I started writing this weekend only a few minutes after watching the John Grant Jr. jersey retirement ceremony, and I will admit with a little tear in my eye. I wasn’t crying last week. There isn’t much more about the amazing career of Junior I could say that hasn’t already been said, other than to think back to the 2015 season, circling a game on the NLL calendar when Colorado was coming to Edmonton, and I said I have to get the family to that game – because you never knew if that was the last time you might see him play. Fortunately, it wasn’t. I got to see him one final time in Saskatoon the following year. But on that Sunday afternoon in Edmonton in mid-February, while the Mammoth didn’t have a great game, Junior was putting the team on his back and giving one heck of a show. My kids still remember it.
Random Thoughts Loves JUNIOR!
After the game we went down for the autograph session. Kyle Rubisch and Ryan Dilks were sitting at a table and they asked what we thought of the game. I told them they had pretty much done everything except shut down Junior, but how do you really stop Junior? Their response was dead accurate, “you don’t stop him, you try to do what you can to contain him, and hope he doesn’t burn you too often.” That’s serious respect.
I still vividly remember his trick shot magic videos, which if you haven’t seen them, make sure to look them up on YouTube. On an interview on Boxla Beat this past weekend, one of my favorites on the video, when Junior shot a water bottle off of Steve Govett’s head, was remembered. Govett was saying he wasn’t even worried because the thought of Junior missing didn’t even cross his mind. That’s how good he was. Now that Junior is up in the rafters of the Pepsi Center, I wonder if he could score a BTB from the catwalk up there? I wouldn’t be surprised if he could.
Unfortunately there comes a day and time where the body simply can’t handle the punishment anymore. For Junior that was about nine years ago, but he pushed it as hard as he could for as long as he could, and we are all very fortunate that he did. Thanks for all the memories, Junior.
Now that the tears are gone, here is something to lighten the mood a bit. When we were at the Rush game on Saturday night, I came to find out that the April 14 game versus Georgia is the annual Lacrosse Day In Saskatchewan game. The organizers asked my son Vasyli, who is 7 years old, if he would play out on the field at half time for a demonstration game. At first I think he thought he was going out there to play against the Swarm, but after he found out it was against other kids, he was eerily silent. I thought he was just nervous talking to adults, so we went back to our seats in the arena. When we get back to our seats, the silence is finally broken. “Daddy, if I have to go out on the field, that means I need to practice a lot.” He had been plotting in his mind how he was going to win this game all along. You have to love the kid’s work ethic.
Back to the week that was in the NLL. You had the team that began the week in first place in the East, end the week in last place. You had just one team in the West win a game, and it was the Stealth. You had a fan publicly mess with superstitions in Saskatchewan, and they are now paying the price. And you had one of the best calls by an official I can remember for a long time. Maybe ever!
New England Loses Two
For the first time late in a season that I can remember, a team went from alone in 1st place to alone in last place in a single weekend. The Black Wolves did this with a pair of losses, 20-7 to the Bandits at home Friday night, and 17-12 in Georgia on Saturday.
The game on Friday was a truly embarrassing display for the Black Wolves, especially in the second half. The teams traded goals to start, but then the Black Wolves would go 22 minutes without a goal. At this point it wasn’t a lack of effort. They had about 20 shots on goal during this time. But the Bandits took advantage, scoring five times and taking a 7-2 lead into the half. At the start of the second half, the Black Wolves got two quick goals and all of a sudden, you thought we have a game on our hands. After a Durston goal, Steve Priolo hit a shocking BTB on the penalty kill. It was shocking because you don’t expect a defensive specialist to attempt a BTB, let alone one on a penalty kill and with 25 seconds left on the shot clock.
We had some fun in New England last night ?
