With both teams opening their seasons, there was a lot of anticipation surrounding what we would see from the defending back-to-back NLL Champions, the Saskatchewan Rush, and the extremely young but proficiently talented Georgia Swarm.
The hype around Saturday night’s showdown in Atlanta brought in some global attention. It would be the first time four brothers would compete in a professional lacrosse game, and Guinness confirmed it.
After the holiday brawl between Calgary’s Scigliano and the Rush’s Aaron Bold, the star goaltender had to serve a one game suspension, clearing room for loud and proud Tyler Carlson. Opposite him, Brodie MacDonald would get the first call for the Swarm, with two fairly untouched rosters standing between of them.
In true spirit of setting a Guinness World Record, Lyle lined up against brother Jeremy for the opening draw, pulled out by the elder Thompson and the Rush.
Sask defenseman Ryan Dilks was sent off for a Tripping call in the first minute and Georgia didn’t waste any time on their first powerplay attempt of the night. The ball found its way around the offense until Jordan Hall swung it to Lyle on the backside for a skipping shot past Carlson.
A quick retaliations from Saskatchewan came in the form of a Mark Matthews breakaway fed from Dilks in transition to knot the game up only seconds later.
With each 5-on-5 possession orchestrated by Lyle as the high point, ball movement was leading to a lot of chances for the Swarm. Thompson found Kiel Matiscz on the go and big Moose took it to the rack to get another lead. The first transition goal for Georgia came unassisted from the stick of Ethan O’Connor following a nice clear path made by Hall.
From there, Adam Jones‘ first of what should be many in a Rush uniform comes in transition. Straight from the bench he takes the pass, fakes and goes up and over MacDonald for a highlight reel dunk.
But, as soon as they were given their next powerplay opportunity, the Rush made it count. Matthews got the defense to move and let it fly from downtown and snuck it in the far pipe for the tying goal.
Keeping the Rush for gaining momentum, the Swarm regained possession, with 2016’s Rookie of the Year, Randy Staats, driving to the net and dishing back to a wide open Miles Thompson for a routine finish, taking back the lead.
Opening the quarter, yet again, the powerplay turned into a goal for the Rush. Matthews no-looking it from the point to Curtis Knight for a one-timer to knot it back up. The Rush took their first lead of the night just moments later as Jones came around a Dan Taylor screen and into open waters for an easy snipe into the back of the net.
Keeping with it, #1 draft pick Ryan Keenan earned his first NLL goal with a give-and-go with Dr. Matthews, tucking in past the goaltender with a double fist-pump. Not a minute later, Robert Church went up and over a blinding screen, pegging the short side for the four consecutive Rush goal.
Opening the second with a flood, MacDonald was relieved for veteran Mike Poulin, recently signed to the Swarm after leaving Calgary on free agency. Since my guy Poulin (see: anything I wrote about Calgary last year) hit the floor, he posted a shut out to close the half, lasting over eighteen minutes.
That’s when things changed in the Hive. A Lyle Thompson rebound became Jordan MacIntosh candy for a goal. Then Lyle recovered his own shot off goal and flicked it down to Shayne Jackson on the doorstep to get within one. In the last minute, Myles brought the crowd back into the game, finding an outstanding feed from Lyle on the crease, standing as the first Swarm hat trick of the season, to tie the game.
But we weren’t done yet, Lyle found Staats on the backside crease for what looked like the same play. Instead of touching it in, he found Jackson open cross crease for an easier look. The selfless connection would propel the Swarm up by one just before the buzzer.
Over five minutes of long possession and strong defense passed before the Staats was able to net his first. From the boards Randy followed a beauty seal from Miles, banking it off Carlson and in. Trying to put a stop to things, the defense respected the cutters a little too much, allowing Lyle to step into open space and let it fly for a three goal lead.
Another rookie first, Maryland product Bryan Cole found the ball short-handed and sprinted it straight down Main Street one-on-one with the goalie to make seven straight Swarm goals. Against the Rush…seriously!
