pretty sure I saw “Barstool” in his name and thought “Oh, those guys” and ignored him throughout the season. Maybe he’s done an excellent job and I’ve just missed it all.

Expansion

The second expansion draft in as many years is a little over a month away, and I’m excited about it. I’m hoping that they do it in one of two ways: either say in advance “Here are the players that the two GMs decided to choose” or conduct an actual live draft. Last year it seemed that they actually did the former but announced it as if it were the latter. It was obvious that the picks had been made in advance, and the whole thing was over in about ten minutes. It doesn’t need to be a whole three-hour event with Stephen Stamp and Andy McNamara doing analysis after each and every pick, though I’m sure those guys would be happy to do it, but don’t just zip through the picks like a new episode of Game of Thrones is about to start.

Last year, I posted an article where I predicted who would be chosen from each team. However I did that before the teams announced who they were protecting, so my guesses were mainly wrong. This year, I’ll wait until the protected lists are out.

Game report: Toronto @ Buffalo, East division finals

As we have done many times in the past, my son and I travelled down the QEW to Buffalo to watch the Rock and Bandits duke it out. Of course, this wasn’t just any game, this was the Eastern Division finals, where the two best teams in the East (“that’s arguable” say the Swarm fans) battled for the right to host the Roughnecks in this year’s NLL Championship series. The Bandits were the clear favourite, being the #1 seed and all, but the Rock had won a number of games this season that they probably shouldn’t have, and the Bandits did take them seriously.

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2019 NLL Awards

This is the time when we look back over the season and pick the players who were the best of 2019. It’s also fun to see how close my random guesses predictions from the beginning of the season were. Every year, I pick a player for each team who I think will have an exceptional year, so let’s take a look at my “Look out for…” picks from the East and West previews as well.

MVP

Dane Dobbie (Photo credit: Greg Southam)Original pick: Tom Schreiber

  1. Dane Dobbie
  2. Matt Vinc
  3. Callum Crawford
  4. Mark Matthews
  5. Dan Dawson

I don’t always like picking the guy with the highest point total as the MVP. It seems too easy and since I’m known to be a stats guy, it looks like I just went with the big numbers and ignored everything else. But this year, Dane Dobbie epitomized “most valuable” in every way. Not only did he lead the league in points (and finished second in goals, assists, and power-play goals), but he blew away his previous career high by 25 points. Most importantly, he carried the Roughnecks at the beginning of the season when Curtis Dickson, Wes Berg, and Jesse King were all out.

Goaltender of the Year

Original pick: Dillon Ward

  1. Matt Vinc
  2. Mike Poulin
  3. Frank Scigliano
  4. Christian Del Bianco
  5. Dillon Ward

Vinc led the league in GAA and save percentage among starters. He kept his opponents to single-digits seven times – and three of those were five or fewer. But most importantly he turned the Bandits struggling defense from last year into the stingiest in the league. Of course, he didn’t do it by himself but his play and the confidence he inspires in the rest of the defenders was obviously a huge part of that transformation.

Transition Player of the Year

Original pick: Challen Rogers

  1. Challen Rogers
  2. Steve Priolo
  3. Kiel Matisz
  4. Zach Currier
  5. Tyler Pace

Rogers plays excellent defense, is almost always the first guy up the floor in transition, and took many shifts on offense. He played on the man-up and man-down, and when watching the Rock play, it seems that he’s just always on the floor. He does it all, does it all well, and always looks like he’s having fun while doing it.

Defensive Player of the Year

Original pick: Graeme Hossack

  1. Graeme Hossack
  2. Kyle Rubisch
  3. Brad Kri
  4. David Brock
  5. Mike Messenger

Hossack and Rubisch are both masters of the stick check. They don’t just make it difficult for offensive players to get to or even see the net, leaving them with a bad shot or no shot at all, though they’re great at that too. These guys prefer to simply strip them of the ball and toss it to one of their teammates in transition. It’s clean, it’s quick, it gives your team a chance to score, and if you watch these guys do it, you might think it’s easy. It’s not.

Rookie of the Year

Austin StaatsOriginal pick: Austin Staats

  1. Austin Staats
  2. Steph Charbonneau
  3. Kyle Killen
  4. Trevor Baptiste
  5. Ian MacKay

Before he got injured, Staats was on pace for 78 points which was 17 short of the rookie record (held by his big brother). Other rookies have scored more goals and picked up more loosies, but few have had the overall impact that Austin Staats had this season. His goal-scoring, energy, and obvious love for the game was the talk of the league all season. In a non-traditional lacrosse market, having a young, exciting, dynamic player like Staats had to be a huge help in trying to build their brand and fanbase. Hopefully he is fully recovered from his ACL surgery by next season because his career will be an amazing one to watch.

