2023 NLL Week 1

The NLL is back! And with it comes my weekly reports on what was awesome and not over the previous week. If you want scores and game summaries, there are plenty of places to find those so I won’t repeat them here. But sometimes there’s one particular play or event that’s particularly amazing, terrible, or otherwise interesting. Sometimes it’s one player or team who had a great or terrible weekend. Sometimes it’s an interesting characteristic shared by multiple games, as we see from the first Awesome this week. I try to focus on the positive so I hope to have more positives than negatives most of the time, but sometimes there are things that are just, well, not awesome, and I don’t want to sweep those under the rug. Continue reading

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2023 NLL East preview

Division predictions: where I think each team will end up in the standings and who might have a breakout year.

FireWolvesAlbany Firewolves

It’s hard to get really fired up about a team that lost all of their TOP FIVE scorers from last season and didn’t replace them with even one star player. Those top five scored a total of 330 points last season, which is 70% of the team’s total. Kieran McArdle, Connor Kelly, and Haina Thompson will certainly help, but none of the rest of the new additions has more than about 10 NLL games to their name. That’s not to say they’re going to be terrible – only two teams gave up fewer goals than the Firewolves last year, and they still have a solid defensive core, a top-flight goaltender in Doug Jamieson, and Charlie Kitchen will see lots more playing time and could make some big strides. But somebody’s gotta score goals and without a monster year from somebody or an above-average year for several, it could be the dreaded “rebuilding year” for Albany.

Look out for

Connor Kelly hasn’t played an NLL game in almost three years (March 2020 with the Riptide) but if he can shake off the rust quickly, he could have a very good year.

Prediction

Eighth in the east.


BanditsBuffalo Bandits

The Bandits have been to two of the past three Championships but are still hungry for their first Championship since 2008. They lost Connor Fields and Chase Fraser is out to start the year, but much of the powerhouse Buffalo offense is returning. I said above that only two teams allowed fewer goals than Albany; well, Buffalo was one of them. With that defense (minus veteran Kevin Brownell) in front of reigning/perpetual Goalie of the Year Matt Vinc, and the aforementioned offense, there’s no reason to believe the Bandits can’t contend again this year. The question will be whether they will be good enough to hold off the surging Rock in the East.

Look out for

Tehoka Nanticoke had a very good rookie season, with flashes of “oh my goodness” here and there. With that year of experience, I think Nanticoke takes his game to the next level in 2023. Maybe not a hundred-point type level, but I can see a 20-30 point jump.

Prediction

Second in the east.


SwarmGeorgia Swarm

The Swarm have lost Stephan Leblanc, Joel White, Jordan Hall, and Mike Poulin to retirement, Miles Thompson to injury, and Chad Tutton to free agency. That’s a lot of big names on offense, transition, defence, and of course their starting goaltender. Jeremy Thompson will help out the D and transition, and also gives the Swarm a pretty solid faceoff tandem along with Jordan MacIntosh. On offense, they brought in Andrew Kew from Albany and 2021 second-overall draft pick Ryan Lanchbury will make his NLL debut this year. If those two can gel with former MVPs Lyle Thompson and Shayne Jackson, the Swarm offense could be very good – maybe not Bandits or Seals good, but certainly sufficient to give the team a chance in any game. The biggest question is goaltending – Craig Wende is 31 but has only played 391 minutes in his entire NLL career. Is he up to the challenge of being a full-time starter and playing 800+ minutes in one season? If not, the Swarm better hope that last year’s trend of excellent rookie goaltenders continues since Brett Dobson has played zero minutes in his NLL career.

Look out for

Bryan Cole used to be one of those guys whose name you didn’t hear much. But you started hearing it more often last season as people realized what he does for the Swarm, which is just about everything. You might start hearing that name a lot more often this season.

Prediction

Sixth in the east.


