Dirty Dozen: Offense in Edmonton; hail to CLax champ Ohsweken; why TV is good for the NLL; and what’s up with 1-goal games

Derek Keenan has been on a season-long mission to find some offensive consistency in Edmonton. (Photo: Larry Palumbo)
Derek Keenan has been on a season-long mission to find some offensive consistency in Edmonton. (Photo: Larry Palumbo)

Alberta is a big province, with lots of open area. If anyone comes across the offense of the Edmonton Rush, kindly notify authorities. Or coach Derek Keenan. Because the 2012 National Lacrosse League season for the Rush is shaping up to be more of the same for the 7-year-old franchise: An offense that struggles. What follows is not an attempt to knock the Rush. Instead, it’s a closer look at an astounding trend that Keenan and the Rush are no doubt aware of, and have desperately tried to fix, but for some reason simply have not been able to. For starters, know that since the Rush arrived in 2006, the offense has ranked last (9.3 goals per game), next-to-last (10), last (8.8), last (9.9), fourth (11.6) and fifth (10.9) in the NLL. This season, it’s last again.

It’s easy to put the blame at the top, and that would be Keenan, the team’s coach and general manager. It’s got to be the system he runs, right? Not only is that too easy, it’s pretty much wrong. Keenan was nowhere near Edmonton for the first 4 seasons, when the offense was ranked last in 3 of those seasons.

When Keenan arrived for the 2010 season, the offense jumped to fourth in the NLL and the team finished with a 10-6 record and its first playoff appearance. It ended with the Rush losing by 1 goal in the West Division final. Last year, the Rush offense ranked fifth under Keenan’s tutelage. And last summer, Keenan ran a Junior A offense inWhitby that scored 285 goals, second-most in the OLA’s Junior A loop to the 286 scored by Six Nations. And that Whitby team is the reigning Minto Cup champion.

But this season, the struggles of the Edmonton Rush are a complete mystery. The team’s 10.4 goals per game ranks dead last. And this, after an offseason makeover that brought in Aaron Wilson, Shawn Williams and Athan Iannucci, although Nooch never played a game for the Rush before he was traded to Washington. The year before, they acquired Scott Evans and Zack Greer in trades. Further, the defensive corps was “athleticized” with the additions of Chris Corbeil and Kyle Rubisch with the idea that they’d push the ball from the back end to the newcomers, along with mainstays Ryan Ward and Corey Small.

On paper, those are very nice additions. Any team would love to have those sticks. On the floor, it hasn’t translated. And no one is more surprised than Keenan, because the unit has struggled to play consistently. That shouldn’t happen with such a veteran presence and while the offense has shown moments of cohesion, it simply hasn’t sustained. The Rush have shown they can play with the best of ‘em, but the squad is in real danger of not being a playoff team for the sixth time in its seven seasons.

For a franchise that’s had some heady names come out the front door – Andy Secore, Gavin Prout, Chris Gill, Ryan Powell, Dan Teat and Dan Stroup in addition to the aforementioned – it really is a mystery as to where the offense goes each season in Edmonton. And it’s unfortunate. From the guys on the floor leaving their hearts out there each night, to the front office people, including owner Bruce Urban, who have tried and tried to bring a winner to Edmonton, they just can’t seem to catch a break.

Here’s hoping that break comes soon for the Rush, and their fans. They’ve worked hard, and deserve to be rewarded for the efforts.

For the record: With all the offensive greats mentioned previously that have come through Edmonton, just who is the franchise leader in points, goals and assists? That’d be Jimmy Quinlan, who in 108 career games, has 208 points on 99 goals and 110 assists for an average of 1.9 points per game. The biggest threat to overtake Quinlan, who has played in every game in Edmonton history, but 1, is Ryan Ward, who is in his third season with the Rush. In 44 career games with the Rush, the right-hander has 71 goals and 106 assists for 177 points, an average of 4 points a game. Ward entered the season No. 3 in Rush history for points, but passed Andy Secore (144 points) earlier this season.

Where would you start? Darris Kilgour has had plenty of doubters this season, but how easy do you think it is to coach this team? This is a Buffalo Bandits team that started the season 2-0, then lost 6 straight. It’s lost in overtime and lost by a single goal in regulation. It has won games by 10 goals and 7 goals. It has lost games by 11 goals and 8 goals. And everything in between. It’s 1 thing if your team is consistently overmatched and blown out. That at least gives you a starting point for identifying problems to fix. And if your team is dropping close decisions on a regular basis, at least you can blame the breaks. But this Bandits team has been all over the map when it wins, and when it loses. Kilgour’s not likely to win coach of the year honors, but he’s definitely earning his paycheck this season.

