It was quite the week. My little guys pulled off a major upset in the Saskatoon Field Lacrosse League, Team Canada finally resolved its issues, the Saskatchewan SWAT pulled off an upset in Calgary that gives them a shot at first place in the RMLL, got to see a lot of faces I hadn’t seen in a while, and what else happened? Hmmm… oh yeah, we found out you really can’t drink out of the NLL Cup without some massive effort and Saskatchewan got a new hero.
How Bad Do You Want It?
By now the world knows the Rush won their third NLL championship in four years with a, 15-10, win over Rochester in game 3 of the finals. In this game, Saskatchewan found a new hero in Jeff Shattler.
It’s always a good idea to bring in some new blood with any “dynasty” (as the Rush are commonly being referred to) so that you have those guys that haven’t won a title in a while, and they’re that much hungrier to win one. Enter Shattler, a free agent signing this past offseason, who hadn’t won a title in 9 years. He came to Saskatchewan with one main goal, give himself the best chance to win another title. When the time came to step up, Shattler came through with flying colours.
Even in game 2 of the finals, it was Shattler that stepped up when his team was having difficulty getting the offense going. In game 3, Shattler would score four times, including an elevator shot and another side winder that found the bottom corner. Every time he scored, his celebration got more and more elevated. You could see just how much this game meant to him.
Shattler was the obvious choice for finals MVP, and when Chris Corbeil lifted the trophy, it was Shattler that was the first to leap into his arms to celebrate. The next day at the Rush’s victory celebration with their fans, everybody there needed to get a photo or an autograph from Shattler. A star was born.
But even more, Shattler became a legend that night with his celebration. Robert Church tweeted out a photo that went viral of Shattler celebrating in the dressing room.
— Robert Church (@robert_church) June 10, 2018
But even more was Shattler’s press conference appearance. Being the series MVP, Shattler joined Derek Keenan and Chris Corbeil at the press conference, still in his game jersey, with a team helmet awarded to the team’s choice as first star of every game, cigar in hand, and crushing three Original 16 beers at the press conference. Shattler might not have spent a lot of time in his life in Saskatchewan, but there is nothing more like being from Saskatchewan than that performance.
You can take the boy out of Mimico but you can't take the Mimico out of the boy (and that's a good thing). Very proud of @shattler77, @NLL Champion (again) and MVP. This photo will have to go on the "Blue Goose" Wall of Fame. @MimicoLax pic.twitter.com/CzfLeULoiL
— brian shanahan (@sbdshanny) June 10, 2018
Given how well he performed, he deserved to party it up as hard as he wanted.
How It All Went Down
In a game that ultimately had 25 goals, we had to wait over 14 minutes just to get one. Josh Currier beat Jeremy Thompson one on one to take the lead just before the end of the opening quarter in what was a battle of the goaltenders. Thompson made five defensive errors by my count in the opening quarter, and finally the Rush got burned on one.
But by the same token the Rush were outplaying the Knighthawks in that opening quarter. They were getting the better of the chances and Matt Vinc was bailing out the Knighthawks time and time again in the opening quarter. You started to get the feeling that Vinc was about to be the catalyst for another Knighthawks win. But for the Rush, Evan Kirk was on his game early too and didn’t allow the Rush to be well behind given the performance Vinc was putting on in the other end. In the second quarter, Vinc made a save that should be considered for save of the year, diving across the net head first and losing his helmet in the process. If somebody was going to lose, it wasn’t because of a lack of effort.
Other things would point to a situation where you would normally expect the Rush to lose. Mark Matthews was held without a goal. Robert Church didn’t have a single point all night. The key was once again, the Rush are so deep at forward that when one guy has an off night or a team tries to shut one guy off, somebody else simply picks up the slack. Shattler had four goals. Marty Dinsdale, who all season has slowly crept up on everyone’s radar, had two critical goals in this game, including what I would refer to as the dagger that ended any chances for Rochester with 3:45 to go. It wasn’t Dinsdale’s biggest goal of his career, that goal was the game winner in the 2015 final with 1:02 remaining, but it’s a close second.
The second key is that the Rush simply wore down the Rochester defense. Matt Vinc once again didn’t have a bad game, but eventually with so many in tight opportunities going unchecked, the Rush simply burned Vinc. One thing that I was told post game was that on the playing field, with the temperature at 31 Celsius (88 Fahrenheit) outside the building, even though the SaskTel Centre was pumping in the air conditioning, it felt closer to 100 degrees Fahrenheit on the floor. The slightly older Rochester defense simply wore down that much faster.
