Pre-season game report: Rush 11 @ Rock 13

The NLL is back! After a long summer, we finally have NLL action again, even if it’s pre-season. In fact there’s lots of it: not only did the Rush take on the Rock at the TRAC on Saturday, the Roughnecks played a doubleheader at the LEC, playing the Mammoth in the afternoon and the Stealth later in the evening. I’m guessing that was a split-squad thing like they do in baseball.

I arrived late to the TRAC, only 10-12 minutes before game time. As a result, I got the honour of standing for the entire game, down in the corner near the scoreboard. I was right at the glass though, so it wasn’t so bad – see the picture below. I had a great view of half the game and a lousy view of the other half.

This being a pre-season game, both teams had some missing pieces: the Rush played four goaltenders, one for each quarter, none of whom were Evan Kirk. Chris Corbeil, Nic Bilic, and Jeremy Thompson were also missing, and Mark Matthews, Jeff Shattler, and Ben McIntosh only played the first half. At the other end, Adam Jones did not make his Rock debut, and Challen Rogers, Sandy Chapman, Stephan Leblanc, Brodie Merrill, Jeff Gilbert, Bill Hostrawser, Damon Edwards, and Nick Rose were out.

The Rush warming up

As I said, the Rush played four goaltenders, each looking for that coveted “backing up Evan Kirk and thus working the door for 95% of the season” position. This race started and ended strong, as Tyler Carlson was sharp in the first quarter and former Rock backup Zac Boychuk did well in the fourth though he was at the far end of the floor so I couldn’t really tell. Pete Dubenski played in the second and again, he was at the far end from me but Adam Shute was near me in the third. He wasn’t bad but did allow a couple of soft ones.

The Rock also swapped goalies, with Brandon Miller playing in the first half (and struggled a little – not quite the strong performance we saw at the Heritage Cup a few weeks back) and draftee Riley Hutchcraft playing in the second half. Hutchcraft came out wearing #1 in the third quarter, but was wearing #52 (with no name on the jersey) in the fourth.  I confirmed with the NLL’s Tyson Geick that it was still Hutchcraft, who must have changed jerseys. Hutch (I’m assuming his nickname is Hutch) allowed a couple of quick goals to start the third, but settled down and played pretty well after that.

Awesome

  • Mark Matthews. Mark Matthews is awesome. That’s all I have to say about that.
  • Jeff Shattler made his Rush debut and looked good, scoring one goal.
  • The Rush defense looked as strong as ever, despite being down a few regulars. By the time we were halfway through the first quarter, I had noted pass interceptions by both Dilks and Rubisch.
  • In the second quarter, a Rush player took a shot, which Miller stopped. The ball dropped and began rolling towards the goal line, but Miller couldn’t see it. Defender Brandon Slade did and grabbed it before it crossed the line. Nice play.
  • More D: During a Rush 5-on-3, Brad Kri and Latrell Harris both made some great plays to prevent goals. I believe the Rush did eventually score on the 5-on-3.
  • Near the end of the second quarter, the music playing on the PA suddenly stopped and all you could hear was the sound of the game. This was awesome, but they started up the music again a couple of minutes later.
  • At the end of the second quarter, Brock Sorensen found himself in front of the Rush crease with the ball while on the move. He scored a beautiful jumping goal… that went in about a half-second after the buzzer. It didn’t count, but it was a thing of beauty.
  • Tom Schreiber looked to be continuing from where he left off last season. I had to smile when I heard my first “Schreiber, from Hellyer and Hickey” call. I suspect I’ll be hearing those three names, in various orders, many times throughout the season.

Not awesome

  • Lots of dropped and missed passes on both sides. “Mid-season form” this was not.
  • Would have been nice to see Adam Jones. Looking forward to hearing my first “Jones, from Hellyer and Hickey” call.
  • One of Tom Schreiber’s three goals was assisted by Seth Laidlaw but the announcer said that Lyndon Bunio got the assist. It likely makes no difference at all but for the record, it was Laidlaw.
  • Robert Church did play but I barely noticed him. It’s possible he also only played half the game.
  • I will leave home earlier for next week’s game in the hopes of getting a seat. The seats at the TRAC aren’t that comfortable, but it’s better than standing for two hours.

