We’re rolling up on the midpoint of the 2016 regular season in the NLL and we’re already seeing guys like Dhane Smith taking over the scoring column with 29 goals and 39 assists so far and Ryan Dilks causing 27 turnovers and scooping 26 loose balls, but I want to take the time to put some focus on the last line of defense, the one wearing a child’s weight in padding.
A handful of NLL goaltenders hit some serious milestones already this season and others have accomplished some pretty note-worthy feats, let’s give credit where credit is due. Here’s what I consider the top six takeaways from the first half of 2016.
#6) Mike Poulin’s game winning save
The score is 12-11, there’s 8 seconds on the clock and the trailing Georgia Swarm come up with the ball and immediately hit an open, streaking Lyle Thompson with time left to go one on one on the crease with the backup. What happens next is just magic.
Calgary net-minder Mike Poulin dives on it, kills the clock and steals the win! Coming in for Frankie Scigliano, Poulin had an incredible finish for the Neck, only allowing four goals in against the 28 shots on goal he faced. He’s 1-1 so far on the season, his only loss coming to Vancouver in OT, after stopping 14 of 17 shots as the relief. I’ve been calling all season long for Poulin to get the starting gig, he’s the man!
#5) Aaron Bold posts GAA under 10 with 4-2 record
Last year, Aaron Bold became an NLL champion, but many, myself included, felt that he was snubbed for the NLL Goaltender of the Year award. Not saying that Matt Vinc wasn’t a worthy candidate, but Bold put up some serious numbers and stole the Champion’s Cup back from the three-peat Knighthawks led by Vinc. Although his numbers are a bit behind where he finished in 2015, Boldy is off to a strong start, holding on to a 4-2 record heading into a home and away set this weekend, starting tonight at home against Buffalo.
Last season he finished with an impressive 9.44 goals against average, 8.73 the year prior, and right now he’s sitting at a league-best 9.85 GAA, claiming every minute of floor time for the Rush. Considering he’s not only one of the most physically fit goaltenders in the league, he has to rank amongst the top athletes in the entire NLL, so we can only expect him to go the distance again and this weekend’s back to back test will serve as the first of three double-headers he’s staring down this season. Letting just a quarter of shots faced sneak by, Bold’s rocking a .757 average after his sixth game. Something tells me this number will only grow with time.
#4) Tyler Richards storming out of retirement
After seven seasons in the NLL, all with the Stealth organization, Vancouver starter Tyler Richards decided to walk away from the game after not making the playoffs last season. Head injury was cited as the cause for Richards hiatus but only two weeks ago we would learn that T Rich was breaking out of his early retirement and returning to the Stealth bench.
His first night in Rochester he mostly ran the door, only getting 28 seconds of floor time. After a rocky jump the following weekend for starter Eric Penney, Richards would get a shot once more. Extending 31 saves on 40 shots on goal was the perfect recipe for his 1st W, with one clutch stop coming in overtime to hold on for the win. Now rocking an all-white hockey mask (we can only assume will be painted at some point) Richards is back in the double-zeros and likely to be back as the starter this Saturday against Colorado.
#3) Evan Kirk/Dillon Ward could be the new Vinc/Bold
I don’t want to jinx anything, but let’s just say what Evan Kirk and Dillon Ward are doing this season can only be described as WOW! Five years of service may make it seem like Kirk is a real seasoned veteran, but that’s really in the shadow of the eleven seasons Bold and Vinc have both been competing in the NLL. Right now, Kirk is leading all goalies as the only net-minder saving over 80% of the shots he’s facing (.804) and has also posted the high-save mark with 56 stops coming in a 15-11 win over Buffalo a couple of weeks back. Kirk has had x-ray vision through screens, stopped the biggest names on the doorstep and has been strong from head to toe, a real turnaround for the New England Black Wolves who only won four games last season, the same number of wins Kirk has collected already in 2016. At 4-1, he’s carrying the best record of his career into the weekend, Kirk and the Wolves get a shot at the Swarm at home on Sunday.
Ward started the season jockeying for the position with sophomore star Alex Buque, but has kept the job to himself for all but a game and a half. Since taking the role in Week 2, he’s racked up 255 total saves, a .797 save average and a 5-1 record, just two wins away from tying his career best. His best night so far came against the Stealth when he made a season-high 50 saves against a season-low 5 goals against. This weekend he’s set up to take on Vancouver at home, I’m sure the third-year goaltender will be hungry for similar results.
#2) Nick Rose scores a goalie goal
I think this play carries a lot of weight because it meant more than just an empty net score. This goal was a whole slew of firsts; the first NLL goal for Nick Rose, the first EVER goalie goal for the Toronto Rock, the first goalie goal of 2016 and the first win for the Rock after an 0-5 start.
The Bandits would find a way to get one more in on an extra-attacker opportunity, so it was Rosey’s goal that kept the Rock out of a potentially lethal overtime scenario. I’m sure he’ll be back in the crease Saturday against the Knighthawks at home although he and partner Brandon Miller hang at the bottom in all categories. The majority of the team has struggled to get off the ground and the odds are still against them That said, I can’t take away from what last weekend’s win meant to that locker room and really one man in particular, Nick Rose.
#1) Anthony Cosmo broke Watson’s saves record
In 2011, Bob Watson retired from the National Lacrosse League, making his 530th save in the Toronto Rock regular season the 6,471st of his career, the record for all-time saves. It would remain that way until last Saturday night when Anthony Cosmo would block his 6,472nd shot of his career to take over the top spot in the record book. Now at 6,475, Cosmo will continue to break his own record until he hangs up the pads. So far he’s 2-1 in his sixteenth season, splitting time between the pipes with young gun Davide DiRuscio.
When Cosmo came into the NLL, he served as a backup to Watson on the Toronto bench so it’s only suiting he could surpass his former mentor. The Bandits head west two weekends in a row, first to Saskatchewan tonight at 8:30 pm ET and then to Vancouver on the 5th, before returning home on March 11th to host Rochester. Best of luck to Cosmo as he extends his streak.