What a week. The easiest part of the week was finalizing my move of my Random Thoughts series to Lax All Stars, which I am thankful to Connor Wilson and his team for the opportunity. I am looking forward to the chance to expand the readership of Random Thoughts to a much wider audience. We also share the same passion for the international game, especially amongst developing nations, which makes the fit a very good one.
Like I said earlier, that was the easy part of the week. Between being bombarded with messages regarding the Saskatoon broadcast team, the media frenzy regarding the Rush Hulk and getting prepared for the road trip to Calgary, I need a vacation.
Rush Broadcast Rotation
The update on the Saskatoon broadcast team at this stage is that the review is still ongoing. No final decisions have been made as to its future that have been made public. On Saturday night in Calgary, the Saskatoon radio broadcast had Dave Thomas as the play by play and Nik Bilic as the colour commentator. Clearly that’s not the long-term solution as Bilic is expected back in the Rush line-up at some point this season.
That this point, Bilic has been activated to the evaluation list, which allows him to have limited practice until he is ready to return. When I last spoke with him, there is still no timeframe for his return. If he is able to return safely, he certainly wants to be back in the line-up, but he is also acutely aware of what happened with Cody Jamieson and returning too early. He readily admitted that the return could be in a few games, and it could be next season.
Notes on Other Games
With all of the events this week, I was only able to see a few minutes of the game in Colorado and none of the other two games last week.
Colorado escaped with a comeback win over Vancouver 14-13, despite missing Joel McCready due to suspension and also without Logan Schuss. Eric Penney made his second start and the team seems to be playing far more confidently with him in the net, despite a save percentage below 0.700.
It’s a tough loss for the Stealth, who will need every win they can get to scrounge out a playoff birth. Ryan Benesch continues his great first season in Colorado with four goals. Jeremy Noble would score twice in the last 90 seconds to give the Mammoth the win. Rhys Duch had a 9-point night in the loss.
Toronto continued its hot streak with a, 21-9, win over New England. Interestingly enough, that same score is the average number of goals scored and allowed in the last four Rock wins. The Rock scored the final 9 goals of the game, including 6 goals in the opening four minutes of the 4th quarter. Aaron Bold allowed 16 of the goals, and from the reports I received, many of them in the same fashion the Rush scored on him at will, straight to the 5-hole. Shawn Evans was held without a goal which is never easy to do. It was the Rock’s big guns doing most of the damage, Tom Schreiber with a 5 goal and 7 assist performance; Adam Jones with 5 goals and 4 assists; Rob Hellyer with 4 goals and 5 assists. Nick Rose had 46 saves on 55 shots, including one with his stick over his left shoulder that was pure highway robbery.
Vancouver returned home on Saturday to play Georgia, and were only down 10-9 after three quarters. Then they ran out of gas and the Swarm scored the next five goals of the 4th quarter and ended things quickly. Penney played all but two minutes of this game as well, and its clear he is the calming force in the Stealth net and you would picture he is the starter for a while.
Hulk Gate 2018
On Monday afternoon, as I sat in a training course on income tax regulatory updates (yeah, real exciting stuff), I get a text message from Kelvin Ooms, who is the Rush Hulk. He urged to call him immediately… it was important. Normally that’s not a good sign.
He broke the news to me which he hadn’t made public at the time, the Roughnecks and the Saddledome security were denying him access to the venue as the Hulk, even though he had organized a major bus tour for the game. He needs help with a media strategy. I immediately set in motion a plan for him, take the high road, saying this was ridiculous, there were no issues last year. I immediately called my contacts in the Saskatoon media and since the blog was about to go out the following morning, readied my response. Kelvin started contacting the other media outlets, as well as the Calgary media, as we wanted the news to hit the Saddledome management on their front door. We knew the only way to get this decision reversed was to get the media involved as the Rush had done everything they could at that stage.
When the news was ready to break, the Sask Rush Fan Club moderator let everyone know that news was about to break, and everyone needed to remain calm. Of course, that led to the fanbase racing to conclusions about a major trade or Keenan departing the team. As much as we were contacting every media outlet, the key was we only expected one or two outlets to actually pick it up and had no clue which ones would.
To our amazement, every news outlet picked it up. It was in the National Post, in the Calgary Herald, on both the Calgary CTV and Global broadcasts, on Inside Lacrosse, Deadspin, the Province in BC and it spread like wildfire. Instead of Kelvin preparing for his big road trip, he was spending countless hours speaking with dozens of media outlets all wanting the latest. Roughneck fans were sending him messages by the hundreds saying they hope that he doesn’t allow this to reflect on them as a fanbase as they were angry with the decision of the team and the arena. Several dozen even went so far as to say they were supporting the Rush this past weekend out of protest.
