2020 NLL North preview

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.

BanditsBuffalo Bandits

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.

Prediction

Second in the north.


Thunderbirds-smallHalifax Thunderbirds

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.

Prediction

Third in the north.


Knighthawks-smallRochester Knighthawks

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.

Prediction

Fourth in the north.


RockToronto Rock

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).

Prediction

First in the north.

2019-2020 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

I’ve also included my picks for overall standings in parens after the team name.

North

  1. Toronto Rock (4)
  2. Buffalo Bandits (7)
  3. Halifax Thunderbirds (9)
  4. Rochester Knighthawks (10)

East

  1. Georgia Swarm (1)
  2. New England Black Wolves (6)
  3. Philadelphia Wings (11)
  4. New York Riptide (13)

West

  1. Calgary Roughnecks (2)
  2. Saskatchewan Rush (3)
  3. San Diego Seals (5)
  4. Colorado Mammoth (8)
  5. Vancouver Warriors (12)

Individual Awards

MVP

The picture came from a Google link to an article from the Saskatoon StarPhoenix but the actual article doesn't have the picture, so I have no way to give photo credit.Winner: Mark Matthews
Short list: Callum Crawford, Cody Jamieson
Dark horse: Zach Currier

Goaltender of the Year

Winner: Christian Del Bianco
Short list: Dillon Ward, Mike Poulin, Matt Vinc
Dark horse: Frank Scigliano

Defensive Player of the Year

Winner: Kyle Rubisch
Short list: Graeme Hossack, Steve Priolo
Dark horse: Brad Kri

Transition Player of the Year

Winner: Zach Currier
Short list: Challen Rogers, Joey Cupido
Dark horse: Kiel Matisz

Rookie of the Year

Winner: Andrew Kew
Short list: Ryland Rees

Same disclaimer as previous years: I don’t follow MSL or WLA in enough detail to really have a good idea. Just going by what I’ve heard on podcasts and read on IL Indoor and Twitter and such.

Les Bartley Award

Winner: Ed Comeau
Short list: Derek Keenan, Pat Coyle
Dark horse: Mike Hasen

GM of the Year

Winner: Patrick Merrill
Short list: Rich Lisk, Dan Richardson if the Warriors finish above .500
Dark horse: Dan Carey

2019-2020 NLL: 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 2019. 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.

Teams and players are each listed in alphabetical order. This article will be updated as things change up until about a week into the season.

BanditsBuffalo Bandits

In: Doug Buchan, Steve Dietrich (coach) Marcus Minichiello, Brent Noseworthy, Quinn Powless
Out: Jordan Durston, Shawn Evans, Zach Higgins, Rich Kilgour (coach) Thomas Hoggarth, Ethan O’Connor
IR: None
PUP: Thomas Hoggarth, Ethan O’Connor
Holdout: None
Practice Roster: Okaeme Chukwuemeka, Devlin Shanahan


RoughnecksCalgary Roughnecks

In: Haiden Dickson, Marshall King, Liam LeClair, Ryan Martel
Out: Reece Callies, Rhys Duch, Riley Loewen, Dan MacRae
IR: Reece Callies
PUP: Rhys Duch
Holdout: None
Practice Roster: Travis Getz, Landon Kells, Nick Scott, Sean Tyrrell


MammothColorado Mammoth

In: Tyler Carlson, Brett Craig, Carter Dickson, Warren Jeffrey, Dylan Kinnear, Will Malcom, Dylan Molloy, Josh Sullivan
Out: Steve Fryer, Julian Garritano, Steven Lee, Ian Llord, Jeremy Noble, Brad Self, Cory Vitarelli, Chris Wardle, Jeff Wittig
IR: None
PUP: Chris Wardle, Jeff Wittig
Holdout: None
Practice Roster: Carter Dickson, Ilija Gajic, Justin Goodwin, Jake McNabb, Erik Turner


SwarmGeorgia Swarm

In: Jordan Hall, Ryan McSpadyen, Kason Tarbell, Joel White
Out: Holden Cattoni, Tyler Ferreira, Haina Thompson, Joel Tinney, Craig Wende
IR: Zach Miller
PUP: Jordan Gillis, Justin Lemcke
Holdout: None
Practice Roster: TJ Comizio, Steven Orleman, Sergio Perkovic