ThunderbirdsHalifax Thunderbirds

How does a team lose Shawn Evans, Stephen Keogh, and Rhys Duch in one offseason and still end up better? Well, that’s a bit misleading since they only had Duch for a game and a half and Evans for six games (and was a healthy scratch in a few more). Still, their offense now consists of Ryan Benesch, Cody Jamieson, Randy Staats, Clarke Petterson, Chris Boushy, Eric Fannell, and Austin Shanks. Not too shabby. Ryan Terefenko was an All-Star in the PLL last summer, and along with Tyson Bell gives the Thunderbirds a guys like Jake Withers and Graeme Hossack are among the best defenders in the league. Aaron Bold is not returning to the Thunderbirds so the net is Warren Hill’s once again. Hill has been streaky over his career – he’s had periods of looking unstoppable (eg. most of 2020) but other periods of looking pretty ordinary, so Halifax’s success depends on which Hill they see more of.

Look out for

Terefenko played very well in the PLL and there’s no reason to believe he won’t bring that success to the indoor game as well.

Prediction

Third in the east.


Riptide-smallNew York Riptide

A lot of people are talking about the Riptide making a big splash this year, and I see no reason to disagree. They haven’t made a ton of changes, really, adding Reilly O’Connor up front and Kevin Brownell and Jordi Jones-Smith on the D while losing Kieran McArdle. New York’s offense was lights out last year, scoring more goals than anyone but the Bandits. Callum Crawford is 38 and so he may have lost half a step from previous seasons, but half a step down from Crawford’s previous seasons is still better than most. I think it’s safe to say that Jeff Teat’s career has not peaked and after watching him play last year, the thought of him getting better is exciting. Connor Kearnan, Jake Fox, and Larson Sundown are all returning, and Tyler Digby is on the holdout list but assuming he returns, the Riptide offense is just as potent as last year. On the back end, Brent Noseworthy and Dan MacRae start the year on the IR but New York has a strong-looking defense even without those two, especially with the addition of Brownell and Jones-Smith. Steven Orleman didn’t have a great start to his debut season as a starter, only winning one of his first seven decisions. But he went 4-4 over his last eight and lowered his GAA from 13.14 over his first nine games to 11.20 over his last nine.

Look out for

I really enjoyed watching Larson Sundown last season. I don’t know if he’ll put up 80 points or anything, but we’ll hear his name a few more times in 2023.

Prediction

Fourth in the east.


WingsPhiladelphia Wings

They lost Kevin Crowley, Corey Small, and Brett Hickey (and Kyle Jackson, though he’s on the “protected” list, whatever that means), but picked up Joe Resetarits. That’s still a net negative from last season, and even with Crowley, Small, Hickey, and Jackson along with Matt Rambo, Ben McIntosh, and Blaze Riorden on the offense, the Wings were second last in the league in scoring last year. A bit of an offensive shakeup might have been needed here. The addition of veteran defender Chad Tutton is one of the more understated free agent signings of the off-season.

Look out for

I think Ben McIntosh will take more of a leadership role on the Wings offense. He won’t outscore Resetarits, but he’ll jump back up to the 70-80 point range where he was in Saskatchewan.

Prediction

Fifth in the east.


KnighthawksRochester Knighthawks

The Knighthawks finished last or near the bottom of the league last year in most categories, so it stands to reason that they’ve made a lot of changes. Connor Fields and Austin Hasen join the offense; Fields got some time during a couple of seasons in San Diego and then had a breakout season in Buffalo last year. Hasen is a rookie but won the Mann Cup with the Lakers over the summer, and looked quite comfortable playing with a pile of NLL stars so expect him to fit right in. Riley Hutchcraft will fight Rylan Hartley for the starting goalie spot (and we know Hartley can fight). One concern with the Knighthawks is the number of injuries: Cory Highfield, Ryland Rees, Jeff Wittig, Tyler Biles, and Thomas Whitty all played significant time with Rochester last year but begin the year on the IR or PUP.

Look out for

Austin Hasen will mesh well with fellow Lakers Holden Cattoni, Thomas Hoggarth, and Turner Evans (not to mention Paul Dawson, Jordan Stouros, Thomas Whitty, Mitch Ogilvie, Matt Gilray, and coach and Austin’s dad Mike Hasen).

Prediction

Seventh in the east.


