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Rochester Knighthawks Buffalo Bandits NLL 2018 Photo: Bill Wippert

Random Thoughts: End of Year Awards, Postseason Locks, Records Broken

We finally had a conclusion to what was a crazy season in the East division. The fantastic thing about it was that of the five games this weekend, four meant something in the playoff picture. But to think about it for a second, Vancouver almost beat Georgia. We would have had near chaos in the three remaining games if the Stealth won. I had promised a few people that I would update the playoff picture as the night went along.

I watched the Georgia/Vancouver game for the first half hour and with Georgia up 2-0, shut the game off to watch the Rochester/Buffalo game for a half hour before we left for the Rush game. In the car, my son had the phone going in the back seat, updating me on scores as we went along. The Georgia/Vancouver game was an afterthought.

You can imagine my shock when we arrive at the arena. The Buffalo/Rochester game was nearing halftime so I went on Twitter to see what was happening in the other game, and that’s when I see that Vancouver has scored seven times for a 7-2 halftime lead. Remember when I said I wouldn’t be surprised if Vancouver won just because the season was so chaotic.

Here’s where I started scrambling. I had the scenarios with Georgia winning memorized. I didn’t memorize the scenarios if Vancouver won because the odds of it happening were so remote. To make matters worse, my free trial on the decision tree expired three hours earlier. Now what to do?

Luckily, Georgia put together one massive comeback in the second half and squeaked out an 11-10 win. Sigh of relief. I had the scenarios down pat. But now the loser of Buffalo and Rochester was out of the playoffs.

Once Rochester won, things were a lot simpler. Rochester was second, the winner of Sunday’s game between Georgia and New England was in first place, and the loser was in 3rd, unless Toronto won and New England lost. I was really looking forward to the possibility on Sunday of New England facing a win and they’re in first place, lose and they’re out. Unfortunately the Toronto defense didn’t show up, surrendering 19 goals to the Mammoth, and that simplified things even more.

I only got to watch two games in full, the Georgia/New England game and the Saskatchewan/Calgary game, so I’ll focus on those two games this week.

Rush Continue to Have Calgary’s Number

Since late in the 2015 season the Rush have only lost to Calgary in one of the biggest rivalries in the NLL. That one loss was the last game of the regular season in 2017, which meant nothing to the Rush and they sat a number of players on the tail end of a double header weekend. As much as it’s a huge rivalry, it has been a lopsided one throughout. Through many of the early seasons of the Rush, the Roughnecks dominated this rivalry. Now the Rush dominate it. Is it much of a rivalry when one team has so much control? Well, in the three games this season, the Rush have won by one on two occasions.

This was really a game for both teams to get ready for the playoffs and both teams were playing their regular line-ups, with the exceptions of Brett Mydske who was on the IR, but expected to return for the West final and Dan Dawson in the line-up for Curtis Knight. The keys in a game like this are don’t get injured and don’t do anything that will get you suspended. Unfortunately for the Roughnecks, Riley Loewen went down with a major injury in the second quarter, hobbled the best he could to the Roughnecks in considerable pain, and never returned. I wouldn’t be surprised if he isn’t available this coming weekend.

Colorado Mammoth Toronto Rock NLL 2018

Mark Matthews was quarterbacking the offense as normal. The main benefactor this night was Ben McIntosh who had four goals and 6 points on the night. Also on offense, Dan Dawson had a good game. Here’s the key I’m seeing with the Rush when it comes to which righties are in the line-up. The Rush have had good results when Marty Dinsdale and Curtis Knight are the last two. They’ve had good games when Dinsdale and Dawson are the last two, but poor results when it’s Dawson and Knight. Here’s the key if you ever watch the Rush offense in detailed action. Dinsdale is the guy out there cutting through the middle, causing chaos, taking the lumps for the team and that opens his teammates up. Whatever combination the Rush have for the playoffs, Dinsdale needs to be in the line-up. It’s also a bit of a relief that Dawson has gelled with Dinsdale as I have Knight as one of the players that will be picked up in the expansion draft. If Dawson is re-signed, there is now a better role for him in the Rush offense.

On the defensive side of things, both teams kept the shot totals below 50. The Rush have to be a little concerned as to how many penalties they took, 7 in all, and 4 of them coming from Jeremy Thompson. Thompson’s four minors was actually the highest any player has taken in a game this entire NLL season. I am concerned as to whether this will continue if he is getting regular defensive shifts in the playoffs.

