Five Unreal Finishes at 2016 NLL Midpoint

Editor’s Note: Thanks to the help of the innovative team at SISU Guard, the Official Mouthguard of the NLL, we’ve beefing up our National Lacrosse League coverage! We hope you enjoy our look at the 2016 NLL season through a new lens with the aid of our partner SISU!

Week 9 of the 2016 NLL season was by the best weekend of lacrosse I’ve seen in a long time. Four, one goal games and one signature victory by a team not ready to call it quits, made the perfect turning point of the season. We are now halfway through the season and coming off an incredible high from three incredible days of lacrosse last weekend.

Back at it, Ryan Conwell will be handling the Bandits/Rush and Georgia/New England, I’ll breakdown Stealth/Mammoth, Knighthawks/Rock and Rush/Roughnecks. Scroll on, party people.

Buffalo Bandits (5-4) @ Saskatchewan Rush (4-3)

1 2 3 4 OT TOTAL
Buffalo 6 4 6 2 1 19
Sask. 5 6 2 5 0 18
49 13 79 21-41 2-6
68 17 82 20-41 3-8

Quick Thoughts

  • Four goalies combined for 66 saves
  • Fifteen different runners scored
  • Overtime lacrosse is best lacrosse
  • Dhane Smith. That’s it, just Dhane Smith.

If we talked about every goal scored in the 19-18 Buffalo overtime victory, we would be here all day and night. The guy making the team highlight reels for the season can just stop here, 5 guys scored 4, or more, goals, with 15 different players putting at least one in the back of the net before Mitch Jones could be the hero of the night in front of 10.4k Saskatoon locals that, despite a loss, got their money’s worth on Friday.

Buffalo Notes

Dhane Smith Saskatchewan Rush Buffalo Bandits 2016 NLL Photo by Josh Schaefer/Saskatchewan Rush

Photo: Josh Schaefer/Saskatchewan Rush

Oh what a night it was for the Bandits on the road in a packed out SaskTel Centre. Mitch Jones rallied for 5 goals on only 6 shots night that no one, literally no one, saw coming. On offense, Dhane Smith continued his assault on the record books with four goals and four assists. Mark Steenhuis was right behind him with a goal and six assists. All told, eight Bandits would finish the game with more than three points. While Dhane Smith captures the headlines, this whole team is very dangerous and they play well to their fast paced style.

We saw the most fair matchup at the draw circle that we’ve seen all year for Jay Thorimbert, who has been dominant for most of the season, won 21 of 41 draws, but was dead even with Thompson at 20 each. They weren’t particularly good on the powerplay (33%) but they stood out on the penalty kill (63%) after giving the Rush 18 minutes to work with. Of course some of those minutes were evened out by 6 penalties by Saskatchewan in the first half alone.

Jay Thorimbert Jeremy Thompson Saskatchewan Rush Buffalo Bandits 2016 NLL Photo by Josh Schaefer/Saskatchewan Rush

Photo: Josh Schaefer/Saskatchewan Rush

While Anthony Cosmo got the start, he left the game very early on, leaving the goalie duties to Davide DiRuscio who finished with a 73% save rate. As usual the Buffalo defense gave up a ton of shots, but too many of those that missed back up the floor for scoring opportunities. Next up for Buffalo is Vancouver who has been surging a bit as of late and are coming off a last second loss to Colorado.  That’s one game where I have no idea what to expect.

Saskatchewan Notes

While the Rush are still third in the league in goals allowed average, their defense was not even close to their standards for this game. Aaron Bold took the brunt of it by seeing 34 shots and only saving 22 of them. The Rush also gave Tyler Carlson a try in net, but his results were no better, saving just over half of his shots. While the Rush did not get too much scoring out of their defenders aside from two Nik Bilic goals, most of them did record an assist or two. I have heard people describe the Rush as the most dangerous team in transition and they made a good case for that in this game. They as a whole forced 19 turnovers and turned many of those into scoring opportunities.

Offensively, the Rush are no slouches, either. Mark Matthews led the team with a pair of goals and seven assists. Robert Church led the team in goals with five, which made him a great choice for the penalty shot in the last-minute of regulation. He wound up missing, which may have decided the game. Ben McIntosh also recorded four goals of his own.