Thunderbirds-smallHalifax Thunderbirds

In: Cory Becker, Scott Campbell, Pete Dubenski, Eric Fannell, Stephen Keogh, Clarke Petterson, Trevor Smyth, Nonkon Thompson
Out: Angus Goodleaf, Oran Horn, Mike Manley, Darryl Robertson, Brandon Robinson, Dawson Theede, Mike Triolo, Luke Van Schepen
IR: Luke Van Schepen
PUP: None
Holdout: None
Practice Roster: Johnny Jimerson, Chet Koneczny, Brandon Robinson, Clay Scanlon


BlackWolvesNew England Black Wolves

In: Jordan Durston, Andrew Kew, John LaFontaine, Ty Logan, Tony Malcom, Joe Nardella, Creighton Reid, Ethan Woods
Out: David Brock, Kevin Buchanan, Alex Buque, Joel Coyle, Tyler Digby, Greg Downing, Ryan Fournier, Andrew Suitor
IR: None
PUP: Greg Downing
Holdout: None
Practice Roster: Bailey Brown, Mike Byrne, Tristan Rai, Joel Tinney


Riptide-smallNew York Riptide

In: Everybody
Out: Nobody
IR: None
PUP: Ryan Brown, Angus Goodleaf, Matt Kavanagh, Jack Rowlett
Holdout: Brier Jonathan, Dawson Theede, Kurtis Woodland
Protected: Myles Jones
Practice Roster: Jake Fox, Scott Johnston, Adam Osika, John Wagner


WingsPhiladelphia Wings

In: Kevin Buchanan, Nick Finlay, Brett Hickey, Zach Higgins, Anthony Joaquim, Ian Llord, Brandon Miller, Alex Pace, Liam Patten, Cory Vitarelli, Nate Wade, Ryan Wagner
Out: Gowah Abrams, Matthew Bennett, Frank Brown, Doug Buchan, Dylan Evans, Justin Guterding, Jordan Hall, Vaughn Harris, Chet Koneczny, Adam Osika, Eric Shewell
IR: None
PUP: None
Holdout: None
Practice Roster: Matt Mariner, Kyle Marr, Austin Pifani, Daryl Waud


Knighthawks-smallRochester Knighthawks

In: Everybody
Out: Nobody
IR: Tyler Biles
PUP: Frank Brown, Travis Burton, Zac Reid
Holdout: None
Practice Roster: Julian Garritano, Adam Perroni, Dustyn Pratt


SealsLogoSan Diego Seals

In: Wes Berg, Graydon Bradley, Mike Carnegie, Nick Damude, Garrett Epple, Mark Glicini, Eli Gobrecht, Zack Greer, Evan Messenger, Jeremy Noble, Matt Sykes
Out: Garrett Billings, Tyler Carlson, Dan Dawson, Paul Dawson, Turner Evans, Kyle Hartzell, Casey Jackson, Connor Kelly, Brendan Ranford, Adrian Sorichetti, Joe Walters
IR: Casey Jackson, Johnny Pearson, Austin Staats
PUP: None
Holdout: None
“Inactive Roster”: Oliver Bolsterli, Zach Bryant, Austin Divitcos, Devyn Mayea
Practice Roster: Jules Heningburg, Dylan Riley, Mikie Schlosser, Ethan Schott


RushSaskatchewan Rush

In: Ryan Dilks, Holden Garlent, Ryan McLean, Austin Murphy, Justin Robinson
Out: Nik Bilic, Scott Campbell, Nick Finlay, Curtis Knight, Brett Mydske
IR: None
PUP: None
Holdout: Jeff Cornwall
Draft list: Luke Keenan
Practice Roster: Cameron Dunkerley, Zach Gould, Tanner Thomson


RockToronto Rock

In: David Brock, Dan Dawson, Scott Dominey, Damon Edwards, Josh Jubenville, Zach Manns
Out: Phil Caputo, Dan Lintner, Kieran McArdle, Creighton Reid, Brock Sorensen, Jay Thorimbert
IR: Aaron Forster
PUP: Brock Sorensen
Holdout: None
Practice Roster: Jamison Dilks, Mitch Gustavsen, Troy Holowchuk, Alec Simons


