Game Report: San Diego @ Toronto

Quick game report today, done in the format of the Addicted to Lacrosse podcast: Here are some awesome things about the game and some not-so-awesome things.

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Top ten surprises of the NLL 2019 season

Surprising things happen every year in every sport. This is partially why we love sports, isn’t it? If all of your predictions were correct every year, it’d get pretty boring pretty quick. Here are my top ten surprises from the 2019 season so far. At least these were surprises to me, you will probably have different opinions. Feel free to leave a comment if I missed any.

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Game report: Saskatchewan @ Toronto

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.

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Game report: Philadelphia @ Toronto

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.

Adam Jones

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 Buchan Update: 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!

Game report: Georgia 12 @ Toronto 11

I made my first-ever trip to Scotiabank Arena on Friday night, a building I’ve been to many times. I was hoping to see the Rock buck the trend and beat the Georgia Swarm, something they’ve only done once in nine (now ten) meetings – and never in Toronto. It almost happened, but at the last minute (literally, there was less than a minute left on the clock), Lyle Thompson decided to continue his amazing night by scoring one more. The Swarm hung on for the one-goal win in a close and entertaining game.

Thompson was unbelievable all night. He scored four beautiful goals, though his second goal was particularly impressive, a sort of jumping reverse twister sort of thing that displayed not only his incredible skill but creativity as well. He actually did better when being defended: with defenders all around him, he found ways to get open and shoot but he was stopped on a penalty shot (though I wasn’t sure whether he was stopped by Nick Rose or by the post). Holden Cattoni had a good game for the Swarm as well, but Shayne Jackson and Miles Thompson were both held off the scoreboard almost entirely, with a single assist each. Rookie defenseman Adam Wiedemann was named third star of the game, picking up his first career goal (and three assists) in his second NLL game, and making an entire section stand and cheer (see the notes section below).

Lyle Thompson

On the Rock side, Rob Hellyer was outstanding, finishing with five goals and five assists. On this night, there were two Captains America, as Tom Schreiber (the usual holder of that title) scored two and added three assists, but fellow New Yorker Kieran McArdle scored two and had four assists. Schreiber continued to impress, not only in the offensive zone but he ran back on at least one Georgia transition chance and made a great defensive play to prevent a shot on an almost-breakaway. Hellyer tried to do the same when he got caught on defense but wasn’t able to stop Jordan MacIntosh on a transition chance. Don’t worry Rob, lots of players can’t stop Jordan MacIntosh on a transition chance. Within three minutes of that goal, Hellyer had scored two more and assisted on another so we’ll call it more than even.

Brad Kri had another great game on defense and is becoming, in my mind, one of the top defenders in the league. Both goalies had their moments but I was a little concerned about Nick Rose. A number of times he’d make a save, the ball would drop down in front of him, and he’d wait a full second or two before making a move to pick it up, almost as if he didn’t see it. Once or twice I can understand but this was several times, and he was lucky that no Swarm player managed to pick it up before he did.

The game was close throughout – the Swarm had a three-goal lead for about 30 seconds in the second quarter, but no other lead was more than two. The game was tied at 2, 5, 7, 8, 10, and 11. The Swarm held a two-goal lead at the half but then both defenses really cracked down. Four minutes into the third quarter, the Rock scored their first goal in almost thirteen minutes, then another seven minutes later, and then the Swarm scored their first in over fifteen minutes. In the fourth, the Rock scored three straight to take the lead with five minutes left (their first lead since halfway through the first quarter) but Lyle Thompson tied it up two minutes later, and then put the nail in the coffin with 24 seconds to go.

Other game notes:

  • In case you missed the joke in the first sentence of this article, the building formerly known as Air Canada Centre was renamed this past summer to Scotiabank Arena. I tweeted something about that name during the game and had to look at the scoreboard twice to make sure I got it right – is it Scotiabank Centre? Arena? Place? We’ll likely continue calling it the ACC for a number of years. I know people who still talk about SkyDome, which was renamed as Rogers Centre thirteen years ago.
  • Former Rock captain alerts: We spotted Jim Veltman in the crowd, and Colin Doyle was there as well. Josh Sanderson and Brodie Merrill were both in Calgary with the Seals (Josh is an assistant coach and Brodie is now the Seals captain) and I have no idea about Chris Driscoll.
  • There was a very large group of Georgia Swarm fans in attendance, many of whom seemed to be friends and family of Adam Wiedemann. His first-quarter goal brought the entire section to their feet, and I heard loud cheers for each of his assists as well. That group went nuts for Lyle Thompson’s game-winner as well, and I joked that there were more Swarm fans at the game in Toronto than at most games in Georgia. I was only mostly kidding.
  • John Ranagan was given a five minute elbowing penalty. On the replay, it looked like a solid but legal hit, and then he brought his elbow up after the hit. Of course as Evan Schemenauer pointed out, the refs have to make the call in real time and don’t get the benefit of watching the play in slow motion. I can understand why it looked like an elbow to the head, which would have deserved five. Bummer for Ranagan but hey, the refs are only human. That’s sports.