Unsung Hero

  1. Casey Jackson
  2. Matt Hossack
  3. Bryan Cole
  4. Greg Downing
  5. Keegan Bal

When you think of the Seals offense, you think Staats, Dawson, Billings, Buchanan, but Casey Jackson doesn’t jump to mind. But Jackson led the Seals in goals and after playing all of four games in his career before this season, fit in very nicely among the rookie phenom and veteran scorers.

Comeback Player of the Year

  1. Garrett Billings
  2. Jordan McBride
  3. Tyler Digby
  4. Dan Coates
  5. Cam Holding

Billings missed all of 2018 and only played four games in 2017. Between work commitments and injuries, it seemed that his NLL career might be over. But Billings matched the points total from his 2010 rookie season and looked a lot like the old Billings, which was likely a little scary for Seals opponents. He certainly scored some beautiful goals but as we’ve come to expect, in every game he played he had more assists than goals, sometimes many more.

Les Bartley Award

Original pick: Pat Coyle

  1. Patrick Merrill
  2. Matt Sawyer
  3. John Tavares/Rich Kilgour

As a GM, Merrill put together a great bunch of players. As a coach, he turned them into a great team. Of course having vets like Dawson, Billings, and Buchanan on his team really helped too, but clearly the Seals players bought (and dove) in early in the season and that teamwork was obvious all year.

GM of the Year

Original pick: Steve Dietrich

  1. Patrick Merrill
  2. Steve Dietrich
  3. John Arlotta

When you look at an expansion team’s roster, you usually hope that the team might be pretty good in a couple of years. The Seals looked very good from the beginning and didn’t disappoint. Even after the season started, Merrill wasn’t done. He brought in Paul Dawson to give the defense even more toughness and leadership. He took chances on Garrett Billings and Kyle Hartzell and they paid off. When he lost Austin Staats, he brought in Joe Walters. He put together a great mix of leaders who could still produce on the floor and a solid young group that can be the core of this team for years.

Final standings

East: My picks were Buffalo, Georgia, Toronto, New England, Rochester, Philadelphia. In that order. Nailed it.

West: My picks were Saskatchewan, Calgary, Colorado, San Diego, Vancouver. Move San Diego to second and I nailed the west too, but I really only got two right: first and last.

Look out for…

I got some of the above picks right, and missed on others. But of the eleven below, I’d say I nailed five (Duch, Buchanan, Staats, Digby, Lintner) and got four more pretty close. Only two were really wrong.

Calgary: Rhys Duch. Calling that a win. He didn’t get back into the 90’s in points, but then he wasn’t expected to be the guy on the Roughnecks like he was on the Stealth. He helped set up the guy (Dobbie) and the other guy (Dickson) and had a great year.

Colorado: Tim Edwards. 53.5% at the dot this year, fourth among face-off guys. Not a bad season at all.

San Diego: Kyle Buchanan. 67 points, 28 goals, a veteran presence and lots of hustle – exactly as expected from Buchanan.

Saskatchewan: Travis Cornwall. We all thought he was brought in to basically replace his brother Jeff on the transition but he played more of a defensive role for the Rush. As such, the numbers don’t tell us much but the fact that Cornwall played all 18 games for the first time in his career tells you what the Rush coaching staff thought of his play.

Vancouver: Colton and Zack Porter. More defenders so the numbers don’t tell you much but these guys were tough on opposing forwards. Not big guys (each is 5’8″) but tenacious. The Warriors players voted Zack as their rookie of the year.

Buffalo: Shawn Evans. 94 points, which is excellent for most but only very good for Evans. Like Duch, he had to get used to not being the guy on the Bandits offense but his presence helped make them one of the strongest in the league.

Georgia: Randy Staats. 96 points makes this the best year of his career, narrowly eclipsing his 95 in his rookie year.

New England: Tyler Digby. 72 points in 17 games, almost back to his 74 in 18 back in 2015. In fact, he had a higher points-per-game average so I’d call that a career year.

Philadelphia: Brett Hickey. Would have been a career year for Hickey, I’m sure, if he didn’t get injured after only three games.

Rochester: Pat Saunders. Only played four games.

Toronto: Dan Lintner. Played in all eighteen games and set career highs in goals, assists, points, loose balls, and CTOs.