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 for 2016! We hope you enjoy our look at the NLL season through a new lens with the aid of our partner SISU!
A third of the 2016 NLL Season is already in the past. The four games from Week 5 will be upstaged this weekend by five contests, starting on Thursday night. New England and Buffalo are now tied for 1st in the Eastern Conference with Rochester and Georgia a half game back. In the Western Conference, Saskatchewan caught up to Colorado and tied things up at 1st. But Calgary is just one game back and Vancouver is a game and a half behind, the West is open for the taking.
My partner in NLL-crime, Ryan Conwell, will take care of the Black Wolves vs Bandits recap while I, Mark Donahue, will handle the rest of the field.
Calgary Roughnecks (2-3) @ Saskatchewan Rush (3-1)
- Zack Greer (7+2) scored the same number of goals as Calgary (6) by halftime
- Calgary goaltending looked weary at best
- Emotions got the best of the Necks
Saskatchewan have now run away with two of four meetings between the two Western Conference rivals/former providence mates. Attendance is climbing in Saskatoon, this time around over 9.5k fans filled out the SaskTel Centre for the home-teams second ever home game. Just by looking at the box score you can tell this one was the Rush’s from the start, but there’s more to how it happened.
The Rush punched in the opening possession to which the Necks brought their best response of the entire game with three-straight goals, from Dane Dobbie, Tyler Digby and Jeff Shattler. That would be the last Calgary lead of the night and the only three goals scored in the first frame. Curtis Dickson (4+3) opened up the scoring in the 2nd quarter, followed a few minutes later by Dobbie, making the difference only 5 to 6. That’s when Greer had his way with the defense and racked up 6 tallies in the 7 goal Rush spree.
Time spent in the penalty box definitely didn’t help Calgary. 29 minutes on 10 calls is tough to take against a rival playing with such poise. The lack of discipline showed at they rode the refs, collected multiple majors and even gave up a penalty shot to Greer. 12 of those minutes came on two majors and one minor in the 2nd, which let Greer crack Frankie Sgiliano wide open.
Wes Berg showed up on the board in the 3rd quarter along with Dickson and Shattler. The 4th quarter saw 3 more goals from forwards Dobbie, Dickson and Berg before it was all said and done.
Letting in 14 goals was enough for one-half, after posting only 21 saves, Scigliano was replaced by backup Mike Poulin. Poulin finished with 18 saves and only 5 let in, although the Rush let off the gas in the latter half. Knowing they had another game the next night, they kept Scigliano working a door for the second half.
Garrett McIntosh (6-13) and Curtis Manning (6-24) got worked at the faceoff dot by Thompson and the team got smoked overall on the loose ball game, grabbing 40 less than their opponent. Frankly, nothing clicked all night for the Roughnecks and heads were hanging when the team walked off the floor in Saskatoon.
This was Saskatchewan’s game from the opening draw. Kicking off the scoring right away was the NLL points and goals leader for NLL defensemen, Chris Corbeil after Jeremy Thompson secured the possession. The defensive-minded duo combined to help Sask dominate the loose ball game, Corbeil grabbing 10 and Thompson scooping and impressive 17. On top of 1 goal and 2 helpers, Corbeil co-led the defensive effort in caused turnovers, forcing 4 of the team’s impressive 24 total. To no surprise, Ryan Dilks also forced 4 of those turnovers and earned an assist for his efforts, although he couldn’t find the cage on the handful of shots he got to take.
The stats across the board were impressive, but none more than the efforts of Zack Greer. 7 goals and 2 assists for 9 points is straight up insane. The Rush went on a 7 goal run in the 2nd quarter, 6 of those accounted for by Greer netting 5 in a row, two on the powerplay and one a penalty shot, over the course of 5 minutes! The powerplay unit was 4 for 5 in the first half alone and moved the ball incredibly well against the Calgary defense.
Forward Ben McIntosh worked up his best night of the season so far, racking up a hat trick, 3 assists and 8 loosies. Defenseman Jeff Cornwall pushed on in coming down the floor in transition to keep the streak alive. Righty Robert Church capped off the first quarter scoring with another goal on the powerplay. On top of Greer’s monumental second, Church was the only other Rush player to score a goal in quarter.
Team points leader Mark Matthews humbly punched in two goals of his own and helped for 5 assists. One goal came shorthanded as an answer to a too-many men call that was the first action we saw in the first 6 minutes of the 3rd quarter. All in all, the offense posted a huge 5 goal run in the first quarter which was topped by a 7 goal explosion in the second. Greer and Church accounted for another goal each in the fourth frame which was polished off with a pair of goals from Curtis Knight who stayed off the point sheet until scoring twice.
