April 30, 2014

NLL Notes: Rock Snag Home Date for Opener

by Neil Stevens | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter | Stevens Archive

Colin Doyle and the Rock snuck in for the East No. 2 seed and host Buffalo on Saturday night.

Toronto earned home-floor advantage for the NLL East semifinal against Buffalo on the final night of the regular season.

An 8-6 win in Minnesota combined with Buffalo's 16-14 home loss to Rochester lifted the Rock (9-9) past the Bandits (8-10) and into second place in the final division standings.

The relevance: in the three-game season series, the home team _ two games in Buffalo and one in Toronto _ went 3-0.

Buffalo will go into Toronto this Saturday night (7 p.m. EDT) on an eight-game losing streak but the players will try to view it as a chance to make a fresh start.

''It's a clean slate,'' says Bandits forward Shawn Williams. ''Everyone has the same record. We'll just go about our business.''

They fought hard in their regular-season finale. They trailed the Knighthawks 4-0 and 6-2 but tied it 6-6 in the second quarter. They fell behind 9-6 but tied it 9-9 before halftime. They trailed 16-11 before scoring the game's last three goals. So, there is no reason to be discouraged as they prepare to reconnect with the Rock.

''You've just got to keep working,'' Williams said after the loss. ''We're there. It's a lot better than it was. That's all you can look at. You can't dwell on things. There was a lot of good as opposed to a lot of bad so we'll go from there.''

SID SMITH SCORES FIRST NLL GOAL

The score was 9-9 and Buffalo had the ball with 30 seconds left in the first half. When a ref signalled a delayed penalty against Rochester, Bandits goalie Anthony Cosmo took off for the bench so an extra attacker could join the play. Knighthawks captain Sid Smith intervened and scored into the empty net.

It was the stay-at-home defenseman's first shot on goal this year. In his five years in the league, Smith had never scored a goal.

''I just got lucky,'' he said. ''I picked up a loose ball, the goalie was out of the net, and I dumped it into the empty net.''

His teammates knew he had it in him.

''Believe it or not, he used to be quite the goal scorer,'' said Craig Point.

''There's a lot more goals comin' from Mr. Smith,'' said owner-GM Curt Styres. ''He's a good shooter.''

Head coach Mike Hasen never expects offensive thrusts from Smith, who once again has earned recognition as the team's defensive player of the year.

''Sid is our leader on the back end,'' says Hasen. ''That's his job, and that's his job first. He does a good job at that. We'll take the extras when they're there.''

Goaltender Matt Vinc is a long-time teammate of Smith.

''His stick skills are pretty good for a stay-at-home defenseman,'' says Vinc. ''He picks off passes and does all the right things. He's definitely our leader on the floor. He's going to be thinking defense first. Usually when he pushes the ball up the floor he's looking to pass. It's good for him to get a goal. I'm actually pretty surprised it's his first because he's got a better stick than most guys will give him credit for.''

DANE DOBBIE TOPS ALL GOAL SCORERS

Calgary's Dane Dobbie was the No. 1 goal scorer in the NLL this season, firing in 51 to break the club record of 50 by Lewis Ratcliff in 2007.

Toronto's Stephan Leblanc was good all season and came on strong in the final three games in picking up the slack created by Garrett Billings' season-ending knee injury. He finished with 45 goals.

Calgary's Curtis Dickson got 44, including an April binge of seven in one night.

Colorado's John Grant Jr., who did not play in Philadelphia on Saturday, wound up with 40, which will be his age when he blows out the candles on his birthday cake during the offseason. Teammate Adam Jones got 39 despite missing five games with a shoulder injury.

Rochester's Cody Jamieson, Minnesota rookie Logan Schuss and Vancouver's Rhys Duch were next with 36 each.

SELLOUT IN BUFFALO

Announced attendance on Fan Appreciation Night was 19,070 _ a sellout, the announcer declared _ for the Rochester-Buffalo game. Randomly-selected season ticket subscribers got the sweaters off the players' backs afterwards. Bandits fans are loud and faithful. Their team was the only one of the league's nine to miss the 2013 playoffs and they had lost seven in a row before Saturday, yet an orange and black mob packed the NHL rink.

Final regular-season attendance averages from around the league:

1. Colorado 15,706
2. Buffalo 4,611
3. Calgary 10,615
4. Toronto 10,483
5. Edmonton 7,844
6. Rochester 7,654
7. Minnesota 7,457
8. Philadelphia 6,864
9. Vancouver 3,590

(League-wide average/game 9,425)

JOEL MATTHEWS FINALLY ARRIVES

Joel Matthews came out of nowhere to score his first two NLL goals.

Matthews was a fourth-round 2012 entry draft pick, 31st overall, by the Bandits but injuries thwarted the forward's dream of playing in the NLL. He didn't get into a game in 2013. This year, it was not until April 19 in Rochester that the former University of Detroit-Mercy standout from St. Catharines, Ontario, made his NLL debut.

