Another crazy week in the NLL. The Roughnecks surprise us all by not only beating the Rock, they crushed them 16-8. You had the battle of the I-90 between Buffalo and Rochester. And you had the Rush with a sweep of this weekend’s games, despite and insane travel schedule.
This travel schedule for the Rush should have never happened. The year before the Rush arrived in Saskatoon, the travel between Saskatoon and Denver wasn’t so bad.
Flight Path Woes
There was a twice per day direct flight. If you were on a plane leaving Denver at 7am, and arriving in Saskatoon at 11am, it’s not such a bad travel schedule. But United Airlines cancelled that flight three years ago. Now the normal flight path is to connect through Minneapolis. The Rush had to connect through Phoenix. Then to make matters worse, the plane was stuck on the tarmac in Phoenix for over 45 minutes. By the time they arrived in Saskatoon, got through immigration and claimed their luggage, the team had to go straight to the arena. There was no time to go to the hotel and relax. I saw a number of the players post-game. They were beat. There was almost no energy left. They wanted to get some food in them and get to bed.
The question remains though as to why the league made such a ridiculous schedule.
This isn’t new. In 2017, both Colorado and Saskatchewan on separate weeks had to make the journey from Saskatoon to Denver to play the next night, connecting through Minneapolis. In both cases, they lost the next night. In 2016 a similar situation happened, and the second game was at risk of being cancelled. The difference here was that a home and home was scheduled so there was no disadvantage to either team.
The problem became though that as the teams were in Denver on the Friday night to play the opener of the home-and-home, a severe blizzard warning was issued for Denver to hit around 4am. Both teams had flights leaving at 6am. The Rush had a sell-out crowd ready to go on Saturday, keeping in mind this was only the 2nd time the Rush were to have sold out the building. So Lee Genier got on the phone and ordered a charter plane for both teams. They rushed from the arena that night, got to the airport, and managed to beat out the pending storm. This should have been a wake-up call for the league to avoid this flight pattern, but they failed to see the warning signs.
Yet, It’s Nothing New
Now the Rush and Mammoth aren’t the only teams that had this problem. Toronto had a trip that to me was far worse last year when they flew three time zones away to Vancouver for a Friday night game, only to turn around, fly three times zones and 6 hours to New York to catch a bus to Uncasville, a full 12 hour travel day, to play the Black Wolves the following afternoon.
When the schedule was expanded, most of these hellacious travel weekends should have gone away as there should have been less need for double header weekends, but they haven’t. Part of it has to deal with arena availability. Most teams don’t have primary date selection at their arenas, so the schedule makers have to make due with what they have. But when this is necessary, what I believe the league should do is go back to what they did in 2016. The Rush had two back-to-back weekends. In both cases, they were home and home weekends. So neither team has any advantage when it comes to rest.
But what made it better was that in the first instance, the first game was in Toronto on Friday night, on TSN. All hell broke loose in the last 15 seconds of the game, and that sold 2,500 tickets in the next 20 hours in Saskatoon. These home-and-home series create mini-rivalries in themselves, which increases ticket sales and are good for the league. The league should take a serious look at going back to these mini-series.
Lack of Recognition
One thing I completely forgot to mention last week was something surprising to me at the game in Calgary between the Rush and Roughnecks. It’s customary that when a long time player on your team, especially one that made a major impact, leaves the team, that there is some kind of recognition for that player on the floor during the first game they come back.
We saw it in Saskatchewan with Zack Greer getting his championship ring pre-game to a standing ovation and then a video montage being played during the first TV timeout. A similar ovation was given to Aaron Bold and John Lafontaine earlier this season.
So it surprised me that when the Rush went to Calgary and Jeff Shattler, who played 11 seasons in Calgary, got virtually no recognition. That game was the only one the Rush played in Calgary this season so there wasn’t a second chance to do anything. The only even mention of it was when Shattler got a minor and the crowd yelled at him to “Shut Up” like they do every visiting player, that the announcer quickly said, “By the way, welcome back Jeff.”
That is sad.