As for Evan Kirk, he had an odd game. In the end his stats were 37 saves on 47 shots (0.787 save percentage), which is an average night for him. Oddly enough, he made a lot of huge saves on plays you were certain Rochester was going to score on, but then he would give up a goal on a play you thought Rochester had no chance on. Josh Currier scored Rochester’s final goal on what appeared to be a throw away to the corner that bounced out to him and he broke a low lane with the shot clock expiring to get Rochester within one.
Another stat to look at, loose balls from forwards. You have to break apart the stats a bit, but when forwards get loose balls, you get more second and third chances. The Rush dominated this category in game 1 (34-11), Rochester won it in game 2, and in game 3, the Rush won that battle 29-12
Another key to the game was transition. Chris Corbeil, who was on a mission to make up for his mistake in the dying seconds of game 2 of the 2016 final, had a hat trick, although the final goal was an empty netter so he’s not claiming it. Jeremy Thompson got the Rush team’s momentum going early in the second quarter, picking off a pass and starting off a fast break that after a few in close passes ended up on the stick of Ben McIntosh to give the Rush the lead. In game 1 of the finals, Rochester had just one point from its defense. The Rush had just one point in game 2. In this game, the Rush defense outscored Rochester’s defense, 9-4.
Special teams were almost a non-factor in the game. The refs swallowed the whistle most of the game and at a point it seemed like you were going to have to commit murder to get a call. Only three power-plays were given all game long. The Rush scored the only power-play goal of the game, but allowed a short-handed goal. The key though was that power-play goal. Cody Jamieson had just tied the game with five minutes to go in the 3rd quarter. Nik Bilic does what he does best, got in the grill of the Rochester offense. Eric Fannell took the bait, grabbed Bilic and threw him to the ground. Where Rochester should have had some momentum to take the lead for the first time since the opening quarter, instead the Rush got a power-play goal and led the rest of the way. Sometimes it’s those tiny things that make the difference.
But I would be remised if I didn’t discuss the performance of Kyle Rubisch. Rubisch perhaps had one of the greatest games I’ve ever seen him play. He can sometimes be invisible because he doesn’t get many points, but the sheer number of turnovers he caused in that game was tremendous. If you had the ball anywhere near Rubisch, it was normally about to be turned over. He gave nobody any space and it was a catalyst for the Rush defense to do what it does best.
Jake Withers was a beast on faceoffs again, going 23 for 29 or 79.3%. That is a ridiculous number, but in the end, Rochester simply wasn’t able to convert on all of those extra possessions. Over the course of the finals, Withers won 74.7% of his draws. One of the biggest differences was that the Rush understanding Withers would likely win simply shut off his ability to transition.
In the end it was the motto of the Rush that ruled the day, “Trust the Process”. The Rush continued to break down the Rochester defense and the dam eventually broke. They got their transition going and it made the difference. The defense was pressuring the ball carrier and giving Rochester very little time to do anything. And it didn’t matter who scored the goals, you just know that the offense is so deep, somebody is going to have the big game. The Rush’s experience and team approach ultimately won the day.
One critical point in the game, late in the third quarter, and the game close, a situation that was quite unusual happened that took a lot of review and caused some debate amongst a group of us post game. Evan Kirk made a save, and in the process hit the crossbar from underneath which dislodged the net, but instead of the net moving backward like it normally does when it’s dislodged, the net moved forward.
For those not familiar with the detailed rules of lacrosse, when a net is dislodged, play is not stopped like it is in hockey. The game continues and the goaltender is responsible ultimately to put the net back into position. But in the heat of the situation, there is now a virtual net. In essence, it’s the referee’s discretion to determine whether the ball would have gone in if the net was in position. It’s a tough call for the referee to make, and it’s an even tougher call to challenge, which Mike Hasen did.
In this case, the ball enters the cage, but because it’s ahead of the line, the ball never crosses the goal line. The call on the floor was no goal and was challenged. The replay confirms that the ball never crosses the goal line. It’s a fluke event, but here’s the tough part to the rule. If the net is in position, and isn’t ahead of the line, does the ball ultimately cross the line? It probably does. The net’s position stops the ball from crossing the line.