Other game notes

  • Only one person on either team was listed as transition: Rush rookie Austin Murphy.
  • Rock rookies I noticed: Drew Belgrave looked very large, Connor Cole looked very fast, and Brett Ulbikas and Lyndon Bunio look like they need to be added to my name pronunciation guide. If Bunio makes the team, I apologize in advance for the number of times I will accidentally type “Bunion” instead.
  • The Rush didn’t have names on their jerseys so it was a little harder to spot the rookies.
  • Derek Keenan was not behind the bench for the Rush – he was upstairs in the press area. I imagine it’s a bit of a treat to watch your own team from afar without having to be involved in every decision.

Photo credit: me

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Blockbuster day in the NLL

The free agency period began with a bang today, as two of the biggest blockbuster trades we’ve seen in years both happened on the same day. In the first one, a couple of former teammates who have each played for a bunch of teams were swapped along with a goalie, and in the other the two main players were both goalies.

Deal the First

Early in the day, Teddy Jenner broke the news on twitter that a big deal was coming, and Tyson Geick confirmed that it would be announced at noon. Promptly at noon, both Jenner and the Buffalo Bandits broke the deal: the Mammoth sent Callum Crawford and Alexis Buque to the Bandits for Ryan Benesch and a conditional third round draft pick. Benesch and Crawford were both scoring stars on the Swarm for four seasons from 2010-2013; Benesch won the scoring title in 2011 with 95 points, and Crawford broke 90 in both 2010 and 2013. As good as those numbers are, both have since taken their games to another level. Each has picked up MVP votes over the past couple of years with similar numbers: Benesch grabbed 113 points with the Bandits in 2015 while Crawford picked up 115 points in his first season with the Mammoth in 2016.

Callum Crawford

Buque has been one of the top backup goalies in the league for a couple of years, and I suspected that he’d be one of the first snatched up by next year’s expansion teams. Sounds like the Bandits had other plans. Benesch and Crawford have been pretty even in the points department over the last number of years, though Crawford picks up more assists. The Bandits also announced today that they’d signed Davide DiRuscio to a contract, which leads me to believe that the Anthony Cosmo retirement announcement is imminent.

On first blush, I have to call the Bandits the winners on this one. If we call Benesch and Crawford a wash, Buque vs. a 3rd round draft pick is a no-brainer. The Bandits needed right-handed scoring and got it, though they weakened their left side to do it. But if Cosmo is indeed retiring, they’ve also shored up their goaltending for years. The Mammoth wanted to replace John Grant on the left side (though he barely played last season) and they’ve certainly done that.

Deal the Second

Aaron BoldA few hours later, Jenner broke another big trade, this one involving the Rush and the Black Wolves, and one that still has me scratching my head. The Rush sent goalie Aaron Bold, defender John Lafontaine, the 8th overall draft pick this year and a second round pick in 2018 to New England for Evan Kirk and… that’s all. Make no mistake, Evan Kirk is an excellent goaltender but this trade seems a bit perplexing. Bold and Kirk are two of the top goalies in the league, but not only would I not put the difference between them big enough to cover Lafontaine and two draft picks, but I’d have put them in the other order – if I was giving up Bold and receiving Kirk, I’d be expecting to receive another player and/or draft picks. Note that Kirk is younger than Bold, but only by two years.

Yes, Kirk won Goaltender of the year in 2016 and Bold has never won it. But Bold was a runner-up in each of the previous two years. And if you care about that sort of thing, Bold has two titles and Kirk none.

If this deal was done by anyone other than Derek Keenan, I’d say he got fleeced. But Derek Keenan doesn’t get fleeced. Usually, Derek Keenan does the fleecing.

I’m guessing there’s more to this deal than meets the eye, or it’s only part of a series of deals, the rest of which will be announced soon. Perhaps Bold requested a trade east and all the eastern GMs knew it, so Keenan had no bargaining power.

