Pre-season game report: Mammoth 11 @ Rock 13

I was not able to attend the first Rock pre-season game at the TRAC this year, but I did manage to make the second on Saturday night. I’ve seen a number of pre-season games in the last few years, and in most of them, you see a lot of players in one half but not the other as the coaches shuffle the lineup in order to see as many guys out there as they can. This one was odd because the Mammoth did that but the Rock did not. Colorado listed 29 runners and three goalies and all but about two or three of them played. The Rock listed 25 runners and two goalies but they had about six guys that didn’t play.

For the Mammoth, neither Dan Coates nor Stephen Keogh played at all. I saw Keogh in the building (can’t miss that ‘stache) but I wouldn’t know Coates if I fell over him so I don’t know if he was there or not. I tried to keep track of who played in which half and I also have Jeremy Bosher not playing at all but I may have just missed him. Goalie Brandon Humphrey was there during the warmup but did not play. I counted about nine guys that played only the first half, including Benesch, Noble, Self, Carnegie, Hope, and Ruest. A few guys only played the second half: Sullivan, Triolo, Wardle, Perroni, Kelly, Laprade, Steven Lee, Armstrong, and Fairall. Dillon Ward played the first half while Steve Fryer was between the pipes for the second.

Mammoth during warmups

On the Rock side of things, I only noticed a couple of guys who was there in the first half and not the second: AJ Kluck and Sheldon Burns were there in the first half but I didn’t see them in the second, while I saw Adam Jay and Mitchell Gustavsen in the second half but not the first. No Brock Sorensen or Jordan Magnuson at all, and a few rookies didn’t play at all either. Nick Rose played the whole game in net while Riley Hutchcraft rode the pine.

I wonder if the benches at the TRAC are actually made of pine? Maybe Hutchcraft rode the poplar or the oak or the mahogany (probably not, too expensive). Maybe he rode the MDF. But I digress.

I found this a pretty entertaining game, without a lot of the missed or dropped passes and shots that miss the net by five feet that you sometimes see in pre-season games. In fact, some of the Rock passing on a power play in the third was pretty sweet. Other than the big personnel changes for the Mammoth in the second half, it looked mostly like a normal NLL game – there were even penalties and a fight. Oddly, both of the fighters, Toronto’s Billy Hostrawser and Colorado’s Steven Lee, were tossed from the game. Neither was given a game misconduct (at least none was announced). No other reason was given for the ejections.

This was my first look at Johnny Powless in a Rock uniform, and I thought he played pretty well. He scored one goal but assisted on a couple of others, and one of those assists really stood out. Powless was to the left of Steve Fryer and received a pass from Schreiber. He instantly flipped it over the shoulder to Phil Caputo, all alone in front of the net, who buried it. Great pass, which I’m hoping to see a lot of this season.

Powless is actually bigger than I expected. He was 18 when he first joined the league, was the youngest player in the NLL for three straight seasons, and is sometimes still known as the Pup. Perhaps all of those facts made me believe he was small as well as young, but he’s a solid 5’11” and 185 pounds, and looked bigger than that.

The final was Rock 13, Mammoth 11. Rock goals were scored by Hellyer (1), Jones (1), Powless (1), Caputo (2), Rogers (1), Craig (1), Schreiber (3), and Lintner (3). Rogers’s goal was a bullet of a shot that went over Dillon Ward’s right shoulder. Schreiber continues to be the hardest working guy on the floor though Dan Lintner works his tail off as well. Adam Jones was ragging the ball while killing a penalty and fought off two Mammoth defenders who were pounding on him. He got away, kept the ball, and even got a shot off. Very nice.

Mammoth goals were scored by Stuart (2), Ryan Lee (2), Ruest (1), Noble (1), McLaughlin (3), Armstrong (1), and Fairall (1). Ryan Benesch didn’t score any but got a lot of playing time in the first half and looked in command.

So that’s it for the Rock’s pre-season schedule. The Mammoth head to Buffalo on Sunday the 9th for a matchup with the Black Wolves. The regular season starts in less than a week, folks.

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The 2019 NLL Schedule: Byes, doubles, and runnin’ back to Saskatoon

The 2019 NLL schedule was released this past week. Once fans see their team’s schedule, the first thing fans say about it is how “difficult” it is. Usually that involves what teams they’re playing but today I’m going to look at it a little differently.

Each team plays 18 games and the season is spread over 21 weeks, so each team has at least three weeks with no games (called a “bye” week). Each bye week you get beyond three means you have to make up that missed game by playing two games in a weekend (which I’m calling a “double”). If you’re lucky, one will be Friday night at home and the other will be Saturday night or Sunday afternoon in a city not far away, giving you lots of time for travel and potential delays – remember the NLL plays during the winter. If you’re not lucky… well, we’ll get to that.

