5 things you never knew about the NLL! #3 will shock you

I originally started this article as a joke, playing on the popularity of sites like Buzzfeed and their click-baity “you won’t believe what happened next”-type headlines. But then I wondered if I could come up with 5 actual things that many NLL fans didn’t know and I hadn’t used on @NLLFactOfTheDay (and that I don’t have to fit into 140 characters). Many people know that John Tavares the (former) lacrosse player is the uncle of John Tavares the hockey player. Many know that Josh Sanderson played for his father Terry (four times, actually: Rochester, Calgary, and Toronto twice). Many know that there are far more failed NLL teams than there are current teams.

But did you know these?

1. Before they secured nll.com, the league’s website was be-lax.com. (OK, I could have squeezed that one into a tweet.)

Gary Roberts

2. The Calgary Roughnecks once drafted former Calgary Flames star Gary Roberts (after he had retired from hockey). He said he was flattered and surprised, but did not report. The Bandits once drafted Gil Nieuwendyk, Joe’s brother and Derek Keenan’s brother-in-law. He never reported either.

3. The 2007 Championship final was hosted by the Arizona Sting rather than the top seed Rochester Knighthawks because of arena unavailability. A circus had booked the Blue Cross Arena and no alternative arena in Rochester could be found. A 2002 playoff game between the 5th place Washington Power and the 6th place Philadelphia Wings was held in Philadelphia because Washington decided they’d lose more money by hosting it than by travelling.

4. In 2001, the league accidentally posted an article on its web site announcing expansion to Montreal before the deal was actually done. The article was immediately pulled and the deal was put on hold. The Montreal Express joined the league a year later.

5. In 2007, the Arizona Sting went on hiatus and the players were loaned to other teams for a year (through a dispersal draft), the idea being that when Arizona returned the next season, they’d continue with the team they had before. After the 2008 season, the players were returned to the Sting, where the team promptly folded and they were dispersed again.


Did I fool you? One of those five is not true; I made it up. But which one?

The Wings fly away, Part 2

In Part 1, I looked at how great the Philadelphia Wings were from 1987 until their 2001 Championship. And make no mistake, they were great. Then I asked how a team as successful as the Wings could possibly fold or move.

To answer that, we need to realize that all of the great numbers I mentioned in that article were only for the first half (well, about 57% to be accurate) of the Wings tenure in Philadelphia. To say the rest of their tenure (2002-2014) was less successful would be quite the understatement.

Instead of being 42 games over .500, they were 30 games under at 82-112. They allowed 161 more goals than they scored. In 12 seasons, they made the playoffs three times (losing all three games) and finished over .500 only once. Their last playoff win will forever remain that 2001 Championship, thirteen seasons ago.

Things got so bad for the Wings that even the loyal fans started to abandon them. In the years following their sixth Championship, attendance dropped, rebounded again, and then dropped again. In 2005, it dropped over 14%, falling below 12,000 for the first time since their 1987 debut. 2008 saw a little rebound once again but after that it dropped between 5 and 10% every year. In the last fourteen years of the team’s existence (starting the year before their last Championship), the Wings reported year-over-year attendance increases only three times.

In 2014, their final year in the league, the Wings averaged a paltry 6,864 fans per game. Only the Vancouver Stealth drew fewer. If your attendance is being compared to that of the Stealth (whether Vancouver, Washington, or San Jose), you’re in trouble.

WingsAttendance

It’s not that ownership didn’t try. The Wings had more rebuilds than Joan Rivers’ face. After Marechek, Bergey, and Ratcliffe it was supposed to be Sean Greenhalgh, Athan Iannucci, and Merrick Thomson. But Greenhalgh was sent to Buffalo, concussions ended Thomson’s career early, and Nooch missed almost two entire seasons with injuries. Kyle Wailes scored 50+ points in 2009 and 2010 and never played again. The Dan Dawson experiment got them to the playoffs but no further than the first round before he was off to Rochester. Brodie Merrill has played well since coming to the Wings in 2012 but the price for landing him was steep – Iannucci, Alex Turner, Brodie McDonald, and three first round draft picks, one of which won’t happen until this coming fall.

They tried having a morning game on a Friday. I’m not sure if this was a conscious decision and they were trying to draw school trips (as it was advertised) or if it was required because of arena availability. It ended up as a dismal failure, drawing the lowest crowd (5139) in Wings history. They tried putting the players’ Twitter handles on their uniforms to draw attention. It did, but not from anyone outside of the lacrosse world, or at least not for more than a few seconds.