I’m not sure what the Rush hoped to accomplish with this deal. They got a little younger, but they were one of the youngest teams in the league anyway and the difference is minimal. And Lafontaine is only 27. They talked about the draft picks they got for Adam Jones being important because of the (likely) upcoming expansion drafts, and then traded two picks away for at best a wash at goaltender and they lost a defenseman too. Apparently there is more to come from the Rush, so perhaps those moves will explain their thought process.

As for the Black Wolves, they got better today and also picked up some draft picks to get better in the future. Not bad.

In which I admit my mistake

Last week on Addicted to Lacrosse, I talked a little bit about the circumstances surrounding the Ryan Dilks / Cliff Smith fight from last Saturday. I said that I was surprised that the Stealth ended up on the power play rather than the Rush, considering Matt Beers should have gotten a penalty for an illegal cross-check and Smith could even have gotten a third-man-in penalty (which is an immediate game misconduct and a game suspension). I didn’t say it in so many words but my implication was that the refs blew the call.

The video from the fourth quarter from that game was not yet available so I couldn’t go back and see what actually happened, but it’s there now, so here’s my follow-up.

In short, I was wrong.

Here’s what happened. Jeremy Thompson ran up the floor looking backwards, waiting for a pass from Ryan Dilks. He received it, turned around, and saw Matt Beers right in front of him. He dropped his shoulder a little just before they collided and Beers went flying. Thompson kept the ball and walked away slowly. Beers got up, came back over and cross-checked Thompson across the upper arm. Dilks took exception to the hit and went after Beers and while the two of them were chatting, Thompson took another couple of steps, dropped to his knees for a second, then rolled onto his back, clearly hurt. At that point, Cliff Smith got between Dilks and Beers and the two of them got into it. I can’t say for sure that any actual punches were thrown before they fell, almost on top of Thompson.

Dilks got two for roughing, and Dilks and Smith got five each for fighting.

Matt Beers

Mistake #1: Beers hit on Thompson was a totally legal cross-check. No penalty was warranted.

Mistake #2: Smith was not the third man in since Dilks and Beers were doing some pushing but not fighting. You can’t be the third man in in a fight when there’s no fight.

Would I have given Dilks an extra two for roughing? Probably not, but I can see why they did. So the end result: The refs got it right, as they usually do. And I was wrong, as I… well, let’s just leave it at I was wrong.

Could happen… 2017 edition

Round about this time of year, people think they have a decent idea of how the standings will end up, more or less. So far this season, Saskatchewan has clinched a playoff berth, but nobody else has. We think the Rush and Swarm will probably be at the top in their divisions, but it’s not guaranteed. Calgary and Rochester are currently at the bottom but both are only a half game back of the team in front of them. There’s enough time left for some really crazy things to happen, and every year I find it fun to look over the possibilities if the lower-ranked teams start winning and the teams at the top start losing. If everything falls into place, could we have a Calgary-Rochester final? Could the Swarm miss the playoffs? Let’s look at some scenarios that are unlikely but still possible:

Calgary finishes 2nd in the west

Calgary wins out, Saskatchewan loses to Vancouver, New England, and Toronto, and Colorado loses out. Then the Rush win the west at 10-8, Calgary is second at 9-9, and Colorado and Vancouver tie at 8-10. Vancouver would win the tiebreaker in that scenario with a 3-1 record against the Mammoth, so Colorado is out.
Calgary wins out, Vancouver beats Colorado, and Colorado loses one more game. Then the Roughnecks are 9-9 and the Mammoth are at best 9-9, but Calgary holds the tiebreaker.

Vancouver wins the west

Update: Can’t happen anymore.
Vancouver wins out, Saskatchewan loses at least three more, and Colorado loses to Rochester. Then the Stealth are at 10-8, the Rush and Mammoth are at 9-9, and the Roughnecks are at best 8-10.

All five teams in the east finish 9-9

Update: Can’t happen anymore.
New England beats Georgia and Saskatchewan and loses to Vancouver. Buffalo beats Calgary, Toronto, and Georgia twice. Rochester beats Colorado, New England, and Georgia twice. Toronto loses to Saskatchewan and beats Buffalo. Then all the eastern teams are 9-9 and we have the nastiest tie-breaker ever.

