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Random Thoughts: 2019-2020 Regular Season Schedule Analysis

The 2019-2020 NLL schedule is out, and of course as usual, there will be fans upset about aspects of their team’s schedule.

See the full 2019-2020 NLL schedule on the league’s website here.

Unfortunately, with a number of teams having limited arena availability, it sometimes comes down to the situation that there has to be a game at this location on this date and who is the best fit to make that happen.  No team is ever going to be 100% satisfied with its schedule. My best advice is to embrace the 2019-2020 NLL schedule and understand the challenges that lie ahead of your team.

The league learns from its mistakes in the past. That was evident by the number of times teams had two games on a weekend where the first game was against a team that was its second opponent for the weekend.  There were two years in a row where the Rush and Mammoth had to make the trip from Saskatoon to Denver, and the flight schedule between the two cities isn’t friendly now that United Airlines cancelled its direct flight between the two locations.  Also a year ago, the Rush played a Friday night game in San Diego and a Saturday night game at home. The team arrived in Saskatoon just a few hours before game time, and god forbid, there was a delayed flight that didn’t get them home in time.

Most of the concerns with the scheduling this year are really prompted by the games teams play in New England at the Mohegan Sun Casino.  The difficulty lies in that to get to the arena, you need to fly to Boston or New York, and then take the bus 2-3 hours to get to the arena.  In the past, teams like Buffalo have instead taken a 7-hour bus ride from New England to avoid air travel altogether. What makes things more complicated is that New England’s arena has its best availability on Sundays.

Here’s a quick overview of each team’s 2019-2020 NLL season schedule, and the potential challenges they will face:

2019-2020 NLL Schedule Analysis

Saskatchewan Rush Rochester Knighthawks NLL Finals 2018
Photo: NLL

Saskatchewan Rush

From a home game perspective, the Rush’s 2019-2020 schedule is almost ideal.  All but one home game is on a Saturday, which is critical in the Saskatchewan market.  A sizable portion of the fans that attend Rush games are driving anywhere from 2-5 hours just to attend, so games on Friday nights see a significant drop in attendance.

The Rush also benefit with one weekend with two games — a home-and-home series with the Roughnecks in the second to last week of the season.  I rather like these home-and-home series games and I wish more of them were scheduled. The attendance for the second game is typically better than normal and both teams have the same rest for the second game, so there is no major advantage.  They also have an advantage in a few games early on in Week 5 and Week 8 where they are playing their first game of the weekend against an opponent playing their second game (New York and Colorado).

Another plus for the Rush is that they play Georgia and New England at home.  The travel to these two locations has always tripped the Rush up in the past.

One downside to the Rush’s schedule is when bye-weeks occur. In the first 10 weeks of the season, the Rush play just five times.  In the final 12 weeks of the season, the Rush don’t have a single bye-week. The other downside is that the Rush play in Halifax, which won’t be an easy trip for their west coast players.

2019 nll championship calgary roughnecks buffalo bandits lacrosse
Photo: Paul Mawdsley / Calgary Roughnecks

Calgary Roughnecks

In my opinion, the Roughnecks have the toughest 2019-2020 NLL schedule this season.  They have three weekends with two games. The bigger issue, however, is the travel involved with two of those weekends.  While one of the three is the aforementioned double header with the Rush, the other two involve flying from San Diego for a Friday game to Calgary for a Saturday game.  But, even worse is the travel schedule in Week 16 when they play the Rush on a Friday night, then have to cross the continent to play New England on a Sunday afternoon.

Looking at the flights, the direct flight between San Diego and Calgary doesn’t work because of how late it gets into Calgary. It’s a 6:15 a.m. departure with a 1:05 p.m. arrival and a connection.   However with the second weekend, its over a 7-hour flight to Boston, followed by a 2-hour bus ride, and two time zones to pass through. This happened a few years ago where Toronto played in Vancouver on a Friday and in New England on a Sunday, and they had almost no energy for the second game.

Perhaps even worse for the Roughnecks is there are two instances where they have two bye-weeks in a row (Weeks 2 and 3, Weeks 6 and 7).  It will be tough to get the team in any form of rhythm when they have such large gaps in their schedule. Calgary does not catch an opponent on their second game of the weekend all season, other than the home and home with Saskatchewan.

Six of their nine games are on Saturdays, which isn’t bad considering the Flames eat up a number of Saturday night time slots.