They tried rebranding themselves as “America’s team”, drafting and signing lots of American-born players. Most of these guys were field players who had played very little or no indoor lacrosse, and this strategy had varying degrees of success. Some guys like Drew Westervelt took to the game and became strong indoor players, while others like Ned Crotty never saw the same level of success indoors that they had seen outdoors. In 2014, this plan was further scuttled by a number of players including Crotty, Paul Rabil, and Brendan Mundorf bailing on the team sitting out the season to prepare for the World Field Championships.

Can we find someone to blame for the failure of the Wings? Ownership? Players? Fans? Is there really so much competition for your entertainment dollar in Philadelphia that the Wings can no longer compete? Well, when you only play 3 playoff games in twelve years (and lose them all), it’s hard to convince people to continue paying money to watch your team (unless you’re the Toronto Maple Leafs, but they’re a huge anomaly in the world of sports). You obviously can’t blame the fans who kept going to games, and considering the lack of on-floor success over the last twelve years, it’s also pretty tough to blame the ones who stopped.

If we must blame someone, I suppose it’ll have to be ownership, since they’re the top of the food chain and therefore ultimately responsible. But playing the blame game really doesn’t buy us anything. It doesn’t bring the Wings back, and it doesn’t make losing them any easier for fans of the league, least of all the Philly fans.

The Philadelphia Wings were the cornerstone of the NLL for half of its existence. They were so good for so long and were as close to being a solid fixture in a city’s sports scene as the NLL has ever seen. It’s unfortunate that we now have to add Philadelphia to the long list of cities in which the NLL ultimately failed.

The Wings fly away, Pt. 1

Wings

The 2015 NLL season will not include the Philadelphia Wings. For longtime fans of the league, this is unfathomable. It’s the NHL without the Leafs or Canadiens. It’s the American League without the Yankees. It’s the NFL without the Packers. After 28 seasons, the franchise is moving, though we don’t yet know where. It’s possible that they’ll find a new home fairly close to their old one but even if they do, it won’t be the same.

Starting in 1987, they were outstanding. In their first sixteen seasons, they missed the playoffs once, finished under .500 only three times, and appeared in nine Championship finals, winning six of them. They won 100 games while only losing 58, and they scored 316 more goals than they allowed. They had future Hall-of-Famers all over the place: Gary and Paul Gait, Tom Marechek, Tony Resch, Dallas Eliuk, and owners Mike French, Russ Cline, and Chris Fritz. In 2001 they won their sixth Championship, the same number (at the time) as the Rock, Bandits, and Knighthawks combined.

The Wings had arguably the most loyal fans in the league. In 1987, the league’s inaugural season, their average attendance was 10,972 when the other three teams in the league had averages under 8,000. Their average attendance increased each of the next four years, and stayed above 13,000 for sixteen straight seasons from 1989 to 2004.

So how is it possible that a team that successful could ever fold or move? We’ll get into that in part 2.

Pre-season predictions revisited

As I always do at the end of the season, it’s time to look at my predictions from the beginning of the season and see how far off I was. Since the actual award winners won’t be announced until the end of August (?!?!) I obviously can’t include those, but I’ll include who I think should win.

Final Standings

East

Prediction Actual
Rochester Rochester
Toronto Toronto
Buffalo Buffalo
Minnesota Philadelphia
Philadelphia Minnesota

3 correct out of 5. Philly did a little better than I expected and Minnesota did far worse.

West

Prediction Actual
Calgary Edmonton
Vancouver Calgary
Edmonton Colorado
Colorado Vancouver

0 correct out of 5. Obviously Edmonton was much better than I thought and Vancouver much worse.

Individual Awards

MVP

Prediction: Garrett Billings. Short list: Cody Jamieson, Mark Matthews

My Choice: Cody Jamieson. On episode 17 of Addicted to Lacrosse, I picked Billings as MVP, but I’m rethinking that decision now. The Rock went 3-0 down the stretch without Billings, so it’s hard to argue that he’s more valuable to the team than anyone else is to their team. That said, nobody stands out as having been head and shoulders above anyone else. I’m going with Jamieson because he’s not only the top scorer on the team and in the league, but because he’s been the face and de facto leader of the Knighthawks since coming into the league.