Saskatchewan Rush Buffalo Bandits 2016 NLL Photo by Josh Schaefer/Saskatchewan Rush

Photo: Josh Schaefer/Saskatchewan Rush

Overall, the offense played pretty well, but you would hope Matthews would do better than just two goals on a night where he takes 21 total shots.  McIntosh had the most impressive stat line amongst the forwards. He was second on the team in goals with four, but only took eight shots and every one was on cage. Those are some lofty numbers in the NLL.

Vancouver Stealth (3-5) @ Colorado Mammoth (7-2)

1 2 3 4 TOTAL
Vancouver 3 3 3 1 10
Colorado 1 1 2 7 11
43 22 52 18-25 2-3
58 26 57 7-25 0-6

Quick Thoughts

  • I’ve never seen anyone own a game like Adam Jones did
  • Vancouver needs shots on goal, plain and simple
  • Colorado was tied up all game, Jones was just magic
  • The Stealth special teams are hot

I hope all fourteen-thousand lacrosse fans that filled out the Pepsi Center on Saturday night didn’t leave before the fourth quarter. The Stealth were incredible to limit opportunities all came and were having a strong night in goal, at the draw circle and on special teams until Jones saddled up and rallied for a sock trick goal that would be the game-winner. This game was a big reason why I consider the weekend the best three days of lacrosse I’ve ever seen.

Vancouver Notes

Joel McCready Vancouver Stealth at Colorado Mammoth 2015 NLL Photo: Jack Dempsey

Photo: Jack Dempsey

Poor Vancouver, after such a stellar comeback win over the Roughnecks they let the wheels fall off the bus in the fourth quarter in a battle they were sure to win after the first three, up 9-4. That’s when Adam Jones happened, and happened hard. After keeping him without a single point all night, once the fourth quarter hit Jones couldn’t be stopped, scoring 6 goals, with the assist on the other, and the real highlight being the game-winner with just two seconds left.

To answer Colorado’s first strike, the Stealth pushed the tempo in transition to connect with rookie Thomas Hoggarth on the crease for the perfect one-timer while getting rode into the crease, an incredible handle for the kid’s first career goal in his very first game. Things continued to look good in the first half with a hat trick coming to Logan Schuss in the first 20 minutes of the game, a goal for Rhys Duch and a powerplay punch for defenseman Tyler Hass in transition. Duch would get it going in the second half, with the next strike coming again in transition from Travis Cornwall. The Mammoth rallied for two only to backed up by a powerplay hit from Duch.

Well, you know the story of Colorado’s epic fourth quarter already. The lone tally by Corey Small wasn’t enough to win the game, the third, one goal in as many tries. Looking strong at the draw circle, and improving on defense, Mitch McMichael went 18 of 25 on face-offs, With Tyler Richards in goal, things were looking ideal in the first half. He stoned the Mammoth shooters 25 times, only letting in two tallies in the first thirty minutes. He was still able to post 13 saves in the fourth quarter, despite letting in 7 goals, 6 from Jones. The season continues to fall either way for the Stealth and despite dominating in certain areas, they can’t find a way to lock down a full 60 minute performance.

Vancouver Stealth at Colorado Mammoth 2015 NLL Photo: Jack Dempsey

Photo: Jack Dempsey

Controversially, this game could have gone the other way too. Just before Jones scored his fourth, goaltender Alex Buque actually scored on himself. The ref was moving down the floor and transition when the ball rolled out of Buque’s stick, crossed the goal line before he pulled it out and moved it down the floor for the score. The play should have been ruled a goal, but with no challenges left for the Stealth, the play was never reviewed.

Here’s the play in question…

Colorado Notes

Vancouver Stealth at Colorado Mammoth 2015 NLL Photo: Jack Dempsey

Photo: Jack Dempsey

Three minutes in, Jeremy Noble broke the ice, but it would be the last goal scored for twenty minutes until John Grant Jr. knocked one down shorthanded to slow the 6 consecutive goals punched in by the Stealth. Going into halftime down 2-6, the defense looked bad but the offense looked much worse. Following a nice little tilt between captain Dan Coates and Jeff Moleski, Chris Wardle would use the energy get on the boards in the third quarter, nearly 15 minutes after their last goal to be backed up minutes later by Noble on the shorthanded attempt.