Colorado Mammoth at Vancouver Warriors 01.26.19
Bob Frid
January 26, 2019
National Lacrosse League

Colorado Mammoth

The toughest part of the Mammoth’s schedule is that in the month of April — the final four weeks of the season — they only play twice.  If they are in a battle for a playoff spot, their destiny most likely won’t be in their own hands. Also, they will be road warriors for the first half of the 2019-2020 NLL schedule as six of their last eight games are at home, including a four-game stretch in late February and early March.

The Mammoth have two weekends with two games, but in both instances, both games are on the road, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing (Week 8 in Vancouver and Saskatchewan, Week 18 in Toronto and New York).  This will limit the amount of time that they are actually on the road over the course of the season. The Mammoth will also benefit slightly from having Vancouver as one of the teams they will face three times.

Colorado does not have a game all year where they are catching a team on their opponent’s second game of the weekend, and also play in Halifax, which won’t be an easy trip for their non-Ontario players.

winners and losers
Vancouver Warriors at San Diego Seals 02.08.19
Mike McGinnis
National Lacrosse League

Vancouver Warriors

The Warriors have a home schedule that — according to colleagues in the lower mainland — will be beneficial as six of their home games are on Fridays.  This is beneficial because you are catching the after work downtown crowd and hopefully it will pay off with increased attendance.

Their worst travel schedule comes in Week 11 where they play Buffalo at home on a Friday and play in Rochester on a Sunday.  This likely means a 4-5 hour flight to Pearson Airport in Toronto, followed by a 3-hour bus ride on the Saturday, which won’t be easy on the body.  This is the Warriors only weekend with two games. They will catch an opponent on their second game of the weekend in Week 5 against San Diego, however, San Diego has a day off in between games.

The Warriors play their first three games at home for this year’s 2019-2020 NLL schedule, so they’ll need to get off to a hot start right away, and the Warriors/Stealth have had issues in the past winning games at home.

With the Warriors being so far west, you have to worry sometimes as to how far east they have to travel.  It isn’t too bad. Their games out east are in Toronto, Rochester, Philly and New England. The New England trip won’t be easy, however, they play Georgia and Halifax at home.

One final concern for the Warriors was that last season Logan Schuss had difficulties making road games on Fridays due to work commitments.  The Warriors do have two road games on Fridays, in Philadelphia and Colorado.

nll draft 2018
Vancouver Warriors at San Diego Seals 03.02.19
Mike McGinnis
National Lacrosse League

San Diego Seals

There is one really nice thing to the Seals’ 2019-2020 schedule.  They have just one weekend with two games in Week 5 where they host Calgary and then play in Vancouver.  However, the home game is on a Friday, the away game on a Sunday. With the extra rest, the Seals should be just fine.  They catch an opponent on the tail end of a double game week once, in Week 9, when they visit the Riptide.

The most interesting thing in San Diego’s schedule is that two of their home games have the location listed as “To Be Announced.”  This has led to speculation that these home games will be played outdoors at the practice facility just outside the Pechanga Arena.

The Seals home and away schedule is fairly well balanced throughout the season.  As for travel, they will make the longest trip in the NLL as they head to Halifax in Week 8.  For the players living in market, it’s crossing four time zones and anywhere from a 8-to-11 hour flight.  That won’t be easy. They also travel to New York, Philadelphia and Buffalo. They avoid having to go to New England, Georgia, Toronto or Rochester.

matt vinc buffalo bandits toronto rock nll national lacrosse league twitter reactions war on the floor
Buffalo Bandits vs Toronto Rock at KeyBank Center, December 21, 2018. Photo by Sara Schmidle

Toronto Rock

The Rock have just one weekend with two games and the travel will be very simple.  In Week 19, they will play in Philadelphia and then in New York. It’s a relatively short bus trip or train ride between the two.  In Week 11, they’ll catch Buffalo on the backend of a two-game weekend, and while Buffalo plays the first game in Vancouver, there is a rest day in between.

An issue for the Rock in the past was getting Saturday home games which are optimal for their attendance, but difficult to get as the Leafs often play at home on Saturdays, and the Raptors also get preferred dates.  Just three of the Rock’s home games are on Saturday nights. Four of their home games are on Fridays and two are on Sundays, the latter of which are rarely good for attendance. The Rock make just two trips out west — to San Diego and Saskatchewan.