Aaron Bold stood tall for the Rush for the full 60 minutes and the win. Although he didn’t match his numbers from the last meeting with Calgary, Boldy posted a passing 75% GAA from 35 saves. The Rush were the first team to put a scratch in the loss column for Colorado and they’re heading into the lion’s den to dual with the Mammoth once more. The Mammoth were dealt another tough loss, we’ll get to that in a minute, the following week and are not only looking for revenge on Sask, but desperately needing to right the ship before they get too far off course. It’s going to be another challenge for the defensive unit playing in championship-form and a goaltender that’s coming back up to speed.
N. England Black Wolves (3-2) @ Buffalo Bandits (3-2)
- Buffalo scored the rematch victory
- The Black Wolves had too little offense too late
- Buffalo gave New England goalie Evan Kirk his worst night of the year
On Champions Night in Buffalo, where the Bandits were honoring their past championship seasons with a ceremony, an alumni game, and some fantastic throwback jerseys, the home team won a key game against their division foe, New England. Just last week, the Black Wolves had used a dominant third quarter to blow apart what was an otherwise even game en route to a 15-11 victory down in Connecticut. This time around, the Bandits rode a hot start to victory after holding off a furious rally by the Black Wolves in the fourth.
New England Notes
For the Black Wolves, it was too little, too late. While they lost by two, their last goal allowed was an empty netter with two seconds left. Nothing helps fuel a rivalry like a last second empty net goal when the Bandits could have easily run out the clock. If not for that goal, the Black Wolves would have shut out the Bandits in the fourth quarter. This is a great sign for New England fans. In their two losses this year, they went down swinging, and are just five goals from being undefeated. They also do possess the best goals for to goals against ratio in the league.
Offensively, the Black Wolves took a while to get going (a long while), but the result was not too bad. Nearly all of their scoring came out of their forwards with Shawn Evans leading the team with a goal and five assists. Kevin Crowley was right behind him with two goals and three assists while Kyle Buchanan had a hat trick with an assist. This group of righties is who the Black Wolves expect to carry the team, and they were instrumental in the comeback. Unfortunately they could not convert at the end to force overtime, which led to the final goal by Buffalo.
New England does need to work a bit on their transition game, which is where Buffalo ran over them to start the night. They had seven combined shots from everyone on their defense with only Sheldon Burns scoring on one. Another goal from this group could have meant the difference in this game. It is not a huge point of emphasis for this team, but every potential goal matters.
The biggest surprise in this game was Evan Kirk in goal. He was pulled just a few minutes into the second quarter, ending his night with a 65% save percentage. Tye Belanger was outstanding after subbing in and finished by saving 89% of his shots against. I don’t think this creates a goalie controversy as Kirk still leads the league is goals against average and save percentage, but it is also reassuring that Belanger came come in and play well at a moment’s notice.
Buffalo had control of this game from the very beginning. Even though New England scored the first goal, the Bandits scored seven of the next eight goals going into the second quarter. The barrage resulted in NLL leading goalie Evan Kirk getting replaced by Tye Belanger just two minutes into the second. This run was fueled by Buffalo’s excellent transition game and special teams. Dhane Smith and Alex Kedoh-Hill each scored powerplay goals, Kedoh-Hill and David Brock picked up a shorthanded goal each, and nearly every other goal was in transition. The Bandits used their style and had their shots falling which put the Black Wolves on their heels right away.
The Bandits’ offense was once again paced by Dhane Smith, who finished with a hat trick and three assists. The only other player with multiple goals was Kedoh-Hill, with the pair already mentioned, both scored in the first quarter. These low scoring numbers across the team were more a sign of a group of forwards that really struggled in set offense rather than diversified scoring. Smith led the team is shots with 11, but all three of his goals were on the power play. Buffalo is still able to put of plenty of goals, but this much reliance on the power play from their top scorer is not an overly encouraging sign.
What is encouraging for Banditland is their transition game. Only three players on the entire roster who saw the field did not record a point, and one of those was Jay Thorimbert, who is primarily a faceoff guy. Even Chad Culp, who was one of the scoreless, still recorded seven total shots.
The Bandits are very much volume shooters and recorded 72 total shots this game. While they may have struggled with their set offense, they create plenty of opportunities on their own by pushing the ball up the floor and giving the green light to everyone.