Rochester wins the east

Update: Can’t happen anymore.
Rochester wins out. Toronto and Georgia lose out. Buffalo loses to Calgary. New England loses to Saskatchewan and Vancouver. Then Rochester, Georgia, and Buffalo are 9-9 while Toronto and New England are 8-10. Rochester has a 4-2 record against Buffalo and Georgia and wins the east while Buffalo finishes second and Georgia third.

Buffalo wins the east

Update: Can’t happen anymore.
Buffalo wins out. Toronto and Georgia lose out. New England loses to Saskatchewan and Vancouver. Rochester beats New England and loses to Colorado. Then the Bandits are 10-8, Georgia is 9-9, and the rest are tied at 8-10. New England wins the tiebreaker and makes the playoffs.

Georgia misses the playoffs

Update: Georgia has now clinched a playoff spot.
Georgia loses out. Toronto beats Saskatchewan and Buffalo. New England beats Saskatchewan and Rochester. Buffalo beats Calgary and Toronto. Then Toronto and New England have 10 wins while Buffalo and Georgia are both 9-9. Buffalo would win the tie-breaker here and the Swarm are out.

Five players you didn’t know played somewhere else

Everyone knows that John Tavares played his entire career with the Bandits. Similarly, Blaine Manning played with nobody but the Rock, Andrew McBride with the Roughnecks, and there are a few others.

And then there are a number of other players who you might think are in the same boat because they’ve played so long with one team that you can’t think of them playing anywhere else. But they did. If you’re a long-time fan of the league, you may know all of these but I’d guess that for many of you, at least one of these will be a surprise. The first one was for me and led me to look around for more.

These are in no particular order.

Jeff Shattler

Can you imagine Shattler in any jersey other than the Roughnecks? How about Bandit orange? Shattler played a single game with the Buffalo Bandits in 2006, where he picked up one assist and three loose balls. He was then traded to the Roughnecks along with a second round draft pick for Kevin Dostie. Shattler’s now in his eleventh season with Calgary, having played over 190 games and amassed over 700 points. He also won the Transition Player of the Year and MVP awards in 2011. Dostie picked up 157 points in 53 games over four seasons in Buffalo so it’s not like the Bandits got nothing back, but I’m going to call Calgary the winner on that one.

Incidentally, that second round pick that Calgary also picked up? They used it to draft Jamie Lincoln, who never played for Calgary but did see time with the Mammoth, Stealth, and Black Wolves.

Jeff Shattler

Mark Steenhuis

Steenhuis has been a Bandit his whole life, right? Wrong. He actually played a full season with the Columbus Landsharks in 2002, picking up 30 points in 12 games. He’s since played 233 games as a Bandit.

Bob Watson

Watson actually played for two different teams before the Rock, but one was the Ontario Raiders (who turned into the Rock after one season in Hamilton) so that doesn’t really count. But Whipper also played 268 minutes for the Baltimore Thunder in 1996, where he had a very un-Whipper-like 17.24 GAA. He took 1997 off entirely and returned to the NLL with the Raiders in 1998 and then played 13 seasons with the Rock, where he only had two seasons with a GAA above 12 (and one of them was 12.04). Oh, and two Goaltender of the Year awards, two NLL Championship Game MVP awards, six championships, and a Hall of Fame induction.

Jimmy Quinlan

Quinlan became the face of the Edmonton Rush from 2006-2013, playing over 125 games, many of them as captain. He then became an assistant coach with the team, where he remains. Many Rush fans can’t imagine the team without Jimmy Quinlan. But Quinlan picked up 10 points in 8 games, and a Championship ring, with the Toronto Rock in 2005.

Scott Ranger

Ranger was drafted by the San Jose Stealth and actually played parts of two seasons (11 points in 9 games in 2004 and 2005) there before heading to Calgary where he picked up more than 450 points in 137 regular season and playoff games over 8 years.