For Calgary, they have to be impressed once again with Holden Cattoni who had 4 goals on the night. When Loewen went down, Cattoni’s minutes went up considerably and he took advantage. This is even better news for next week if Loewen is unable to go.

Georgia Wins the East

I honestly wasn’t expecting Georgia to win the game against New England. They already had a difficult enough situation with having to play Saturday night in Georgia, get on a plane and a bus to get to Uncasville, and play the following afternoon. To top that, Georgia wasn’t able to coast on Saturday night like they perhaps thought they might be able to do. If there was a perfect opportunity for New England to win a game, this would be it. Instead they would fall to 3rd place in the East, and can thank the Mammoth for keeping them alive after a 16-11 loss to Georgia. The Mammoth win over Toronto had eliminated the Rock by this stage.

Here’s the problem for New England that has haunted them all season is giving up massive runs, then going on massive runs, only to give up massive runs again. On Sunday, Georgia would score five times in 6 minutes in the opening quarter to race out to a 5-0 lead. Amongst those five goals, two of them were shorthanded. There was no way to blame Aaron Bold here, he was given no support and Georgia had an open shooting gallery to do as they pleased.

Georgia Swarm New England Black Wolves NLL 2018

Just as Georgia went on a massive run, in typical New England style, the Black Wolves went on a 7-2 run the rest of the half to have the game tied 7-7 heading into the break. It was easy to conclude that Georgia may have finally run out of gas. But it wasn’t’ to be the case.

Once again, just as New England would go on a major run to even the game up, they would once again give up a major run, and were outscored 5-1 in the third quarter, including a Lyle Thompson penalty shot goal. New England would get one back early in the fourth, but then another three quick goals by Georgia ended New England’s hopes of a home playoff game.

Oddly enough, if you looked at the stats in this game you would wonder how New England did so badly. They outshot Georgia 52 to 48. They won the faceoff battle 20-10. They were 4 for 7 on the power-play whereas the only power-play Georgia had, not counting the penalty shot, came with just under three minutes to go. The key here was that New England was out hustled. The transition game killed them. And Georgia was getting open looks all night. But good on the Swarm. They emptied the gas tanks this weekend and it got them a bye next week to recharge.

Georgia has to be confident as Lyle Thompson has hit his stride the last several games and has put this Swarm team on his back. Half way through this year there was a very real possibility that the Swarm might miss the playoffs. No longer now that Thompson is lighting things up.

Georgia Swarm Vancouver Stealth NLL 2018

Records Broken

Several NLL records were broken this past weekend, including one I spotted after a little research. Mark Matthews broke the record for assists in a season with 84. It was interesting to watch him pursue it. There was one instance where he had a fast break and what would normally be an easy Matthews goal, but he made an extra pass to try to get the assist. Unfortunately the Rush didn’t score on the play. It was tight as Matthews only broke the record by one, and it came on the Rush’s 11th goal, their last of the night.

Joe Resetarits broke the record set last year by Tom Schreiber for most points in a season by an American player. Resetarits with 100 points beat Schreiber by 6.

Rochester Knighthawks Buffalo Bandits NLL 2018 Photo: Bill Wippert
Photo: Bill Wippert

The Vancouver Stealth broke a record unfortunately for most losses in a season with 16. Now in fairness, the Stealth don’t have the worst win percentage of all time, as three teams have worse win percentages in shorter seasons.

Josh Byrne broke the Bandits record for points in a rookie season. But once again in fairness, he broke Derek Keenan’s record when they only played 8 games in the season.

The New England Black Wolves broke the record for the worst goal differential for any team that made the playoffs with -48. The crazy thing about this is the Toronto Rock missed the playoffs despite a +21 goal differential.

Now here’s the one that was missed. It was revealed earlier this season that the Calgary Roughnecks had a 68% power-play efficiency in 2013. The Saskatchewan Rush had a very late power-play on Saturday night in which they simply ran out the clock. I thought that miss was going to cost them the record so I looked into it further. That’s when a problem was discovered. The method by which the stats were calculated in 2013 were incorrect. The automated system recorded any goal scored within two minutes of the start of a penalty as a power-play goal. On at least two occasions, the Roughnecks scored on the power-play and then scored again even-strength immediately after, but within two minutes of the penalty. The automated system recorded both goals as power-play goals even though one was even-strength. The reason this was very obvious was that in two games, the stats recorded the Roughnecks as going 4 for 3 on the power-play, and their opponent didn’t take a major in the game.