Let’s look at how many bye weeks each team has as well as how many double weekends they have (and where those games are).

San Diego's Kyle BuchananBuffalo: Five bye weeks, but two of them are the last four weeks. They have two double weekends: first Rochester and New England in week 9 and then Philadelphia and Buffalo in week 15. Last year, they also had five byes and two doubles.

Calgary: Four byes, one double weekend: San Diego and Colorado in week 8. Last year the Roughnecks had three byes and no double weekends at all.

Colorado: Four byes but three of them come in the first six weeks including weeks five and six. The Mammoth play twice in week 17, in Vancouver and at home. Last year, they had five byes and two double weekends.

Georgia: Five bye weekends, all spread out. The Swarm have two double weekends: In week 8 they play in Toronto and then New England, then week 9 is a bye, then in week 10 they play at home on Friday and in Rochester on Saturday. Last year the Swarm had six byes and three double weekends. All three of their doubles last year followed a bye.

New England: Four byes and similar to the Mammoth, they have three in the first six weeks. Only one double weekend: Philly and New England in week 12. Last year, the Black Wolves had four byes and one double weekend.

Philadelphia: Five byes including two back-to-back. They play one game in the first four weeks of the season. They have two doubles: Philly and New England in week 12 (coincidentally, the same as the Black Wolves!) and Saskatchewan and Vancouver in week 20.

Rochester: Five byes and similar to the Wings, they play only once in the first four weeks. Also similar to the Wings, they have two double weekends: Philadelphia and Rochester in week 10 and Rochester and Toronto in week 16. Last year was roughly the same: five byes and two doubles.

San Diego: Five byes including one back-to-back – between January 19 and March 2, the Seals only play twice. They have two doubles: San Diego and Vancouver in week 8 and Georgia and New England in week 19.

Saskatchewan: Four byes including weeks 3 and 4. One double weekend but it’s a doozy: San Diego on Friday and back at home in Saskatchewan on Saturday of week 20. After a brief perusal on Expedia, I found that you can get from San Diego to Saskatchewan in about 7½ hours if you really push it (about 45 minute stopover in Minneapolis) or over 14 hours if you don’t mind a 7+ hour stopover. Either way, that’s going to be a brutal travel day for the Seals and Rush. Five byes and two doubles last year for the Rush.

Toronto: Five byes including weeks 3 and 4 as well as the final weekend of the season. The Rock play two doubles late in the season: Georgia and Buffalo in week 17 and Toronto and Rochester in week 19. Last year, the Rock had three byes and no double weekends.

Vancouver: Four byes and one double weekend: Vancouver and Colorado. Last year the Stealth had four byes and one double.


For my money, the most difficult schedule would be one where you have byes near the end of the season. If you are in the playoff hunt (i.e. every team in the East last season), you want to be playing during those last weeks to control your own fate, not watching others play hoping for the right result. In the last five weeks of the season, the Buffalo Bandits play the Rock twice, the Black Wolves once, and have two byes. Playing teams from their own division is helpful for the Bandits if they’re fighting for a playoff spot but two weeks off is not. On the upside, byes can help players recover from injuries without missing games. If Dhane Smith has a sore knee, a week off before a game with playoff implications could be a godsend.

There are a number of teams that have multiple byes near the beginning of the season but only the Bandits have more than one in the last six weeks or so. In terms of the criteria I’m going by here, nobody has a really terrible schedule. The Bandits byes near the end of the season make them a strong candidate but I’m going to say that the San Diego Seals have the most difficult schedule. They have one game in the first three weeks and then a span of five weeks in the middle with only two games. The game before those five weeks, the game after, and one of the two games in the middle are against the same team – Vancouver. However this schedule challenge is offset by the fact that they get to play half their games in southern California.

I’ll let you, the reader, insert your own joke here: Maybe we should say that [insert team name] has the worst schedule because they have to play half of their games in [insert city you don’t like]. Ha ha!

The league lengthened the season last year in order to try and cut down on the double weekends. The teams that used to be hit the most by long travel days were the Black Wolves and Rush. From most major airports in North America, you can fly directly to Denver or Calgary or Toronto but not Saskatoon, so most flights would have included a stopover. Some of those stopovers can be long, but really, who doesn’t love sitting in an airport for five hours? To get to Mohegan Sun, you need to fly to Hartford CT (also requiring stopovers from many airports, particularly in the west) and then take a several hour bus ride.

