All-Star Game loaded with first timers, plus the Week 6 quick sticks

Washington Stealth forward Luke Wiles is one of 19 All-Star Game newbies in the NLL's 2011 edition. (Ross Prohaska)
Washington Stealth forward Luke Wiles is one of 19 All-Star Game newbies in the NLL's 2011 edition. (Ross Prohaska)

Gary Gait re-retired this week.

And while both are still impressive, John Tavares and Colin Doyle are not putting up the same numbers this season they have in the past.

While veterans Casey Powell and Dan Dawson are 1-2 in league scoring, there’s no doubt there’s a continuing youth movement afoot in the NLL.

Much like basketball and football (and unlike hockey for the most part), young rookies can make an immediate impact in the league and become stars in their first few seasons.

The young guns can be broken down into three basic groups (here’s some examples that fit into each category):

The mid-age players or guys with more experience such as Lewis Ratcliff, Mark Steenhuis, Athan Iannucci, Ryan Benesch, Scott Ranger and Luke Wiles.

The next batch that are a bit younger or have a little less experience in the league: Dane Dobbie, Rhys Duch, Stephan Leblanc, Garrett Billings, Shawn Evans and Callum Crawford.

Then there’s the latest rookie crop that are impressing: Cody Jamieson, Curtis Dickson, Aaron Pascas and Alex Kedoh-Hill.

It’s not just young forwards making a major impact in the league, there are tons of young transition/defensive stars making a name for themselves, as well.

In fact, I think the league has more young impact players now than ever.

Which leads me to the NLL all-star rosters which were released yesterday.

The most notable thing about the list, to me, isn’t what names were left off it. It was the number of first-year players taking part in the game, including many of the young guns listed above.

For the West, five forwards will take part in their first all-star game: Ranger and Benesch (starters), Duch, Wiles and Crawford. Six other West players will be first-timers: Paul Rabil, Mike Grimes, Brett Mydske, Mac Allen and goalie Chris Levis.

That’s incredible when you think about it: 11 newbies.

There are four forwards taking part in their first ASG for the East: Billings, Evans, Jamieson and Brett Bucktooth.

Other first-time East all-stars: Max Siebald, Sandy Chapman, Sid Smith and Kyle Rubisch.

However, to address the glaring notable omission, I was absolutely dumbfounded that Stephan Leblanc (who was named to Team Canada’s indoor team) didn’t make the list. Bucktooth over Leblanc? Are you kidding me?

I was equally gobsmacked that Geoff Snider wasn’t named to Team Canada. The guy’s dominance in the face-off circle and his all-around game should have made him a shoo-in for the team.

Strange decisions, indeed.

QUICK STICKS

Last year I wrote a column about which NLL sniper you’d want with the ball in their stick if the game was on the line. Here’s another ‘Who would ya want’ question. Which of the league’s top defender/transition studs would you want to have the ball with the game on the line: Mark Steenhuis (Yes, I know he basically plays forward all the time now, but he can play D), Brodie Merrill or Jeff Shattler. At first glance Steenhuis would seem the logical choice. That said, both Merrill and Shattler have great sticks. In fact, I’d go with Shattler, who currently leads the trio with 10 goals in six games. Steenhuis has seven markers in five outings, Merrill has four in five… Tracey Kelusky is off to a slow start in Buffalo. He has only four goals to start the season, but has added 10 helpers to sit fourth in Bandits scoring… Most accurate back-hand, over-the-shoulder (whichever you want to call it) shot in the league: Kelusky or best friend John Grant Jr.? I’d go with TK… Dane Dobbie leads Calgary in scoring with nine goals and 28 points, but sports a less-than stellar 11.3 shooting percentage (John Tavares is also struggling with a 11.7%). Scott Ranger, who leads the Riggers with an impressive 17 goals,  has a 28.8 shooting percentage. Brandon Miller’s save percentage is .816. Not too shabby for an NLL keeper. There are no Buffalo players in the top 20 of league scoring. Let me repeat that: NO buffalo players in top-20 of scoring. Who would have thunk it? Tavares leads the club with 21 points… And lastly, I know the league has a tough time making the schedule but the fact the Roughnecks don’t play a home game for more than six weeks (Jan. 29 vs. Rush, then March 19 against Rush) is absolutely ridiculous. It angers and annoys loyal fans and make it impossible for the team to carry any momentum during the season when it comes to selling more tickets. Folks simply forget about them. However, Roughnecks fans might not have to worry about the schedule next year. There has been little local interest shown in buying the currently-for-sale NLL franchise, but plenty of inquiries from south of the border. The chances seem slim the team will stay in Calgary.

The assistant managing editor of the Calgary Sun, Pilson began covering the NLL when the Roughnecks started in 2000. The longtime lacrosse player has been contributing to Inside Lacrosse ever since. Email him at ty.pilson@nllinsider.com or go to CalgarySun.com.

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