Yes, he doesn’t play for you anymore, but your fans still love him and he did amazing things for you for 11 seasons. A quick recognition of his accomplishments as a Roughneck is a nice touch. Apparently it’s too much for the Roughnecks to handle.
NLLTV is still NLLTV
In the wake of all the mess that resulted from the Saskatchewan vs. Buffalo broadcast, a few changes were revealed this week. John Fraser is back in the Rush radio booth doing colour commentary with Dave Thomas doing play by play. And the NLL formed a Twitter broadcast team with Brian Shanahan and Brendan Glasheen. Whether they are doing every Twitter game or select ones isn’t clear to me at this time. What did confuse me about this decision is that Jake Elliott was already in Saskatoon handling the TSN Vancouver radio broadcast, so it seemed to be a little overkill to have a Saskatchewan broadcast team, a Vancouver broadcast team, and a league broadcast team, and the cost involved made even less sense.
I would have loved to hear two vets like Jumbo and Shanny call a game together.
Now this is in part my own doing, but now I get messages from fans any time an announcer makes even the smallest of mistakes. Here’s where I will leave this one. If an announcer makes two or three minor errors in names in a broadcast, I’m not going to go crazy on them. That much can be expected. And if they correct themselves a few seconds later, you’re not going to hear it from me. There is an acceptable margin of error involved here.
When I received complaints about the game in Colorado I kind of shook my head. I rather enjoyed Teddy Jenner’s broadcast. The only issue I had was the producer going to bench camera shots while the play was still underway and missing a goal completely, as well as putting the camera on Jeff McComb thinking he was Derek Keenan.
The Name Game
I received several messages about the Twitter game broadcast. In all honestly, I haven’t watched the replay of the game as it was more important to watch the replay of other games. I will have the opportunity to watch Brendan in future weeks. The comments focused mainly on Saskatchewan being mispronounced and Rubisch’s name being mispronounced. But the number one comment I got back was with regards to the pronunciation of Nik Bilic’s name. It’s surprising that a five letter last name is difficult to pronounce, but it is. A few years ago some broadcasters approached Nik to get the correct pronunciation of his name. The answer they got back was that the proper pronunciation was “bee LEETCH”.
So for all those messages I got regarding that one, the commentators had it right. If you don’t believe me, consult the NLL Name Pronunciation Guide created by Graeme Perrow. This guide is invaluable and you have to appreciate the amount of work Graeme puts into it every year. It should be sent to every broadcaster, media person, and in game announcer.
Speaking of which, I can’t believe this happened two years in a row. Mike McGuire who is the in game host at Rush games got chewed out by people, including myself, for repeatedly calling Rhys Duch, “rise douche” all night long last year. We even sent him the pronunciation guide after the game. So when he went back to Dooche (at least he got Rhys right this year) and Logan Shoos, I was stunned. Mispronunciations will happen, but in Duch’s case, that’s one you definitely want to make sure you have right.
Enough ranting for now, onto the games…
As much as I picked the Rush to win twice this past weekend, I wasn’t going to be surprised if they dropped at least one of the games. Instead, the Rush put a lot of distance between themselves and the rest of the Western Division with a 13-10 win in Colorado and an 11-9 win over Vancouver at home. Even bigger in the scheme of things, the Rush won the season series against Colorado, leading the season series, 2-0, with one game to play. That means the Mammoth have to pass the Rush in the standings.
While the 4-2 Mammoth are two games behind the 7-1 Rush at this point, without the tiebreak, you can now make that three games behind for all intents and purposes as matching the Rush’s record will mean nothing to the Mammoth.
As much as Dillon Ward allowed 12 goals on 44 shots (one was an empty net goal), you can’t possibly say he had a bad night. He was making highlight save after highlight save.
While the Rush weren’t getting many shots off, the shots they were getting off were high quality shots. Perhaps this was intentional, scouting what they needed to do to beat Ward. But on the other end, Evan Kirk was just as effective, stopping 39 of 49 shots. If you’re looking for a reason why the Mammoth lost, you would be hard fought to find one. The defense limited the shots, Ward played well, the offense was getting good chances, and Stephen Keogh had an amazing night with 3 goals and 3 assists, including what has to be a candidate for goal of the year, a rebound BTB shot while in the air. Absolutely unreal.