Game report: Saskatchewan 11 @ Toronto 13

The weird 2017 season continues. As Bob Chavez pointed out on IL Indoor, last year’s Champions Cup finalists are a combined 0-4 while the teams that missed the playoffs are 5-2. One thing that has continued from last season is the injury bug plaguing the Toronto Rock. Stephen Leblanc has missed both games so far and then Brett Hickey was injured during practice and is now on the IR. But rather than make their absence the story of the game, the Rock’s new guys stepped up to make sure that didn’t happen. And since there are a lot of Rock new guys, this was significant.

One question was directed at the Rock by many fans throughout this game: Who are these guys? Ten players in the lineup weren’t on the team last year (eight (!!) first-year players, Damon Edwards, and Steve Fryer who was on the practice roster), while five of last year’s top six offensive players (Doyle, Sanderson, Hickey, Hellyer, Leblanc) weren’t there. Every Rock goal except one unassisted goal from Brad Kri involved at least one player who was not on the team last year. Kieran McArdle and Tom Schreiber continue their strong rookie campaigns; neither one looks like they had never played box lacrosse a couple of months ago.

Damon Edwards (not on Saturday)But even bigger additions to the Rock are the transition guys. Brodie Merrill is having a bit of a resurgence at the age of 35. Damon Edwards (dumb penalty in the third quarter notwithstanding) is looking great in his return from missing all of last year, Jesse Gamble is Jesse Gamble (which is a very good thing), and I’m liking the addition of Challen Rogers more and more every game. I said after the first Rock game that if the Rock score ten transition goals a game, it doesn’t matter much how their actual offensive players do, and that seemed true after this one as well.

The same “Who are these guys?” question was directed at the Rush during the first half, though it was less literal. The guy wearing the Bold jersey wasn’t making stops that the real Aaron Bold generally would, the best defense in the league (and one of the best ever) was allowing all kinds of shots on the aforementioned Bold, and the offense couldn’t score to save their life. The Rush we were all expecting showed up in the second half. Mark Matthews looked as dominant as ever, and Robert Church also had a great game. I honestly didn’t notice Adam Jones or Ryan Keenan much but Mike Messenger scored a beautiful diving cross-crease goal. This reappearance of the real Rush almost had them pulling off the comeback that Rock fans knew was possible. For one eighteen minute span, the Rush outscored the Rock 8-1, turning a 10-2 blowout into an 11-10 nailbiter. Fortunately for the Rock, that’s as close as it got.

As a Rock fan I’m glad the Rush never tied it up although I have to say as a guy who writes a weekly column on clutch goals, it wouldn’t have been so bad.

Considering the Rock missed the playoffs last year, lost Doyle and Sanderson to retirement, and lost Hellyer, Leblanc, Sorensen, PMerrill, Marshall, and Miller to injury (and Hickey for game 2), it’s hard to believe they’re 2-0 and looking as strong as they are. I’m sure they’ll fall back to earth soon – nobody is expecting 18-0 – but I for one am going to enjoy this ride as long as it lasts.

Other game notes:

  • My thoughts are with Rock PA announcer Bruce Barker as he recovers from a stroke. I don’t know who the guy was doing the PA but he did a pretty good job with one exception – when replacing someone who’s been doing a job like this for years, don’t try to be him. He used a number of Barker catch-phrases that he probably shouldn’t have, IMHO.
  • In previous years, the team was always announced in numerical order but Colin Doyle was always last and prominently announced as the captain. (“Your captain, my captain, our captain”). Brodie Merrill was listed in numerical order and his captaincy was mentioned almost in passing. One wonders if Merrill himself asked for this lack of special treatment.
  • Connor Buczek was included the player announcements although he’s on the practice roster. He wasn’t at the game. Brodie Tutton, also on the practice roster, was not listed.
  • Ryan Dilks was ejected for instigating a fight with Kieran McArdle after McArdle crashed into Aaron Bold. I’m one of the most outspoken anti-fight people around, but I didn’t think Dilks deserved to be tossed for that. Five each would have been fine with me. Of course as a Rock fan, removing the reigning Defender of the Year from the game in the 2nd quarter was also just fine.
  • Nice of the Rock to recognize Josh Sanderson, though doing it between quarters rather halfway through a TV timeout would have allowed for a longer ovation.
  • Not a single challenge was issued by either coach.