Update: Taking public transportation from Hartford airport to Mohegan Sun would be several hours. I would assume teams would charter a bus, in which case travel time is not much more than an hour. Thanks to Thomas for the correction.

In 2019, both of these teams only have one double weekend, so mission accomplished, right? For the Black Wolves, they’re coming from Philadelphia on their double, which is probably the closest NLL city. But as I mentioned above, the Rush have to get from San Diego to Saskatoon in a day. Last year, the Rush had two doubles, playing at home on the back half of each. While one was coming from Vancouver, which is likely a direct flight, the other was coming from Colorado which is almost as bad as San Diego. Those Colorado/Saskatoon travel days were part of the reason for the schedule change in the first place, and yet the Rush still have to deal with one.

It’s not like the people who make the NLL schedule haven’t thought about this, and so it’s likely that as crappy as that weekend will be, it was the best option available.

2018 Expansion Draft results: The expected and the unexpected

The 2018 NLL expansion draft was held on Monday. This was the first expansion draft in ten years so it was kind of new for many fans, but get used to it. This was also the first of at least three over the next few years as the league continues to expand. There were lots of predictions about what would happen in this draft; off the top of my head, I can think of at least three full mock drafts that were done, and there were probably more.

I made my own predictions back in May and got 6 right out of 18 picks, but in my defense I made my choices before the protected lists were announced by the teams. If I’d redone my predictions afterwards, I wouldn’t have predicted Curtis Knight or Eric Fannell to be chosen since they were protected, and I would have predicted Brett Hickey, Josh Currier, and Adrian Sorichetti since they weren’t.

Here’s the list of players chosen (and the team they were chosen from):

Round

Philadelphia

San Diego

1 Brett Hickey – TOR Turner Evans – TOR
2 Kiel Matisz – GEO Brett Mydske – SSK
3 Jordan Hall – GEO Adrian Sorichetti – SSK
4 Josh Currier – ROC Cam Holding – COL
5 Frank Brown – ROC Bryce Sweeting – COL
6 Anthony Joaquim – NE Frank Scigliano – CAL
7 Matt Rambo – NE Garrett MacIntosh – CAL
8 Vaughn Harris – BUF Casey Jackson – VAN
9 Davide DiRuscio – BUF Brendan Ranford – VAN

Immediately following the draft, there were two trades announced, both involving the Bandits:

  • The Seals sent Bryce Sweeting to the Bandits for Ethan Schott and a 2nd round pick in this fall’s entry draft
  • The Bandits sent Zac Reid to the Wings in exchange for the Wings selecting Vaughn Harris

That second one is interesting – I reasoned on Twitter that the Wings wanted Chase Fraser and the Bandits offered them Reid if they didn’t pick Fraser. This was confirmed.

The draft

Before the draft, NLL VP Brian Lemon announced the rules, most of which we already knew. He also said that each team would have two minutes to make their picks, and each could ask for one five-minute extension. But not one of the eighteen picks took as long as it took Lemon to read that rule. The draft was done so quickly that it was very unlikely that it was actually done live. It was probably done earlier in the day and the live stream was just the announcement of who was drafted, and they went back and forth to make it look like a live draft. But when you look at the players that were drafted and where they came from, there’s even more to it than that.

Brett Hickey (Photo: Scott Pierson)

All of the players available from western teams went to San Diego, and all players from eastern teams except Turner Evans went to Philly. Even more telling was the order in which they were announced: Toronto’s two players went first, one to Philly and one to San Diego. Then Philly’s next two picks were from Georgia and San Diego’s were from Saskatchewan. Then Philly took two from Rochester while the Seals took two from Colorado, then New England / Calgary, then Buffalo / Vancouver. Other than Toronto, each team’s two players were chosen in back-to-back picks by the same team, and the players from each division were chosen in the order their teams finished the 2018 regular season.

It seems likely that rather than an actual draft, the two GMs talked and together made up the lists of who gets who. The actual broadcast was them just announcing the results. Maybe they did the draft as intended, earlier in the day, then made some trades among themselves and decided to just skip announcing that part. If that’s the case, I’m OK with it. This is the NLL, so where a player lives very much matters with respect to where he wants to play. Some of the younger guys may not care and are happy to move around the country if they get traded. But there are lots of veteran players who have families and full-time jobs and are far more interested in playing half their games close to home. It makes total sense that the western players were picked by the western team and the eastern players were picked by the eastern team.

That said, if this is indeed how it was done, I’m a little annoyed that they dressed it up like a real draft. If the GMs got together and divided up the available players among them, following the two-players-per-team rule, why not just announce it that way?

