The NLL officially starts its 2021-22 season this Friday, and to say it’s been a long time coming would be an understatement. When you go back to how the world looked in March 2020 before the NLL season was suspended compared to how it looks today, very little is the same in the professional sports landscape.
Looking back at old emails and press releases from the time, the first notification that locker room access postgame would be limited to just players and essential staff came on Wednesday, March 11. That was going to be coupled with slight changes to the postgame press conferences to ensure some social distancing.
This was four days prior to what would be the next game I was set to see in person: New England versus Calgary. Just one day later, we learned of the temporary suspension of the season. It wasn’t until June 4 that the league officially called off the rest of the year and postseason possibilities. That period from March 12 to June 4 was full of unease and questions, and nobody had much to offer in the way of reassurance or answers.
The professional lacrosse landscape itself has also changed quite a bit. Back when that season shut down, MLL still existed, and that league went on to have a shortened Summer 2020 season, then eventually merged into the PLL. The PLL was just a single season old and has since added two teams, held the Championship Series in the summer of 2020, swallowed MLL, and had a full traveling season in 2021.
But it’s now finally the NLL’s time, and it returns for the first time in almost two full calendar years. That alone is interesting, but what are the big things that will make the 2021-22 campaign in particular worthwhile?
Five Reasons to be Excited for This NLL Season
5: New Teams!
There are three “new-ish” teams, one “new” team, and one new team. Any idea who I’m talking about? The “new-ish” teams are New York and Rochester, who were in their first expansion seasons when the pandemic hit, and Halifax was in its first season up in Nova Scotia at the time, too. New York still had five games left, Rochester had six, and Halifax also had six to go, excluding any possible playoff contests. All three were cut short of a significant season and are looking to restart some momentum with their fans.
The “new” team is the Albany FireWolves, which will play its first season in Albany after moving from New England, looking to hook a brand-new crowd into the NLL and hopefully build the base for a great home for years to come.
Finally, the brand-new (no quotes needed) Panther City Lacrosse Club down in Fort Worth, Texas, is actually about to begin its first campaign in existence. Panther City has a truly new arena to break in, too. It has the furthest to go out of the group, but there is some incredible potential for both the franchise and the league if the team succeeds.
4: It’s Back!
Sorry, no clever wordplay on the number four here. This should go without saying, but it’s been quite a long time since we last saw an NLL game. The return is a welcome one.
Ready for your future bar trivia? The last game played was on Sunday, March 8 – Colorado beat Rochester, 10-8. There was just a single fourth quarter goal in that game with Eli McLaughlin netting one with 8:26 remaining. Just for fun, the last penalty was Colorado’s Brett Craig with a two-minute illegal crosscheck with 1:33 to play. I know the game has ended, but just for fun, can we say that he’s still serving out that final 27 seconds and has for the last year and a half?
Anyway, the first game of the season will be Vancouver at San Diego, which puts us at exactly 635 days between games.
Six. Hundred. Thirty. Five.
3: New Coaches!
There are three new coaches for the 2021-22 season.
Tracey Kelusky will have his first shot at running the show on his own in the NLL as the head coach of Panther City. He’s done a great job developing young talent and getting veterans to come together in his short time as an offensive coordinator during stops in New England and Philadelphia.
Aside from Panther City, there are two other teams with a new face taking the lead behind the bench but neither are newcomers by any stretch. The one with the cleanest slate is New York’s Dan Ladouceur. Ladouceur takes over for Regy Thorpe, who was the general manager and head coach in the Riptide’s inaugural season. His duties were split between Jim Veltman as GM, who brought in Ladouceur from Georgia, where he was a long-time assistant, as the head coach.
The other perennial assistant finally getting a chance to call the shots is Jeff McComb in Saskatoon. Taking over for a legendary coach like Derek Keenan will be no small feat, but one of Keenan’s major successes is building a team. Keeping the GM title while McComb can focus on the actual games and players he has will make things a little easier, too. The two have spent years working together, so this may be one of the most seamless transitions imaginable.
2: Years of Rookies
Two, as in two years of rookies. Looking backwards, it feels like we had nothing happen since the season ended in March 2020, but that wasn’t the case. There was always the hope of a full and then a shortened season of some sort, so we had a draft in 2020 and in 2021 prior to this season. In each, knowing who was eligible was a total mess, because the NCAA eligibility tweaks changed the landscape entirely. Some left last year, some played an extra year, and some graduated on time after this past season.
What this means is that we’ll get to see some big-time college players in the NLL for the first time: Jeff Teat, Adam Charalambides, Larson Sundown, Tanner Cook, Ethan Walker, Patrick Shoemay, Charlie Kitchen, Tehoka Nanticoke, Ron John, and several others.
1: Massive TV Deal!
In what has taken several years to come to fruition, we are finally at a spot with the NLL where there is ONE place to go for games: ESPN/TSN.
Personally, I tend to be a pretty flexible person. However, while watching games across a mix of YouTube, Twitter, ESPN+, Bleacher Report Live, and the NLL’s own streaming certainly fulfilled a need, but there was always a sense they could do better. The league has been consistently investing in higher-quality broadcasts over the years with the goal of reaching a deal like this. We can finally say that regardless of what game it is, we’ll be watching it on an ESPN platform.
The PLL has shown the value of a consolidated platform over its three season with NBC – you’re always able to stream a game, at a minimum, and watch it on TV at best. Now we can do the same for the NLL over the next few seasons.
Weekly games will be on the main TV channels, and everything else will be streamed. You’ll be able to seamlessly jump from one game to the next and re-watch them without a problem. That’s really something to be excited for!