In case you missed it, Keogh's unreal BTB finish.#TuskUp https://t.co/VV0jal9wD1
— Colorado Mammoth (@MammothLax) February 4, 2018
If there’s anything whatsoever to critique the Mammoth about it would be that in the opening quarter with the Rush still trying to get a read on the Mammoth D and Ward, the offense didn’t take advantage of the situation, only scoring once, and not opening up the lead. Also, while the Mammoth only took four penalties all game, against the Rush, that’s too many. The Rush went 3 for 4 in both games on the powerplay this weekend, upping their powerplay percentage to 69.4% efficiency. That is insane. The other missed opportunity for the Mammoth was when Brett Mydske was given a major for high sticking. The Mammoth failed to capitalize, scoring once, but giving up a shot-handed goal.
For the Rush, as much as they had a bad 3rd quarter again, losing it 4-2, this time they kept their composure, went out there, and got it done. The ultimate game winner wasn’t the prettiest goal, but it was Matt Hossack catching Dillon Ward not set and firing one to the weak spot the Rush exploited the game earlier. With the Rush offense, you never know who is going to take the spotlight and in Denver, it was Ryan Keenan’s turn, with 4 goals on the night, two of them on the power play.
Long Road Home
The core Rush fans would have forgiven a loss to the Stealth on Saturday night, given the crazy travel schedule, although the casual fan had little idea of what was happening and was perplexed as to why the Rush were at one point tied late in the 3rd quarter with a Vancouver team who was 1-6 at that time. It was the type of game you expected the Rush having to run up the score early and try to hang on once they tired out. And that appeared to be exactly the case.
The Rush were up 4-0 early in the 2nd quarter and up 7-3 at the half, on a bizarre situation which would repeat itself. The Rush scored with 0.1 seconds to go in the 2nd quarter. They would repeat this in the 3rd quarter. In both instances the referees huddled as the clock in the arena read all zero’s, and determined the ball crossed before the buzzer went. I’m not certain how they heard the buzzer with as loud as things were. The goal in the second quarter was a tough one for the Stealth to challenge.
I’m not sure if the SaskTel Centre has a camera shot that shows both the game clock and the net at the same time. But Batley had a predicament. If he challenged the goal in the 2nd, because he had already lost a challenge not only would he not have any challenges left, he would have taken a delay of game penalty. To challenge and not know if they even had the technology to spot what he wanted to see, I don’t blame him for not challenging that one. The goal at the end of the third was a little more dicey. Once again, he is losing his last challenge. Batley ended up needing that challenge in the 4th quarter to disallow a Rush goal. You don’t see many situations on whether the ball crossed the line in time, let alone having it happen twice in the same game.
In the third quarter, you once again saw the Rush falter. They were outscored 6-2 to open the quarter and the game was tied at 9, only for the Rush to score again with 0.1 seconds left. But unlike games in the past few weeks, this time, the Rush defense tightened up and Tyler Carlson, getting his first start of the season, played absolutely out of his mind. Hot Carl lived up to his nickname. The Stealth were looking skyward several times in disbelief of some of the stops Carlson made. There have been questions about Carlson amongst the Rush faithful, but they should be a lot more relaxed after that performance, and he was well deserving of the first star of the game that night.
The one thing about the Stealth offense, and it’s far more obvious watching them live, is just how predictable their play is. If McCready has the ball, he’s going inside. It doesn’t matter if it’s 1 on 3, he’s going inside. Duch and Small are happy to fire from distance and you don’t see much of them trying to penetrate through the middle. Once again, they had a combined one goal, and that’s not going to cut it. Oddly enough that one goal didn’t come from distance. Logan Schuss didn’t have a predictable game, and it paid off scoring four times.