Finally, on late Tuesday night, the Roughnecks and Saddledome tried to save face.
They then flipped and would allow Kelvin to come to the game as the Hulk, but on the condition that he stay in his seat and in no way act like a mascot. This really didn’t diffuse the situation much. Now it felt like he was going to be watched at every angle. Was he even allowed to get up and get water or go to the bathroom?
It was getting ridiculous.
But then Mike Moore, the Vice-President, said something to the media which made life uncomfortable. He tried to save face by saying Kelvin wanted a dressing room and a handler, and that’s why they were rejecting him initially. Kelvin has shared with me the e-mail that was sent to the Roughnecks and it couldn’t have been further from the truth. The e-mail which was sent back in November when the trip was first being planned was to the extent that Kelvin wasn’t overly familiar with the Saddledome facility. He asked if there was a dressing room where he could change, and if not, he would use one of the bathroom facilities. More of a curiosity factor and certainly not a demand.
This in turn set more wheels in motion. Kelvin and I had made a request to the team to get noise makers for the fans at the game a month ago. Initially this wasn’t a go, but closer to the game we were making it happen. And not any cheap noise makers. Bruce Urban got the loudest and most annoying noise makers they could get. If you heard a bunch of rattles going off constantly on the game feed, that’s us. Just to give you a taste of how annoying it was, here’s a quick video of half of our group outside the Saddledome pre-game.
Once the initial decision about the Hulk was made, the Rush and the Rush fans were scouring Saskatoon looking for every Hulk mask they could find. Specklebelly’s, a local pub in Saskatoon that was a major sponsor of the trip, paid for two additional tickets on the bus to have a face painter available to have people’s faces painted with Hulk masks. We still laugh about this one as Kelvin was such a security risk in the Saddledome, but the face painter bringing in all of her tools and paint, as a fan, was no issue for the Saddledome staff.
On Friday morning I received another phone call from Kelvin. The Saddledome staff had called the previous night to clarify their earlier message. At this point, trying to save face as the negative press hadn’t gone away, he was assured that security staff wouldn’t be following him, that he was free to get up and go to the concessions. He was also free to walk the concourse and take photos with fans. Whether this could be fully believed at that point was in question, as the Saddledome had already released five different versions as to why he couldn’t attend in the first place. Luckily, the Saddledome lived up to their word on this one.
Ironing Things Out
Also, on Friday morning, the Rush released that they would be adding a Rush Hulk patch to their jerseys to support their fan. This was mishandled badly. First, the Rush should have gone and obtained league approval before the logos were announced to the public. But, once it was public, the Roughnecks “inquired” about them to the league, and the league denied letting the Rush use them. There was enough fuel on the fire already. The last thing the league needed to do was pour more gas on it.
At the game I walked the concourse of the Saddledome with Kelvin for a good 30 minutes. My point in doing this was to get a gauge on Roughneck fans’ reaction to him. We were stopped dozens of times by Roughneck fans wanting photos with him. Others were high-fiving him, or pointing to him realizing he was the story they had read about.
The head of security stopped us, just to say how welcome he was and just to make it clear where the line was, although it was a fairly minimal line. He was also surprised as to how small the costume really was. (He clearly didn’t look at any Rush game or promotional footage ahead of time to see the costume.)
Once we got to our seats, we were left alone, and our section monitor was quite pleasant to deal with. Post game the Saddledome staff saw how this was such a non-issue and were quick to welcome us back next year.
But here’s the key. Lacrosse made national attention in the press, but once again for the wrong reasons.
There is something to say that there is no such thing as bad press. But the coverage really put the Roughnecks in a bad light, not only across the league, but more importantly, amongst their fanbase. It’s quite clear there is a divide between dedicated lacrosse fans in Calgary and team ownership. Many Calgary fans support the team because they love lacrosse, despite having some major issues with the team.
I can see the Roughnecks still having to dig out of this hole for a while, and unfortunately the next time such bad press befalls the Roughnecks, fans in Calgary will be much faster to voice their displeasure and quickly refer back to Hulk Gate. And really, over what? Because a visiting fan wanted to wear his costume that he wears every Rush home game and the visiting fans would like it. In the end, the strategy backfired massively. It rallied the visiting fanbase. It made them twice as loud. And the Roughnecks displeased many of its own fans. It should be an eye-opener to other teams in the league to be far more welcoming of visiting fans.
Officiating Off the Radar
This is one item I keep forgetting to put in the articles every week, but to my pleasant surprise, I haven’t had a major issue with the officiating this year… as opposed to last year. This year the calls are far more accurate and the consistency is up. Yes, there is always going to be something we disagree with the officials with. If I dissected games, I could easily have notes for the officials, but it would be something similar to the high-level officiating supervision I do with Saskatchewan Ball Hockey. It’s picking at small things to improve on in order to get that high level official to get that much better, even if it’s just a tiny bit more.
