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!
We’re polishing off the first-third of the NLL season this coming weekend, but before we look ahead, we must turn back to Week 5’s match-ups. I’m sure you’ve noticed Colorado already got knocked off their pedestal and the Rock further slipped into oblivion, but there are some other notable stories coming out of the weekend like New England’s first experience as the lone-#1 team in the Eastern Conference and a couple of back-to-back wins to help get Georgia’s head above water.
Here’s how it works, Ryan Conwell breaks down the Swarm at Rock and Bandits at Black Wolves, Mason Powell gives us a look at the Swarm at Knighthawks and Mark Donahue covers the West by recapping the Mammoth at Rush and Stealth at Roughnecks.
Get Early Access
"*" indicates required fields
Georgia Swarm (2-2) @ Toronto Rock (0-5)
- Neither defense will love watching game film after this one
- Toronto’s offense answered some of their own questions
- Georgia’s scorers got back on track
- High scoring lacrosse is awesome
- Powerplays were crucial
As you can probably see from the box score, this was not a defensive battle. All four goalies between the teams saw time in net and none of them ever provided the answer the coaches were looking for. The goalies are an easy scapegoat in any high scoring game, but defenses on both teams did them no favors, and the offenses each created their own opportunities.
Shots were scored on the inside, outside, off picks, cross crease, man up, man down, overhand, underhand, behind the back, and in transition. Before we get too specific, let’s take a look at who did what.
After scoring just six goals two weeks ago against New England, Georgia came back with a vengeance. They played the type of offense that we mostly expect from this group, which is one full of fast, crisp passes. There was no go-to scorer, either. They had nine players record a goal, with only Chad Tutton and Jordan MacIntosh scoring goals from the defensive corps. Both Lyle Thompson and Shayne Jackson led the team with 10 total points, Lyle from two goals and eight assists, Jackson with four goals and six helps. Kiel Matisz was not far behind with a goal and seven assists.
The great thing about Georgia’s offense was their overall balance. They were not righty or lefty strong, and really produced well as a unit. Jesse King looked fantastic and is really working well with Jackson and Johnny Powless. Randy Staats had a good contribution, but found himself shooting wide on the ever so rare penalty shot opportunity late in the game. In the end, that may not have mattered, but those are the opportunities that forwards like Staats HAVE to capitalize on.
It also seems like the Swarm are just a series of highlight clips waiting to happen. This game was no different. With the game still close in the fourth quarter, Miles Thompson was busy cementing the outcome with this spectacular behind the back shot:
— NLL (@NLL) January 30, 2016
While it was easy to praise the offense in this 20 goal performance, the defense should not go without some mention. The defense did reasonably well in the even number sets, but they put their team in a bind way too often with a ton of penalties and not being able to back them up with a penalty kill. Of the Swarm’s 10 penalties, one was a bench minor, and only two were on forwards. That is not an excessive amount of calls for a team, but their penalty kill needs a ton of work to stay in playoff range in the East.
I really feel bad for the Rock. Their 17 goals are just one short of matching their total output from the three previous games COMBINED. I’ve been harping on them for their problems being on offense more than anything. Sure, they let in a few too many goals in other contests as well, but if you’re not scoring, you’re giving your opponents more transition opportunities and more possessions in general. If you told me that the Rock would score 17, there’s no way I would have thought they would have lost this game, even with Georgia’s scoring potential.
Toronto got things rolling in this game with a goal only twenty seconds in from Stephan LeBlanc, who has been one of their best performers so far this season. Casual fans might have gotten overly excited here thinking they were totally back on track. But, the commentator calling the game, Stephen Stamp, was quick to remind everyone that the Rock had tied Buffalo in their previous outing after the first quarter. In that contest, they would score three goals in the first, and only three more for the rest of the game.
Toronto killed an early penalty and their second goal was a spectacular transition score as their man down efforts were concluding. Starting Rock goalie Nick Rose picked off a pass on the crease and found Brodie Merrill in full stride near the midline, which he easily converted into goal number two. Their next two goals came on the powerplays by LeBlanc and Rob Marshall. LeBlanc’s goal was a great team effort as both his teammates on the lefty side with him set picks to form a perfect wall, giving him time to set his feet and fire away. Brett Hickey would then chip in one more before rookie Dan Lintner scored his first career goal with just one second left on the clock to end the first quarter up by one.