RockToronto Rock

The Rock know that they were maybe half a second away from sending their last game of 2022 to overtime, and potentially going to the Championship game. They are in win-now mode and had to get better during the off-season, which is exactly what they did. Their off-season haul is one of the best of any team. Corey Small may not return to the 111 points he had in 2017 but 30 goals and 70 points is not unlikely. Stephen Keogh will fill a Kasey Beirnes type of role but with more grit – he does the “dirty work”, sets hard picks, and generally gets crushed inside so his teammates on the outside get better looks. And like Beirnes, he won’t put up the big numbers that others might but he’ll be instrumental to the Rock offense. And it’s not like he doesn’t score at all – he scores some pretty beautiful goals.

On the back-end, the Rock allowed by far the fewest goals of any team last year – only two teams were within twenty of the Rock’s total. In fact, since the league moved to an 18-game season in 2014, only one team (the 2014 Edmonton Rush) has allowed fewer than the Rock’s 166 last year. They had Defender of the Year Mitch de Snoo, Brad Kri, and Latrell Harris, all three of which showed up in the top 10 of IL Indoor’s list of the league’s best defenders. Now you add Chris Corbeil (also in the top ten) to that incredible defense? I imagine Nick Rose cannot wait to get this season started to be able to watch those guys in front of him. Unfortunately, Corbeil was injured during the off season and had shoulder surgery in October so he won’t be ready to start the season.

Look out for

Challen Rogers will be playing on the offense this season, so watch for his scoring numbers to skyrocket. But I’m going to say Zach Manns has a breakout year, taking over many of the touches that Reid Reinholdt had last year.

Prediction

First in the east.

2023: Who’s in, who’s out

Here it is: a complete summary of all the roster changes for each team, all in one place.

Note that these are the changes as of the final roster from last season, so a player might be listed as “In” even if he played for that team during 2022. And a player who’s injured but still part of that team will be listed as “out”. Not all teams have announced who’s on their IR, PUP, or holdout lists so take “None” with a grain of salt. Also most teams don’t have (or didn’t announce) a “Protected” list, but a few did.

And since a number of you have asked, no I don’t know exactly what the different lists mean or the criteria to be on one. I think the PUP list means you got injured playing lacrosse while the IR list means you got injured doing something else. Or possibly it’s the other way around. I’m not sure why it would matter how someone got injured (Anthony Cosmo once made one of these lists because he injured himself shovelling snow), it really only matters that they can’t play. Continue reading

The Rock are on the move again

Only a year after relocating to Hamilton, the Toronto Rock are moving once again. But this time, it has nothing to do with the usual reasons an NLL team moves: high arena cost or low attendance. The Rock were informed last week that a huge renovation project at the First Ontario Centre will prevent the team from playing there in the 2023-2024 season and some or possibly all of the 2024-2025 season. The upcoming 2022-2023 season is unaffected.

From the sounds of things, the Rock knew about this project and were being kept up-to-date with the design, but were under the impression that games could continue during the renovations. It would be a bit inconvenient, but not that big a deal. But the news came last week that the arena would be unavailable for up to two years.

Just to clarify, this is:

Not Awesome

Unless Jamie Dawick is willing to shell out more big money to go back to Scotiabank Arena, it’s likely the Rock will be moving to a smaller venue. One possibility is Coca-Cola Coliseum (formerly Ricoh Coliseum), on the Canadian National Exhibition grounds. This is where the Toronto Marlies (the Maple Leafs’ AHL farm team) play, and it would mean the team is back within the city of Toronto. The CCC (I have no idea if it’s called that; everyone still calls it “Ricoh”) is easily accessible via the GO Train, though I think nearby parking is fairly sparse and while it’s not far from downtown Toronto, it’s not walking distance. But the arena holds fewer than 9,000 people (8,100 for hockey, 8,500 for basketball). Each of the Rock’s last three regular season home games in 2022 had more than 8,500 fans in attendance.

Artist's rendering of the new First Ontario Centre

Other possibilities include:

  • Maple Leaf Gardens. Well, it’s not really a thing anymore; the building is still there but the actual arena is now a grocery store. However there is the “Mattamy Athletic Centre at the Gardens”, an ice rink on the third floor of the building. It’s even held lacrosse games: the Toronto Shooting Stars of CLax played there in 2013. But it holds fewer than 4,000 people.
  • CAA Centre (formerly Powerade Centre) in Brampton, where the Excelsiors play. Only holds about 5,000.
  • The Paramount Fine Foods Centre (formerly Hershey Centre) in Mississauga. The first Heritage Cup game was held here in 2002. Holds between 5,000 and 6,000.
  • The Sleeman Centre in Guelph, also seats about 5,000.
  • The University of Guelph has an arena with an NHL-sized hockey rink. The website does not list how many spectators it holds, but judging by the picture it’s a thousand or two, tops.
  • Kitchener Memorial Auditorium, home of the Kitchener Rangers. Some WILC games were held here in 2003. Capacity is a little higher than most of the others, at a little over 7,000.
  • There’s also the TRAC, where the Rock hold practices and pre-season games, but I believe it only holds about 1,500 people. And there are no seats, only benches, so selling tickets that aren’t general admission would be difficult.
  • The Iroquois Lacrosse Arena is about 30 minutes west of Hamilton. Several bazillion lacrosse games have been held here but it only seats about 3,000.
  • Budweiser Gardens in London is home to the London Knights OHL team and holds a little over 9,000. Good sized arena but London is an hour and a half southwest of Hamilton and about two and a half from Toronto.

If I had to guess, I’d say the Coca-Cola Centre is probably the most likely choice.

But this whole thing just sucks. The Rock have done a lot of work in the community since moving to Hamilton, and there are Rock banners and logos all around downtown, even in the off-season. Did you ever see those around the arena in Toronto, even back in the early days when the team was winning Championship after Championship and filling the building? No, you did not. They appear at local community events, and attendance was getting pretty good near the end of the 2022 season. Then a year from now they’ll vanish again for two years? New fans in Hamilton may not want to travel into Toronto for games, and once the team returns after two years (on the assumption that they do return), they’ll have to start re-integrating themselves into the community all over again.

Of course fans in Toronto (and even more so, those east of Toronto) are less than sympathetic about unhappy Hamilton fans. They might be glad to get their team back into Toronto, but it’s only for two years and then they get their team and their hearts ripped out all over again. And if it’s not back to Toronto, then it’s similar to Hamilton: new team shows up, hopefully picks up new local fans, then leaves two years later. Nobody wins.

NLL Schedule 2023

The 2023 NLL schedule has been announced. I’m sure there are fans of every team screaming about how unfair it is to their team in particular, because there always are. But honestly, it’s really pretty good for most teams. Only one team plays back-to-back games twice, and one of those is a weekend with two home games. Going for weeks without playing is always a problem but it’s fairly even – ten of the fifteen teams go at least 21 days without a game, but nobody goes more than 22 days.

There is one part of the schedule I’m not crazy about, so we’ll lead with that.

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2022 Off-season summary, Part II

A few days ago, I posted my summary of the off-season moves, beginning with the new commissioner and CBA, last year’s award winners, and the new Las Vegas team finally beginning to fill out their roster. Today we’re going to get into the player changes we’ll see on the floor this winter. Rather than evaluate each transaction separately, let’s look at each team and what changes they’ve made so far. This will be similar to the “Who’s in, who’s out” article I do every year summarizing each team’s roster changes, but is obviously incomplete and subject to change. Continue reading

2022 Off-season summary, Part I

Man, you take one little summer off from writing about lacrosse and what happens? THINGS. Things happen. Lots of things.

We have new winners for NLL awards, we have a new team that has players now, we have a new commissioner, we have a new CBA, we have trades, we have free agent signings, we have retirements, and we have coaching changes. And we still have over three months until the season actually begins!

There have been enough off-season changes that I’ve broken this article into two parts. Let’s get started.

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NLL Playoffs Week 3: Division Finals Game 2

There are at most four NLL games left in the season, and only three teams left. The Bandits now have a weekend off before facing either the Seals or Mammoth in the finals, and I’m sure that will be an awesome series. But what was awesome about last weekend? I’m glad you asked.

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Game report: Buffalo @ Toronto, Eastern Division finals, game 2

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.

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NLL Playoffs Week 2: Division Finals Game 1

The division finals started this past weekend with two fantastic and entertaining close games. On Friday, the underdog Mammoth came from behind three times but the Seals tied it up in the fourth quarter before Zed Williams scored his fifth to give Colorado the lead they wouldn’t give up. Meanwhile, Sunday night in Buffalo featured another exciting back-and-forth game, similar to Friday’s but with higher numbers.

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