The players taken

Given the quality of players available in this draft, it’s no surprise that both teams look pretty good to start with. The Wings have more firepower (Hickey, Matisz, Hall, Harris) while the Seals already have a strong defense (Mydske, Holding, Schott) and transition (MacIntosh, Sorichetti). If I had to pick a winner between the two teams, I’m not sure I could.

Both teams surprisingly picked players with zero NLL experience, Matt Rambo from New England heading to Philly (where he lives) and Brendan Ranford from Vancouver was picked by San Diego. Rambo is a field lacrosse star who was drafted by the Black Wolves last year but didn’t report. I have no idea if he even has any interest in the NLL; maybe he and Paul Rabil watch NLL games online together, saying “I could totally play there if I wanted to.” Ranford is a top prospect from BC but also plays pro hockey, and there was talk that he may play hockey in Europe next season. Perhaps that isn’t the case, or perhaps Patrick Merrill just decided to take a gamble anyway.

Only one UFA was chosen: Brett Mydske from the Rush. Merrill said that Mydske was just too good an option to pass up, and that’s hard to argue. Hopefully (for the Seals), they can sign Mydske to a contract before August 1st, at which time he’s free to sign with whoever he wants. They could also give him the franchise tag, which would prevent him from signing anywhere else but would also guarantee him 10% above the NLL’s maximum salary. Not a bad decision for Mydske to have: play in sunny San Diego and make max bucks, or choose which city you want to play in.

Davide DiRuscio (Photo: Bill Wippert)Philadelphia made a bit of a surprising pick for their goaltender: Davide DiRuscio, who’s been the Bandits backup goalie for a few years though he was injured all of last year. It was widely assumed that the two goalies picked in the draft were likely to be Frank Scigliano and one of Zach Higgins or Alex Buque, but we all picked the wrong Bandits goalie. In previous years DiRuscio has shown signs that he could someday be a starting goalie in the NLL, but has been inconsistent. He’s a big guy and only 26 and while it seems that forwards and defenders tend to peak around 27-28 years old, it can take goalies (those not named Christian, anyway) a couple of extra years to hit their stride. He may not be the next Dallas Eliuk next season but as an expansion team, the Wings are likely to be willing to wait a year or two.

The players lost

Each team lost two players from their roster, but some teams lost fewer than others. As mentioned, two players had never played an NLL game so from that point of view, New England and Vancouver got away a little easier than the other teams. The other guy Vancouver lost, Casey Jackson, has only played four games in the NLL so while he has a big upside for the future, the Vancouver team as it was yesterday is almost unchanged. Buffalo left three goalies unprotected and lost the one that’s recovering from injury. This may or may not be good news for the Bandits, as their goaltender situation was a little dicey last season and that hasn’t changed. They also lost defenders Ethan Schott and Zac Reid but gained another defender Bryce Sweeting. Colorado lost Sweeting and Holding but Holding didn’t play last season anyway, and they’ll be getting Dan Coates back next year, so they’re probably OK.

The teams that lost the most, in my opinion, are the Georgia Swarm and the Rochester Knighthawks. It’s not as though losing Matisz and Hall leaves the Swarm with no strong forwards, but they will be two tough players to replace. Both are versatile and can play forward or transition roles. As I mentioned in my expansion draft predictions article, Hall would be a good candidate for captain of the Wings, but Matisz has been around for a while too and it wouldn’t surprise me to see an A on his chest next season.

The Knighthawks lost Josh Currier, which was a certainty once it was discovered that he was unprotected, and Frank Brown, a defender (though listed as a forward in the Wings draft results article) with a ton of potential. Brown also played half of last year with the Swarm, so he has some familiarity with Matisz and Hall.

Now that the draft is over, I believe the rosters are now “unfrozen”, so teams are free to begin making trades once again. On August 1st, teams will be able to start signing free agents as well, and of course Philadelphia and San Diego will be busy there. They do have players now, but they each have less than half a team. It’s already been one of the most active off-seasons the NLL has seen in years and it ain’t over yet.

2018 Expansion Draft

I’ve been looking forward to the upcoming Expansion Draft for months. We get to see two teams get created from scratch, which is every armchair GM’s dream. Trades and free agent signings and such are always exciting, so imagine eighteen of them all on the same day! As I’m sure many others have done, I’ve made my list of which players I would protect if I were an NLL GM. Some are obvious, some might be controversial, and there are probably a few “What are you thinking?” picks in there too. Let me know watcha think!

