There were 4 games in the National Lacrosse League in Week 3 and the surprise of the early season continues to be what is happening to the two teams who battled for the Champion’s Cup in the NLL Finals last year (By the way let’s change the name of that trophy. I don’t even like saying Champion’s Cup).
The Saskatchewan Rush and Buffalo Bandits are both sitting at 0-2 after 3 weeks. Saskatchewan lost its second game of the season at the ACC in Toronto as the Rock took a big early lead and held on for a 13-10 victory. The only positives Saskatchewan can take out of its poor start to the season is that it has yet to play a home game in front of its rabid fans in Saskatoon.
Things look even bleaker in Buffalo. The Bandits start the season with 3 straight home games and they have looked terrible in losing their first 2. Saturday, the Bandits lost 18-14 to the high-scoring Georgia Swarm and to make matters worse they lost last year’s MVP Dhane Smith to a lower body injury in the first quarter. So far there is no report as to the seriousness of the injury but it will be a huge blow to the Bandits if he is out for any length of time.
In Colorado, the Mammoth got back on the wining track by defeating the New England Black Wolves 11-10 in OT while the Calgary Roughnecks avenged their season opening loss to the Vancouver Stealth by defeating them 14-10 in Langley.
Let’s check out this week’s Power Rankings:
1) (2 last week) Georgia (2-0). The Georgia Swarm continued to impress by defeating the Buffalo Bandits, in Buffalo, by a final score of 18-14. Lyle Thompson had 5 of his 8 points in the first 5 minutes of the game as the Swarm used 3 power play goals to build a 5-0 lead over the hometown Bandits. Georgia has now scored 18 goals in each of its first two games and is getting balanced scoring from the offense. For the second game in a row free agent signee Mike Poulin earned the win for the Swarm. Next week Georgia will host a desperate New England Black Wolves team.
2) (3) Toronto Rock (2-0). While it is impressive enough that the Toronto Rock defeated the defending champion Saskatchewan Rush 13-11 on Saturday, what is even more impressive is that they did it with so many rookies and new faces in the lineup. Of the 8 regulars who played offence for the Rock in 2016, only veteran Kasey Biernes and sophomore Turner Evans dressed for Toronto in this victory. We all know that Colin Doyle and Josh Sanderson have retired and Rob Hellyer will likely miss the whole 2017 season after knee surgery. However, recent injuries also took Brett Hickey and Steph Leblanc out of Toronto’s lineup. On Saturday Toronto had 11 different goal scorers as it hung on for a 13-11 win after building a 10-2 early 3rd quarter lead. When Saskatchewan finally did go on its run, scoring 8 of 9 goals to make the score 11-10 with over 6 minutes remaining, it was a couple of rookies, Kieran McArdle and Reid Reinholdt who scored the goals to provide the cushion Toronto need to win the game. Toronto has next weekend off but will host the Rochester Knighthawks on Jan. 28.
3) (1) Vancouver (2-1). I hate to say it but in their 14-10 home opening loss to Calgary, the Vancouver Stealth looked more like the team that has only won a total of 14 games over the last three seasons. Vancouver won 3 games at Langley in each of the last 2 years and it is obviously not a venue that strikes fear into any opponents. Coach Batley is hoping to change the losing culture of this franchise and they will need to get back on the winning track as they travel to Buffalo to face the beleaguered Bandits net weekend.
4) (4) Colorado (2-1). With John Grant Jr. on the IR list the Colorado Mammoth got an overtime goal by Eli McLaughlin to secure an 11-10 overtime victory. It was a game of two different halves as Colorado outscored New England 7-3 in the first half only to be outscored 7-3 in the second. McLaughlin had 2 goals and 2 assists on the night while Callum Crawford led all scorers with 4 goals and 4 assists. Next Friday the Mammoth host their greatest rival as the Calgary Roughnecks come to town.
5) (6) Calgary (1-1). With three key players (Frank Scigliano, Garrett McIntosh and Greg Harnett) back in the lineup after serving suspensions, the Calgary Roughnecks handled the hometown Vancouver Stealth with relative ease as they defeated them by a final score of 14-10. Superman Curtis Dickson scored 6 goals for the Calgary Roughnecks, who were more dominant over Vancouver than the final score might indicate. Calgary allowed Vancouver to go on the power play 13 times and even though they only scored 4 times, the Roughnecks won’t get away with that every week. Calgary plays its next two games against Colorado. They are in Denver on Friday and back home the following week.
6) (5) Rochester (1-1). Rochester had the weekend off but will travel to Saskatchewan to meet a very pissed off Rush team on Saturday.
7) (8) New England (0-2). New England was better this weekend but still came away with a loss as the Colorado Mammoth got the 11-10 OT victory in Denver. Next weekend the Black Wolves will play their third straight road game when they travel to Georgia to meet the red-hot Swarm.
8) (9) Saskatchewan (0-2). The defending champion Saskatchewan Rush looked nothing like champions in the first half of their 13-11 loss to the Toronto Rock on Saturday. Playing against a team loaded with very inexperienced players, the Rush fell behind by a 10-2 score at one point. Chemistry was definitely missing from the offence and it was not until the Rush got on a string of power plays that they were able to wake up their shooting. And when it looked like Saskatchewan finally had the game within its grasp, it was the Toronto rookies who were able to close out the game. Despite their 0-2 start, I am still willing to bet that the Rush will be in first place at the end of the regular season. They have way too much talent and experience. I don’t like Rochester’s chances as they meet the defending champs for Saskatchewan’s home opener next week.
9) (7) Buffalo (0-2). After Buffalo’s 18-14 loss to the Georgia Swarm there are not many positives to take out of Buffalo’s start to the season. Losing their second game in a row, the Bandits again let their opponents build a huge lead. At one point Georgia had a 15-6 lead. While an optimist might look at Buffalo’s late rally as an indication that they might turn things around, coach Cordingley will be the first to admit that an unfinished comeback might be more indicative of the opponents getting a little complacent. Let’s hope that Dhane Smith’s injury is not serious enough to take him out of the lineup for further games or this season could slip away quickly. Next week Buffalo will host the Vancouver Stealth.