Lacrosse is back! The 2019-2020 NLL season started last weekend and the Rock’s home opener was Saturday night. Dan Dawson and David Brock both made their debuts with the Rock, while Jordan Durston and rookie Andrew Kew made their Black Wolves debuts. This was a back-and-forth game for a while… until it wasn’t.
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.
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”.
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.
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.
I’ve been a Toronto Rock fan for about eighteen years. From a personal point of view, I always want them to win. But I’m also realistic, and I recognize that they’re not always going to win. Last week, they faced the Philadelphia Wings, who were sitting at 3-10 and tied for last in the league, and they scratched and clawed and managed to come out with a one-goal win. This week, the Rock faced the 12-4 powerhouse first-place-overall Buffalo Bandits so I was hoping for a win but honestly, I wasn’t expecting one. I was expecting an exciting game, and there I certainly wasn’t disappointed.
The defending champion Saskatchewan Rush made their way to the 6ix on Friday night, only their 6ixth game against the Rock in their history. They probably should have been the favourites in this game, not only because they are the defending champs, but also because of their 4-1 lifetime record against the Rock. But the Rush were 3-2 at the start of the game, second in the West, while the Rock were 5-1 and leading the league.
The brand-new Philadelphia Wings made their debut in Toronto on Friday night and holy crap, what an exciting game it was. If you weren’t there or didn’t watch it live, you’re gonna want to watch the replay right now. Go ahead, I’ll wait.
<whistles elevator music>
I know, right?
The game was tied at one after one quarter and the Wings took a 3-2 lead into the half. It looked like we were in for a game similar to the Calgary / San Diego game from last week, which was tied at four after three quarters and ended 9-5. The offenses came alive a bit in the second half and the final score of 11-10 was a little low-scoring but not that unusual. But how we got to that 11-10 score was a ton of fun. Would I, as a Rock fan, have used the word “fun” if the Wings had scored in OT rather than the Rock? I probably would.
You always hear that to be successful, your best players have to be your best players. It sounds redundant but it’s true and on this night, Tom Schreiber and Adam Jones were the Rock’s best players. They scored five goals each, with Schreiber scoring three game-tying goals and Jones scoring a tie-breaking goal and the OT winner. The phrase “Money Baller” comes to mind. Unfortunately for the Rock, that was all the scoring the entire team could muster other than a transition goal from Brandon Slade in the second quarter.
Eleven goals was enough to win this one but in general, having only three players score goals is not a recipe for victory. The Rock offense really struggled at times, with passes clearing their intended target by a couple of feet and shots missing the net by just as much. The score sheet said the Rock had 62 shots on goal and 22 shots off, but I’m not sure I buy it; 22 seems low. There were a lot of shots from distance and nobody wanted to get in close. But the most frustrating part was the offensive turnovers; I lost count of how many times a Wings defender knocked the ball out of a Rock player’s stick, grabbed it, and ran. They had at least three breakaway goals after such turnovers, and seven of their ten goals were from transition.
Philly’s offense was a little more balanced than the Rock’s; they had six goal scorers, with nobody scoring more than two. Brett Hickey didn’t score any but Blaze Riorden had a couple, and both times I thought it was Hickey. Chris Cloutier isn’t a huge guy (6’1″) but is solid (227 lbs) and showed why he was a top draft pick. The Wings struggled on offense as well but I thought that was a little more due to a strong Rock defense than problems with the forwards.
A lot of people are big on Frank Brown and I saw why: he was all over the floor and played some smart defense. Joakim Miller played his first game, becoming the first Finnish-born player in the NLL.
Brad Kri played another excellent game on D for the Rock, which is starting to become commonplace. Latrell Harris entered the league as an eighteen-year-old but rather than becoming the flashy transition guy I thought he would, he’s turned into quite the strong defender in his third season. You know he can score if he gets the opportunity but he’s happy to stay in his own end, without the fanfare, and quietly get the job done.
Nick Rose had a good game, making a few really good stops but he also allowed a few he probably shouldn’t have, and he does tend to give up a lot of rebounds. One long shot from Kiel Matisz beat Rose and nobody was more surprised than Matisz. In general though, Rose gets himself set up very well, so he doesn’t always have to move much to make a save. I think a lot of the saves he made on Friday night were like that: they didn’t look difficult because he was in the right place. He didn’t have to make a ton of acrobatic saves, and you get fooled into thinking he wasn’t that great.
I did say that the Rock’s offense struggled, but I don’t want to take anything away from Doug Buchan’s performance. He was outstanding. Similar to Rose, he didn’t make a lot of diving or “Oh my god how did he stop that” sort of saves, but he was always in the right position, cutting down angles and making it difficult for Rock shooters. I think both the Wings and Seals will be better this year than previous expansion teams in their first seasons, and if Buchan can play like he did in this game, Philly can compete with anyone.
Other game notes:
- Phil Caputo was a healthy scratch, just like last week. I hope Caputo doesn’t become this year’s Dan Lintner, who was scratched in what seemed like half the Rock’s games last season.
- Damon Edwards got a holding penalty against a Wings forward who had what looked to me to be a clear breakaway. Not sure why there wasn’t a penalty shot there.
- On another play, Steph Charbonneau got a breakaway and Challen Rogers didn’t leave the bench to stop him until a forward made it back, and by that time it was too late to prevent the goal. It was only 6-5 or so at the time so my question to you: in the third quarter of such a low-scoring game, do you send the defender out early to prevent the goal, knowing you’ll be taking a Too Many Men penalty? I might have.
- In the fourth quarter, Rob Hellyer thought he had tied it up but the goal was waved off. Matt Sawyer threw the challenge flag (see next game note) and during the review, a number of replays were shown that clearly showed that the ball never crossed the line. There was no question that the goal shouldn’t count. Regardless, when the ref signalled “no goal” after the review, fans booed and a few yelled the typical “refs are blind”-type comments. I don’t get it. It was clearly not a goal, so why give the ref grief about making the right call?
- I was under the impression that all goals (and close calls) were reviewed in the final two minutes of the game, and throwing the challenge flags was not only unnecessary but not allowed. This was not quite correct: all goals are reviewed in the last two minutes, but non-goal call are not unless the challenge flag is thrown. This was explained on Twitter by Rob Buchan, who is the GM of the Langley Thunder, a Bandits scout
, and (I believe) father of Wings goalie Doug BuchanUpdate: they are not related. Thanks to Brad MacArthur for the update.
On last week’s game report, Kurt Cinney left the following comment: “spoiler alert perhaps?” It didn’t occur to me that people may not have watched the game, and the title of my article (which contained the final score) gave away the ending. I’ll now leave the score out of the title and try to be clever about the first couple of lines of the first paragraph, which get displayed on Facebook. Thanks for the suggestion Kurt!