The one item that might or might not be beneficial for the Rock is that they play five games in April (as do the Rush). If they are in a playoff race, they will have the ability to control their own destiny due to the way the 2019-2020 NLL schedule was structured.

shawn evans buffalo bandits rochester knighthawks
Buffalo Bandits vs. Colorado Mammoth at Pepsi Center, Saturday, March 3, 2018, in Denver. (Photo by Jack Dempsey for the Colorado Mammoth)

Buffalo Bandits

Much like the Rush, the Bandits have a lot of bye weeks to open their schedule.  They have bye weeks in Weeks 1, 3, 4 and 6. They have two weekends with two games, the previously mentioned Friday game in Vancouver followed by a Sunday game in Toronto in Week 11.  The second double game week is in Week 16 where they play in Toronto followed by a home game against New England. Travel will not be an issue for this one. Buffalo does not catch an opponent on their second game of the weekend.

If Buffalo is in a playoff race down the stretch, they should be in really good shape.  While three of their last four games are on the road, their last three games are against the two expansion teams, Rochester (twice) and New York.

I heard from a few Buffalo fans who were hoping to travel to Halifax for their road game on the Atlantic coast.  While it is a Sunday game which some find to be a deterrent, believe me, if you spend the weekend in Halifax, you won’t regret it.  It’s a fabulous city to have a good adventure.

halifax thunderbirds

Halifax Thunderbirds

Speaking of the Thunderbirds, there were a lot of concerns about traveling as far out as Halifax for a game.  While this would be a legitimate concern for West Coast players, with the majority of players in the NLL coming from Ontario, the travel is actually fairly reasonable.  It is only a 2-hour flight from Toronto Pearson airport, so flights to Saskatoon or Calgary are longer for these players than it is to Halifax.

Seven of the Thunderbirds games are on Saturday nights, which will also be critical for them as they can expect a handful of fans to be driving from other parts of Nova Scotia, and perhaps from neighboring provinces for games.  However, four of the Thunderbirds first five games — as well as six of their first nine games are at home. They’ll need to be off to a fast start this year.

I’m not sure how many players will live in-market, but I doubt it will be many.  So as much as they do play in Vancouver and Calgary, for most players, it’s a flight from Toronto to those cities, which won’t be as taxing.

The Thunderbirds have two weekends with two games, and neither will be fun.  They will play on Week 14 in Buffalo on the Saturday and in New England on the Sunday.  If they perform this trip the way the Bandits have had to take this trip a few times in the past, the Thunderbirds will be on a 7-8 hour bus ride between the two cities, as unfortunately it’s the fastest way to get to the Mohegan Sun.  Luckily it will also be New England’s second game of the week, although New England has a day off in between games.  Halifax will also have an interesting travel schedule in Week 21, the second to last week of the schedule.  They play Philly at home on Saturday afternoon and Georgia on the road on Sunday night. Luckily, Georgia plays in New England that Saturday night, so both teams have travel issues.

There were concerns about the start time of games in Halifax, and given the time zone change, whether fans will be able to see the games out west.  Luckily, only one home game is on a Friday, so while this will start at 3:00 p.m. Pacific time (versus the Rock), it’s a lone exception.

rochester knighthawks logo nll

Rochester Knighthawks

As much as we need to explore the entire 2019-2020 NLL schedule, perhaps the most important part of the schedule for Knighthawks fans was when they’ll get to see the former Knighthawks, now the Thunderbirds and give them the royal Rochester welcome.  Well, they’ll have to wait a while, but they get two cracks at it on March 14th and 28th.

Rochester has two sets of two-game weekends.  In Week 8, they’ll host Calgary on a Saturday and then head to Philly for a Sunday night game, in which both teams are playing their second game that weekend.  In Week 15, they play both San Diego and Colorado on the road. They catch Vancouver on their second game of the week at home in Week 11.