— NLL (@NLL) January 30, 2016
The second quarter took a little longer to develop before LeBlanc got another powerplay goal a little over four minutes in. About 45 seconds later, Rob Hellyer scored, causing the Swarm to swap out keepers. That didn’t help much as they completed a four goal run and went into half down 12-11.
The Swarm would go back to their original keeper to start the half, but the third quarter brought back bad memories as the Rock went cold for over thirteen minutes, before Hellyer scored on a powerplay off a Colin Doyle feed. Once the fourth quarter began, the Rock scored five of the next six goals to have the 17-16 lead with about eight minutes left. Unfortunately, that would be the end of the road as the Swarm closed things out with a four goal run and the win.
In positive notes, the Rock had eight different scorers, which is a higher number than their point total in their highest scoring game so far this year (seven). They scored in a variety of ways and had good support from their transition game. What should still concern the Rock though is out of their 17 goals, nine came on either a powerplay or with an extra attacker, including four of their six second half goals. Rose finished a 52.6% save percentage before leaving the game in the second quarter. Brandon Miller was only slightly better with just under 63%.
Colorado Mammoth (4-1) @ Saskatchewan Rush (2-1)
- Adam Jones has scored in 52-straight regular season games (1st)
- Rush defense is stepping up, maintaining their low GAA (10)
- Rookie Jordan Gilles leads the NLL Defensemen in Goals (5)
- Mark Matthews easily in Top 5 moth lethal forwards (5.7 points per game)
8,624 Saskatoon homers piled in to the SaskTel Centre to go nuts for their Rush in the second-ever home game in the city. This time around they were rewarded to a nail-biter that was decided in the 4th quarter. The consistent pressure on the forwards and all-around more poised attitude led to 3 goals a quarter and a convincing final frame for Saskatchewan, serving Colorado their first loss of 2016.
Two of the three power play goals scored by the Mammoth came from John Grant Jr. The Rush limited Jr. off the boards and contained his scoring to the pair and 4 helpers. Sophomore Eli McLaughlin had the other power play goal along with another in 5 on 5, also coming in the first quarter.
They handcuffed Adam Jones all night and he was good for only 1 goal and 1 assist, just like Callum Crawford who had his quietest night yet since sporting the Mammoth sweater. Rookie defenseman Jordan Gilles wasn’t going down without a fight. He had a pair of good-looking goals along with 5 loosies and 2 caused turnovers. He now leads the league’s defense in scoring weirdly enough.
Veteran defenseman Greg Downing is leading the NLL in forced turnovers with 14 while captain Dan Coates is not far in tail with 10 in the 5 Colorado games so far. Coates has stayed under .500 in each game at the draw circle, this time no better winning only 8 of his 23. A lone goal came shorthanded in the 3rd quarter ending a near-10 minute scoring drought for Colorado. Joey Cupido and Robert Hope cleaned up well on the loose ball game, Cupido with 9 and Hope at 7.
You can’t put blame on the goaltenders after this one. Keeper Dillon Ward kept out a solid 38 of the 50 shots he took on. It starting to like that the Mammoth’s Achilles heal lies in the Big 3 (Grant, Jones, Crawford). If 2 of the 3 don’t put up a hat trick, or better, it’s not looking good. Unless 1 has a 5+ night, but that’s still hard without some pull from the others. Either way, those 3 are backpacking things right now and no one can score in games where no one is shooting.
As if getting shutdown on opening night in the new barn by a conference rival wasn’t annoying enough, the Rush have played less than any team in the NLL which leaves guys chomping at the bit to hit the floor and reclaim their glory. The Rush have always had a thing for Colorado and they seemed thrilled at the chance to snap the winning streak.
After having getting rattled by the Stealth, none other than the monstrous Mark Matthews led the scoring charge with four goals and two helpers. On the same side as the big lefty, Zack Greer dug out a hat trick with a pair of assists and is doing just fine a couple of weeks after taking the shot seen around the world. Five other Rush scored one goal in the game.