Up 5-3 on the powerplay, great ball movement landed the ball in Church’s stick with a shot right through the open lane and into the back of the net to plug the leak. Another huge series of saves from Poulin closed out the third quarter, only allowing one goal since taking the role.
But not before the second in a row big Randy! Given a ton of room, Staats took an easy pass from Miles and let it fly through open air to take the 12-8 lead.
Making another big save, Poulin quickly turned it around for an odd man rush. Jackson went straight to the net and was met with a beauty pass from Alex Crepensek. Jackson’s connection would give last year’s leader his first hat trick, short-handed no less. As soon as his penalty expired, Lyle took off from the box and straight to the house, finding a rope from Matisz, smoking Carlson on the near side, 14-8.
With the Swarm losing a little focus after two, quick and exciting goals, Adrian Sorichetti snuck down the floor off the next face off, caught a backhander and sent it into the pipe, off Poulin’s back and in. The challenge flag came out and it appeared to show he was on the line before the back ricochet was redirected in. The stripes found inconclusive evidence it stood as the ninth Rush goal.
Jackson quickly returned the favor with a run from the boards around a great seal from an extremely helpful Hall and beating Carlson on the near side pipe. Looking for his fourth after Jackson’s, wide-open Miles found the ball from Shayne and successfully redirected it on cage.
Quietly closing his hat trick, Matthews finally got one in on Poulin for the final Rush goal.
Speaking of quiet, the eldest of the three Georgia brothers stayed off the grid most of the night. That was until Miles sent Hiana Thompson the rock, with guys draped all over him. He fought through the checks and ripped off an over the shoulder back door sneaker for a highlight worthy score. To seal the deal, Staats fought to the inside, caught a couple hard check before getting space and pulling it off on cage, putting 18-10 up in lights before time would expire.
Running off the clock, the Georgia Swarm jumped into 2017 with a 1-0 record and a big victory at home.
Saving the game, Mike Poulin captured the win by making 21 saves on 24 shots on goal over 48 minutes.
I’ve said it before, but Poulin is easily the most underrated goaltender in the league and clearly a huge key to Georgia’s success. They can score all the goals the want from the arsenal of finishers that they have, but nothing matters like a hot goaltender in the NLL.
In my opinion, Jordan Hall had one of the best performances of the weekend. Hooking up his teammates with 6 assists is nothing short of astounding, but his 10 looseballs and fight for every last inch really exemplified his commitment to the process.
Six points from Hall is exciting, but the Swarm finished with four players with six, or more. Jackson matched feet with 4 goals and 2 assists, while shot leader (12 on, 8 off) Staats yoked up 3 goals and 4 assists, right behind quarterback Lyle’s team leading 2 goals, 6 assists. In all, nine different Bees put found twine on Saturday night, a score by committee theme they will ride this season.
I also need to point out Lyle was 5 for 7 on face-offs. This is the Lyle Thompson total domination we’ve been ready for. They’ll look to replicate the effort Saturday night at Buffalo.
Rating the Rush
Starting their season off with a negative record has to have a terrible taste lingering in the Rush’s mouths. Taking advantage of barely 25% of powerplays and losing in just about every head to head category leaves incredible room for improvement.
They get Stone Cold Aaron Bold back Saturday in Toronto, giving peace of mind back to the defense. That’s going to really mean something considering they wouldn’t pull Carlson after allowing 18 goals, a seven goal run and blowing a 7-4 lead. The position doesn’t run deep behind #1.
Aside from a Mark Matthews hat trick, which isn’t all that eyebrow raising, and Jeremy Thompson over 62% of his draws, no one in black and green had a notable performance. Adam Jones and Robert Church each found two, but that’s as good as it got.
That wasn’t the lockdown, blitzkrieg defense that we saw lead to championship runs, but it is mostly the same bodies. I really hope they find whatever they lost before returning home in a couple of weeks.