Despite not having a stellar showing last week against New England, Davide DiRuscio got the start in goal over Anthony Cosmo and had a great game, saving just over 80% of the shots he saw. I don’t think this means Cosmo will permanently be working the defense’s door for the rest of the season, but given DiRuscio’s performance, it will be something else to keep an eye on.
Georgia Swarm (3-3) @ Calgary Roughnecks (3-3)
- A fire in Calgary led to an aggressive 2nd half
- Goalless night for the Thompsons
- Bob Snider in the lineup adds a lot of possession time
- Who figured Greg Harnett would win the game?
Calgary steered the ship back on course Saturday night in their second showdown of the weekend, this time hosting the young Georgia Swarm in front of over 9.5k fans in the Saddledome. It was “Superhero Night” in Calgary, complete with comic style renderings of the players and fans decked out from head to toe in their favorite crusaders’ crime fighting garb. I’m so glad we chose to put the spotlight on this one as the NLL Game of the Week! It literally went down to the final save!
After Calgary jumped out to a quick 1-0 lead, rookie sensation Randy Staats put in his first tally of the night, coming alone from behind for a wraparound, followed by fellow Iroquois National and team-leader Johnny Powless a minute later on the powerplay from quick ball movement. The score became 3-1, Georgia, with a nice tiptoe from Shayne Jackson across the crease. By that time in the game Georgia’s young guns led 14-3 in the shots column.
The second quarter ripped open with Jackson finding the back of the night with goals from rookie Chad Tutton and defensive staple Mitch Belisle both coming from high-speed transition. Jackson found another one in settled play before the Necks finally had an answer. Jesse King (1+4) found his lone goal of the night, buying some insurance for the Swarm to push the lead to 8-3. Things started off well in the 2nd half with an immediate goal from Kiel Matisz which was answered by 3 Calgary tallies before Powless could post his second and final goal of the evening. Powless now has 3 more goals than his 2015 total and halfway to his 2014 career-high of 30.
Going into the 4th quarter, it was the Swarm’s game, leading 10-9 only Staats was the only one to find twine from Georgia’s 10 shots taken on Poulin. Ball movement almost came to a halt and we saw a ton of shots from guys trying to do it all down the final stretch and the fire under Poulin was too hot to put out.
Goaltender Brodie MacDonald had a decent night but the defense couldn’t keep the shots away from the inside. He played out the full 60 minutes but his 40 of 52 stops wouldn’t be enough to send the Swarm back home with a victory. The defensive backline struggled to limit Calgary’s opportunities in the 3rd period and the late runs by the Roughnecks were too much to put on MacDonald’s shoulders.
Bob Snider was awarded the opening face which was capped off with a submarine snipe from Superman Curtis Dickson. Calgary’s struggles were coming from their lack of touches and weird turnovers. When Georgia finally went to the box, Tyler Digby made them pay from the low-slot marking the last goal of the quarter.
One of Calgary’s four penalties of the night came on the weirdest situation I’ve seen yet this season. Snider won the face-off and was working on getting the ball across the midline in 8 seconds. He cut and planted his foot, tripping up Earl, and was whistled for a 2-minute trip while he was in possession of the ball.
A huge rip from Digby resulted in the Roughnecks lone answer to the Swarm’s 5 notches in the second quarter. Losing 8-3 at the half, it looked like the Necks were ready to mail it in, especially when Matisz made it 9-3 early in the 3rd and it remade that way until half way through the quarter. At that point it would be the Riggers’ turn to go on an 6-1 run, finding goals all across the floor. Dickson and Digby hit twice along with 1 each from Dane Dobbie and Dan MacRae. Now down only 9 to 10, the Roughnecks put their heads down and charged into the final 15 minutes.
Dickson went first just a minute in to the 4th to tie the game. Staats put the Swarm back up by 1 before Digby had a crank pst his defender and knotted it once more. The hero would be Greg Harnett with 3 minutes left on the clock, punching in the final goal of the game which would be the winner. Harnett took a beating in the game and even suffered a late blow from Thompson in the final few minutes of the game but fought through fatigue to snag a rebound off Poulin’s pads and go the distance, looking off Dobbie and burying it short-side past MacDonald.
Defensively Curtis Manning stayed quite on the scoresheet but his presence was known by all Swarm forwards. Snider along with Shattler led the team in loose balls, both grabbing double digits in the contest. Frankie Siciliano made a reel worth of quality saves in the first frame, but the Swarm shooters got used to his tendencies and picked him apart in the second once they got warm. Mike Poulin got the call late in the second and remained between the pipes for the rest of the contest. Poulin brought the best game Calgary has seen yet in 2016, making 23 saves and only letting in 3 shots on goal while leading his team to the win and the 50th of his career. This should be Poulin’s role to lose now, especially after his insane 4th quarter performance and ability to seal the deal huge in the final moments.