As such, at best the Roughnecks went 65.8% on the power-play that year, which is still impressive. The Rush now hold the record at 67.8%.

Year End Awards

Even though I have zero influence on who wins the year end awards, here’s who I would choose. My hope this year is that the Eastern bias that clearly existed in last year’s awards goes away.

Most Valuable Player

Winner – Mark Matthews
Nominees – Robert Church, Joe Resetarits

While at the mid-point part of the season, this wasn’t clear, it’s now abundantly clear that Mark Matthews is the MVP this season. He was the main offensive catalyst of the best team in the league. Now while he didn’t score a lot of goals, the key here is that he was so dangerous, he drew a lot of double teams all season long to set his teammates up for success. If that isn’t the definition of an MVP, I don’t know what is. Matthews hopefully gets the monkey off his back of being a bridesmaid for this award far too many times.

As much as I stated earlier there can only be one MVP from each team, I simply can’t ignore just how good of a season Robert Church had and the fact that he truly was the second best player on the floor this season across the league. Resetarits seemingly came out of the middle of nowhere to have one amazing season and was the main offensive catalyst of a second place Knighthawks team.

Colorado Mammoth Toronto Rock NLL 2018

Defensive Player of the Year

Winner – Robert Hope
Nominees – Graeme Hossack, Kyle Rubisch

This is a close race, but Hope is my pick as he established his dominance early in the season. With the loss of Dan Coates and Cam Holding, people, including myself, doubted the ability for Colorado to have a strong defense like they did last season. Hope put this defensive team on his back and led them to the second lowest goals allowed in the league.

Hossack actually has slightly better stats than Hope (163 loose balls to 151 and 34 caused turn-overs to 31), but it’s the impact of picking up the pieces for his team that puts Hope ahead for me. As for Rubisch, while others have better stats, you can’t deny that the Rush allowed the fewest goals this season and Rubisch was the main catalyst of that effort.

Transition Player of the Year

Winner – Joey Cupido
Nominees – Challen Rogers, Jake Withers

Cupido has been the best transition player in the league for a while now. While Rogers had slightly more points, Cupido is always the biggest threat in the league when it comes to the transition game. Rogers numbers clearly put him into the nominees list as there is no denying his talent. As for Withers, his dominance at the faceoff dot can’t be denied. His astounding 66.9% faceoff win percentage puts him in a league of his own. The closest person to him with at least 100 faceoff wins was Tyler Burton at 56.4%. It’s the type of dominance we haven’t seen since Geoff Snider.

Goaltender of the Year

Winner – Christian Del Bianco
Nominees – Dillon Ward, Matt Vinc

This one was a tough one to pick the nominees as Evan Kirk deserves to be in this group too. But the winner in my mind is Del Bianco. He might have played less games, but when Calgary needed him on the bottom of a very poor start to the season, The Phenom was the main catalyst to getting them into the playoffs. He led the league in both save percentage and goals against average most of the year. The battle is so close here that take these three plus Kirk, and tell me you have any combination and any winner, I couldn’t argue with you

Rookie of the Year

Winner – Josh Byrne
Nominees – Jake Withers, Zach Currier

Byrne clearly had the best season of any of the rookies in what was a great rookie class. He broke the Bandits all time rookie records held by Derek Keenan, although in all fairness, Keenan set those records playing just 8 games, and Byrne didn’t break any of those records anywhere near the first 8 games. Still he had an impressive performance nonetheless. Withers dominated the faceoff dot all year long and Currier was a loose ball vacuum. It goes to show how strong of a rookie class there was when Austin Shanks can’t crack the top 3 with his performance this year.

Coach of the Year

Winner – Derek Keenan
Nominees – Mike Hasen, Pat Coyle

I’m not certain Keenan will win this one, as the award normally goes to the coach of the team that improves the most, but let me make the case for Keenan. By its name alone, this award should go to the best coach in the game, not the most improved. Hands down Keenan is the best coach in the game and he continues to prove it year after year with a system that has won the Rush the division regular season title five straight times. That doesn’t come just by luck or by picking the right players. I’m also stunned to this day as to how calm and collected Keenan appears to be behind the bench game in and game out.