In the game on Sunday night, my notes on the officials were minor. The biggest one was the incident between Mydske and Dobbie. Dobbie had the initial penalty for illegal cross check which was correct. He then grabs Mydske’s facemask which he was penalized for. Mydske grabs his facemask and was penalized. But somehow Mydske then gets a roughing minor and Dobbie doesn’t. The Rush should have been up a man in this situation. In incidents like that, somebody should be short, and if you can’t differentiate between the players, the player that acts first is the team that is shorthanded.
This didn’t happen and was a mistake. Beyond that there was a situation where the Roughnecks were in transition and the trail official is responsible for the centre line for the over and back. The ball comes back quickly and a Roughneck player is extremely close to whether he did or did not cross centre. The trail official is coming up the floor slowly and he wasn’t in position to see whether there was an over and back.
But, I’m picking at straws at this stage. This is just to give you an illustrated example of how detailed referee evaluations can be at that level.
I’m hopeful the better level of officiating can be maintained. With more teams on their way, that means more officials are needed and hopefully the league has the plans already in the works to develop the next batch of officials that will be added to the roster for next season.
Road Trip Time!
For those Rush fans that didn’t make it for the Hulk Road Trip to Calgary for the game Saturday, you truly missed out. And I would highly suggest that if there is a trip next year that you make it. The trip started early, an 8am arrival for an 8:30am departure. Four buses going and on social media, it was a competition between three of the buses as to who was partying harder.
Bus #4 seemed to be pretty quiet. Bus #2 had brought an arsenal of Jell-O shooters and was doing a shooter when passing every town on the entire trip. Thankfully, once you get into Alberta, there aren’t too many towns on the route. Bus #3, which I was on, was pretty quiet and the Crush team was doing everything to get people riled up for the game. It backfired half way through the trip. After the pit stop, bus #3 became the party bus. Unfortunately, some people partied a little too hard and never made it to the game. But, it was still a fun 7 hours to Calgary.
The number of sponsors that Kelvin arranged for the trip was astounding. There was approximately $15,000 of prize draws and gifts handed out on the bus trip, including Specklebelly’s handing everyone on the trip a $25 gift certificate and Subway handing out $5 gift certificates. Sasktel Centre gave tickets for prize draws worth $2,000. The Rush on the other hand put some serious money towards the noise makers and stuffed Hulk dolls. Kelvin has to be commended for the weeks of time he spent getting this all together.
At the game we lined up fast for the group photo. Fast because it was -16 Celsius (3 degrees Fahrenheit) outside. By the time we got inside, we outnumbered the Roughneck fans inside the building. I guess Rush fans are just used to having to arrive at games so early because of the parking problems at SaskTel Centre that arriving as soon as the gates open in second nature to us. Some of the photos showed our section almost entirely full for warm-ups and almost all of the seats around us empty. Another thing unique to games in Saskatchewan.
I felt sorry for the Roughneck fans that regularly sit in Section 103 where we were all stationed. It was funny to see a group of ladies in their mid 20’s see they were surrounded by a seas of green, taking out their cowbells to think they were going to be louder than us, and get drowned out fast by a chorus of rattles. They didn’t make that mistake again. Some fans listening online said we were almost as loud as the Roughnecks fans. I doubt that to some extent as the game announcer and DJ could out amplify us easily, but the fact that they could hear us meant we were certainly making an impact.
For the post game, we went to a nearby pub that was owned by a former Saskatchewan resident. It might have been a good thing that with a packed house, they were understaffed as there had been enough drinking that day already and everyone didn’t need too many more in them by that stage. The trip home was pretty subdued. Most people were in recovery mode. And luckily with a fairly quiet bus, it gave me plenty of time to get the article written. Bonus.
The Game: Rush Blow Another Lead
Going into this game, I was ready to feel sorry for the Roughneck players. With the Rush fresh off a stinging loss to the Bandits, it was easy to draw a line that Calgary might pay the price for that mistake.
And sure enough, early on, it looked exactly like that. The Rush were driving to the net in waves, Calgary’s defense was slow to respond, and Frankie Scigliano was left alone to face the barrage. At the end of the 1st, the Rush had a 5-1 lead, the building was quiet except for Section 103, despite the Rush actually being outshot, 15-14. On the defensive side of things for the Rush, Calgary’s shot quality was average. The shots were rarely heading towards the extremities of the net, but Evan Kirk was seeing the ball well too.
