What a Friday night. There were no NLL games, I was just getting home after my son’s soccer team pulled out a huge win and was still intermittently checking my emails for the NLL disciplinary report — which normally arrives first thing Friday — but had not arrived yet. What I was really looking for was whether Chris O’Dougherty’s match penalty would stand up and whether Justin Salt or Jesse King would get in any trouble for their melee. I get the report, see Dane Dobbie’s name, and six games.
What???? What in the heck happened?
I start contacting other insiders and none of them know either.
The incident certainly overshadowed a Week 2 where Halifax had its home opener, New York played its first game in franchise history and the scoring remained low.
All of the talk this weekend was about Dane Dobbie’s six-game suspension which. when breaking it down, was one game under Rule 42, a gross misconduct infraction, and five games under the infamous Rule 41.4 which is the repeat offender rule.
Now, I know the question you are all asking is, “What happened?” I have heard from third party sources as to what happened, but because these are third-party sources and not direct sources, I’m not comfortable stating what they have told me. The last thing I want to do is to add to the rumor mill with the potential of inaccurate information. What I will say is that if the information is correct, the gross misconduct is certainly warranted.
If the suspension is upheld, Dobbie wouldn’t return to action until February 22. You might recall, Calgary has a double bye-week right now and another one in late December and then in early January. That’s an awfully long time for a team to be without its captain. We can be certain however that the PLPA will appeal the decision as there would be a precedent set that they wouldn’t want if they didn’t appeal. Given that Calgary didn’t play in Week 2, there was no rush to file the appeal.
Now let’s explain things a little first. Most people won’t have a clue what gross misconduct is. First, you need to get the correct definition of gross in your mind. Gross, in this case, doesn’t mean disgusting. It means large. It’s the highest level of misconduct you can receive in both box lacrosse and hockey. I’ll start with the simple definition that I teach my young ball hockey referees, gross misconduct is making a travesty of the game.
Here’s a good example from my past refereeing in hockey that tells you the difference. A coach starts chirping at me — that’s a bench minor for unsportsmanlike conduct. A few minutes later he gets louder so that all the parents on the far end of the arena can hear it — that’s a game misconduct. When he then climbs on top of the boards and continues his protest, that’s where we get to the level of a travesty of the game, and gross misconduct. He also got his second gross misconduct for then leaping over the boards to want to chase me around the ice and further continue his protest.
Now Rule 42 in the NLL’s book gives specific examples of what has to be called gross misconduct. The three examples they give are interfering with or striking a spectator, any taunts or slurs that are religious, gender or sexual orientation-based or spitting on an opponent, official or spectator. This isn’t the comprehensive list, but these specific items must be called gross misconduct. As an ice hockey and ball hockey official for 30+ years, I probably handed out one to two gross misconducts per year. They are rare, but they are heavily punished. The CLA requires three games for its suspension. The CHA and CBHA require a minimum of two games.
The real issue at hand for Dobbie is the enforcement of Rule 41.4. Dobbie had been assessed a match penalty for face masking back in 2018. This is the basis of using 41.4 for the additional five games, which is what Rule 41.4 states is the punishment for a second offense. There have been two prior enforcements of Rule 41.4. Greg Harnett was the first player to have Rule 41.4 enforced against him for taking two match penalties just three games apart. In his case, because 41.4 at the time was poorly worded, the arbitrator reduced his suspension to five games. The rule was rewritten for the start of the next season and last year, the revised rule was then enforced against Callum Crawford. In his case, the arbitrator reduced his suspension to two games under Rule 41.4.
This brings up three arguments that the PLPA, in my opinion, would have quite a time defending Dobbie’s suspension to an arbitrator. This might get a little technical, so hopefully, I don’t lose you.
The first argument is the Crawford precedent. We spoke with PLPA counsel Jason Jaros on Lacrosse Classified after the Crawford ruling and one of the main arguments that the arbitrator agreed with the PLPA on was that the loss of income to Crawford — approximately $10,000 — was excessive given the nature of the violation. The arbitrator did agree however that levying an additional suspension for a repeat offender was justifiable. Here’s where the NLL missed the boat in my opinion. When the NLL rewrote Rule 41.4 this past year, they had the opportunity to change the applicable suspension to something that an arbitrator would probably accept — let’s say three additional games. But they left the suspension at five games, and in fact, increased the suspension for a fourth offense. The fact that the league didn’t change the rule in the wake of the Crawford decision will be difficult to manage.
The second argument, which the PLPA might or might not employ, is whether another change to Rule 41.4 is reasonable. The other change to Rule 41.4 is that in the past, once your match penalty was more than 2 years old, it was no longer a repeat offense. Under the new rule, any match penalties incurred starting in the 2017-18 season never expire for the repeat offender rule. This is troubling. Think of it this way. If a rookie makes a stupid mistake this year, that mistake could be used against them 12 years from now as a repeat offender. That prospect is scary.