 

Goaltender of the Year

Prediction: Matt Vinc. Short list: Tyler Richards, Aaron Bold

My Choice: Aaron Bold. Lowest-ever GAA, 15 wins, 3rd best save % in the league. Made almost 200 fewer saves than Anthony Cosmo, but faced almost 240 fewer shots. That’s how good Edmonton’s defense was this year.

 

Defensive Player of the Year

Prediction: Kyle Rubisch. Short list: Mike Grimes, Rory Smith

My Choice: Kyle Rubisch. You could also make arguments for Rubisch’s teammates Brett Mydske and Chris Corbeil.

 

Transition Player of the Year

Prediction: Geoff Snider. Short list: Jesse Gamble, Brad Self

My Choice: Jeremy Thompson. I’ve talked about Thompson many times before. There’s seemingly nothing he can’t do – he can score, play defense, take faceoffs, fight, and run like the wind. And he has a cool tattoo on his back and ponytail and he’s a movie star. You could make an argument for Corbeil here too.

 

Rookie of the Year

Prediction: Robert Church. Short list: Logan Schuss, Jason Noble, Cody Bremner, Karsen Leung

My Choice: Tough one. Church, Schuss, Tyler Digby, Dillon Ward, and Leung have all had very good rookie seasons, but I think I’m going to go with Schuss with Dillon Ward as a strong #2. Ward gave the Mammoth the reliable goaltender they haven’t had since the Gee Nash days.

 

Les Bartley (Coach of the Year)

Prediction: Chris Hall. Short list: Troy Cordingley, Derek Keenan

My Choice: Derek Keenan. Half-way through the season I was wondering how to pick between Keenan and Cordingley but the last half of the season made that decision a little easier.

 

GM of the Year

Prediction: Steve Dietrich. Short list: Doug Locker

My Choice: Derek Keenan, partially because of the players he picked up at the draft (Church, Loewen, Sorichetti all played big roles this year), and partially because of the moves he’s made over the last couple of years. Keenan has turned the worst team in the league to one of the best the league has ever seen.

 

Just realized that other than MVP, every one of my choices was for Edmonton.

 

“Watch Out For…”

In each of my team previews, I added a “Watch out for” section for a player that I thought would have a great year. I was even right on a couple.

Rochester: Joe Walters. I said he “could emerge as their #3 scorer”. Ended up as #5 but his 41 points eclipsed his 33 from last year.

Philadelphia: Kevin Crowley. 71 points in his first season, 72 in his second, 75 this year. The Wings don’t really have a team leader, and I though maybe Crowley would make an effort to pick up the unofficial title, like Jamieson has done with the Knighthawks, but he didn’t even lead his team in scoring.

Buffalo: Ryan Benesch. Not one of Benny’s best seasons but not much different from the numbers he was putting up in Minnesota. Of course, you’d expect a 12.5% increase in points since there were 12.5% more games, but that didn’t seem to be true for most players.

Toronto: Kyle Belton. Sort of right. He had a good season and was traded for Brandon Miller.

Minnesota: Kiel Matisz. Totally missed this one. Matisz fell from 63 points in his rookie season to only 36 in 2014. Goals dropped by 7 but assists dropped by 20. Maybe he was used more as a transition guy than offense and so his numbers dropped, or maybe it was just that the Swarm couldn’t score so there were fewer assists to be had.

Edmonton: Curtis Knight. Nailed this one. Jumped from 46 to 72 points, second on the Rush and there were a number of times that I felt he was more the quarterback of their offense than Matthews was.

Colorado: Sean Pollock. 51 points, exactly the same as last year. Not a superstar but definitely one of the important parts of the Mammoth offense.

Calgary: Curtis Dickson. He had 3.88 points per game last year, and bumped that to an even 4. Nominal increase but not the big jump I thought we might see. Still a pure goal-scorer; Dickson has never had more assists than goals in a season.

Vancouver: Lewis Ratcliff. Yeah, not so much. After a mid-season benching, Ratcliff came back with a vengeance, picking up 6 and 8 points in his next two games. But then he averaged just over 2 points over the last 5. His 55 points were the lowest of his career since his debut season with the Roughnecks in 2003.

Week 18 picks

Can you believe it’s already the last week of the regular season? The Rush won’t have a perfect season and they’ve already set the NLL record for wins in a season with 15, but while everyone’s been focused on the Rush, Rochester has quietly picked up 13 wins themselves. At the other end of the spectrum, Minnesota has 13 losses with one game left, while Vancouver has 12 losses and 2 games left. Both teams could hit 14 losses, though that wouldn’t be the record. Both the 2004 Anaheim Storm and the 2006 Edmonton Rush went 1-15. Not pointing any fingers here, but Cam Bergman and Teddy Jenner were members of both of those teams.

