We learned some NLL lessons this past weekend, and as is the case more often than not, there were plenty of surprises! With only 9 teams in the league for 2017, the talent spread is ridiculous, all of the teams could be considered pre-season contenders, and while we thought we knew, we really didn’t know anything.
For me, that is what is wonderful and beautiful about an NLL season. It’s frustrating when it comes to making accurate predictions, but each game has the potential for excitement, and that keeps me coming back for more.
First, I’ll focus on some predictions I made in the pre-season which turned out to be accurate.
NLL Lessons Learned – Week 1
Rochester’s D really IS scary!
Rochester was good on O, scored some transition goals, and did a great job of limiting transition opportunities for Calgary. When the Roughnecks played settled 5-on-5, the Knighthawks’ D was on lockdown, and Matt Vinc played out of his mind. He’s always good, but he was seeing beach balls this past weekend, and ROCH absolutely dominated, winning 17-6. I thought Rochester’s settled D would be good, but this was next level stuff. If it continues through the season, and improves, Rochester is in a really good spot already. Add in a crushingly dominant performance on face offs and Rochester is looking deadly.
— NLL (@NLL) December 11, 2017
The Swarm WILL Be Good Again
Yes, I know the Swarm lost to New England 13-11 on the road, but this is still a really good team. Offensively, they have at least seven guys who should be considered HUGE threats to score. That’s scary for any opponent. New England did a wonderful job of playing hard for four quarters and it won them the game, but Georgia showed they are just as dangerous offensively as they were in 2017. The sheer amount of great opportunities generated in week 1 is a really bright sign for Georgia.
If the Swarm needed a wake up call that 2017 is done and everyone is gunning for them this year, the NEWB loss is it. Expect the Swarm to bounce back strong in two weeks when they play Colorado. Big tip of the hat to New England. More on them below.
Just Needs Has Chemistry
Buffalo has a roster that looks amazing, and my only concern was how it would all come together early on. I thought it might take some time, but if the Bandits’ 13-9 win over Toronto is any indication, the process has officially started and is going well. The Bandits’ O looked comfortable out there together, and guys played well off of each other. The pieces really came together nicely against a fundamentally sound Toronto D, and it was fun to watch. All they needed was chemistry, and they found it early.
— Buffalo Bandits (@NLLBandits) December 11, 2017
Defensively, Buffalo looked strong, fast, and focused. There was a pervasive sense of calm when I watched the D operate as guys knew their roles, and played together. Again, it was more early gelling from a team that saw some changes in their roster, and it bodes well for the rest of the season.
Back Door Changes – NEBW
New England made just as many changes as Buffalo, and it seems to have paid off for them in a major way. You never want to read too far into one or loss, and while Georgia did create some really good opportunities, I was really impressed by New England’s ability to limit the Swarm to one or two good looks per possession (and sometimes none!) as opposed to the three to four chances they can often generate. NEBW did a great job of tracking down loose balls, and then moving them up the floor against the forecheck. The Black Wolves revamped their back end with a new goalie and new players, and so far, it’s working.
Ok, now let’s focus on some areas where I was a little bit off.
Toronto Rock – I Still Believe
I was pretty high on Toronto during the preseason, but their game with Buffalo left me a little underwhelmed. AGAIN, I refuse to read into one game too far, but given their speed on the backend, I was hoping to see just a little more push in transition. Toronto is a more settled offense type team than many other franchises, but I do like some of the weapons they have in unsettled play. In today’s NLL, I’m not sure you can win without it. I’ve been wrong before, and maybe this will all change as the season progresses, but it did stick out to me as notable.
I still love the Rock’s goaltending, their overall style of play and approach, their coaching, etc and I still think they have what it takes to make a push for the NLL title this year. I’m excited to see them play Saskatchewan on the 16th, and while it’s not a “must-win” game, the Rock need to perform well at the very least, or a lot more questions start to pop up.
There are also some developing storylines that we should really keep an eye on as well.
Rookies Stepping Up
Typical big names had typical big nights on opening weekend and we all heard about Shawn Evans’ 9 points (2,7,9) and Kevin Crowley’s HUGE four goals (and a helper!). But a couple of rookies also popped their heads into the scoring mix, and a few of them did so in serious style!
Josh Byrne had a goal and four assists for five points. He took 9 shots, 6 were on goal, and only one went in. But the others were SO CLOSE. Byrne is going to be a scorer, play maker, and man of many assists in this league. Count it. He fit in well with Buffalo and has some great veterans around him to learn from. As Byrne settles in, Buffalo becomes a truly dangerous team from every spot.
— NLL (@NLL) December 12, 2017
Ryan Lee had two goals and two assists for the Mammoth, and his first goal was RIDICULOUS. The former D3 player (RIT) got the ball on the crease, and then casually flicked it backhand without looking, like he was just having a toss in the backyard with the boys back in Roch-vegas. Keep an eye on Lee for solid all around play and some beautiful, creative stuff when it’s required.
Name a better first career goal.
— Colorado Mammoth (@MammothLax) December 9, 2017
Eric Fannell was also impressive in his NLL debut, and while he racked up three points on assists, he generated a TON of good chances and proved he can set up teammates as well as earn chances for himself. Fannell took 10 shots, 6 went on cage, and the vast majority of them were really good chances. Fannell is only going to become more deadly. Once he breaks the NLL goal seal, watch out.
Jake Withers was solid out on the defensive end of the floor for Rochester and provided value there, but his face off work was absolutely out of this world. He won 18 of 22 draws, and more often than not won possession in a matter of seconds, and he scooped up 10 loosies in the game. He was in control, fast, and will be a challenge for any draw man in the NLL today. Holy smokes!
Who Starts For Calgary?
Christian Del Bianco came in to the game for Calgary after 25 minutes, and while his numbers weren’t that much better than the numbers Frank Scigliano put up, he definitely provided a very different presence in between the pipes… and outside of the pipes. Del Bianco may be the most active goalie I’ve seen in a long while, and he’s not afraid to throw a tough pass or outlet quickly to a streaking player in transition.
The problem is that sometimes this outside the box play leads to times when the goalie is outside the cage, and it can get chaotic, and when your squad just lost its opener 17-6, chaos is usually avoided at all costs. Personally, I love Del Bianco’s risk/reward style of play as it’s a ton of fun to watch and results in some amazing plays, but I’m curious to see who gets the nod moving forward in Calgary. A lot of knowledgable people think Del Bianco is the future of goaltending, and I’m curious to see if Calgary gives him a shot now, later, or if Scigliano retakes his starting spot. The loss and all the goals can’t be pinned on either player alone, and shouldn’t be, but I’m curious to see how it shakes out.
It’s tough for the goalies in question, but it sure does make for exciting pro sports.
And then we get to storylines that haven’t developed yet…
Here’s one – Will Sasky be dominant in the West? I think they will be, but that means nothing!
Here is another question we can’t answer yet… If injuries pop up, or teams struggle early on, will we see a ton of player’s picked up and added as free agents? Or will it be a more trade heavy season?
Here is one more – how many players will use traditional this season? So far we have Miles Thompson. It’s a start! Anyone else out there rocking leathers?
These questions and more will be answered soon! Keep watching.