Derek Keenan saskatchewan Rush

General Manager of the Year

Winner – Derek Keenan
Nominees – Dan Carey, Curt Styres

Once again, this nomination is perhaps a by-product of the fact that Keenan is the best GM in the league, but not the most improved. Don’t dismiss Keenan even though he started with a strong team. He worked the deal to trade for Evan Kirk, who has been a major difference in getting the Rush back to the team with the lowest goals allowed in the league. He managed to pick up Jeff Shattler in free agency. He traded away Adam Jones, prior to signing Shattler, and got Toronto to overpay with two first round draft picks. And the Rush have three first round picks in both of the next two drafts. The expansion drafts should hurt them, but they have the picks to fill the holes.

As for Carey, he had some big shoes to fill with the departure of Steve Govett and big holes to fill with the loss of Coates and Holding. He made the deal to get Ryan Benesch, who I considered heavily for a nominee for MVP. As for Styres, this might be a team effort behind this nomination. But they had the guts to draft Jake Withers ahead of Zach Currier. We will see in the future if this was the right or wrong move, but for the moment, wasn’t a bad move. They landed Austin Shanks. They also had the guts to trade away Dan Dawson when it was clear there wasn’t a role for him in Rochester, and could prove to be a distraction.

Comeback Player of the Year

No nominees here, but the clear winner in my mind is Stephen Keogh.

To imagine he was a healthy scratch the first three games of the season with as impressive of a season he had. And in my mind he scored the goal of the season with a seemingly impossible lose ball BTB on Evan Kirk earlier this year.

Attendance Update

For the most part, the league has to be very happy with the attendance figures this week. Considering for two home teams the game meant nothing, the numbers there were still impressive.

Saskatchewan had 14,671 in attendance on Saturday night. That figure gives them the attendance title this year with an average of 14,639. Oddly enough, the Rush only sold out one game this season, but were over 14,000 every game. That consistency won them the title.

Buffalo had a sell-out of 19,070, the largest crowd in the league this season. It’s not entirely a surprise as they are playing their biggest rival in a game that is win or you’re out. That figure bumps Buffalo up to 2nd in the attendance race with an average of 14,181.

Colorado had 15,787 in a game that meant little to the home team, which is impressive. Colorado finished just behind Buffalo in the attendance race with 14,077.
New England had 6,158, which is about as high as they can go without selling obstructed view seats. It’s a shame there aren’t more seats at the Mohegan Sun that aren’t obstructed view so they could get more fans in the building.

The disappointment is Georgia once again. They claimed there were 5,200 in the stands. That means the arena is half full. The camera at the back of the arena clearly shows they weren’t even close. For those hoping Georgia is moving, don’t count on it for next year as they just signed a three year sponsorship deal with their main sponsor.

Weekly Picks

I didn’t do well down the stretch, going 1-2 two weeks ago and 3-2 this past weekend. That brings my regular season record to 51-30, a winning percentage of 63%.

I’m going the route of upsets this week, with good reason.

New England over Rochester – yes, this game is in Rochester. Yes New England didn’t have a good game this week. That’s New England for you. They either win a close one or lose big. Despite the 0.500 record, they’re a -48 in goal differential. But here’s the key. They’re 3-0 against Rochester this year. They know how to beat the Knighthawks. For that reason alone, I’m picking New England.

Calgary over Colorado – it’s impossible to explain, but Calgary is 7-1 against Colorado in playoff history. Both teams played well this weekend, although another defensive effort like last week for the Mammoth will destroy them in this game. History repeats itself, and Calgary continues to be the thorn in the side of Colorado.

Start of a New Season

As the spring finally arrives in Saskatoon, arriving a month later than normal, we now turn to the spring lacrosse season. This season I’m coaching just one team as work commitments don’t allow me to do any more than that. But I’m always willing to give back to the game that has given me so much. The team I’m coaching is a U-11 field lacrosse team, which my son Vasyli who is only 7 is playing on. I was very proud of him this week that he held his own and was ranked in the top quarter of the players at try-outs despite being two or three years younger than most of the kids and much smaller.

Vasyli Rush Game Saskatchewan youth lacrosse minor lacrosse 041418

Vasyli was a rock star when he played at the half time of the Rush game on April 14. They had 9 minutes to play and he managed to score 6 times, against kids that were his age. Only time will tell how far he goes in the game, but what I really want for him is that at the end of the day he’s enjoyed playing this game, he has met some friends, and he’s become a better person because of it.

Until next time…

For all the latest, follow me on Twitter @evanschemenauer

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