In goal, Eric Penney had a good night, stopping 39 of 50, a vast improvement over his predecessors. Penney got in the heads of the Rush offense as they missed an unusually high 30 shots in the game. However, while the Stealth defense limited the number of goals a tired Rush offense scored, they were out hustled as the Rush got loose ball after loose ball. The Stealth lost the loose ball battle 82-67, but more importantly, Rush forwards grabbed a total of 40 loose balls, just shy of half the entire team total. The most outstanding example of this was late in the fourth quarter. With the Rush up two and the Vancouver D in need of a stop to get their offense the ball back, the Rush move the ball up the floor with 3:35 remaining.
On this possession, the Rush had five resets, one additional loose ball off a missed shot, and the Stealth didn’t get the ball back until there were 55 seconds left. The Stealth had no chance to get a substitution. It was interesting to watch the Rush bench on this one as McComb was confused himself as to who to send out each possession because even he had lost track of who had come off. At one point he sent Adrian Sorichetti out for an offensive set because he was out of options.
While the Stealth play the Rush again this weekend, and every game is critical for them, the game they are circling on their calendars is the following weekend in Calgary. That game now becomes a must win for the Stealth. If they lose it, they are likely 2.5 games behind Calgary and need to beat the Roughnecks twice later in the season just to get the tiebreak back to even.
Key Victory for Buffalo
The Bandits got a critical win over the Knighthawks in the battle of the I-90, 16-14. On most nights you would expect that if the Knighthawks scored 14, the opposition had no chance because their defense is that good. I didn’t get to see much of this game, but what is clear from this game is what I saw in Saskatoon earlier on.
When the Bandits played there, it was my first time getting to see Josh Byrne play live. Watching him and just focusing on how he plays, I’ll say this now, as I said it to the Bandits a few weeks ago, Byrne will be league MVP in about 4 to 5 years’ time. He is just that smooth out there and certainly plays with a maturity well beyond a rookie. On Saturday night, Byrne had 5 goals in the Bandits win. Dhane Smith is also looking like the player he was two years ago when he was the league MVP with an 11 point night.
The game was back and forth through the first half, tied at 8. Rochester got a couple of early goals in the second half after Jordan Durston was given a major for an illegal cross check just before the half. But then Buffalo would go on to score the next 7 goals, ultimately putting the game out of reach.
For the Bandits, the win puts them back into a playoff spot for the moment, while Rochester has dropped five straight games and sits well back of the pack in the east at 2-5.
Shocker in Toronto
Earlier in the year, when I put out my first version of the expansion draft projection, I had it down that Calgary, who has a difficult decision to make at the end of the year as to which goalie to protect, would protect Christian Del Bianco, even though he was the back-up at the time, and expose Frankie Scigliano, likely to be lost in the expansion draft. My prediction is becoming far more solidified after CDB’s performance in the second half against the Rush, and his lights out performance against the Rock in a 16-8 win.
Now as there is more game tape on CDB, opposing offenses might make the necessary adjustments, but for now, he has the lowest GAA in the league with a minimum 120 minutes played and he is certainly the starter going forward. If there is a weakness I saw in the past two games, if you launch from distance on CDB, his small size works against him and Toronto was having a lot of luck scoring. But if you try to work the ball inside, CDB moves so fast, he can get to what you think is a hole at that moment. But the performance he put on in Toronto is jaw dropping.
The momentum breaker in this game for the Rock was a really foolish incident. Half way through the third quarter, the Rock were up 7-5 and Nick Rose was having a fantastic game himself. Then Adam Jones takes a major for spearing Carnegie in the throat. Some Rock fans were saying Carnegie was acting. The simple fact is you should never have your stick under your opponent’s chin pointed at his throat, and you should never jab when its there. It was a terribly stupid penalty by Jones, one that will certainly be reviewed by the disciplinary board this week (along with three other majors during the week). The major gave Calgary two quick goals, and while Toronto regained the lead for a minute, Calgary had the momentum and scored 9 goals in the last 16 minutes.
What went wrong for the Rock? Well, not much of the blame belongs to Nick Rose. The first goal of the 4th quarter he was certainly out of position. In the fourth quarter, the Toronto D quit pushing the Roughnecks out, the Roughnecks got the ball inside at will, and capitalized.