 

2018-19 NLL Preview: East division

Just like yesterday’s West division preview, today we’ll cover the East: where I think they will end up in the standings, who might have a breakout year, and a haiku for each team.

BanditsBuffalo Bandits

Coupla changes in Buffalo. The Alex Buque experiment didn’t work out so well last year, but I think they’ve solved that problem. Reigning Goaltender of the Year Matt Vinc was brought in from Rochester to shore up the goaltending. I don’t think Vinc was thrilled with the prospect of the team moving to Halifax next year, and Buffalo is closer to his home in St. Catharine’s, so he’s happy.

But Steve Dietrich also brought in Corey Small, Bryce Sweeting, Ethan O’Connor, and Jon Harnett. Add a couple of defensive/transition studs in Ian MacKay and Matt Gilray (two of the top four draft picks) and the changes to the Bandits roster are impressive. They had a pretty potent lineup last year but needed goaltending and defensive help. They’ve addressed those shortcomings and improved their offense, which makes them my top pick for the East.

Look out for

Shawn Evans didn’t have a great year in 2018 by his standards. 83 points certainly ain’t bad, but after five straight 100+ point seasons, it’s a bit of a drop. I think he’ll want to prove that he’s still got it.

Prediction

First in the east.

Haiku

Corey Small up front
Lots of defensive changes
Vino in the net


SwarmGeorgia Swarm

The Swarm lost Kiel Matisz, Jordan Hall, and Jesse King over the summer. So who’s going to score their goals? Well, let’s not panic just yet. They still have Lyle Thompson, Miles Thompson, Shayne Jackson, Randy Staats, and Holden Cattoni, so I think they should still be OK in the offense department. The transition lost vets Ethan O’Connor and Joel White and replaced them with rookies, so that’s a possible concern. Everyone focuses on the Swarm’s offense so their defense gets kind of ignored. They don’t have the big names like Saskatchewan but I think the Swarm D as a whole is underrated.

Look out for

Randy Staats’s points-per-game average dropped to 4.3 last year, a full point below his rookie season and a point and a half below 2017. With fewer bodies to share the ball, I see his numbers going back up from the “very good” range to the “elite” range.

Prediction

Second in the east.

Haiku

Lots of great offense
But their defense is good too
So is Mike Poulin


Black WolvesNew England Black Wolves

For a team that had Kevin Crowley (who scored 51 goals), Stephan Leblanc, Kyle Buchanan, and half a season each of Johnny Powless, Shawn Evans and Callum Crawford, it’s surprising that other than the Stealth, nobody scored fewer goals than the Black Wolves in 2018. In 2019 they’ll have a full season of Crawford and while they lost Buchanan, they’ve gained Tyler Digby who will likely be getting more floor time than he got with Calgary. That’s some pretty decent firepower up front but I’m not sure it’ll be enough. They’ll have to get increased production from a guy like Reilly O’Connor and either acquire some more offense or hope for productive rookies.

This is assuming that Kevin Crowley re-signs. If he doesn’t, they’re in a bit of trouble.

Goaltending is also a question as the Black Wolves are trying the Alex Buque experiment, Part II. As I said above, Part I in Buffalo last season wasn’t exactly a rousing success.

Look out for

Tyler Digby had a great sophomore season in Vancouver and two good seasons in Calgary before his numbers fell off a cliff last season. He’ll likely get more playing time in New England and I see his numbers climbing back into the 50s.

Prediction

Fourth in the east.

Haiku

Black Wolves big scorers
Crowley, Digby, and Crawford
They’re all freakin’ huge


WingsPhiladelphia Wings

There are a couple of question marks for the Wings. Matisz, Hall, and Hickey make a pretty good top three, I’ve only heard good things about Chris Cloutier and Matt Rambo, and guys like Vaughn Harris, Blaze Riorden, and Josh Currier give them some pretty good secondary scoring. Will it be enough? Maybe. Defense looks pretty good, with a number of proven NLL defenders like Zach Reid, Liam Byrnes, Liam Patten, and Frank Brown. No superstar defensive studs (though a lot of people are big on Brown) but a decent core. Goaltending is a question since Davide DiRuscio has shown flashes of being a solid #1 stopper but has been inconsistent, and he also missed all of last season with an injury. The only other goalie on the Wings roster is Doug Buchan, who has zero NLL minutes.

Look out for

Brett Hickey’s last four seasons were 81, 28, 79, and 40 points, which means he’s due for another 80-ish point season. I don’t know if he’ll get there, but he’ll have more than 40.

Prediction

Sixth in the east.