After holding Adam Jones without a single point all night, once the fourth quarter hit Jones couldn’t be stopped, scoring 6 goals, with the assist on the other, and the real highlight being the game-winner.

It was absolutely silly to watch the array of goals from Jones. It started with a submarine flick followed by a nice shot around the screen and capitalized with the hat trick skipper, all three coming in under 30 seconds. Jones’ fourth came after Buque’s controversial fumble and the equalizer followed less than two minutes later with a dagger from outside. The big addition for Colorado, Callum Crawford would exchange goals with Small before Jonesy would step in and steal the game completely with just a second left in the game!

Dillon Ward would be pulled from duty for Alex Buque after Ward went 22 of 30. It would be hard to blame the goaltender after the struggling performance from the offense, but it could have been that spark that Buque brought to the game that ignited the fuse of Jones. Buque pulled off the W by stopping 11 of the 13 looks he faced.

Rochester Knighthawks (3-4) @ Toronto Rock (2-6)

1 2 3 4 TOTAL
Rochester 1 1 1 3 6
Toronto 7 4 2 4 17
58 18 75 10-27 1-5
51 19 77 17-27 8-10

Quick Thoughts

  • Nick Rose, you did it again.
  • Dan Dawson forgot his backpack in Rochester
  • Fans still love their Rock, despite going 1-6 into the game

Over ten-thousand fans packed into the Air Canada Centre for Canadian Night and to witness a monumental signature win for a team that has been taking a beating so far in 2016. When the Rock and Knighthawks square off it’s always going to be a slugfest, I think the 37 minutes of penalty time could attest that this meeting was no different.

Rochester Notes

Toronto Rock Rochester Knighthawks NLL 2016 Photo: Graig Abel

Photo: Graig Abel

Toronto popped off to a quick two goal lead before Stephen Keogh sniped a beauty through a wall, which unfortunately was the only score of the first frame for Rochester to which the Rock packed in seven against them. Joe Walters would knock down a beauty of a skipper to start the second quarter, the last Hawks goal for over twenty minutes. In that time, Matt Vinc would be replaced by Angus Goodleaf and would give up 3 powerplay goals, 1 shorthanded goal and another strike to dig the 12-2 hole before Dan Dawson could finally get on the board, halfway through the third quarter. One more powerplay goal would be score against them before Keogh would pick up his second, the first of the fourth quarter. Defenseman Scott Campbell took one down after a few more Rock tallies, but it still couldn’t start a rally. The last goal of the game was scored with under a minute left by Mark Cockerton, playing his first game of 2016 in a Knighthawks jersey.

Goon squad wasn’t a good look for the Knighthawks, but it’s the one they went with. 11 penalties racked up 25 minutes of man-down time, that’s nearly half of the game! Captain Sid Smith racked up 3 slashes in 6 minutes, but the team collected everything from boarding to head-butting.

Toronto Notes

Toronto Rock Rochester Knighthawks NLL 2016 Photo: Graig Abel

Photo: Graig Abel

From the opening whistle, the Rock played like they were pissed off. Less than a minute into the game, well played transition turned into Colin Doyle grinding out an incredible pass to hit Kasey Biernes for a one-timer on the crease to get the crowd on their feet. The following possession, cross-floor ball movement led to Josh Sanderson knocking one down from space. Rochester would score on the following possession, but it would be their last one for fifteen minutes. Doyle, Sanderson and Biernes would all find another goal in the first quarter along with a Rob Hellyer strike and a successful powerplay connection from Stephan Leblanc. taking the score to a 7-1 lead at the end of the first quarter.

The Hawks would start the scoring show in the second quarter before the Rock defense, led by Nick Rose making 20 saves in the second and 15 in the third, would bar them from scoring again for over 20 minutes. Both teams were spending some serious time in the penalty box, but it was the Rock making the best of it. From the second through fourth quarters, Biernes would score 3 powerplay goals and 1 shorthanded tally, giving him 6 goals and 1 assist for the nights. Over the same amount of time, Hellyer would collect 2 powerplay goals, Leblanc and Sanderson would each get a powerplay goal, along with other goals added by Sanderson and rookie Dan Linter. One, six goal night, three, three goal performances and five players with 7, or more, points is a huge breath of fresh air for this once sputtering offense.