WarriorsVancouver Warriors

In: Nik Bilic, Sam Clare, Derek Lloyd, Riley Loewen, Mike Mallory, Chris O’Dougherty, Patrick O’Meara, James Rahe, Justin Salt, Bob Snider
Out: Jean-Luc Chetner, Zac Christianson, Brody Eastwood, Tony Malcom, Reid Mydske, Zack Porter, Jarrett Toll, Dallas Wade, Nate Wade
IR: Andrew Gallant, Joel McCready, Zack Porter, Mason Pynn
PUP: None
Holdout: None
Practice Roster: Keegan Bell, Lyndon Bunio, Reid Mydske, Tyson Roe


2019-20 NLL Milestones

A number of player and team milestones can be reached this year, including one fairly significant one: Dan Dawson could (fairly easily, by his standards) be the all-time league leader in assists. Here’s a list of the most likely milestones to be hit:

Teams

Wins & losses

Photo credit: Micheline VeluvoluToronto’s sixth win of the season will be the franchise’s 200th. Georgia needs six and the Black Wolves need ten for 50.

Goals

The Georgia Swarm need 40 goals to reach 1000, while the Saskatchewan Rush need 60. The Mammoth need 153 goals to reach 3500 and Calgary needs 201 to reach 4000. With 87 goals, the Bandits will hit 5500, far and away the highest total for any team. The Swarm are 122 goals away from allowing 1000 all-time, and the Rock will hit 4000 goals allowed if they give up 195.

Team Leaders

With 99 points this year (a tall order, but not unimaginable), Eli McLaughlin would tie Adam Jones for 4th on the Mammoth while Jacob Ruest needs 34 to catch Sean Pollock for 11th. A 116-point season from Rob Hellyer would tie him with Stephen Leblanc for 4th on the Toronto Rock list, while 82 for Tom Schreiber ties him with Aaron Wilson for 9th.

I looked over each of the teams to see what their all-time leader board looked like, and as you might expect from a 28-year-old team, the Bandits leaders will not change significantly anytime soon. Dhane Smith is third all-time but needs around 350 points to catch Mark Steenhuis, who is almost 800 behind John Tavares. The only other active Bandit in the top 20 is Steve Priolo, who’s tied with Kevin Dostie for 19th. Priolo could pass Jim Veltman for 18th with 11 points.


Players

Goals

Player… Needs… To reach…
Rhys Duch 3 400
Curtis Dickson 5 400
Callum Crawford 43 400
Kevin Crowley 8 300
Adam Jones 18 300
Mark Matthews 25 300
Corey Small 44 300
Garrett Billings 2 200
Ben McIntosh 8 200
Johnny Powless 8 200
Rob Hellyer 10 200
Logan Schuss 28 200

  

Assists

Player… Needs… To reach…
Dan Dawson 23 900
Shawn Evans 43 800
Ryan Benesch 23 600
Rhys Duch 30 600
Jeff Shattler 8 500
Jordan Hall 23 500
Garrett Billings 32 500
Stephan Leblanc 37 500
Cody Jamieson 51 500
Dane Dobbie 52 500
Dhane Smith 19 400
Adam Jones 6 300
Robert Church 19 300
Logan Schuss 38 300
Kiel Matisz 38 300

Points

Player… Needs… To reach…
Dan Dawson 4 1400
Shawn Evans 13 1200
Ryan Benesch 90 1100
Callum Crawford 37 1000
Rhys Duch 33 1000
Dane Dobbie 34 900
Jeff Shattler 82 900
Stephan Leblanc 36 800
Curtis Dickson 78 800
Jordan Hall 85 800
Mark Matthews 95 800
Cody Jamieson 96 800
Garrett Billings 34 700
Corey Small 65 700
Dhane Smith 65 700
Kevin Crowley 85 700
Adam Jones 24 600
Shayne Jackson 77 600
Rob Hellyer 15 500
Robert Church 19 500
Brodie Merrill 47 500

  

Loose Balls

Player… Needs… To reach…
Brodie Merrill 65 2500
Jay Thorimbert 31 1600
Ian Hawksbee 35 1400
Jordan MacIntosh 6 1300
Shawn Evans 11 1300
Jeremy Thompson 26 1300
Jeff Shattler 29 1300
Jordan Hall 62 1000

  