Who’s got next? Shawn Evans dropped 9 points on the Rochester Knighthawks. Two weeks ago, John Grant Jr. dropped 11 on his former team. So who’s next? Evans gets another chance on Saturday when the Riggers play in Rochester but beyond that, there really aren’t any former Knighthawks on the remaining schedule. Oh, check that. Philadelphia and Chris Schiller, who was released earlier this season by the only NLL team he had played for in 11 seasons, come to town for the season finale on April 28. No one is expecting 9 or 11 points out of Schiller, but Knighthawks fan likely will offer Schills a warm welcome home.

Quote of the Week: “We make a goalie change and then we flog a shot from the outside with 25 seconds left on the shot clock. That’s not youth, that’s stupidity and it’s veterans making dumb mistakes. They get a transition on the way back on a goalie, who hasn’t seen a shot in two-and-a-half hours. It’s stupid plays that cost us. … Offensively, we weren’t as dumb as we were in the first half and when we’re not dumb and taking stupid shots, we can keep up with teams like this. We’ve got to be ready to do that, right from the get go, next week. If we play stupid, we’re not going to win a damn thing.”

_ Knighthawks coach Mike Hasen, to the Canadian Press, after his team trailed 11-4 before losing 15-14 on the road to the Calgary Roughnecks. Calgary is in Rochester on Saturday.

Quote II: “I felt good, the boys trusted me, the coaching staff trusted me and the fans trusted me. About time I got it done.”

_ Bandits goalie Anthony Cosmo, to The Buffalo News, after Saturday’s win over Philadelphia, which was the first time in 4 games this season he finished a game he started.

Nice start: Props are due the Ohsweken Demons, champs of the inaugural CLax season. The Demons won the Creator’s Cup last Saturday with a 15-10 victory over the Iroquois Ironmen, riding a 55-save performance by goalie Jeff Powless. And not surprisingly, the other end of the floor was led by Chris Attwood’s 3 goals and 2 assists. The young right-hander led all of CLax in scoring with 71 points (35-36) in 12 regular season games. More importantly than the Demons winning the title, though, is the fact that CLax existed, and did it well. It not only gave players another option for winter lacrosse, it helped launch a few fellas into the NLL. CLax kept their sticks sharp and wheels loose and when NLL teams needed roster spots filled due to injuries and assorted reasons, there were at least 3 or 4 CLax players ready to fill the void. Here’s hoping the league is here to stay.

A rare scene: Aaron Wilson? Fighting? “Yeah, there was a little frustration there, I think,” coach Derek Keenan said of the veteran forward, who may have been involved in his first NLL fight when he went with Toronto’s Jesse Gamble late in Saturday’s game. “It was a neighborhood scuffle but I thought he did a pretty good job out there. A couple of lightweights out there.” Wilson is from Kitchener, while Gamble is from nearby Rockwood.

This is why: The debut of the NLL on the CBS Sports Network looked quite tidy in high definition. The Bandits rocked the Philadelphia Wings and even though it was a blowout, it was nice to see the game back on live television during the regular season. On a personal note, yours truly was in California for the weekend and when it was discovered that a cousin had the channel on his cable lineup, the game was introduced to a group who had never seen lacrosse, only heard of it. By the end of the game, the number of family members gathered around the tube had doubled and the biggest question was, when’s the next game? The information was passed on and even if just a few make time to watch Saturday’s Toronto at Colorado game, it was really neat to see some new fans for the game and hopefully, they’ll stick. Even better was seeing, in person, the way TV can help grow the game, especially in a non-traditional market.

Tight and bright: There have been plenty of blowout victories this NLL season, but how about the 1-goal games, and how has your team done in them? Let’s take a look:
Edmonton: 5 games decided by 1 goal (2-3 record).
Philadelphia: 5 (4-1)
Calgary: 4 (2-2).
Colorado: 4 (3-1).
Washington: 4 (1-3).
Buffalo: 2 (0-2).
Minnesota: 2 (1-1).
Rochester: 1 (0-1).
Toronto: 1 (1-0).

May cooler heads prevail: ILIndoor’s Steve Kojima updated us on the status of the CBA talks between the league and the players’ union, and the deadline for a new labor deal has been extended a second time. Kojima reports that talks may not resume until after the May 19 title game, and while it’s good news that talks are ongoing, it’s difficult to come away with a warm fuzzy feeling. The breakdown of the 2008 talks that nearly cost us the entire season is too fresh in the memory. And while there’s nothing to indicate that talks this time around aren’t as bitter, it’s tough to shake the thought of the possibility that it could happen all over again. Both sides are trying to get what’s best for them, and that’s to be applauded. But here’s hoping that both sides are open to the give-and-take approach that’s needed to get a deal that strengthens the NLL for all for years to come.

Chavez is an avid lacrosse player in Rochester and a journalist for the Democrat and Chronicle as well as a longtime Inside Lacrosse contributor. Email him at bob.chavez@nllinsider.com or go to RochesterSports.com.

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