This is my first-ever NLL North division preview! Here’s where I think each team will end up in the standings and who might have a breakout year.
The Bandits went to the finals last year, but have since lost Shawn Evans, Jordan Durston, and Thomas Hoggarth and replaced them all with Quinn Powless. That’s not to say that Dhane Smith, Corey Small, Chase Fraser, Josh Byrne, and Chris Cloutier aren’t a formidable offense, but that’s a lot of firepower to lose in one year. Defense looks pretty good and transition could be excellent. Back in the net, Matt Vinc is still Matt Vinc.
Look out for
Josh Byrne was headed for an excellent season in 2019 but missed half the season with an injury. Assuming he’s fully healthy, he could blow the doors off the
East North division.
Second in the north.
Last year’s Knighthawks had a lousy season up until April, when they won four of their last five. Halifax has made a few changes throughout their roster, but if you take Jamieson, Shanks, Boushy, and Jackson and add a full season of Ryan Benesch and Stephen Keogh as well as the highly touted Clarke Petterson, that’s a pretty solid group of forwards. Defense has lots of young guys and a few vets to show the way, but they also have Graeme Hossack, probably the best defender in the league right now. Warren Hill started last season as the backup but finished strong, playing every minute of those late-season wins with a save percentage above 80% in all of them (and almost 90% in one). Playing at that level for the entire season is a tall order but he’ll need to be in that ballpark for the Thunderbirds to compete with the Bandits and Rock.
Look out for
Warren Hill. In his first year as a bona fide starter, he’ll keep the Thunderbirds competitive and might even steal a game or two.
Third in the north.
Is Steve Fryer ready to be a #1 goalie in the NLL? Signs say yes and I hope they’re right, because his two backups have a total of 17 minutes of NLL experience between them. Dan Carey has put together quite a nice little team here, so we might see something similar to last year’s Seals – an expansion team that doesn’t really look like an expansion team. Lots of strength up front with Shawn Evans, Turner Evans, Cattoni, Knight, Lintner, and Caputo, and some vets on D as well. They have eight players listed as transition, but other than Frank Brown (starting the season on IR) and Zac Reid, only one has any NLL experience – Adam Perroni played in three games over two seasons.
Look out for
Curtis Knight has been an important role player for the Rush for years, but now out of the shadow of Matthews, Church, and McIntosh, he has the ability to be one of the top point producers on the Knighthawks.
Fourth in the north.
The Rock lost Dan Lintner in the expansion draft and Brock Sorensen got injured, so they went out and got a different Dan and a different Brock.
I’ve been able to see the Rock play three times already this season, though of course you can’t take much away from pre-season exhibition games. Nick Rose didn’t play in one of them, Tom Schreiber didn’t play in any of them, and while the Rock kept their roster size down, other teams were fielding what seemed like dozens of players. But that said, I really liked watching Dan Dawson on the Rock offense. After about 68 seasons in the NLL, he’s still a force to be reckoned with, his passing ability is amazing, and his floor vision is off the charts. The loss of Creighton Reid and Brock Sorensen will hurt the D, but the big veteran David Brock will make up for some of that. Like I said, Tom Schreiber didn’t play in any of the Rock’s pre-season games, so hopefully his addition on the same side as Dawson won’t mess things up. However, it’s hard to imagine two unselfish players with their skill levels wouldn’t mesh reasonably well.
Look out for
Damon Edwards only missed one game last year but his points dropped by half and his penalty minutes almost doubled. I’d love to see a resurgence from Edwards, if he can stay out of the box (though he couldn’t at last weekend’s game against the Rush).
First in the north.