PIM

Player… Needs… To reach…
Matt Beers 12 500
Brodie Merrill 15 500
Paul Dawson 45 500

  

Games

Player… Needs… To reach…
Dan Dawson 13 300
Paul Dawson 1 200
Ian Hawksbee 4 200
Ian Llord 9 200
Rhys Duch 16 200
Rob Hellyer 1 100
Curtis Knight 1 100
Logan Schuss 2 100
Travis Cornwall 4 100
Riley Loewen 5 100

  

Goalie Minutes

Player… Needs… To reach…
Matt Vinc 4 12000
Evan Kirk 124 6000
Frank Scigliano 297 4000

  

Goals against

Player… Needs… To reach…
Mike Poulin 33 1600
Aaron Bold 54 1500
Nick Rose 8 1200
Evan Kirk 17 1200
Dillon Ward 5 1000
Frank Scigliano 52 800

  

Saves

Player… Needs… To reach…
Matt Vinc 177 8000
Aaron Bold 166 5000
Evan Kirk 115 4000
Dillon Ward 474 4000
Frank Scigliano 507 3000

  

Leaders

This section is for players who are close to passing a retired player on the career list in a particular category.

Player… Needs… To tie… For…
Dan Dawson 18 goals Colin Doyle 4th
Ryan Benesch 7 goals Lewis Ratcliff 9th
11 goals Shawn Williams 8th
16 goals Josh Sanderson 7th
Shawn Evans is 3 behind Benesch
Dane Dobbie is 12 behind Evans
Rhys Duch 2 goals Tom Marechek 14th
13 goals Paul Gait 13th
Curtis Dickson is 2 behind Duch
Dan Dawson 21 assists Josh Sanderson 2nd
47 assists John Tavares 1st
Shawn Evans 21 assists John Grant, Jr. 5th
Callum Crawford 5 assists Gavin Prout 8th
Jeff Shattler 1 assist Jim Veltman 16th
Dan Dawson 50 points John Grant, Jr. 2nd
Ryan Benesch 3 points Mark Steenhuis 9th
Callum Crawford is 37 behind Benesch
Rhys Duch is 6 behind Crawford
Dane Dobbie 56 points Gavin Prout 14th
Mike Poulin 17 goals against Brandon Miller 8th
Mike Poulin 11 wins Anthony Cosmo 4th

The GOAT

The Calgary Roughnecks signed Dane Dobbie to a multi-year contract last week. Considering Dobbie had a career year in 2019 and was deservedly named both season MVP and Championship MVP, it’s hard to argue against this, regardless of the term or money he was asking for. But when the NLL tweeted about it, they used a goat icon and I had to roll my eyes.

GOAT stands for Greatest Of All Time and it’s become a term that, in my opinion, is thrown around far too easily in the sports world. By definition, there can be only one GOAT in each sport. There may be controversy as to who it is, but there aren’t lots of them. I don’t think it’s a hot take to say that Dane Dobbie is not the greatest player in NLL history (despite his teammates saying he is). The hot take might be: he’s not even in the top ten. But that’s an article for another time.

Of course you can add your own qualifiers, and a player may be the GOAT of a certain subset of players. As Jake Elliott pointed out, the NLL probably meant that Dobbie is the Roughnecks GOAT, not the GOAT. That’s totally fair and Jake is quite likely right.

But that got me thinking: what about the other teams? Who is their GOAT? Some are obvious – Buffalo comes to mind – while others are more contentious.

One question we have to answer first is what do we mean by this? Is it the best player to ever wear that uniform, or is it the best player to ever have an impact in that uniform? For example, you could argue that the second Dan Dawson takes the floor as a member of the Toronto Rock this coming season, before he’s even touched the ball, he’s among the top three players ever to wear the Rock jersey. But is that meaningful?

For this article, I’m going to say that it’s not good enough to simply have worn a team’s jersey, you have to have played there for a significant amount of time. However I’m not going to define “significant” with specific guidelines (e.g. you have to have played x games or x seasons or have won some sort of major award). Just going with my gut here.

I’m going to skip the expansion Knighthawks 2.0 and Riptide for obvious reasons and also the Wings 2.0 and Seals since they have only played a single season.

