The Calgary Roughnecks are 5-7. They’re also a team that should scare just about everyone else in the National Lacrosse League right now. The Riggers are playing solid team defence, they have the league’s top goalie in the revitalized Mike Poulin and their offence is starting to become more consistently threatening. Had they won those three straight overtime games in Weeks 8 through 10 instead of losing them all they’d be sitting at 8-4, tied with Saskatchewan and half a game back of Colorado for first in the West Division.
It was no coincidence that four of IL Indoor’s seven staffers picked Calgary to beat the Mammoth on Saturday. The Roughnecks are a team on the rise; if they can keep the momentum they’ve developed lately rolling over the final six games of the regular season, they’ll be a handful come playoff time. Scroll down for more musings, observations and hopefully the occasional insight from Week 12 of the NLL season.
* Transition goals make a huge difference in the NLL. You hear it from coaches all the time: it’s just so difficult to score 5 on 5 these days that you need to create advantageous situations with your running game. Calgary wasn’t getting transition production earlier in the season; their uptick has coincided with the resurgence of their back door crew getting up the floor and making good things happen. Four transition goals Saturday continued the trend. If there’s a more dangerous righty/lefty combo coming off the bench for breakout passes in the appropriate quarters than Dane Dobbie and Curtis Dickson, I’m not sure who it is.
* Calgary doesn’t have a single player on their defence who is the clear top guy; if there was it would likely be Dan MacRae or Greg Harnett. Their success is clearly a result of the whole team getting on the same page and everybody buying in to the system. It’s helping keep them in games when they take penalties, too. Calgary is near the top of the most penalized teams in the league with 5.25 shorthanded situations per game but they’re surviving because their PK is second-best at 53.97%. Those things tend to go in cycles, though, so the Roughnecks would be well advised to focus on discipline down the stretch.
* It’s hard not to root for Mike Poulin and enjoy his return to form. I’ve always liked talking with the goalie and had the chance to call a Czech Republic game with him at the World Indoor Lacrosse Championships last year. He was as thoughtful and insightful as you’d expect if you’ve ever had a chance to chat about the game with him. He’s also a firm believer in paying it forward. When he was done playing for the Czechs in Onondaga last summer, he passed his goalie gear on to English goalkeeper Elliott Pugh, who had been playing with comically undersized equipment.
The gift is a gesture that will make a huge difference the development of Pugh and as a result the development of box lacrosse in England. Poulin explained on Boxla Beat that he was simply doing the kind of thing that was done for him as a young player. “I can remember at 19 or 20, my first year in the NLL with the Buffalo Bandits on their practice roster. I’ll never forget. Dan Teat always took care of me, always asked “Can I do anything for you, can I help you with anything?” Poulin is a good goalie but he’s an even better person.
* Tyler Burton is also making a comeback of sorts. He’s played four fairly full NLL seasons but wasn’t on a roster to start the year. He’s worked his way into the Calgary lineup and is doing his best to solidify his position as a regular. Burton is busting his hump in the defensive zone and he’s helped inject energy into the running game with three goals in four games. Burton is also filling a void at the faceoff dot for Calgary. He hasn’t been great there, but he won 15 of 26 Saturday and is ensuring that facing off isn’t a complete liability for the team.
* It’s certainly not time to panic in Denver, but folks are starting to figure out ways to slow down the Mammoth scoring machine that ran roughshod over all opponents early in the season. Colorado’s first three goals Saturday came Jordan Gilles, Greg Downing and Dan Coates in transition. They had a power play goal and an extra attacker goal. That means the set 5 on 5 offence scored just four times. Again, no need to panic, but Colorado is going to need to make some adjustments in the final third of the season if they want to be peaking heading into the playoffs.
* One reason their offensive output was lower than usual, of course, was that Adam Jones was held without a goal for the first time in 57 games, ending his league-record streak. It’s funny how a stat like that can become larger than life for a window of time; it got plenty of attention leading up to setting the streak and was a popular topic of discussion with Calgary’s game announcers Saturday. An interesting side note is that while Jones was held off the scoresheet (he didn’t record an assist, either), he still contributed by tying for the team lead with two caused turnovers. Don’t worry, Mammoth fans, Jones will keep plugging away whether the ball is going in the net or not, and the ball will go in the net again.