Keep in mind the original decision of the official, no goal. This is a rare situation where the referee must use his discretion, and he did just that. I don’t believe any change to the rule is needed given how rare this situation is. But what an impact it had on the game. It would have been a momentum changer for Rochester, but instead the Rush got the break and then went on to score two more that quarter and the Rush led the rest of the way.
You Can’t Drink Out of It, or Can You???
When the NLL revealed the new NLL Cup to replace the Champions Cup, the first reaction was that it looked nice, and the second reaction was, can you drink out of it? Despite receiving assurances that you can drink out of it, the Rush discovered, you really can’t without a lot of effort.
If you tipped the cup towards the back so the long point was facing you and you tipped it really slowly, and nobody was around you that might accidently bump you, it might work, although you’ll likely spill most of what you were trying to drink all over you. Mark Matthews showed us how it was done.
But this proposition is also dangerous. If somebody bumps the base of the cup on you, you’ll need some major oral surgery. What was discovered was that you could use the cup as a funnel. In essence, you turn the cup on its side and have someone pour a drink down one of the grooves. When you’re going to these extremes just to drink out of it, you know how important the tradition is. Maybe the four point star shape wasn’t the best idea after all.
If you’re in that shell of wondering what’s next and you need your lacrosse fix, make sure to check out any one of a number of summer leagues. If you’re in Saskatchewan, take in a Junior A or a Junior B game in Saskatoon or Regina. The Saskatchewan SWAT pulled off a major upset this weekend beating the Calgary Mounties, 15-10. This sets up a battle two weeks from now against the Mounties in Saskatoon with first place on the line. Finishing 1st in the regular season is crucial as it virtually guarantees you a spot in the RMLL final, and one of the two births in the Minto Cup. Game times are 7pm on June 23 and 1pm on June 24 at the Kinsmen Arena.
In other parts of the country, you have the WLA, MSL, Junior A and B, and Senior B across the nation. So make sure to take in a game, where you can see a game for a fraction of the cost of an NLL game. In the US, make sure to catch an MLL or IBLA game if you have a local team.
And don’t forget that starting July 13, the world championships start in Israel with a record 46 teams. It’s well worth watching, especially the minnow nations with all of their unique uniforms and interesting traditions.
If you’re sticking to the NLL, teams are now free to make trades and sign any current players. Starting in July, free agents can start to talk to other teams, but can’t sign with anyone but their previous team just yet. Then on August 1, free agent season begins.
Also the key deadlines to remember with the Expansion Draft. On July 2, there will be a trade freeze for two weeks and July 2 is also the deadline teams have to submit their protected lists for theExpansion Draft. The Expansion Draft will take place on July 16 via a conference call. I’m hopeful that NLLTV is able to provide some form of stream, even if it’s a league official announcing the picks to the camera. Given the amount of time I have spent putting together a projection, I would love to play it out pick by pick and start doing some analysis as the draft is going on as to what players might be up next, so let’s hope we get to see it.
— Darren Rovell (@darrenrovell) June 12, 2018
Once the Expansion Draft is over, the trade freeze will be lifted. Don’t be surprised to see teams try to trade to get the player they just lost back from the expansion team.
Team Canada Finally Going
It was announced today that with the help of the FIL, a deal has been reached between the NLTPA and the CLA that finally allows Canada’s top players to go to Israel to the world championships. Unfortunately, the details are being held in confidence so we have no clue as to what was agreed to. With time those details will surface, but at least we will have our top players heading out to defend the world title. This avoids a lot of embarrassment, but until we know the full details as to what was agreed to, it’s difficult to form an opinion on the future of the national program.
What happens now? Well if you wanted team bonding, what these players went through the last several months has certainly created a bond. Hopefully they can go into the worlds with something to prove and come out with a victory, if nothing else, but to prove a point as to how important these guys are to the national program.
New England Franchises
It wasn’t a major surprise to me, but New England, free of its franchise chains, made the decision to apply the franchise tag to Kevin Crowley. This means for the next season, Crowley will make 25% above league maximum, or just shy of $39,000 US, but can’t sign elsewhere. This was in part a necessity as Philly would have certainly gone after Crowley who lives there. This also means it is a certainty that Crowley, as I had projected earlier, will be protected by the Black Wolves.
The side effect of this is that it’s a near certainty in my mind that Aaron Bold won’t be back in New England.