The Rush defense is shaping back into form after giving up 13 to the least effective offense in the Western Conference. Aaron Bold and company are posted at a goals against average of only 10, second best in the NLL to New England. Lockdown defensemen Chris Corbeil and Ryan Dilks have found themselves creating magic on the other end of the floor, returning NLL Defenseman of the Year Corbeil has 5 points (4 g, 1 a) right behind Dilks’ 6 points, all assists. Dilks is also 2nd in the league for forced turnovers, causing 11 so far.
The game was Colorado’s to win, the game was tied and first goal of the quarter came early for Noble and the score remained for nearly 8 minutes before Matthews tied it back, Church took the lead and Corbeil pounded the nail in the coffin. The Rush are known for just getting it done and Saturday night saw one of those signature wins.
Buffalo Bandits (2-2) @ New England Black Wolves (3-1)
- Kevin Crowley made some big jumps in the goal department
- Shawn Evans’ passes were on all night
- Buffalo is still one of the best teams in the league
Even though this game ended first, by nature of Rochester falling to the Swarm about 30 minutes later, New England took control of first place in the East. This was not by chance, either. The Black Wolves played every bit like a first place team should. Their defense was frustrating the Bandits all night, the offense was operating on a whole new level, and their transition game has been much improved. Buffalo is obviously upset with the loss, but do not mistake that for them taking much of a step backwards. They played their style of lacrosse, but Evan Kirk was outstanding for the Black Wolves once again, and New England’s shooters went through periods where they seemingly could not miss.
Also to note is that these teams meet again next weekend on Buffalo. Do not miss this game.
New England Notes
Before the game, New England brought attention to the New NLL commissioner Nick Sakiewicz being in attendance and the chairman of the Mohegan ownership group presented him with a wooden stick in a ceremony on the floor. At the same time and in a spectacular show of sportsmanship, they also called John Tavares onto the floor from the Buffalo bench and gave him a stick as well to honor his playing career.
As far as the actual game goes, the New England defense did a solid job keeping Dhane Smith in check for most of the game in the scoring department. He seemed to be primarily covered by Bill O’Brien or Brett Manney, who match up well with Smith in the size department. The other players I was very impressed by were John Ranagan, Sheldon Burns, Ryan Hotaling, and Jimmy Purves. Purves did not record much in the box score, but he was a physical presence inside all night. Ranagan was critical in the transition game, recording his first goal of the season. Things were not all rosey for the defense though. Head Coach Glenn Clark made reference to “lapses” in communication and coverage after the game. While they did not all result in goals, there were some obvious examples. A few times, defenders lost track of cutters behind them in transition, giving Buffalo open shots on goal. Another example of poor defense would be when three New England players were unable to grab a loose ball against one Buffalo forward in front of the net, giving an extended possession to Buffalo where they drew a penalty and scored on the ensuing power play. Loose balls matter, kids.
Offensively, things were much better for the Black Wolves. Kevin Crowley scored six goals in a variety of ways, while Shawn Evans paced the team with seven assists. Kevin Buchanan had his best game of the year by scoring twice and helping on five others. Shane MacDonald set a career high with four assists. Things were just clicking for the Black Wolves, especially in their five goal third quarter, where Crowley scored three of his goals and Buchanan had both of his. This success also extended into the fourth when they recorded two goals while O’Brien was serving a five-minute major. After the game, Shawn Evans was in full agreement that the whole unit has really started to come together and are developing some great chemistry.
Outside of the third quarter, the Bandits were neck and neck with the Black Wolves. This shift momentum led to goalie Anthony Cosmo heading to the bench for most of the second half, finishing the game with a 74% save percentage. The Bandits played well defensively on an individual level, but fell apart as a unit. Every single Black Wolves goal was assisted. If you take out transition goals, only three goals were assisted by a single player.