Buffalo – Tough one, but I’m going to go with someone who many consider to be the GOAT of the league, if not the entire sport of box lacrosse. Of course it’s John Tavares.

Dane Dobbie (Photo credit: Greg Southam)Calgary – My “tough one” for the Bandits was obviously in jest but this really is a tough one. If you go with the “just wearing the jersey” rule, I’d put Josh Sanderson and Shawn Evans at the top of that list. Sanderson played two full seasons and part of a third and while they were outstanding seasons and included a championship, he’s more associated with the Rock. Evans is a tougher call because he played four seasons including two with 110+ points and one MVP trophy. The guy who started this whole conversation, Dane Dobbie, has played 12 seasons (all with Calgary), won two Championships, and is the incumbent MVP. Jeff Shattler was an MVP and played eleven great seasons in Calgary so he has to be considered. Kaleb Toth was never an MVP but was the quintessential Roughneck for years. What about Tracey Kelusky? Higher point averages than Shattler or Toth, and team captain for their 2009 title.

Given his longevity, I’m going with Dobbie.

Colorado – Is it John Grant or Gary Gait? Gait only played three years with the Mammoth while Grant played seven (well, six plus two games in the seventh). Interestingly, their points-per-game numbers are almost identical: Grant averaged 5.632 points per game over 98 games while Gait averaged 5.625 in 48 games. If Gait had played 98 games with the Mammoth like Grant did, he’d have 551 points. Grant has 552. Both won an MVP award with the Mammoth and neither won a Championship (Gait did as a coach), so basically, they were the same guy. Grant played twice as long in Colorado as Gait did so I’m going with Grant.

Georgia (including Minnesota) – If you just consider the four seasons in Georgia, I think the obvious choice would be Lyle Thompson. But if you include the Minnesota years, Callum Crawford and Ryan Benesch jump into the mix. They each had slightly higher points-per-game numbers than Thompson, but even at their peak, I don’t think either of them were as good overall as Thompson is.

Halifax – (as the Rochester Knighthawks) John Grant is the obvious choice because he’s one of the best players in the history of the league. But Matt Vinc has to be considered here. Grant won one Championship and an MVP award in his ten seasons with the Knighthawks. Vinc won three titles and about a hundred Goaltender of the Year awards. Grant’s dominance with the Knighthawks cannot be overlooked (he had an eight-year stretch with seven 90+ point seasons and only played five games in the eighth) but Vinc is probably the best goaltender of the last decade and definitely top three all-time. I honestly cannot decide so I’m taking the easy way out and calling it a tie.

New England* – Again Shawn Evans jumps out. He only played 2½ years in New England but averaged over six points per game in the two full seasons. Another candidate would be Kevin Crowley, who played most of four seasons with the Black Wolves. He wasn’t quite as dominant with the numbers but Crowley is great off-ball and defensively as well so his numbers don’t show how good he is. I’m going to go with Evans here.

Saskatchewan (including Edmonton) – Mark Matthews was my first thought but Kyle Rubisch is probably the better choice. Matthews has been a top-10 offensive player for his entire career (top 5 for most of it) but there was a four year period where Rubisch was hands down the best defensive player in the league, and he remains in the top three now.

Toronto – I’m going with Colin Doyle not only because he was an outstanding player (#4 in career scoring) but a great captain as well. Like Matt Vinc in Rochester, Bob Watson also needs to be considered. Josh Sanderson is right up there too, and Jim Veltman and Brodie Merrill were also great players and great captains.

Vancouver (including the entire franchise history) – I wondered about Lewis Ratcliff, Gary Rosyski, Colin Doyle, and even Josh Sanderson from the Albany Attack days. But in the end, it’s got to be Rhys Duch. Duch averaged about 5.4 points per game over ten seasons with the San Jose, Washington, and Vancouver Stealths. He led the team in goals, assists, and points in four straight seasons and was either first or second in those categories in three more. He was the face of the Stealth for a decade which is why it was so surprising that they unceremoniously released him before last season. Hey, can someone remind me who scored the OT goal that gave Calgary the 2019 Championship? I forget.