The final issue at hand is how the rule book is written. Errors or ambiguities in the rule book have been used against the NLL by arbitrators in the past, and in my opinion, there is a major problem with the rule book here. As I stated before, gross misconducts are making a travesty of the game. Match penalties are an intent to injure an opponent. Simply put, the two rules are not the same and in no rule book are the suspensions for either one combined. No other rule book that is, except the NLL.
Rule 42 states that any player guilty of gross misconduct shall be assessed a match penalty. As a referee of 30+ years, this makes absolutely zero sense. They aren’t the same penalty and they shouldn’t be combined in any shape or form. The correct way in my opinion to handle Rule 42 is to spell out the punishment for gross misconduct separately in Rule 42, not now trying to combine the punishment into Rule 41, which is the match penalty rule.
Dobbie is guilty of one match penalty in the past and based on the information I have, one gross misconduct. That gross misconduct should be a two-game suspension, maybe three at most. But calling Dobbie a repeat offender for something that is totally different than his first offense is just wrong.
Opening Night in Halifax
Let’s get to something positive.
It was the Halifax Thunderbirds’ home opener against the New York Riptide in New York’s first-ever game. There were a lot of references to the Thunderbirds’ first game in franchise history, but to me, that team came from Rochester and is not their first game in franchise history, but the first game of a new beginning for the franchise in Halifax.
We were really hoping that the game would be a sellout after the positive result from the inter-squad game just a few weeks earlier, but the arena’s lower bowl looked a third to one-half empty. The announced attendance was 6,800 but I can’t say for certain if that is correct or not because the upper decks are not visible, and the seats on that level are considerably cheaper. The one bit of feedback I did get was that the tickets were expensive and comparing my seat at the SaskTel Centre, they had a point. That same ticket was $16 more in Halifax at $72. I’m not sure what, if anything can be done to get the attendance up further, but hopefully the attendance numbers come up because the market is a good one and has a ton of potential.
Getting back to the game, it didn’t take long to get the crowd roaring in Halifax. Jake Withers took the opening draw, got the loose ball, had an open lane to the net, and just 10 seconds in, the Thunderbirds had the lead they would never relinquish. The game was over quickly in a 12-4 win. There were seven first-quarter goals for the Thunderbirds, compared to just five shots on goal for the Riptide. When the Thunderbirds made it 8-0 early in the second quarter, the rest of the game was more of a chance to improve the systems. The Thunderbirds offense was in cruise control at that stage.
The Riptide defense did improve from that point forward, and at one point held the Thunderbirds without a goal for nearly two quarters. If there is anything to build on for the Riptide, it is that. However, the offense was a mess. The four goals were very reflective of the effort put forward. Given, New York hasn’t played together much. With time, they should learn to play better as a unit, but heading into Vancouver next week, the Riptide are a heavy underdog, something we can’t say we’ve said about the Warriors or Stealth in some time.
Warren Hill enters his first year as a bonafide starter in the NLL and saved 40 of 44 shots (0.909%) and continues an impressive streak of goaltending performances from Week 1. In Week 1, teams averaged just nine goals. In Week 2, teams scored less than 10 on average. Even more impressive was Jake Withers, who won 16 of 18 faceoffs (89%) against Ryan Fournier, who is a decent faceoff specialist.
It’s tough to say if the first-time lacrosse fan in Halifax was entertained or not by the first performance. The seven opening quarter goals certainly got them out of their seats, but from that point forward, the goals dried up and the game was over. Their team won which is always good, but you would have hoped for a 12-11 win to really get the crowd going.
Upset in Toronto
In our contest on Lacrosse Classified called Who Ya Gott — if you want to play this week and win some prizes — I’m off to a 5-1 start. All three of my kids play as well and Vasyli is also 5-1. We’re a part of a 30-way tie for fifth place out of the 119 entrants so far. But, guess who’s in the four-way tie for first at 6-0. My daughter Daryna! She gets zero help from daddy and has to make all of her picks on her own. Funny enough, Vasyli finished in second place in Week 1 and Daryna finished in four place in Week 2.
What does this all have to do with the Black Wolves’ 12-8 win over the Rock in Week 2? Well, Daryna picked it and it’s the only game I’ve got wrong so far this season. I shouldn’t feel too embarrassed, only 15% of the entries in this week’s Who Ya Gott had picked the Black Wolves.
For the Black Wolves, a new attitude towards their offense meant that Callum Crawford, who nearly won the scoring race despite a suspension, was open far more often in this game. He took 16 shots, 10 of them on target, and ended the night with 3 goals and 4 assists.