Keeping true to their form as a transition team, they did a great job keeping the pressure on New England each time the Bandits made a stop in their end. When asked about not being able to prevent this phase of the game, Black Wolves coach Glenn Clarke essentially said “that’s what they do.” The score would have been drastically different if not for the phenomenal efforts of Black Wolves goalie Evan Kirk. Time and time again the Bandits were getting wide open looks, but just could not finish.
Offensively, Ryan Benesch had the most goals so far this season with three. Dhane Smith led the team as usual with four goals and four assists, including three in the fourth quarter alone. It seemed like he started taking shots earlier in the shot clock that he was not attempting in the previous quarters. Unfortunately for the Bandits, it was too little, too late.
Jay Thorimbert was once again stellar in faceoffs, winning 20 of the 30 in the game. He only fell victim to the new rule restricting steps with the ball in the back of the head once, but he pushes the limit on this quite a bit. He is very quick on the clamp and looks to pop it out or pass instead of sweeping out to a teammate. I’m still keeping a very close eye on him and really want to see him up again the likes of Jordan MacIntosh, Jeremy Thompson, or Bob Snider.
Georgia Swarm (3-2) @ Rochester Knighthawks (2-2)
- Brodie MacDonald was a human wall (49 saves, 84%)
- Dan Dawson and Stephen Keogh were scoreless
- Miles Thompson had his wake-up game (3 goals, 2 assists)
Somewhere over 8.7k lacrosse fans packed into the Blue Cross Arena in Rochester on Saturday night to watch their hometown Knighthawks host the Georgia Swarm, playing their second game of the weekend.
It was a hard-fought battle from both sides, and a few different bounces could have sent this game either way. But the defensive force of the Georgia Swarm was too much for the Knighthawks to overcome.
Let’s mix it up a little, here’s the Pros and Cons from each bench.
Pros: The Swarm chemistry is undoubtedly one of the best in the NLL. They seem to find small holes in the defense, connect with open men on the crease, and have the ability to read where their teammates are going to be. They play as a team, each player knows their role and they all play to each others strengths. Randy Staats has been consistent all season and putting up great numbers. The accuracy he displays with his stick is fun to watch and he ended the night with 5 goals and 2 assists. Johnny Powless, looked great adding 6 points to his name and was chosen as the 1st Star for the game.
The MVP on the defensive end had to be Brodie MacDonald. Georgia’s goalie was a brick wall and had a few outstanding sprawling saves. He seemed to frustrate Dan Dawson the most, shutting him out and limiting his night to two assist. With 49 saves, it makes it even harder to ignore this 6’7” goalkeeper.
Cons: Georgia had a pretty solid night against a tough Rochester squad. They could have been a little more effective on the face-off and communicated better during shorthanded situations. Also, Rochester had a few chances off of Hail Mary clears down the field after a shot. They could work on their transition play a little more in order to limit those breakaway chances.
Pros: Defensively, Rochester played very strong against the Swarm. They put quite a bit of pressure on a very strong Georgia offense. Though they did get lost a few times off ball (mostly off-ball picks), allowing only 13 goals against a team that put up 20 the night prior against the Rock is pretty good. Rookie Adam Bomberry played very aggressive out there, and even stuck a nice goal from a full field pass coming from Matt Vinc. Another defensive threat that picked up a goal was Scott Campbell.
On the offensive end, Craig Point put a hat trick on the board and 2 assists, that made him the leading points leader for the Knighthawks. Cory Vitarelli has been consistent this season so far, adding another three points to his name with 2 goals and an assist. The best part of Vitarelli’s game on Saturday was his ride and ability to create second chances for himself and his teammates. Their powerplay proved to be effective, ending the night at fifty percent. The Knighthawks gave themselves a lot of chances, out shooting Georgia, but unfortunately faced a very hot Georgia tender.
Cons: The Knighthawks came out flat-footed in their own barn which was detrimental to their morale. They ended the first quarter scoreless and down by four points. Rochester seemed a little too relaxed on LB’s, compared to some of the Swarms diving attempts just to maintain possession. Though they had a lot of chances, their chances were off of on-ball picks and iso’s. The Swarm tender often had the chance to set his feet and make the save due to the lack of ball movement.