Toronto Rock Rochester Knighthawks NLL 2016 Photo: Graig Abel

Photo: Graig Abel

Nick Rose’s stand in net was a thing of beauty. He took down 52 of the 58 shots he faced, a hair off of 90%. Brodie Merrill was strong on defense, scooping 10 loose balls and holding down the fort for his team that picked up 12 penalty minutes. Weirdly enough, after their second win the Rock are now just a game and a half back from both Rochester and Georgia. They will take a breath from the Eastern Conference hunt for a monthlong stretch against the West. They can only hope and pray this is what they get out of the offense, defense and goaltending when they come back after the bye week to face Calgary, also desperately looking to get out of last place, and the Stealth also fighting for a positive season.

Georgia Swarm (4-5) @ NE Black Wolves (5-2)

1 2 3 4 TOTAL
Georgia 2 4 3 6 15
N England 3 3 4 6 16
64 21 75 19-34 3-6
50 28 76 15-34 2-5

Quick Thoughts

  • The Black Wolves love late goals
  • These two teams are very even matched
  • Georgia has a Swiss army knife offense

The fans in New England once again got to see a fantastic game with a thrilling ending. In a young market, games like this help build returning fans, which is great for the team, the league, and the sport. On the flip side of that, you can spin that for Georgia as well. Their fans saw them go right to the last few seconds with the top team in their division. There are still plenty of games left to inspire some great hopes.

The game started out very much with the defenses on both teams in control.  Neither offense was really able to get anything going for them and each shot was highly contested and/or from bad angles.  This was not a big change from their first meeting a few weeks ago where they were tied 1-1 after

Georgia Notes

This was not Georgia’s best effort from a defensive or transition standpoint. Brodie MacDonald finished saving about 68% of the shots against him, which isn’t terrible, but it’s nothing to be too proud of, either. The defense also will not have good memories after letting New England win the game with just 3.5 seconds left. On top of the goals allowed though, the transition game for Georgia really did not result in many goals of their own. After notching two score the previous week, Joel White was held scoreless, Jordan MacIntosh has zero, and Chad Tutton did not score on any of his nine shots. When it comes down to it, I really think this was the difference in the game.

On the other end of the floor, it seems like every week for the Swarm, a new player can step in and be the top scorer. This week, Jesse King takes the honors after recording four goals and six assists. King was instrumental in the Swarm’s late surge, having a hand in their last four goals. Lyle Thompson (2+3), Randy Staats (3+1), and Johnny Powless (3+3) also turned in solid nights while the rest of the offense was relatively quiet.

They did a great job as a unit by absolutely peppering New England with 64 shots on goal, but it just wasn’t quite enough. It really is hard to put too much blame on the offense for this loss though. They were taking shots and found nylon on 15 of them, which is no small chore against the top scoring defense in the league.

Georgia now has a weekend off to regroup and figure out how to deal with the Rush, who will be their next opponent.  It’s no easy test, but a win there will be a huge boost for the team before they return home to host the Knighthawks.

New England Notes

Defensively, Brian Megill was lost late in the first quarter to a knee injury and did not return. Coach Glenn Clark had no answers for Megill’s injury after the game outside of confirming that it was his knee and that he was due for an MRI on Monday. This left them at a slight disadvantage for the rest of the game as they had to deal with one less big body in the defensive rotation. They were allowing Minnesota to get a ton of shots off, but not really any good looks. This allowed Evan Kirk to finish with a great save percentage of 76.5% and a total of 49 saves. Very few of the defenders picked up any goals, assists, or shots, but Sheldon Burns and John Ranagan each notched a goal.

The offense was paced by Shawn Evans, who picked up three goals and seven assists on the game. Jordan Hall continues to mesh in well and had a hat trick to go with six assists of his own. The goals were spread very evenly across the forwards. The highlight goal ultimately goes to Kevin Crowley as he scored the game winner with just 3.5 seconds left on the clock.