Record: 53-23 (.697)

Game
Comments
Pick
VAN @ EDM If Vancouver plays like they can play, they could give Edmonton some trouble. But if they play like they have been playing most of this season, it won’t even be close. Rush4
ROC @ BUF Buffalo is bound to end their losing streak at some point, and they are playing for home floor advantage in the first round, but the Knighthawks are just too strong. Knighthawks5
COL @ PHI Philly is out and so has nothing to play for but pride. I’m sure they’d like to put on a good show for their fans but the playoff-bound Mammoth are getting ready to take on the Roughnecks. Mammoth4
TOR @ MIN The Rock have a 3 game-winning streak going, and both Brandon Miller and Nick Rose have played very well in the last few games. The Swarm have only beaten two teams this year and the Rock ain’t one of them. It’s hard to pick the upset in this case. Rock5
CAL @ VAN Sorry Stealth fans, I think you’re going 0-2 this weekend. If that happens, it’ll be the Stealth’s second 5-game losing streak of the season. Roughnecks

Week 17 picks

I went 3-2 last week, missing Colorado going where no team had gone before, and Minnesota’s upset of Buffalo (though I did say “I can see an upset here”). I have broken the magical barrier of 50 correct picks out of 71, and now I’m going for 60 out of 81. I’m still ahead of everyone in the IL Indoor crew, though Bob Chavez is only one game behind me. The worst I can finish is 50-31, almost twenty games above .500. Trust me, nobody is more stunned by that than I am. Well, maybe one person.

Record: 50-21 (.712)

Game
Comments
Pick
BUF @ TOR Might be a homer pick again, but the Rock played well without Billings last weekend, and the thought of jumping over the Bandits for second place (not that this one win would do that) is probably quite alluring. Then again, the Bandits are desperate to avoid another six-game losing streak. Rock
BUF @ ROC If this was the Bandits from the first half of the season, this would be a tough call. But the Bandits from the second half of the season are quite a different team. Read an article saying that the Bandits have been hit by a “flu bug” so that won’t help them either. Knighthawks
COL @ MIN Colorado is in the playoffs if they win or if Vancouver loses, but I imagine the Mammoth want to get in themselves. Minnesota has nothing to play for since they’re already out, so they might be in “let the young kids get some playing time” mode. Mammoth
CAL @ EDM Edmonton’s had their way with Calgary this year (winning all 3 games by a combined score of 45-26). The Rush face the Stealth next week so I see them going 17-1. Rush
PHI @ VAN The Stealth have a chance at the playoffs but it’s pretty faint. But if they don’t play their hearts out trying to make the most of that chance, then they don’t deserve to be in the playoffs anyway. Stealth

Week 16 picks

5-1 last week, only missing the one game I hoped to get wrong, the Rock’s defeat of the Stealth. There are only 15 games left this year, so the worst I can finish is 47-34. Then again, I could also finish at 62-19. That might be optimistic though.

Record: 47-19 (.712)

Game
Comments
Pick
EDM @ COL If the mighty Roughnecks and Knighthawks couldn’t take the Rush down, I can’t see the Mammoth doing it. Then again, the Rush only beat the Mammoth by one last week and have already clinched everything they can clinch in the regular season. The Mammoth are at home and are still in a playoff race. But I’m still picking Edmonton. Rush
PHI @ TOR Homer pick? Perhaps but the Rock played a really good game last week, missing Garrett Billings for more than half of it. The question is whether they can adapt their offence for a full game without him. Will they ride Brandon Miller while he’s playing well, or go back to Nick Rose? Rock
VAN @ ROC Which Stealth team shows up? If it’s the one from last week, the Knighthawks should have no problem with them. If it’s not, and we end up with a good ol’ fashioned Vinc vs. Richards matchup, it’ll be a great game. Knighthawks
BUF @ MIN I imagine the Bandits are angry with their performance last weekend. Any time you get compared with a team that missed the playoffs (the 2013 Bandits), you need to step your game up and I think Troy will get that out of his team this weekend. That said, the Swarm have been playing pretty well over the last few weeks but still have managed to be on the losing end of most of them. I can see an upset here. Bandits
EDM @ CAL The Rush have had their way with the Roughnecks this season, beating them 15-8 and 15-7. Even if they lose to the Mammoth, I think the Rush will take this one. Rush43338