* Maybe others don’t have this problem, but I find it hard to think of the Black Wolves as a continuation of the old Philadelphia Wings. As a result, I didn’t consider Wings players for the Black Wolves GOAT, even though I did consider previous teams in the Vancouver and Georgia franchises. But the Wings were around for 28 years, so they shouldn’t be just tossed aside. For the Wings, I’d have to choose between Tom Marechek (12 years, four Championships, 773 points) and Dallas Eliuk (again, top 3 goalie of all time). Gary Gait only played five seasons in Philly but was named MVP in three of them (in a row), so he’s got to be up there too. I’m going to go with Eliuk.

Examining the 2019-2020 NLL schedule

Winter is coming.

And this is good, because winter is NLL season! The 2019-2020 NLL season begins on November 29, which is only eleven weeks from now. In fact by the time you read this, it will be less than eleven weeks from now. The league released the schedule for the upcoming season this week, just ahead of next week’s entry draft. Of course the timing is done by design since now that the summer championships (President’s Cup, Minto, Mann, etc.) are done, there ain’t much happening in the box lacrosse world right now.

Continue reading

PLL Chatter

The PLL made its first and only Canadian stop on the tour this past weekend in Hamilton. I was a little surprised they chose Hamilton over Toronto, but it was probably way cheaper to rent Tim Horton’s Field than BMO Field, the home of the Argonauts and Toronto FC and former home of the MLL’s Toronto Nationals, which would be the logical place in Toronto to host such an event. And while choosing the Hammer over the Big Smoke was surprising, it was a welcome surprise for me since Tim Horton’s field is maybe 20 minutes from my house.

As I’ve said before, I’m not a field lacrosse guy. I’ve watched some games online but I can count on one hand the number of field games I’d been to before this weekend: the first-ever Toronto Nationals game, and three or four Hamilton Nationals games. As a result, I can’t give much insight on the differences between the PLL and the MLL. The field was noticeably shorter which did speed up the game, but I don’t know enough to have much to say on anything else. I have two comments on field lacrosse players which I’m sure I’ve made before:

  • You know how you see the occasional box player switch hands, i.e. a righty flipping the stick over and shooting as a lefty? It’s rare but you see it now and again. Box players tend to do the “twister” far more often, i.e. a righty shooting as a lefty without changing his hand positions. Field players switch hands all the time, sometimes multiple times in the same possession. It makes so much sense that players would cultivate that skill. I’m sure there are reasons why box players do it so rarely but I can’t fathom what they are. Can you imagine baseball if there were about three switch hitters in the whole league?
  • Field goalies: holy crap. Take a box goalie, take away his padding and make the net he’s protecting bigger, and you have a field goalie. Because of the lack of padding, field goalies don’t want the ball to hit them like box goalies do, so they have to be lightning-fast with the stick to make saves. All the goalies made saves that I thought they had no earthly business making.

Since my knowledge of the field game isn’t sufficient to write about the games themselves, I’ll write about the overall experience and various random musings.

Chaos

Up until this weekend, I still hadn’t figured out whether the PLL’s idea of having a tour format over location-based teams is a good one or not. The fact that it’s tour based does mean that fans in Hamilton saw (or had the opportunity to see) every PLL team last weekend, and thus every player, which is a very good thing. It also means that more than six locations would get to see games; in fact, fourteen different cities have gotten or will be getting PLL games. A lot of lacrosse people talk about growing the game, so kudos to Paul Rabil and the rest of the PLL brass for actually doing it.

On the other hand, the fact that there was no Hamilton or Toronto team for me to choose means I had no particular rooting interest. But I watch NLL games all the time for which I have no rooting interest, so NBD. On reflection, I think the only thing I don’t like about the tour format is that I’m just not used to it. Unless they’re going to create this brand new league with a dozen or more teams scattered in cities across the country (which would be very risky), the tour format makes total sense.

In the first game on Saturday, I liked the helmets and jerseys the Chaos were wearing, plus watching Myles Jones play was awesome so I quickly became a Chaos fan. But I’m also a fan of Tom Schreiber, which made me want to root for the Archers so I was torn. In the second game, I liked the Chrome logo and helmets, but the Atlas jerseys were nicer so that was tough as well. In Sunday’s game, the Redwoods jerseys weren’t bad and both teams had green helmets, but both the Whipsnakes name and sharp red jerseys are very cool so I picked them. So the two games where I had trouble picking a team to root for ended up being very close, while the one where there was a clear winner also had a clear winner.

