March 12, 2014

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NLL Notes: An Amazing Night in Denver

by Neil Stevens | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter

The Mammoth rallied for a big win on Lacrosse Out Cancer night in Denver. (Bart  Young/Colorado Mammoth)

Jenna Pollock was in the crowd and her name was on the back of her husband Sean Pollock's sweater because she's a breast cancer survivor and the Colorado Mammoth were staging Lacrosse Out Cancer night.

Interim coaches were behind its players' bench for the first time because the team had dismissed its staff a few days earlier. Supplying the opposition were the red-hot Calgary Roughnecks.

So, what happens?

Colorado, trailing 5-0 in the second quarter, claws its way back to somehow win 10-9 in overtime, and none other than Sean Pollock scores the winning goal. Talk about drama. The league's largest audience, 17,044 in the Pepsi Center, ate it up.

''If you want to write a script, that'd be a good one to have,'' Pollock said afterwards.

Rookie goalie Dillon Ward was great and the defense corps put forth its finest effort of the year. Calgary's Dane Dobbie has an NLL-best 30 goals but he couldn't buy one Saturday night, and Pat Coyle, Chris Gill and Dan Stroup got to celebrate their first win as interim coaches.

''I'm more tired, I think, than when I played,'' Coyle said after the emotional rollercoaster ride.

We are at a loss to explain how the NLL, with this type of colorful content created by some of the most intriguing athletes in the world, is not getting a weekly game, at the least, across the continent on a prominent TV network.

NEVER SEEN THIS BEFORE

The Roughnecks were displeased, to say the least, about the refereeing.

Colorado was assessed 10 minutes in penalties and Calgary 25. There were 10 minutes per team of offsetting calls, leaving the 'Necks without one power-play chance in the entire game. How often does that happen?

Here's how the non-offsetting calls went: against Calgary for too many men, against Calgary for a Geoff Snider slash, against Calgary for Jon Harnett's check from behind, against Calgary for Curtis Manning's illegal cross-check, against Calgary for a Shawn Evans slash, against Calgary for a Manning high stick _ a major. Not one against the Mammoth. Colorado goes 3-for-7 and Calgary 0-for-0 on power plays.

''I've never seen that before,'' said 'Necks coach Curt Malawsky. ''I've been around the game for 40 years and I've never seen a team, not once, not get a penalty. It's usually close, each team gets three or four, but 8-0 and then a five-minute (major) with 10 minutes left in the game, I don't know. I'm not sure if that was fair. I'm sticking up for my guys. That's my own personal thought.''

He was slightly off with his 8-0 stat but he was accurate in his analysis.

RECORD START

Edmonton players salute their home fans after tying the league record for wins to start a season two weeks ago.

Edmonton set a record for fastest start to an NLL season by improving to 9-0 with a 10-9 home win over Vancouver but GM-coach Derek Keenan was not pleased.

''Our fundamentals were brutal,'' said Keenan. ''We missed shots, missed nets, made bad passes. They outran us and outplayed us in a lot of areas.''

Robert Church's first three-goal pro indoor game and Aaron Bold's goaltending were big reasons why the Rush remained undefeated. The streak will likely end before the month is out because the Rush have to play the miffed Roughnecks in Calgary on Friday, are home against East leader Buffalo on March 21 and spend the March 29-30 weekend in Rochester and Toronto.

The Rush have picked their mid-season three stars:

3. Curtis Knight. The five-foot-nine forward is often overshadowed by six-foot-five 2013 rookie of the year Mark Matthews. ''But Knight, who was also a junior teammates of Matthews in Whitby under Rush coach Derek Keenan, is more than holding his own with his much more highly-touted running mate,'' team media relations director Pauline Hughes wrote in a club release. ''Knight isn't the biggest dog in the Rush clubhouse but he takes the body, occasionally gets a little feisty on the floor, shows plenty of hustle and provides the Rush with a second clear-cut top gun.''

2. Jeremy Thompson. ''In baseball, there's the utility guy who can play two or three positions, bat up and down the lineup, and step up at key times. In hockey, he's the third-liner who can score, hit, fight and kill penalties. In lacrosse, he's Thompson.'' He's the team's faceoff specialist and he ''virtually defines the transition position.''

1. Aaron Bold. ''About the only thing Bold hasn't done this season is score a goal.'' His team believes he should be a contender for both goalie of the year and most valuable player.