Rochester’s defense couldn’t seem to maintain Myles Thompson off ball. Thompson netted 2 out of 3 goals directly on the crease, one from Staats and the other from Powless. Defensively Rochester, pushed their man to the outside, which was great, but they failed to defend the pass to the middle.
Vancouver Stealth (1-3) @ Calgary Roughnecks (2-2)
- Tough break for the Stealth
- The arena was packed (13,769, 3rd)
- Rooki Tyson Bell scored his career-first
- Goaltending was mediocre, but it was close
It was rocking in Calgary last Saturday night! Over 13.7k loyals filled up the Saddledome with hopes of seeing their hometown Roughnecks even out their records with a second win in a row. The Stealth have been on a roller coaster so far, posting two bad losses and what seemed to be a promising win over the defending champs on banner raising night. Well, when Calgary meets Vancouver, sparks ignite and everyone on the west coast knew this one was going to the wire.
11 to 11 to start the 4th was a perfect setup for a game that was ultimately sealed by Shattler with just 2 minutes left.
The Stealth had Garrett Billings back in the lineup after he sat out the Colorado tragedy. Adding to his five assists, Billings had a pair of back to back goals in the second period, number two coming on the powerplay. Taking charge of the offense, Logan Schuss scored five goals for himself while helping out on another four assists to his teammates. This all comes after taking fifteen shots, but only one ended up off-target.
Rhys Duch also shot well for the Stealth after having a fairly quiet start, like Schuss. Duchie knocked down a hat trick, two on the powerplay, on ten attempts, putting together another five assists to go along with it. Corey Small hasn’t got back into his groove after the five goal performance against the Rush, he finished the game with one goal and five helpers.
On the defensive side, Ian Hawksbee has been the gopher all over the floor, along with Tyler Garrison, pushing out on the ball and grinding it out on loose balls. Veteran Chris O’Dougherty has been as consistent as Vancouver could ask for and he’s really moving the ball nicely up the floor in transition. Quieting down after coming back into the league like Miley wrecking ball, Matt Beers only picked up a couple two-minute minors last weekend to go along with six loosies and two forced turnovers.
Goaltender Eric Penney play much more confidently between the pipes, hauling it out the full sixty minutes. Runs from Dobbie, Dickson and Shattler in the first and third quarter caught the defense slipping out of the systems and put Penney in a bad spot. Fifteen goals against isn’t great, but a three goal loss in the double digits is much easier to swallow than a nine goal game and only scoring five at home.
Former-Stealth Tyler Digby wasn’t able to make his team pay like he did in their preseason bout, also won by Calgary. Instead it was Superman Curtis Dickson leading the scoring with all four of his goals coming in the first thirty-five minutes of the game. One assist pushed Dickson to five points, still three behind Dane Dobbie who posted a hat trick along with five assists in his best night of the season. Jeff Shattler also carrier the load with Dobbie on the righty side, putting together a hat trick for himself plus two helpers.
The only goal of the nights for Wes Berg, Greg Harnett and Digby all came in a span of about four minutes in the final frame, pushing the Necks out to a lead that the Stealth just couldn’t match.
Defensively Jon Harnett did work by picking up a team-high thirteen loose balls and forcing three turnovers. Dan MacRae had three forced turnovers for himself to go along with five loose balls and a quality effort locking on to the Stealth righties. It was all smiles for rookie d-man Tyson Bell who found his 1st career goal in the third period, adding to a pair of assists.
The faceoff game was split by Curtis Manning (4-15) and Garrett MacIntosh (10-17). MacIntosh looked like the clear star in the draw circle against McMichael but a badly timed five minute major for elbowing could have turned sour in the fourth quarter. Luckily the solid looking man-down unit stood tall and killed off half the Stealth’s chances, three of the four were in the fourth quarter.
Vancouver put 50 shots on net, of which Frankie Scigliano kept out 37 for his second win, making him look just good enough to keep the job away from Poulin, or dare I say Del Bianco? The win was much needed, it got the record to .500 and the team ready to carry a streak into a hectic weekend that starts on the road in Saskatchewan and follows up the next day with a bout with the rowdy young Swarm lineup.