There was a “fan interaction” area down at one end of the stadium, but I arrived late on Saturday so I didn’t have time to walk around, and I came in a different gate on Sunday so I never got down to that end. There were also a few merch trailers and booths around selling t-shirts, jerseys, hats, and the like. Not particularly cheap – t-shirts were $40 – but I saw a lot of people in the crowd who had bought some.

On Sunday, I sat next to a man and his son from Grand Island, NY. They were both Bandits fans, and the son actually plays for the Jr. Bandits. The dad (whose name I didn’t get, so I’m going to have to just keep calling him “the guy”) also plays summer box with some Bandits players. He had played field lacrosse in the past (as he put it while patting his belly, “a bunch of beers and wings ago”) with and against Greg Gurenlian, Kyle Harrison, and others, so he had some good insights on the game. He wondered about the wisdom of getting near “Rock country” wearing Bandits hats, but I said that’s rarely a problem and that I’d worn my Rock jersey to games in Buffalo many times without incident. He said Bandits fans generally have a friendly rivalry with Rock fans, not so much with Knighthawks fans. “We hate those guys. We own them now, but we’ll still hate ’em.”

We were sitting right in the front row behind the Redwoods bench, and he called out to Gurenlian a couple of times and even got responses. Greg won a faceoff and went straight to the net but didn’t shoot. The guy called out to him asking why he didn’t take the shot, and Greg turned and said he didn’t have a shot. Another time he did shoot but missed the net. Later Greg did get a shot on goal after a face-off, but the goalie stopped it. This time when the guy called to congratulate him on getting the shot, Greg turned around, smiled, and said “That one was on goal! That guy [the goalie] is just a jerk.”

I’ve heard lots of NLL players referred to as “a beast”. Greg Gurenlian’s nickname is “beast” and it fits him better than any NLL player. The man is built like a truck – and not like your Ford F-150 or Dodge Ram pickups, I’m talking one of those big dump trucks with ten-foot tires. I watched him practicing face-offs near the bench and the muscle definition in his arms was unbelievable. I didn’t get to see Scotty Rogers play on Saturday (he’s been injured most of the season) but I’ve seen videos of him and he’s also massive.

Myles Jones is pretty damned big as well and as I tweeted during the game, I really hope he plays in the NLL this coming season because he was amazing to watch. When you watch some players, a single word comes to mind. For Josh Sanderson, it was “vision”. For Lyle Thompson, it’s “dynamic”. For Myles Jones, that word for me is “power”.

Redwoods (left) and Whipsnakes (right)

Connor Farrell is the face-off guy for the Chrome. He’s not built quite like Gurenlian, but he’s a pretty big dude. With that, his beard, and his long flowing blond locks, he’s known as Thor. Many players wear eye black but his was basically a big black triangle under each eye covering most of his face. Gurenlian’s eye black was also significantly more than just rectangles under his eyes. They both looked like they’d fit right in as part of Marilyn Manson’s band.

At one point, I could see Joel White giving some tips to Farrell. I couldn’t hear any of it but it looked like how to get around a guy setting a pick on you – “hold your stick like this, take a step that way, then spin around and go the other way”. Awesome to see the seasoned vet passing on his wisdom to the younger players.

The announcer had the perfect FM radio voice and announced most goals the same way: “And that’s a goal for the Atlas!” followed shortly after by the name of the goal-scorer. He said things almost exactly the same way on every goal, and I wondered if it was actually a recording rather than someone talking live. But some of the goal announcements were different and a few referenced something that just happened so it couldn’t have been a recording. One odd announcement he made numerous times was when announcing a save: “A big save in goal by <goalie name>” – of course it was “in goal”, where else would you make a save?

As I said, I’ve seen only a handful of field lacrosse games, but when the Hamilton Nationals were here, I started to appreciate the outdoor game a lot more, and enjoyed watching the intricacies of the game. Because it’s slower than box, it’s sometimes easier to see the strategies playing out. Because of the smaller field, the PLL version of the field game had the best of both worlds: the finesse and strategy of field lacrosse with (almost) the speed of box. On the whole, I still prefer box but the PLL was exciting to watch. It sounds like Paul and the boys have had a successful debut season, and I intend on being in attendance if the league returns to Hamilton, or Toronto, or Buffalo, next summer.