Now keep in mind, it took two BTB’s from Dobbie, including one immediately after receiving a BTB pass from Dickson, to beat Rose. This loss isn’t all that much on him, but it is on his defense. On the other end, CDB kept shutting the door. The Rock had great opportunities to get those goals back, and CDB kept stopping them.
The loss puts the Rock back into the pack and tied for second in the East. The game was even more critical for the Roughnecks as they get an unexpected win and improve to 2-5, a game and a half ahead of Vancouver.
In a positive trend for the week, the NLL saw some very good crowds this weekend, despite the fact that it was Super Bowl weekend. Colorado had 12,740 in attendance against the Rush. It’s around average for the Mammoth, but above average for Friday night games. Toronto had 10,344 for their game against the Roughnecks. It’s still lower than Dawick would love to see it, but it’s an improvement. Rochester had its largest crowd of the season with 9,425.
There were, 14,387 in attendance in Saskatchewan which was a hair below average, but it was also -30 degrees Celsius (-22 degrees Fahrenheit) outside, which played a factor. The Rush continue to lead the league average attendance with 14,474, which is 2,200 over the next closest in Colorado, despite the Rush yet to have a sell-out in any of their three home games this season.
The Rush saved me this week, going 2-2. Hardly anyone had the Roughnecks. I’m now 19-12 on the season. Six games and a number of back to back games, so it’s not an easy week to pick, but here’s what I have:
New England over Buffalo – Buffalo is on a roll, and have won two straight on the road, so it’s not a simple pick. The rule of thumb applies here. If it’s a close game and you’re not sure what to do, take the home team.
Georgia over Buffalo – The game is in Buffalo which helps the Bandits. The travel from Uncasville to Buffalo won’t help. There isn’t a simple way to get between the two in just a few hours. A well-rested Swarm team takes this one.
Toronto over Rochester – Rochester is in one massive slump and the way to solve it would be a massive upset over the Rock. I just don’t see it happening with all of the Rock’s offensive weapons. The Rock may have laid an egg in the 4th quarter last week. I just don’t see it happening twice in a row.
Colorado over Calgary – Christian Del Bianco will have to play just as well as last week and the Roughnecks have to put in the same team effort to win this one. Colorado is simply the more talented of the two teams at the moment. But this one is far from easy to call.
Saskatchewan over Vancouver – The Stealth are a team that play better on the road then they do at home. If they lose to Saskatchewan on the road, with the Rush dead tired and two key players missing, this will be a long night for the Stealth. Expect a decent contingent of Rush fans supporting the local boys on the team in the crowd.
Georgia over Rochester – Both teams will be tired from the night before. No advantage there. The Knighthawks have shown me nothing as of late they have what it takes to beat the defending champions in their arena.
Every year in Canada, the Bell Media Group, which own a large conglomerate of both television and telecommunications companies, puts on a wonderful day called Bell Let’s Talk.
The purpose is to raise both funds for mental health initiatives in Canada but also to open up the discussion about the stigma of mental health, educating people about mental health, and helping break down the barriers for those suffering from mental health issues to come forward and be open about their situation. As a part of the initiative, Bell donates 5 cents for every text or phone call on their network, or for every tweet, retweet or Facebook post using the hashtag #BellLetsTalk. Throughout the course of the day, this year they raised $7 million.
I am very proud of the lacrosse community who come together on that day and deluge Twitter with tweets all day. As small as the lacrosse community is, they could easily equal much larger leagues with the number of interactions they had on that day. An even bigger congratulations goes to Logan Schuss and Ryan Wagner for putting up their own money for mental health awareness to engage people to join the conversation that day by retweeting their tweet.
#BellLetsTalk Mental Health Matters! Every RT I will donate $1 to a local charity in support of Mental Health. Help reach my goal of $500
— Logan Schuss (@LoganSchuss18) January 31, 2018
I issued my own challenge as well, and with 82 interactions, I am going to round the number up and $50 will be donated.
But the biggest congratulations go to the lacrosse world for supporting this important initiative every year. Keep the conversation going, not just a year from now, but every day, and end the stigma.
Until next time….
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