Toronto had taken a 2-0 lead in the opening 1:09 of the game, only for New England to score 7 of the next 8 goals. While Toronto would come back to tie it at 8-8 late, Andrew Kew’s first goal of his NLL career and two more from Callum Crawford in a 3-minute stretch late in the game put this one out of reach.
There’s a group of Rock fans that absolutely blame Nick Rose for everything wrong with the team, and they had plenty of ammunition from this game. Several shots from range that Rose should have had weren’t helping matters. There was a dunk attempt that had Rose going the wrong way, but the missed dunk attempt went off of Challen Rodgers and into the cage.
The Rock had Bradley Kri take the majority of the faceoffs, which is a concern for me as last season, Kri flourished when he didn’t have to take many draws. If Kri has to take that many draws, his defensive and transition game is bound to suffer and I think it’s the wrong way for the Rock to go.
The final takeaway from this game is that this is one of only three home games the Rock have on Saturdays, a night in the past that was critical for their success in attendance. The attendance for this game was only 7,158. This doesn’t appear to be a trend with the Rock, but a trend across the league as the NLL pushes the schedule earlier and earlier. Perhaps the main issue, in December for most families, liquid income is tight with Christmas spending, as attendance tends to go up as the season goes along.
Close Call in Banditland
The one big question mark coming into the season for the San Diego Seals was how well their offense was going to gel. With Austin Staats and Casey Jackson still on the injured reserve, Dan Dawson in Toronto and Garrett Billings not playing anywhere this season, the only member of their top offensive set that was still in the lineup for the season opener was Kyle Buchanan. Even though the Seals lost 13-10 on Saturday to the Bandits, perhaps a point of comfort was that the big three players they added upfront in the off-season, Jeremy Noble, Zack Greer and Wes Berg each scored twice in the loss. The performance is even more impressive given that Greer and Berg didn’t play in the league last season and Noble was coming off the worst year of his career, scoring just five times in 2019. When Jackson and Staats get back into the lineup, this offense will be troubling for their opponents.
We also had reasons to question the offense of the Bandits, who lost Shawn Evans and Jordan Durston in the expansion draft, Thomas Hoggarth to a season-ending knee injury at the world championships and Chase Fraser still on the injured reserve from an injury he sustained in the WLA season. But as I stated several times last year, the Bandits had a ton of weapons and there is just one ball. Even losing a few of their weapons, the Bandits still had a lot of firepower to do exactly what they needed to do upfront. Dhane Smith and Corey Small each had a hat trick, but the surprise perhaps was Chris Cloutier, the No. 2 pick of the draft in 2018 by Philadelphia, who also had a hat trick. Cloutier had a subpar rookie season and he was traded to the Bandits before the trade deadline. The Bandits gave up Ryan Wagner and a 2021 1st Round Pick to get him, but if he continues to produce as he did in the season opener, that investment should pay off well for the Bandits.
If there was a weak part of the Bandits performance, it was in faceoffs. Face-off duty was shared between Ian MacKay and Nick Weiss, neither of which produced all that well, as the Bandits won just 9-of-27 draws. I’m certainly not going to question the genius that is John Tavares, but I believe you are better suited to leave MacKay in a transition role where he jumps into the offense from time to time when required. Given that the Bandits offense is a little thinner, using MacKay up front more often is a viable option. The other issue the Bandits defense would certainly want to tighten up is the fact that they fell for far too many fakes on Saturday night. If you look at the goals the Seals scored, half of them come off of a fake from the goal scorer and the Bandits defense biting.
One thing of interest when the disciplinary report comes out on Friday is what, if any, action will be taken against Mike Carnegie. With 10 seconds remaining in the opening half, he delivered a hard crosscheck to the head of Josh Byrne, who required treatment but returned to the game later. There was no call on the floor, but most certainly will be reviewed by Mr. Lemon and his team.
The attendance for the season opener was 10,685 — the best of the week — but for the Bandits, well below their normal average in the 13,000 to 14,000 range.
There are four games on the NLL schedule this week, all on Saturday night. Philly is the last team to kick off their season when they head south to play on the new turf in Georgia. Saskatchewan hosts New England, a team they’ve had difficulty with in the past. Vancouver hosts New York, which in my mind, is a must-win for the Warriors. And finally, the Toronto Rock make their first trip to San Diego. It’s unfortunate that all four games take place on the same night, but when you’re trying to accommodate arena schedules and team preferences for Saturday nights, this is going to happen.
Unit next time…
For all the latest on the world of lacrosse, follow me on Twitter @SchemLax and the Lacrosse Classified Podcast @LaxClass.