Haiku

Moose is the captain
Hall, Hickey, and Big Fish too
Philly has its Wings


KnighthawksRochester Knighthawks

The Knighthawks made the NLL Finals just last year and didn’t make that many changes but I’m still picking them to finish 5th in the East this year. First off, their appearance in the finals was unexpected. They were the best team in the East down the stretch and beat who they had to beat in the playoffs to get to the finals, so it’s not as if they didn’t deserve it, but I’d say very few were calling the Knighthawks to come out of the East. Secondly and more importantly, they lost Matt Vinc, one of the best NLL goalies ever and a no-doubt Hall of Famer. The Knighthawks are now pinning their hopes on Vinc’s backup Angus Goodleaf, who’s been an excellent backup to Vinc for years. But Goodleaf has only hit 200 minutes in a season once in his career; Vinc has recorded 900 minutes nine times in the last ten years (and recorded 890 in the tenth year).

The Knighthawks also lost Sid Smith to retirement injury (I heard that he retired but he’s starting the season on the IR) and lost Josh Currier and Frank Brown (who only played three games) to the Wings in the expansion draft, but that’s it. Their offense was very good last year thanks in part to rookies Austin Shanks and Eric Fannell. Can they repeat their success? Is the Joe Resetarits of 2018 the real thing or was that a fluky season? (I suspect it’s the former.) The defense and transition are anchored by Defensive Player of the Year Graeme Hossack and Rookie of the Year Jake Withers, so they should be fine but the goaltending is my concern.

Look out for

Pat Saunders is, I’m sure, happy to be back in the east. Not sure he’ll get back to the 44 goals he had in 2016 but 25-30 isn’t unlikely.

Prediction

Fifth in the east.

Haiku

No Vinc, no problem
Knighthawks have faith in Goodleaf
Lots of young kids too


RockToronto Rock

Last year, the Rock without Tom Schreiber was a very different team than the Rock with Tom Schreiber. He’s back and healthy and looked great in the scrimmage against the Mammoth, but I imagine they’ll set up their offense so that they don’t seem so uncoordinated if he’s not there or has an off night. Adam Jones also looked good in the scrimmage as did Johnny Powless. Between those guys and Rob Hellyer, Phil Caputo, Dan Craig, and Dan Lintner, I’m really looking forward to watching the Rock offense. The transition will be great as well, even without Brodie Merrill. Challen Rogers, Damon Edwards, Sheldon Burns, and Latrell Harris make up a pretty potent squad and I’m curious if Jesse Gamble will return. He took last year off for work reasons and I assumed he’d be back this year but I’ve heard nothing about him at all. As for goaltending, I have no concerns about Nick Rose but Riley Hutchcraft has played all of 15 minutes in his career.

Look out for

Dan Lintner was a healthy scratch in a number of games last season. I posted a few times that I felt bad for him and even suggested the Rock should trade him so he’d actually get to play somewhere. I don’t think he’ll be sitting as much this year and his patience will have paid off.

Prediction

Third in the east.

Haiku

Powless joins the Rock
Schreiber leads the offense, but
Challen wears the C

2019 NLL Predictions

Here are my predictions for the final regular season standings as well as the major annual awards. The “Dark Horse” predictions are my “not as likely but could happen” picks.

Final Standings

East

  1. Buffalo Bandits
  2. Georgia Swarm
  3. Toronto Rock
  4. New England Black Wolves
  5. Rochester Knighthawks
  6. Philadelphia Wings

West

  1. Saskatchewan Rush
  2. Calgary Roughnecks
  3. Colorado Mammoth
  4. San Diego Seals
  5. Vancouver Warriors

Individual Awards

MVP

Winner: Tom Schreiber
Short list: Shawn Evans, Mark Matthews
Dark horse: Ryan Benesch

Tom Schreiber

Goaltender of the Year

Winner: Dillon Ward
Short list: Christian Del Bianco, Evan Kirk
Dark horse: Frank Scigliano

Defensive Player of the Year

Winner: Graeme Hossack
Short list: Robert Hope, Kyle Rubisch
Dark horse: Brett Mydske

Transition Player of the Year

Winner: Challen Rogers
Short list: Zach Currier, Joey Cupido
Dark horse: Jordan MacIntosh

Rookie of the Year

Winner: Austin Staats
Short list:
Dark horse:

Full disclosure: I don’t follow MSL or WLA in enough detail to know any of them. In previous years I’d seen a few players here and there but not this year. I have seen Staats play in Six Nations and was impressed so I have some basis on which to list him, but anything else I put here is pure guesswork.

Les Bartley Award

Winner: Pat Coyle
Short list: Glenn Clark, Derek Keenan
Dark horse: Matt Sawyer

GM of the Year

Winner: Steve Dietrich
Short list: Derek Keenan, Mike Board
Dark horse: Patrick Merrill