— Buffalo Bandits (@NLLBandits) March 24, 2018
Then if that wasn’t pretty enough, after Dhane Smith opened the lead up further, right off the faceoff, Ryan Wagner had some quick thinking, and gave a one touch shovel pass to Steenhuis, who put it away. That goal got Aaron Bold shouting at his defense for some help, any help. In goes Doug Jamieson, who isn’t getting much help either, and in less than four minutes, he allows
four goals on seven shots. One of them is a beauty dunk by Mitch Jones. At this point, Glenn Clark puts Bold back in the net, which made zero sense to me. You’re down 10 goals and Bold is starting the following day in Georgia. Why you would put Bold back in made zero sense. Keep Jamieson in there, get him some minutes, and let your starter rest. At 14-4, you’re not winning the game. But the streak wasn’t done yet.
Bold would allow another 5 goals, with little help in front of him, before the score was 19-4, and the streak of 12 goals was finally broken. In fact, the Black Wolves would score 3 of the last 4 goals of the game, at a stage where Buffalo was basically passing the ball around and waiting for the shot clock to expire. The 13 goal loss tied the Black Wolves worst loss of the season (they lost 24-11 in Saskatchewan earlier this year). The Bandits had a whopping 98 loose balls in the game and went 7 for 10 on the power-play.
If the effort wasn’t bad enough on Friday, the Black Wolves started off Saturday night right where they left Friday night off. Georgia would end the opening quarter up 6-1. But if you are about the blame Aaron Bold, don’t. The shots at the end of the opening quarter were a stunning 23 to 5 for the Swarm. Yes, the Swarm had more goals than the Black Wolves had shots on goal. This was the second time this happened to the Black Wolves this past weekend. In the third quarter of Friday’s game, the Bandits scored 10 times. The Black Wolves had 6 shots on goal. It was a complete team collapse. The Swarm offense was running circles around the Black Wolves. The one bad part to Bold’s game was he was leaving the short side open most of the night. I get that the book on several of the Swarm is they prefer to shoot far side, but if you cheat far side, any shooter will take the short side any day. The Black Wolves were playing catch-up from the first quarter on, and despite a second half comeback, they never had the Swarm in panic mode, and the Swarm cruised to a comfortable win.
As for the infamous goal differential stat, the Black Wolves are now -50, and yet are just a half game below 0.500.
Rochester Sweeps the Rush
You don’t hear this much these days, but Rochester swept the season series against the Rush with a 13-10 win on Saturday night. It was the first time the Rush lost at home in regulation since January 2016, in their home opener in Saskatoon against the Stealth.
The first question Rush fans ask me after a loss is “What went wrong?”. They’re so used to winning that the first thing in their minds was that the Rush must have done something wrong to have lost. While there were things the Rush did wrong, there was a lot that Rochester did right. The biggest factor, and it was the same as the game in Rochester a month ago, was that the Rochester defense wasn’t allowing the Rush to cut off-ball at will. Although in my mind, the Rush made an error before the game even began that may have corrected this. That mistake was listing Marty Dinsdale as the healthy scratch. Dinsdale has been key to the off-ball cut through the middle, whether it released him in the middle, or it opened up McIntosh or Church for an easy shot. Don’t be surprised to see Dinsdale back in the line-up. You could see Dawson as the healthy scratch against Colorado. He has just one goal in three games for the Rush.
The second thing Rochester did right, was in net. Matt Vinc was having a game. He was seeing the ball well, and he was especially alert to the quick stick play to his right, and had it closed down all night long. Vinc would stop 43 of 53 for the win.
The third thing Rochester did well was make the Rush defense miss. The Rush defense seemed to be a step slower Saturday night. But Rochester had them guessing. Several times they faked high side with the ball, got the defender one on one to bite, and beat the Rush down the low side lane. Too often the Rush were the team not picking up the cutter and Rochester had a feast inside all night.
The fourth thing Rochester did right, was kill momentum. In the Mad House in Saskatoon, the Rush can feed off the crowd and get momentum fast. For most of the game, anytime the Rush got a goal, Rochester responded soon afterwards and killed that momentum. This didn’t happen at the tail end of the game and the Rush nearly tied things up. But for the rest of the game, Rochester managed to keep the Rush at bay.
What Rochester didn’t do right was giving the Rush 8 power-plays on the night. This would normally be a death sentence. But Rochester had the power-play well scouted, especially the quick stick. Late unsportsmanlike penalties were almost the undoing of Rochester late. The Rush would only go 4 for 8 on the power-play, and the overall percentage has dropped to 71.2% efficiency, and the Rush now at risk of not setting the league record.