Appearing in his second game Saturday night, he scored Buffalo's fourth goal on his first shot on goal and connected again for Buffalo's seventh goal. Both were close-in shots resulting from well-orchestrated pass plays. In between his two goals, he was also assessed a roughing penalty after a melee that saw Rochester defenseman Paul Dawson muscle Steve Priolo over the boards and into the bottom of the Knighthawks bench.

MILESTONES GALORE

John Tavares continued to add to his all-time lead in several NLL scoring categories. (NLL.com)

John Tavares scored his 800th goal, John Grant Jr. got his 600th, Colin Doyle netted his 500th and Dan Dawson became the seventh man to surpass 1,000 points in a milestone-studded season.

The top 10 all-time point-getters:

1. John Tavares, Buffalo, 1,717 points
2. Colin Doyle, Toronto, 1,337
3. John Grant Jr., Colorado, 1,275
4. Josh Sanderson, Toronto, 1,215
5. Gary Gait, retired, 1,165
6. Shawn Williams, Buffalo, 1,163
7. Dan Dawson, Rochester, 1,032
8. Lewis Ratcliff, Vancouver, 943;
9. Gavin Prout, UFA, 922
10. Blaine Manning, retired, 833

ROUGHNECKS HAVE BEST OFFENSE

Led by Dane Dobbie's league-best 51 goals, Calgary is the highest-scoring team. Here's how the nine teams ranked in average goals per game at the end of their 18-game schedules:

1. Calgary 13.2
2. Edmonton and Toronto 12.1
4. Rochester 11.7
5. Philadelphia and Colorado 11.2
7. Buffalo 10.5
8. Minnesota and Vancouver 10.0.

RUSH STINGIEST ON DEFENSE

Average goals against per game:

1. Edmonton 8.7
2. Rochester 9.2
3. Buffalo 11.1
4. Toronto 11.8
5. Calgary 11.9
6. Philadelphia and Minnesota 12.1
8. Vancouver 12.4
9. Colorado 12.7, which is deceiving because the Mammoth were allowing fewer goals towards the end of their schedule than they were during the first six weeks.

GOALIES' SAVE PERCENTAGES

Save percentages (minimum 180 minutes in the crease):

1. Brandon Miller, Toronto, .830
2. Matt Vinc, Rochester, .798
3. Anthony Cosmo, Buffalo, .797
4. Aaron Bold, Edmonton, .791
5. Dillon Ward, Colorado, .773
6. Mike Poulin, Calgary, .770
7. Nick Rose, Toronto, .767
8. Evan Kirk, Philadelphia, .766
9. Tyler Richards, Vancouver, .760
10. Zack Higgins, Minnesota, .759
11. Matt Roik, Vancouver, .733
12. Tyler Carlson, Minnesota, .727
13. Tye Belanger, Colorado, .738.

Miller missed the first half of the season in a contract dispute with the Wings and did not play enough games after being traded to Toronto in March to be in the running for the goalie-of-the-year award.

Edmonton, Rochester and Buffalo were 1-2-3 in team defense and Bold, Vinc and Cosmo must be considered front-runners for the award. Cosmo will receive considerable support because he has maintained a high level of excellence despite the Bandits' eight-game losing streak. Here's something to consider however: Colorado's Dillon Ward had the fifth-best save percentage despite his team's last-place team defense rank. He might not garner enough support as goalie of the year given the high save percentages of Vinc, Cosmo and Bold, but Ward's showing should make him the leading candidate for rookie of the year.

ONE-GOAL LOSSES GROUNDED WINGS

The 13-12 home loss to Colorado in the schedule-ending game Saturday was typical of the disappointing 6-12 season in Philadelphia. The Wings lost five games by one goal this year.

''The tale of the season is another one-goal game that got away from us,'' head coach Blane Harrison said after a late goal gave Colorado the win. ''The next step is time to assess the season and roster for next season.''

The Wings had the poorest intra-divisional record in the NLL East as they won only three of nine games against Rochester, Toronto, Buffalo and Minnesota.

Harrison, Jim Milligan and Tom Hajek supplied excellent coaching and the goaltending of Evan Kirk was fine but no-shows by some U.S.-based veterans who skipped the NLL season and inexperience on the back end proved detrimental but they still might have made the playoffs had two of those five one-goal losses gone the other way.

COACH GETS INTO GAME

Chris Collins, the Wings' goaltending coach, was in the lineup for the season-closing loss to Colorado.

Kevin Croswell, who had subbed for No. 1 goalie Evan Kirk the previous weekend when Kirk missed a trip to Vancouver because of food poisoning, again got the start. Collins dressed as his backup and saw no game action. He's the assistant men's coach at Philadelphia's Drexel University.

BOTTOMING OUT

Minnesota and Vancouver missed the playoffs with league-worst 4-14 records. Minnesota will have first pick _ again _ in the entry draft in September unless it is traded away or an expansion team enters the league, which would automatically give it the No. 1 pick.

''We are in a situation where we have a plethora of great talent mixed with great character and personalities,'' says Swarm coach Joe Sullivan. ''This (season) might seem like a big step backwards but it truly isn't. It's a long slow stride forward and it's going to take some time. We didn't quit so that's a big thing.''


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