It’s been a long, long time coming, but the NLL finally got back to action for the first time in years with Week 1 of its 2021-22 campaign season. Box is back, and this is how it all went down after quite the hiatus.
NLL Week 1 Brings Box Back
Vancouver (8) vs San Diego (7)
San Diego was anticipated to have one of the best offenses in the league following the teams successful offseason. The Seals acquired MVP-caliber player Dane Dobbie and picked up two young stars in Tre Leclaire and Mac O’Keefe. All of the cards were in the Seals’ favor as they were expected to come out looking like a complete team to start the season.
Unfortunately, the team looked like a deer in headlights during its NLL home opener in Week 1 against the Warriors. Vancouver came out and played gritty defense, disrupting any sort of offense the Seals were attempting to run. Even though Dobbie, Leclaire, and O’Keefe each had impressive performances, the remainder of the Seals roster came out flat and didn’t do anything to help their team.
The star of the show was Vancouver’s Mitch Jones, who finished the game with five goals and an assist. Jones played a phenomenal game but will certainly need more help from his teammates if this team is expecting to win more games this season.
Saskatchewan (11) vs Halifax (12)
Probably one of the more exciting games from Week 1 of the NLL, the Thunderbirds were able to take care of business in overtime after a back-and-forth game against the Rush. Both teams played extremely well considering neither team had played a game in more than 650 days.
Halifax had some struggles in the first quarter but immediately climbed over that hump entering the second quarter. The team played fundamental lacrosse with all of the teams goals coming off of assists. Saskatchewan was not shy of a little competition as the Rush were able to hang toe-to-toe with the Thunderbirds until the closing minutes. I wouldn’t be surprised to see both these teams do very well this upcoming season.
The man of the hour had to be Jake Withers winning 19-27 faceoffs with most of these wins coming when the team needed them most. Withers has shown to be one of the best faceoff men in the league and continues to assert his dominance in just his fourth year.
Panther City (11) vs Philadelphia (12)
The biggest takeaway from this game was how well Panther City played considering it is the organization’s inaugural season. While many of its players have been in the league for a number of years now, normally it takes awhile for a team to gain a good level of chemistry. That did not appear to be an issue for Panther City as it hung with the Wings from start to finish.
Philadelphia had high expectations entering this season after its success in 2020. The team returned many of its star caliber players, such as Matt Rambo and Brett Hickey. The team has many different players who can generate offense on their own, which will be dangerous for other teams in the league.
It would make sense to give this award to Hickey, who tallied eight points, or even Rambo, who had six points of his own. However, the clear winner was Trevor Baptiste, who went 25-of-27 on the faceoff X. It’s shocking that Panther City kept the game as close as it did considering it won just two faceoffs all match. Without Baptiste, this game could have ended very differently.
Albany (9) vs Toronto (10)
Both of these teams have had recent histories of success, even if Albany is just a reskinned version of the New England Black Wolves team. This game was back and forth from start to finish with each team going on periodic hot streaks throughout the contest.
Toronto was obviously the more veteran team as most of these guys have been playing with one another for a number of years now. The Rock played a more consistent level of lacrosse offensively but were slowed down numerous times by a solid Albany defense. This was mostly due to the fact that Albany’s goalie saved 43 of the 53 shots he faced, but the FireWolves’ physicality on defense kept them in this game.
Tom Schreiber was made to be a box lacrosse player. Even though he has had great success in the PLL and MLL, the NLL certainly feels like his bread and butter. Schreiber racked up four goals and one assist and was constantly a weapon on the field even when he didn’t have the ball.
Colorado (16) vs Georgia (11)
Talk about a game with absolutely zero defense. Both teams totaled 100 shots on goal, and that was very apparent when watching the game. While both teams’ offenses didn’t look half bad, most of these shots came from poor defense and quick transition goals.
The Swarm struggled to keep up with the Mammoth’s physicality on both sides of the ball. The Mammoth played very well off-ball and recognized the right times to utilize a one-on-one matchup. This Colorado offense will only get better as the season goes on, but I would say most of the team’s success from this game came from capitalizing on a sloppy performance from the Swarm.
RIT graduate Ryan Lee certainly made his presence known as he put five goals in the back of the net on only nine shots. He tacked on three assists, too, bringing his total to eight points.
Rochester (13) vs riptide (12)
The 2020 season resulted in the Knighthawks finishing their season with a record of 2-10 and the Riptide with a record of 1-12 – this opening weekend matchup was certainly a battle between two of the worst teams in the league. It’s difficult to determine how well each team played considering this game was really scrapping the bottom of the barrel.
The Riptide were certainly the more flashy team as many of their goals came off of good ball movement and awareness. The Knighthawks were more focused on physicality to create outside shots. Obviously, this strategy worked out for the Knighthawks as they walked away with the win in overtime.
The No. 1 overall pick in last year’s NLL draft, Jeff Teat, showed the world why he was selected first in Week 1. Teat recorded a hat trick and tallied four assists while scooping up eight loose balls. He will be a force to be reckoned with, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he achieved all-star level status sooner than later.
Calgary (9) vs Buffalo (16)
The Bandits absolutely had their way against the Roughnecks during the team’s home opener. The team returned most of its roster from years prior and added some big names during the offseason.
Bandit veterans, such as Dhane Smith, Chris Cloutier, and Josh Bryne, picked up where they left off after the 2020 season. You can tell how much chemistry these guys have with one another as the trio had a combined number of 12 assists. It certainly helps that these guys just won a PLL Championship together with the Chaos just a few months ago.
Offseason additions, such as Tehoka Nanticoke and Connor Fields, fit in surprisingly well with the current offensive system. Nanticoke recorded a hat trick in his NLL debut and Fields tallied four goals and an assist as his Week 1 output. It was obvious that Fields was playing with a chip on his shoulder after being traded from the Seals earlier this year.
While the offense certainly deserves much of the praise, a lot of the credit has to be directed towards veteran goalie Matt Vinc. Vinc faced a whopping 58 shots and saved 49 of them. While the Bandits defense needs to protect their goalie more in the future, its impressive that Vinc is still playing at such a high level at 39 years old.
The biggest takeaway from this weekend is the Bandits appear to best team in the league by a wide margin, but it’s only Week 1 of a long NLL season – there’s plenty left to play.
Now for the other lacrosse news from the week of Nov. 30-Dec.6, 2021.
Last Week In Lacrosse
The PLL began releasing the Players Top 50 list starting with #50-41. The league has made it clear that this years list was voted on solely by the players.
Patriots coach Chris Mattes wore shoes that honored lacrosse Native Americans on Monday nights game against the Bills. The shoes were designed by Lyle Thompson and was in support of the Every Child Matters movement in the lacrosse community.
Utica College men’s lacrosse coach Michael Parnell passed away Thursday night at the age of 45. Parnell had been with the Utica College program for the past 14 years.
Legendary Sports Group held its Five Star Elite Invitational down at IMG Academy over the weekend. This event brought some of the best high school players in the country together to be coached by legendary coaches and compete against one another.
A lacrosse company based out of Bloomfield, Michigan, has put together a fundraiser in support of the victims from the Oxford High School shooting that took place last week. All of the proceeds go directly to the families that were impacted.
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