By now, I’m sure you all know how this game ended, not only the outcome but the dramatic fashion in which it happened. But whether or not you are happy with the result, you have to admit this was an amazing game with an amazing ending.
Friday night featured the first game of the 2022 NLL playoffs and if you don’t think playoff lacrosse is just a little more intense than the regular season, I urge you to check out Halifax’s visit to
Toronto Hamilton. Actually Colorado’s visit to Calgary was pretty intense as well, but I’m just talking about the T-Birds/Rock game here. As the second seed in the East and the home team, the Rock were the favourites but in a one-game winner-take-all showdown, we know anything can happen. Both teams have a ton of firepower up front, solid defense and transition, great goaltending, a proven leader as their captain, and are well-coached. We all knew this was going to be a fantastic game.
Toronto’s final home game of the year saw the Halifax Thunderbirds in town to help celebrate Indigenous Heritage Night. I’ve given some more details on that in my Weekly Report so I won’t repeat it all here but it was a great night and the specially-designed Rock jerseys were absolutely beautiful. The game itself was entertaining as well though I’m a little surprised at how much the Thunderbirds don’t look like the team that started the season 8-1.
Saturday night began the next chapter in the story of the Toronto Rock, their first game at the First Ontario Centre in Hamilton. The team made no secret of the fact that this was a cost-cutting measure; Scotiabank Arena is one of the most expensive arenas in North America to rent, and owner Jamie Dawick has said that he needed attendance of 12k just to break even there. That requirement is almost certainly lower at First Ontario Centre.
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.