Fifteen minutes later and the lead is now 10-4 Rush. Once again, the Calgary defense was breaking down, Del Bianco stopped just 7 of 12 shots. But the Roughnecks still outshot the Rush at the half 27-26. That number did concern me a little. If Kirk wasn’t playing as well as he did in the first half, this game is a lot closer.
So what changed in the second half that turned the tide?
Well it certainly wasn’t a lack of chances on offense. The Rush had just as many shots in the 3rd quarter as they did in the first two quarters. But Del Bianco had the best quarter he has ever played in his NLL career. Some have said that it was the CDB they are used to seeing in Junior A lacrosse. If even one of those shots goes in, the momentum is gone from the Roughnecks and we are talking about a different game altogether. The only thing of note in the second half was that the Rush certainly started to turn the ball over more.
One real noticeable difference was the faceoff battle. In the opening half, if I’m not mistaken, the Rush had a 12-6 lead in faceoff wins. By the early 4th quarter, the battle was even. When the tide had turned, the Rush were hard fought to win a faceoff and stop the bleeding.
On the defensive side of things, two things were very apparent in that 3rd quarter, which played out right in front of our section. Most of the Roughneck goals were coming from distance. Dickson had Kirk’s number, which isn’t a surprise since they play for the Lakers together. Most shots that went in during the second half were low to low shots. But the defense was no longer pressing the way they did in the first half. They were giving the Roughnecks time from distance to get wound up. And then when the goals started coming, mental mistakes were happening.
The defense started over-pursuing the Roughnecks desperate to make something happen. They got out of their shell that they are so good at playing. I recall one play in the 3rd where Calgary was transitioning forward and had the ball side left, along the boards. Calgary had zero intention of making a quick play. Dilks had settled in but then opted to push out and pursue the ball carrier at the boards, got beat, and because not everyone was set at the time, Calgary had an open lane to the cage. Luckily Kirk stopped that one and no damage was done.
The simple reality was, the Rush almost beat themselves. If they kept playing the way they were used to playing, this game is won easily. Yes, Calgary did what they needed to do to get back in the game, but the Rush should have been able to limit the damage and were unable to. For the Rush, the question remains, can the damage be fixed, and can they play a full 60 minutes of lacrosse.
As for the Roughnecks, how they take the ending of that game can be a difference maker going forward. Do they play with the confidence they did in the second half next week in Toronto, or do they still realize it’s a loss and they’re still only a half game ahead of Vancouver. Toronto won’t be an easy opponent to try to work on the positives from the game against Saskatchewan.
Making My Picks
I had a 4-0 weekend last week. But, it could have been a different week with just a goal here or goal there. I thought that Toronto and New England would be the hard game to pick and in the end it was the most lopsided. Now I’m 17-10 on the season (a winning percentage of 0.630). After starting 0-4 and 1-5 in the opening weeks, I’ve gone 16-5 since, so on a bit of a roll.
Here’s my picks for this week:
Saskatchewan over Colorado – I’m still in the boat of don’t pick against the Rush unless there’s something unusual you can’t overlook. Both teams won last week, but both team escaped losing to a team well below them. This is a case of who is able to recover better. Two Rush collapses in the last two games, but I just can’t see this happening three games in a row.
Toronto over Calgary – The Rock are simply too hot at the moment. Maybe if Christian Del Bianco starts and he can string at least three quarters of play together like he had in the 3rd quarter against the Rush, the Roughnecks can pull this off. But that is one massive if at this stage.
Rochester over Buffalo – the Bandits have been notorious for giving up a lot of goals on the road. Against Rochester, a repeat of that will spell disaster fast as the Bandits will struggle to score double digits against the Knighthawks defense. A lot of attention is being paid to how Alex Buque will play on the road, but I doubt that he starts, and Higgins gets the nod instead.
Saskatchewan over Vancouver – this isn’t an easy pick. Normally it would be extremely easy but there’s extenuating circumstances. I’m not sure why the league scheduled this back-to-back game after they experienced problems with the Saskatoon to Denver flight situation twice last year and once the year before. Here’s the reality for the Rush. They play in Denver at 7:30pm. The game is over around 10pm and by the time they get organized, get something to eat and get back to the hotel, its near midnight. They then need to leave the hotel around 4am to catch a 7:25am flight to Minneapolis and then connect to Saskatoon. If the flights are on time, they get to Saskatoon at 1:47pm and through customs and at the hotel at 2:45pm at the earliest. Hopefully they’ll be able to sleep on the plane because maybe they can get another hour’s worth of sleep at the hotel before they head to the arena. What this means, a Vancouver team who will arrive in Saskatoon the day before and are well rested, have a shot. This one will be close, and the Rush are far from a certain pick.
Until next time…
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