The Rush also exposed how to beat Jake Withers at the faceoff dot. Withers went 14-27, which is quite low for him. Most of the night, the Rush didn’t try to win the faceoff right off the draw itself. Instead they tried to tie things up and allow the rest of the team to get to the loose ball. But on the Rush side of things, once again we saw Jeremy Thompson fire a side-winding shot from 45 feet with 28 seconds left on the shot clock and another one on three after the draw. If he doesn’t have an odd man break, he needs to pull that ball out and settle.
In the end, after the Rush closed the gap to one at 11-10, they took an illegal substitution call, which Rochester converted on. Rochester got a few fortunate resets at the end of the game and put an end to the proceedings. This opened the door for a game that was delayed in Colorado for the Mammoth to pull even in losses with the Rush.
Upset in Denver
With the Rush dropping one at home, the Mammoth had the chance to pull even in losses. But it wasn’t to be in a stunning 13-12 loss to the Stealth. Even more stunning was the Stealth won the game without Logan Schuss. Oddly enough, Schuss missed the other Stealth game in Denver this season, and the Stealth nearly pulled that game off too.
Its always tough for the home team when a jersey retirement night occurs as the home team is normally standing or sitting around for around a half hour. It takes players out of their routines and their warm-up effect has gone away by the time its over. Yes they allow the players a brief warm-up again afterwards, but far too often the home team comes out flat. And that’s exactly what happened here as the Stealth leaped out to a 4-0 lead in the opening seven minutes. But when the Mammoth scored the next six goals, it was almost a case of “here we go again.”
But you have to give the Stealth credit. Their season is for all intents and purposes over. They’re starting to try a few players out to build up for next year. And yet, they kept the fight going. After a 3 goal Mammoth run in the 4 th quarter, and the Stealth down 12-10 again, once again, they could have folded. But the Stealth came back, and Pat Saunders took what would normally be an ill-advised shot, caught Jordan Gilles stick, took a lucky bounce and went past Dillon Ward for the game winner.
Del Bianco Chased Early
While Christian Del Bianco still leads the NLL in GAA and save percentage, the gap narrowed significantly as CDB was chased after two stints in the pipes in the opening quarter, allowing six goals in 14 minutes of work. To be fair, the first three of the six were certainly not his fault. The first two Rock goals were scored off of transition. The third was an unfortunate bounce where his defense accidently kicked the ball into his own net off a rebound. But from there the confidence was shot and the goals kept pouring in and Frankie Scigliano came in relief. The Roughnecks would come back to tie the game, before Toronto would pull ahead in the end for a 17-14 win.
One thing of note here – goalies are a weird bunch. That’s nothing new, but being a weird bunch, the smallest of things can sometimes get to you. CDB has had his worst two performances of the year the last two games. What has changed? Well for one, his helmet. CBD gave up his field lacrosse style helmet for the more popular style helmet amongst NLL goalies. Has this affected his performance, who knows? But it’s possible. If he goes back to his old cage the answer is certainly yes.
Rob Hellyer was the one picking up the slack on Saturday night with a nine point night and 17 shots. But once again, the Rock proved they could win without Tom Schreiber. They’re in first place now and Schreiber should be approximately 2 weeks away from returning if he is still on schedule in his recovery.
One thing I saw a lot of this past weekend, and I love seeing it, is that the officials swayed away from calling co-incidentals, especially when crap after the whistle happened. The simple rule of thumb in this scenario is that somebody should be short-handed. Either you only take the guy that started the crap, or if the retaliator did something that forces your hand to take him, take both but make sure the guy that started things sits an extra two, so somebody is short-handed. The philosophy here is that taking guys for co-incidentals really doesn’t stop much from happening. But if the players know that the guy that acts first is going to make his team short-handed, the crap after the whistle normally comes to a quick end. I hope the refs stick to calling penalties this way.
While the math for each team in the East is very murky still, in the West its far simpler.