It really goes to show how big of a pickup he was when building this offense with Shawn Evans. On the final play, Georgia locked down Evans knowing he was the most dangerous player. This allowed Evans to position himself out of the way and give New England a chance to run with a little bit more space in the offense. Obviously, it was a good thing.

While the full extent of Brian Megill’s injury is not known at the time this is written, the Black Wolves gain two very important pieces back for their trip to Colorado. Brett Bucktooth should be returning from his suspension, and Andrew Suitor has been added to the Active Roster. It’s a terrifying thought for others in the league when the team with the best GAA has been playing without their defensive leader all season and are just now getting him back. It would be hard to imagine this upsetting the apple cart as Suitor is the definition of a team guy and should fit in well against Colorado’s style.

UPDATE: The Black Wolves have placed Brian Megill on the Injured Reserve List with a “Season Ending” injury for the rest of 2016. Best wishes to Megill in his recovery.

Saskatchewan Rush (5-3) @ Calgary Roughnecks (3-6)

1 2 3 4 OT TOTAL
Sask. 1 3 4 3 1 12
Calgary 3 5 1 2 0 11
60 16 91 18-28 3-7
44 16 68 10-28 2-3

Quick Thoughts

  • 91 Rush looseballs is no joke!
  • Mike Poulin has to be the starter for Calgary
  • 2nd OT game in a row for each team

Both teams absolutely had their chances to win Sunday’s showdown in the Saddledome, but ultimately it would be Zack Greer and the visiting Saskatchewan Rush stealing the breath away from ten-thousand Roughneck fans. Intense goaltending and rapid fire transition set the tone for this back and forth slugfest.

Saskatchewan clawed their way back with three clusters of three goals in a row despite an incredible effort by Mike Poulin and his defense to shut down the Rush forwards. It would be Curtis Knight and Robert Church doing most of scoring damage along with a very busy defensive group to overcome the 8-4 first half and push for overtime.

Saskatchewan Notes

Calgary Roughnecks Saskatchewan Rush NLL 2016 Photo: Candice Ward

Photo: Candice Ward

The hero of the night would be Zack Greer, who stayed fairly quiet after scoring the Rush’s first goal of the game, stopping the 3-0 Calgary start, until overtime when Greer got the chance to shine again after a series of failed timeouts and equally opportune missed connections. HOW THE GOAL HAPPENED. to redeem the weekend where they lost in overtime, at home, just two days prior. Saskatchewan had 4 powerplay opportunities in the first half and could only make it count once. After giving up a handful of goals, Mark Matthews rang up his first goal of the night, second for the Rush, on the man advantage to bring the score to 5-2. Three more Roughnecks goals would go by before Robert Church and Curtis Knight could finish the half’s scoring totals with the Rush down 4 to 8.

Knight would score his second with under a minute missing from the third quarter to keep momentum for Saskatchewan. The defense did an incredible job at limiting scoring opportunities from the shifty ball of fire, Curtis Dickson. They kept him to a single goal on the night and forced the Roughnecks to take chances all night. After the Dickson goal came a pair of powerplay goals, one from Church and the John Lafontaine with the other, before Church could cash in again to close the third quarter trailing by one.

Calgary Roughnecks Saskatchewan Rush NLL 2016 Photo: Candice Ward

In the fourth, Digby and Berg would get their hat tricks, but they were able to limit the entire team to three goals on thirteen attempts in the entire second half. Only killing off 1 of 3 penalties keeps their penalty kill percentage below .500, despite putting up 7 shorthanded goals, 2nd in the NLL. The transition team and the defense are essentially one in the same for the Rush, Chris Corbeil continues to lead all NLL defensemen in goals scored and points, with 6 and 11 respectively, but he made himself most useful by snagging 11 looseballs on Sunday, one less than face-off man Jeremy Thompson, having his best game of the season by earning 1 goal, 12 loose balls and 18 of 28 face-off wins. After Digby got his final goal to start the fourth, the Thompson goal was crucial in transition to keep Calgary in the contest. The following possession Curtis Knight completed his hat trick to tie the game for the first time. Minutes later, and again on great ball movement, Matthews was able to sink the go-ahead goal and what could have been the original game-winner if it wasn’t for the heart-breaker from Berg.