The 11 hours of travel one way for a home game couldn’t have been fun for Bold, and now that New England’s franchise player is used on Crowley, New England can’t franchise Bold and he is free to leave if he wishes. As to where he will end up is anybody’s guess, but the common guesses are San Diego or Vancouver.
This week the speculation was released that Curt Styres is selling the Knighthawks to Pegula Sports and Entertainment, who own the Buffalo Bandits, and also own the Rochester Americans of the AHL and the Blue Cross Arena. This will open up Styres to buy an expansion team in Halifax. In digging through this, the details are simply too vague and conflicting so at this point I won’t be commenting too much on this until the details become much clearer. It was revealed in an interview on Off The Crosse Bar with Nick Sakiewicz that the league would allow an owner to own two teams.
What I will leave you with on this topic is that I have been and continue to be a supporter of a team in Halifax. You have a market with little competition, hungry for pro sports, and an 11,000 seat arena ready to go, at what should be a lower than average lease rate. As much as some people have pointed out the issue of the Atlantic time zone being an issue, to me it’s an extremely minimal issue that wouldn’t hold up expansion as long as the market is strong.
I do get asked a fair amount as to what I think the Rush roster will look like heading into next season. The one amazing thing about this organization is that in most cases, if you just won three out of four championships, players are retiring or headed for free agency for more money, and you get a team that is about to be dismantled. Not the Rush. Only four players are free agents this off-season. Another two players will be lost to the expansion draft. But the Rush hold the #5, 10 and 11 draft picks in this year’s draft. So more will happen with the roster than has happened in the last few years, but the bulk of the team will be back.
Of the four free agents, I’m confident that two of them will return in Brett Mydske and Tyler Carlson. As for Jeremy Thompson, it will be interesting to see what happens. I know other teams have an interest in him, so the only way for the Rush to keep him if he is considering a move would be to apply the franchise tag.
Certainly his performance in the finals up against Jake Withers didn’t help his value. Whether Thompson will be back is really up in the air.
The Rush will lose two good players to the Expansion Draft. My projections are still Adrian Sorichetti and Curtis Knight, but Marty Dinsdale may have garnished enough interest to make him one of the two picks. I don’t have the Rush protecting playoff MVP Jeff Shattler, but his family circumstances and his age make me believe teams will pass on him.
Sorichetti’s departure would open up a spot for Nick Finlay. But a void for the Rush would remain at righty forward with nobody on the practice roster to fill that void. The Rush have options. They could look to free agents, they could use the #5 draft pick or make a trade, anything is possible. The player doesn’t have to be a big splash. They need to really fill a void and play a supporting role to Church and McIntosh.
Knowing Derek Keenan, he loves to restock with youth all the time, so to see him fill the practice roster with some youth with one or more draft picks is expected, although I fully expect that either the #10 or #11 pick will be traded away for future draft picks.
In the end, the Rush have six first round draft picks the next two years. It’s the envy of the league that the defending champs can continue to reload and reload again. Of any of the teams in the league heading into this offseason, the Rush have the least to worry about.
What It’s All About
Last week, I had one of those moments that made me feel like a kid again while coaching a youth lacrosse game. The group of youngsters that I coach in Saskatoon were undefeated against every team in the league, except one, who had trounced us three times. Coming into this game, I expected to be down fast and give the kids a chance to play positions they weren’t used to. We were down 4 goals quickly and was about to go into training mode, but then slowly but surely, we crept our way back into the game, but never held the lead.
Down 9-7 with 2 minutes to go, the kids came through, scoring three times, including the game winner with 2 seconds left for a 10-9 win. I might have been more excited about the win than several of the kids. After getting trounced three times by these guys, to get the upset will hopefully get the kids’ confidence up as we will likely be meeting that same team in the finals. But it’s moments like those, complete surprises out of the blue, that make me love this game.
Headed Into the Off-Season
With the offseason upon us, I’m going to take a much needed break for a few weeks. I’ll be back in the first few days of July to go over the protected lists and once again preview who I believe will be selected in the expansion draft. The rest of the way I’ll be writing the odd article here and there, but mostly taking in some vacation time which will be well needed once my busy season at work is over with.
In the meantime, enjoy some summer ball and enjoy what will be one of the most exciting NLL off-seasons in a very long time.
Until next time…
For all the latest, follow me on Twitter @evanschemenauer.