BURIED IN BASEMENT

Vancouver, 3-8, is buried in the NLL West basement with scant chance of making the playoffs. Coach Chris Hall raised some eyebrows in Edmonton by making vet forward Lewis Ratcliff a healthy scratch. A weak power play helped doom his team.

''You can't win in this league when your power play doesn't score,'' he said. ''We played well for large chunks of time and then we'd make an error that would kill us.''

The schedule doesn't get any easier as the Stealth will be up against Calgary and Buffalo after their bye this weekend.

PRIOLO IN HIS PRIME

Steve Priolo continued his dominant presence on Buffalo's defense during a 12-9 home win over Minnesota. The six-foot-five, 234-pound Canadian gathered in six loose balls, picked up four assists and, with the score 9-9, he fought Swarm captain Andrew Suitor with 5:38 remaining. When they were done throwing punches, each patted the other on the head in a show of respect.

''Steve is the best defender in the league, bar none,'' said coach Troy Cordingley. ''He is outstanding.''

PERFECT AT HOME

Stephen Keogh continues to impress in what for him is a rebound season.

He was front and centre as Rochester overcame a 4-1 deficit to beat Philadelphia 13-8 and remain undefeated in five home games. Cody Jamieson's four goals included game-turning shots when the outcome was still in doubt early in the fourth quarter.

Keogh chipped in with two goals that increased his output to 19. He scored 26 in his 2012 rookie season but slipped to 13 last year.

''That's the Stevie we need,'' coach Mike Hasen said of the Syracuse grad's continued fine play. ''That's the Stevie that came in and played his first year. He's playing with a lot of confidence right now and we're going to keep feeding him the ball.''

SWARM STILL IN CONTENTION

Despite their latest loss, 12-9 in Buffalo, don't count the Minnesota Swarm out of playoff contention. They nearly beat the Bandits, losing only because of three straight Bandits goals that broke a 9-9 tie in the last four minutes. Six of their eight losses have been by three goals or less.

''It's all about chemistry and the chemistry is there,'' says coach Joe Sullivan.

Wins in Sunday afternoon games this weekend against Toronto and the following weekend against Buffalo are essential to keep Swarm playoff hopes alive.

SCHUSS LOOKING GOOD

Swarm rookie Logan Schuss is emerging as a strong candidate for rookie of the year. The first overall draft pick scored two more goals Saturday to up his output to 18, which is tops among NLL rookies. The league named him rookie of the month for February.

''We're going to see more of these kinds of successes with Logan,'' says Sullivan. ''He's just starting to come into his own. He's got a comfort level with the players and his surroundings and now that he knows what the league is all about you are going to see some great things coming from him.''

The former Ohio State star has a scoring knack.

''He's drawing the best defenders from each team and he's risen to the challenge,'' says Sullivan. ''He comes through when great players do and I think you will see more of that.''

HOAR DEBUTS WITH WINGS

In his debut with Philadelphia, vet D-man Stephen Hoar gathered in three loose balls, won all five faceoffs he took and served one penalty in the team's 13-8 loss in Rochester. Hoar is wearing jersey 16. He wore 44 before being dropped by Toronto last month but Jordan Hall has 44 with the Wings so Hoar opted for 16.

CHASING THE ROCK

Like Minnesota, Philadelphia is trying to catch Toronto for the third and final East playoff berth, which makes a Toronto-at-Philadelphia game March 22 a must win for the Wings. First, they are at home against Rochester this Sunday afternoon. They gave the Knighthawks all they could handle last weekend but still went down to a fifth consecutive defeat. This is too good a team for this level of futility to last much longer. Win their next two and the Wings could jump past the Rock and seize third place.

MILESTONES

John Tavares needs four points to extend his NLL career record to 1,700 and Dan Dawson needs five to become the seventh man with 1,000.

The top 10:

1. Tavares, Buffalo, 1,696;
2. Colin Doyle, Toronto, 1,307;
3. John Grant Jr., Colorado 1,247;
4. Josh Sanderson, Toronto, 1,183;
5. Gary Gait, retired, 1,165;
6. Shawn Williams, Buffalo, 1,135;
7. Dawson Rochester, 995;
8. Gavin Prout, UFA, 922;
9. Lewis Ratcliff, Vancouver, 920;
10. Blaine Manning, retired, 833.

TIME CAPSULE

March, 20, 1988: The New Jersey Saints became the second league champions by defeating the Washington Wave 17-16 in front of 8,125 at the Capital Centre. Two months later, the Eagle Pro Box Lacrosse League changed its named to the Major Indoor Lacrosse League.


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