Overtime it was and you already know how it ended. This proves the 2016 Saskatchewan Rush is incredibly resilient and loaded with young talent in each and every position. The entire team bounced back together from the slow first half to run the show in the second. Scooping 91 loose balls to your opponent’s 68 is a stat to be proud of, but Thompson didn’t win 64% of his face-offs alone, the team is fast and gritty and can find a way to get the job done.

Only facing 44 shots on goal (in contrast to Poulin’s 60) Aaron Bold was able to walk away with the W from a collection of 33 saves, 4 in overtime, in his 6th full-game in net for the Rush this season. He took some hits early in the first quarter, but if you saw the movement of the Calgary offense, it’s hard to blame the goaltender. Two back to back overtime games in one weekend calls for some much needed rest, but after sitting some minutes against Buffalo, history tells us Bold will be between the pipes Saturday when they host the Swarm.

Calgary Notes

Calgary Roughnecks Saskatchewan Rush NLL 2016 Photo: Candice Ward

Photo: Candice Ward

For the second time in two weeks Calgary fell victim to overtime. The game was in favor of the home team in the first minute from a delay of game going to the Rush and a pursuing goal from rookie Reilly O’Connor, filling in for a still injured Dane Dobbie, on the powerplay to take an early lead. The quick jump was added to seven minutes later by fellow rookie Wes Berg and things would continue to stay positive for the Necks.

Playing in his first game of 2016, Tyler Burton was activated to go head to head with Thompson at the draw circle and provide some defensive support. Burton went 10 of 28 on face-offs but his biggest contribution of the night came early in the second quarter after another goal from Berg. Burton lost the draw but came up with the ball, pushed it down the floor and stepped in to pick top corner on his first goal of the season and only point of the night. Minutes later Tyson Bell went to the box for a 2 min roughing call, which Matthews stung the penalty kill unit for the first time. The goal was answered right away with a cluster of scoring started by Digby, picked up by Karsen Leung on shorthanded transition and capped by Jeff Shattler to end the Necks’ scoring for the half before letting in a pair of goals to seal the score at 8-4 for the break.

Calgary Roughnecks Saskatchewan Rush NLL 2016 Photo: Candice Ward

Photo: Candice Ward

The Rush defense made it a point of emphasis to not let Curtis Dickson get shots off, limiting him to a single goal. So naturally he hooked his teammates up with 6 assists to take the game’s Second Star. Understandably since he finished with 7 total points, but really it was Digby and Berg having the big nights in the scoring columns, each good for a hat trick, Berg with 2 helpers and Digby with 3. Dibgy is an absolute wrecking ball on the inside but can shoot straight gas from the field and despite his size, Berg can clear space with the best of them and has been crafty with the ball when he doesn’t hesitate. Not to let one out due each other, Digby and Berg exchanged their goals in the first, second and fourth quarters.

It was that pesky third quarter that really got away from the Riggers, Dickson was only able to strike once of the team’s meager 6 shots on net. They had their hands full, letting in 4 goals from 4 different shooters, 2 goals coming on the 3 powerplay opportunities they handed the Rush. The first goal of the fourth quarter came after a successful penalty kill, Tyler Digby was able to find one on the powerplay for the Roughnecks, the first Calgary goal in over twenty minutes, making it 10-8. A quick 3 goal run from the Rush put them down for the first time in the game before Berg was able to sink his hat trick, 5th point of the night, to force overtime with little over a minute left.

You can’t ask for much more consistency than what Mike Poulin brought to the table Sunday afternoon. Four, eleven save quarters were added onto by four monumental overtime stops that only an unlucky pipe to body rebound would find make its way in to ruin the perfect night. Displaying a handful of incredibly athletic saves and thirteen stones against Matthews should be the confidence the staff and Poulin needs to be confident in the job as they play host to Rochester Saturday night. Unfortunately it was that pipe to body dagger from Greer that served up the OT loss against his 48 of 60 saves. Taking a second overtime blow in as many weeks is a tough roll of the dice, but fans still have a lot to look forward to as Dobbie looks to return to the floor this weekend at home against Rochester.

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