How does a defender get recognition, either as one of the top defenders in the league or in something like my National Lacrosse League 3 Stars? Well, I watch a lot of lacrosse games and try to pay attention to how the defensive guys are playing just as much as what the forwards are doing. It’s not easy, because the natural tendency is to follow the ball and of course when I’m calling a game I have to be following the ball to a significant extent. I’m sure other people have similar issues and I suspect that most tend to focus more attention on the offence than I do.
Another factor is that when you’re watching a game, unless you’re sitting right in one end of the rink, you’re seeing the backs of the offensive players and the fronts of the defensive players. That makes it difficult to see the numbers on the uniforms of the defenders. Even for those of us who watch tons of games and recognize players simply by appearance and how they move, it can be challenging at times to tell which defender is which.
So it certainly helps a defender’s cause if he does something in transition, where the attention will be focused more directly on him. Adding a goal or two on the break is a great way to get people noticing you. I believe that when a defender scores once in a while, it helps get folks paying more attention to him in the defensive zone as well because they’re thinking about him. That can be a detriment for some guys who are great breaking out with the ball but not so good in their own zone. But for someone like Ryan Dilks, people watching him cover opponents’ scoring threats does nothing but increase the respect for his game.
I already thought that Dilks may be the best defender in the game at this point. His caused turnover stats (leading the league with 36, 13 more than anyone else) should be garnering him some attention. But as counterintuitive as it may be, his four-point game on Saturday may be the biggest boost to his reputation defensively. I certainly hope so; he’s the real deal. And he’s landed among the 3 Stars this week. Scroll down to see where as well as all the rest of the star and honourable mentions.
Stephen Keogh, Rochester Knighthawks
9 goals, 4 assists
Keogh doesn’t have the flashy numbers you might expect from a second-overall draft pick, as he was in 2011. But there isn’t a team in lacrosse that wouldn’t be happy to have the Toronto Beaches’ product banging around on the right side of their offence and chipping in with some goals. Keogh did more than just chip in over the weekend: he doubled his goal total for the season to 18 and had six in one game to lead the Knighthawks to a critical win over the New England Black Wolves that gave them a split with the two leading teams in the East Division.
Ryan Dilks, Saskatchewan Rush
2 goals, 2 assists, 7 loose balls, 3 caused turnovers
I talked about Dilks above but will remind everyone in this space that last year he won the Champions Cup with Edmonton, the Mann Cup with Victoria and the World Indoor Lacrosse Championships gold medal with Canada. He was a key contributor to all three teams, none more than the Shamrocks; while Corey Small was a deserving Mann Cup MVP, it would have been no surprise had Dilks won that award instead. He’s playing the best lacrosse of his life and at 25 he’s got plenty of time left at the elite level.
Curtis Dickson, Calgary Roughnecks
6 goals, 1 assist
Dickson scored the goal of the year so far and one of the most electrifying goals I’ve ever seen in person Friday night in Toronto (if I were to make a list of the best goals I’ve seen, Dickson would almost surely make multiple appearances). He’s the league’s goal-scoring leader in the non-Dhane Smith realm of the rankings and is on pace to crack the 50-goal mark he narrowly missed last season.
Dhane Smith (Buffalo): 4g. 3a. I was on Tilt & Flow on the Lax Sports Network today and Chris and Josh were joking about how disappointed they were in the Great Dhane only scoring 7. At least, they were mostly joking. It actually does come as a bit of a surprise these days to see Smith score less than 8 since this weekend was only the third time it’s happened in his 11 games this year…Rob Hellyer (Toronto): 6g, 6a. People may talk about how Doyle, Sanderson and Beirnes are still key components to the Rock offence, but there’s little doubt that Hellyer is now the centrepiece; he keeps showing why with his blend of precision shooting and deft passing…Tyler Richards (Vancouver): 37/45, .822 save percentage. The numbers are good but they don’t do justice to how well Richards played on Sunday afternoon. He was the main reason Vancouver was even close to the Rock later in the matinee affair…Dan Dawson (Rochester): 7g, 5a. For years, people have been calling for Dawson to shoot more and they may be revelling in his 26 goals this year. But the reality is he isn’t shooting that much more, he’s just been deadly accurate. Dawson is third on the Knighthawks in shots taken but leads them in goals because he’s scored on 26.8% of the shots he’s taken…Dan MacRae (Calgary): 4a, 7LB. The Calgary defence has made huge strides, helping and helped by the fact that Mike Poulin has stepped up his game big time in goal. MacRae is a leading reason for the improvement with his steady play and he showed some get up and go in helping create a handful of goals Friday…Patrick Saunders (New England): 3g, 4a. I was surprised when he put up a career-best 68 points last year. I won’t be too surprised if he matches his first half this season and finishes with 82…Mike Poulin (Calgary): 38/48, .792 save percentage. His numbers aren’t gleaming, but Poulin faced boatloads of high-quality scoring chances against Toronto and stood tall to give Dickson & Co. the chance to pull out the win…Mark Matthews (Saskatchewan): 4g, 4a, 6LB, 2CTO. You may not see that kind of variety in Matthews’ stat line often, but never make the mistake of thinking he’s all about talent; he’s got plenty of that but is a hard worker as well…Brett Hickey (Toronto): 6g, 2a. Back to back hat tricks in his return from injury; Toronto fans and teammates are pretty excited to have him back in the lineup…Sandy Chapman (Toronto): 1a, 12LB, 4CTO. Chapman continues to be one of the most quietly effective defenders in lacrosse and was a leader of a tremendous team D effort on Sunday…Cody Jamieson (Rochester): 4g, 8a. Rochester really needed at least a split against the East Division’s top two teams and Jammer helped them get back into Saturday’s game when they fell behind early…Shayne Jackson (Georgia): 2g, 3a. Kind of a blah game for the Swarm in Saskatoon but Jackson was in on over half their goals…Tyson Bell (Calgary): 2g, 9LB, 1CTO. Transition was a big factor in Calgary’s critical win over Toronto. Bell kicked it into high gear with the game’s first goal 44 seconds in, took off for another in the fourth quarter and pleased his large section of fans by playing well in between, too.