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NLL team names

Recently, a Rush fan named Rob King tweeted an article suggestion:

Challenge accepted. There isn’t much of a story behind a few of them, but others are very interesting. I had a lot of fun researching this one, and I hope you enjoy these stories. I threw in a couple of “Did you knows” as I came across them.

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2018 NLL Awards

It’s that time of year again! When some NLL players gear up for the playoffs while others dust off the golf clubs or join their MLL teams. It’s also time for the annual NLL award voting. I don’t have a vote in the NLL awards but I’ve submitted my picks for the real awards, which are of course those published on IL Indoor. In that series of articles, probably published next week sometime, I will have comments about who I picked to win so I won’t repeat them here. I will also mention my pre-season picks for these awards so we can either stare in amazement at my insight or laugh at my “insight”.

In my season preview articles (West and East), I picked a player for each team who I thought might have a breakout year, so I’ll also go over my “Look out for…” choices. Some panned out, while others were not as prescient as I might have hoped.

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Game report: Colorado 11 @ Toronto 7

When Tom Schreiber got injured, some Rock fans were worried that the offence wouldn’t adjust. After a few rough outings, they went and scored 14 against New England and 17 against Calgary, and we thought they had adjusted. Well if they did, they adjusted right back on Friday night.

Most aspects of the Rock game were pretty good: Nick Rose was solid for the most part, the defense was also strong, and the transition was excellent. Anytime you get five transition goals and two from defenders you put yourself in a good position to win – assuming the offense does anything. But if they don’t…

In what might be an NLL first, not a single Rock offensive player scored a goal on Friday night. Kieran McArdle picked up one assist as did Reid Reinholdt (both on the same Challen Rogers goal), but that was it. Adam Jones, Rob Hellyer, Brett Hickey, newcomer Dan Taylor, and Phil Caputo combined for ZERO points. Props to the Mammoth defense who were exceptional at preventing many shots from occurring at all, and to Dillon Ward for stopping those that made it through.

I don’t know if there is a scouting report on Ward saying “shoot 5-hole!” but if there is, it was inaccurate on this night. The Rock seemed to be shooting there a lot (if they weren’t hitting Ward in the chest), and he stopped every one of them. It looked as if the Rock forwards were snakebitten again – shooting opportunities would come up and they’d pass instead. Lots of shots were taken from a fair ways out. I won’t say they weren’t trying to get inside but when they did try, the Mammoth D wouldn’t let them.

Meanwhile the transition guys were hitting the top corners. It got to the point where the Rock were down by two with three minutes left and I wanted them to send Rogers, Merrill, and Harris out instead of the regular O guys.

Dillon Ward (Photo credit: Colorado Mammoth)

There was a comment on Facebook from a guy who complained about Nick Rose and suggested that the loss was his fault. Was Rose fantastic in this game? No, there were one or two goals that he probably could have stopped, and a couple of times he made a save though it seemed clear that he had no idea where the ball was. But he played well enough to keep his team in the game which is all you can ask from your goalie. The same commenter said later that sometimes a goalie can “steal” a game for you and Rose didn’t. While that’s true, we don’t get to decide when a goalie should steal a win for you. If your team only scores seven goals, blaming the goalie for allowing more than six is a little unrealistic. Blaming Rose for a loss like this smacks of “I don’t like Rose so I’ll blame him for everything”.

So as of right now (Saturday morning), we have four 7-7 teams in the East, and one 6-7. The West playoff picture is mostly set – it’ll very likely be Rush, Mammoth, Roughnecks in that order. The Mammoth could still catch the Rush for first, so something could change there. But in the East, we still have no idea and probably won’t for a couple of weeks. It wouldn’t surprise me if the very last game of the regular season (Georgia @ New England on April 29) decides the playoff fate of the entire East division.

Other game notes:

  • Right at the end of the first quarter, a Rock player took a last-second shot on Ward. Mammoth defender Jordan Gilles grabbed the rebound and shot on the Rock net from his own goal line and scored. Top left corner. No bounce. The buzzer went while the ball was in flight so it didn’t count, but it was a beautiful shot nonetheless.
  • The shot clock at one end of the floor was broken for most of the game, so the PA announcer gave teams 10 and 5 second warnings when the clock was running down. It’s the first shot clock problem I remember seeing at Rock games for a number of years, but it did remind me of a few games in one season a long time ago where shot clock problems were relatively frequent.
  • Another weird stat: a week after I wrote an article on unassisted goals, four of the Rock’s seven goals were unassisted. Two more had only assist, and only one goal had two. This means that the Rock had more goals (seven) than total assists (four) in this game.