The Rush can’t finish any worse than 2 nd in the West. The magic number for them to win the division and hold home field advantage throughout the playoffs is three. They already hold the tiebreak over Colorado. The Rush have this weekend off, but the Mammoth play two games out East.
The Mammoth need to win both games to avoid the magic number shrinking further. The Mammoth have clinched a playoff spot, but not a home playoff game yet. The magic number between them and Calgary to clinch that is two.
Calgary still requires one division win or one Stealth division loss to qualify for the playoffs. They play one another this weekend so a Roughneck win gets them in.
As for the East, there is some math for what its worth…
Toronto’s magic number to make the playoffs and win the division is the same, five. Basically if they win every game the rest of the way, they win the division and make the playoffs. Probably not that comforting, but that’s what’s there. Hopefully a few weeks from now we will be able to provide a much clearer picture out East.
You would expect a good crowd in the stands for the Mammoth game with John Grant Jr. jersey
retirement night and 15,541 were in attendance. Its above average for the Mammoth, but not the
largest of the year for them. Saskatchewan had 14,811 in the stands despite another winter storm the morning of the game. Calgary was a hair above average at 12,097. New England was average for them at 5,378. As for Georgia, once again the number is inflated and not much changed, although slightly better than last game. You would expect an uptick at their next home game as it is the third of the major music artist series the Swarm established this year.
Overall, the Rush continue to lead the average attendance with 14,561, although the Mammoth
continue to close the gap with 13,657.
A poor week for me, only getting both New England losses correct. My record is now 36-25. Here’s what I have on tap for this weekend:
Colorado over Toronto – Colorado is simply the better team here. But you have a game where either goaltender could easily steal the game for their team.
Rochester over Colorado – Two games in two nights won’t help Colorado here. The red hot Knighthawks win this one.
Buffalo over New England – A completely different New England team will have to show up this coming weekend to avoid the disaster that was last weekend. I don’t believe they are there yet. So I’ll stick with the Bandits.
Calgary over Vancouver – Yes Vancouver has the longest winning streak in the West division, but I think it comes to a screeching halt. The Stealth don’t play well at home and a loss here officially eliminates them from the playoffs.
Growing the Game
While on Altitude TV on Saturday night, Commissioner Nick Sakiewicz stated that he had 20 guests at the Mammoth/Stealth game whom were potential investors in the NLL. If they were to have brought investors to a game to sell them on it, they probably picked just about the perfect game to take them to, with a large crowd, a one goal game, a game where the massive underdog won (giving some hope as to what an expansion team might be able to do), and the night where one of the greatest had his jersey retired.
There are no expansion team announcements expected in the immediate future, Sakiewicz did state
that there would be a major announcement on Tuesday on the future of televising NLL games. We eagerly await to see what the announcement is, but I hope that it’s bigger than past league
announcements on broadcasting games which were a lot of hype, and turned into duds.
For those that have been reading Random Thoughts for a year now, you will remember that I was quite tough on referee Todd Labranche last season. Although this past summer I got to see the other side of Todd when he reached out when my daughter was diagnosed with diabetes, as Todd too is a diabetic. On Saturday night Todd got more likes and retweets on Twitter in one day (20,000+ on ESPN alone) than I have in all my years combined with one penalty call in Colorado.
The basic situation was that there was a delayed penalty on Chris O’Dougherty and at the tail end of the delay, catches Zack Greer with a hit from behind. I’ll let the video of Labranche’s call speak for itself…
— Colorado Mammoth (@MammothLax) March 25, 2018
Labranche would say in an interview on Monday that it wasn’t scripted, and all he was really trying to do is get a reaction out of the crowd. I don’t expect the league to allow these types of calls all the time. Eventually the players would have some push back. But the fact that this happened once without warning was fantastic. It had us all talking positive about the referees for a period of time. And the video went viral, which is always good for publicity for the game.
And even funnier… Zack Greer has now been in both of the last two NLL videos that have gone viral.
The last time sold a lot of tickets and got a franchise in a new city on a solid foundation for financial success. Let’s hope lacrosse’s few minutes in the sports spotlight has the same effect.
Until next time…
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