Colorado Mammoth (4-2) @ Vancouver Stealth (2-3)
- No Mammoth scored more than 1 goal
- The 1st time the Stealth have controlled a majority of the game
- Rookie Ryan Wagner scored on his first touch, first shift, first shot
After three games, it’s disappointing to me that a NLL franchise in one of the most box lacrosse-saturated places on the planet has less total attendance than two, almost three, teams are averaging per game. They say 4k showed up to the Langley Events Centre on Saturday night, I say that number seems a little bold. After taking a beating, 14-5, just two weeks ago, the Stealth came dialed in and hungry for one, no wins coming since their takedown of the Rush three weeks ago.
The trio of Adam Jones, John Grant and Callum Crawford were all held to only one goal each and the same for sophomore star Eli McLaughlin. The defensive group of Ilija Gajic, Cam Holding and Creighton Reid pulled off the other 3 of the Mammoth’s 7 goals. This is a huge contrast form the 15, 16- goal nights we became accustomed to seeing out of Colorado. The game was actually tied at 3, thanks to Holding’s 1st of the season, before the Stealth rode out an impressive 9 to 1 run.
It was the backline that showed the promise for the dimming Mammoth, forcing 15 turnovers, ultimately staying out of the box and accounting for the previously mentioned 3 goals. This was all without captain Dan Coates, serving a 2-game suspension. Without Coates, it would be Gajic stepping up at the draw circle going 9 of 19, the rest of the bench going 1 of 7 behind him. With a little more practice, Gajic might be the go-to man until he can share some of the load with Coates again.
To me it looked like they were projecting some problems onto the goaltending. Starter Alex Buque made 18 saves and only let in 2 goals in the 2nd quarter before coming out in the 3rd and letting in 3 goals on 7 shots on goal. Replacement Dillon Ward didn’t bring a better game, he let in 6 of 14 shots on goal he faced. Even if they wanted to just get Buque some more floor time, why yank him in the situation?
Now down two games in a row and the Mammoth are expected to bounce back with a Thursday night game at home against the defending Champs followed by a Saturday showdown in Calgary. Couldn’t throw them a bone here? At least they get the following week off to breathe again.
What had to be one of the highlight plays of the season kicked off the game’s scoring a little over a minute in. Rookie Ryan Wagner filled in for an injured Cliff Smith and on his very first shift snagged a rebound on his first touch and took it down the floor to beat Ward one on one for the goal. A career can’t start any better. Fellow rookie Jordan Durston followed suit, burying the second of the night on a bounce pass across the floor from Garrett Billings. Colorado tied it up at 2 before Matt Beers hit a streaking Travis Cornwall who was able to bury it while getting shoved past the cage. The Mammoth tied it up one last time before Rhys Duch knocked one down on the powerplay to end the quarter.
By the way, look at you, Stealth powerplay! 3 for 3 attempts can’t get any better, two coming from Duchie who collected a hat trick total over the evening. Logan Schuss accounted for the other ppg. He’s now shooting in full Schuss fashion knocking down another 2 goals for the total hat trick to serve up with with a tasty 6 assists. 3 goals on 10 shots on goal and only 1 off is exactly what the Stealth need from Schuss to help keep the team in the win column. Duch and Corey Small would be the only goals scored in the second quarter before Schuss went to work scoring 3 in a row in between Durston, Billings and Tyler Garrison goals.
The defense held Grant to only 1 goal in the entire game and the same for Jones who didn’t find the net until the 4th quarter. Ian Hawskbee and Beers played aggressive, but clean, games, both picking up 9 loose balls and 0 penalty minutes. Those two along with Chris O’Dougherty, Jeff Moleski and Curtis Hodgson are playing top-notch defense and will be pressed to carry over the pressure into Rochester where they will again take on a capable veteran offense. The Mammoth powerplay only stung twice as the Stealth were able to stay out to the box for the most part, only collecting 8 minutes of box time this time around.
Putting together 40 saves on 47 shots on goal turned out to be one of Eric Penney‘s best nights in goal. Announced just this week, former Stealth starter Tyler Richards has returned from retirement and will be with the team as they head east this weekend. If Penney keeps it up, they won’t even need him, but only time will show up what kind of shape T-Rich will be in over a third of the way through the campaign.