That game against Vancouver is on a Sunday.  Every other home game for the Knighthawks is on a Saturday.  Being owned by the arena owners does have its perks.

nll power rankings bandits swarm
Photo courtesy of the National Lacrosse League

Georgia Swarm

The Swarm are the biggest benefactors of this new division format, as they will play recent expansion teams eight times — including two weekends with two games.  The first comes in Week 15 where they will play in New York on the Saturday and then host Philly on the Sunday. The second two-game weekend possibly comes at the worst opportune time inn Week 21 — the second-to-last weekend of the season — and the travel will be ugly as they play at the Mohegan Sun on the Saturday and then host Halifax on the Sunday.  The Swarm don’t play during the final week of the year (as do four other teams), so if they’re in a playoff race, it won’t be easy down the stretch. Although I don’t believe they will need to worry about that. In both cases, Philly and Halifax are playing their second game of the weekend as well.

Luckily this year, only two of the Swarm’s home games are on Sundays, with six of them being on Saturdays, which should help with attendance.

The Swarm play three games out west in Saskatchewan, Vancouver and San Diego.  While they avoid playing in Colorado, where they have never won, three extended trips out west won’t help matters.

chris cloutier
TORONTO, ON – JANUARY 4: National Lacrosse League game between the Philadelphia Wings vs Toronto Rock on January 4, 2019 at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
(Photo by Ryan McCullough / National Lacrosse League)

Philadelphia Wings

The most notable item on the Wings’ schedule is that they have three bye-weeks in the first four weeks.  They’re the team that gets started the latest on December 14th, and don’t have a home game until January 10th.  Despite the late start, the Wings also have just two games in April, meaning if there is a race for a playoff spot, their destiny will likely not be in their own hands.

Due to the fact that the Wings have three weekends of two games in the 2019-2020 NLL schedule, they will largely have major gaps in their schedule earlier and later in the season. The first is in Week 8, a road game in New England, followed by a home game against Rochester. Luckily this bus ride is only about four hours long.  The second one is the toughest in Week 12, playing both Buffalo and New England on the road, which means, the late-night bus trip. In Week 15, they play New England at home followed by a game in Georgia.  The game at home is a 1:00 p.m. start, so more time to recover for the second game.

When Philly travels to Calgary in Week 5 of the season, Calgary will be heading home from San Diego the night before.  In two of their double header weekends, their opponent in the second game is also playing their second game of the weekend.  As for heading west, Philly only makes two trips — Calgary and Colorado.

new york riptide dan macrae

New York Riptide

The Riptide begin the season with three road games, and their home opener will not be an easy game.  After playing in New England the night before, the Riptide will host the Saskatchewan Rush. The Riptide have two other double header weekends like this. In Week 9 they play in Philly and then host San Diego.  Their third double game weekend happens in Week 14 where they host New England followed by playing in Rochester. In all three situations, the team they are playing in the second game, their opponent is only playing their first game of the weekend.

Unlike most teams which have a lot of bye-weeks early in the year, New York will have already played 12 games by the end of February.  The little bit of help down the stretch the Riptide will receive is that in both Weeks 18 and 19, their opponent (hosting Colorado and Toronto respectively) is playing their second game of the weekend.  As for heading out west, the Riptide make just two trips, to Vancouver and Calgary.  Seven of the Riptide’s home games will be on Saturday nights.

nll power rankings week 8 new england black wolves buffalo bandits
Photo courtesy of the National Lacrosse League

New England Black Wolves

In recent years, New England has had several advantages playing at home.  The arena is slightly smaller. The seating is not normal. There’s the bus ride from New York or Boston to get to the Mohegan Sun, but most of their home games have been on Sundays — most other teams aren’t used to this.  This year, only four of their home games are on Sundays, while another four are on Saturdays.

The unusual factor in New England’s schedule is that after opening the season on the road for two games, they play their next five games at home.  Later in the season in late March and early April, the Black Wolves go on the road for four straight games.

The Black Wolves play just one two-game weekend, in mid-March, in Buffalo followed by a home game against Calgary on a Sunday afternoon.  They also have two consecutive bye weeks in early January.

In Week 12, New England will host Philly, who are playing in Buffalo the night before.  In their lone double game weekend, Calgary is also playing their second game that weekend.  New England has to make three trips out west: Saskatchewan, Colorado and San Diego.

Breathe Deep and Have Fun!

All of this data might be a little overwhelming, but at the end of the day, you know what your team’s schedule is, you can make your plans accordingly, so sit back and enjoy the ride that is the 2019-20 NLL season.

For all the latest in the world of lacrosse, follow me on Twitter @SchemLax or follow us on Lacrosse Classified @LaxClass, where Jake Elliott and I will bring you all the latest every Tuesday afternoon.