* How strange was that Saskatchewan vs Vancouver game? You certainly don’t expect to see the Rush give up 16 goals, especially a few weeks after giving up 19 in a loss to Buffalo after which they seemed to have rediscovered their defensive groove. While it’s often difficult to separate the performance of a goalie and his defence, though, in this case much of the blame lands squarely on the shoulders of Aaron Bold. He was simply terrible Saturday and just didn’t seem to be seeing the ball well at all. It was truly bizarre to see one of the best goalies on the planet giving up the goals he did.
Credit to Joel McCready for continuing to shoot when he was hot, but the Stealth forward probably should have had only one goal in the game rather than the five he wound up with. It was obvious that Rush coach Derek Keenan was trying to let Bold work through his struggles since they were still maintaining a lead but he eventually had to go to Tyler Carlson, who was excellent in relief.
* Bold’s whole season has been shaky—he’s near the bottom of the league with a .737 save percentage. Just like the Mammoth don’t need to panic about their scoring yet, though, I wouldn’t be pulling the chute on Bold, either. He’s a perfectionist and a hard worker who will keep plugging away at his game until he gets it sorted out. In fact, it may just be his intelligence overcoming his diligence that helps him get back to form. There’s no question that Bold will keep thinking and thinking about what he needs to do to be better. At some point, he’ll realize that it’s probably a matter of relaxing and letting the work he’s already done take over. He knows how to play net at the highest level and he’ll do it again soon.
In the meantime, having Carlson is a nice safety net for the rush. Carlson doesn’t play much but his teammates and coaches love him because he is one of the nicest, funniest and most positive people you could have on a team. He won’t complain about not playing a ton but he’ll keep himself ready to go if needed. Perfect mentality for a backup goalie.
* Getting big scoring nights from Zack Greer, Ben McIntosh, Robert Church and Mark Matthews is nice for the Rush, but they must have been most excited about the play of Curtis Knight. Saturday was the first time since he’s returned from blowing out his knee that Knight looked the the player who was Edmonton’s MVP in 2014. Knight looked sharper moving about the floor and substantially more confident. The result was a 5-goal, 2-assist effort and well-deserved third star selection. Knight was excellent; it’s great to see him rounding back into form. The fact that he chipped in 7 loose balls—second on the team to Kyle Rubisch—was just the cherry on top.
* Yet another return, of course, was the debut of Jamie Batley as the head coach of the Stealth. Hard to believe it’s been so long since he coached in the NLL; it’s even been a couple of years since he was on an MSL bench. Batley showed some fire in his first game with Vancouver but could also been seen talking pretty calmly to his defenders late in the game. A word of advice to that group: don’t expect him to remain calm if you keep playing the way you did Saturday. Bats will get riled up and let you know it if performances don’t improve.
* Improve they must if Vancouver is going to have a hope at reaching the playoffs this year. It was stunning how often Saskatchewan players were able to slip untouched and uncovered into open space in front of the net. Ben McIntosh could have ordered takeout before he shot and scored on one play where he simply stepped into the slot and nobody seemed to notice. Tyler Richards and Eric Penney both had their struggles in the Vancouver net but they weren’t getting much help and Rush shooters were picking spots when they had chances, which was often.
* The Stealth may want to throw in the video of Rochester’s game against Georgia Friday and just try to replicate whatever the Knighthawks are doing. Now there is a group of defenders that has its act together and works as a team for the common good. The reason for optimism in Vancouver is that Rochester struggled early in the year but has gotten things turned around. Of course, Rochester does tend to do that. They are notoriously slow-starting but usually get things kicked into high gear around the time the playoffs start.
* How about shutouts in the second and fourth quarters by the Knighthawks? Pretty impressive to hold the usually potent Swarm attack scoreless in two frames. Oddly, those were the quarters when Georgia got the most shots: 15 in the second and 21 in the fourth, compared to 10 and 11 in the first and third, respectively. Just goes to show that it’s not always how many shots you allow, but where the shots are coming from and how comfortable your goalie is with the shots he’s facing. Matt Vinc doesn’t mind seeing some rubber as long as he can actually see it.
* You could look at Rochester’s 11-4 as a mini-referendum on the Rookie of the Year race. Georgia’s Randy Staats and Jesse King are probably the leading candidates (with Wesley Berg of Calgary making a case to be included) but if ever there was a time for a defender to win the award, 2016 is probably it. Graeme Hossack just keeps doing his thing, playing aggressive, intelligent and athletic defence day in and day out. There are a number of offensive guys who would be deserving recipients of the award, but to this point in the season if I had a vote it would go to Hossack.