On Sunday, we gave you the first installment of our top stories for the 2012 National Lacrosse League season. Today, it’s the top 10 and believe it when it’s said, it wasn’t easy. Whether you enjoyed this 2012 season or not, what cannot be debated is the amount of talking points throughout the season. There were a lot of gripes, for sure. And there was plenty of praise. It all depends on how your team fared. But whether it was scorn or praise, it’s all rooted in our love of the game and the discussions fuel our passion for the next season, which quite frankly, can’t come soon enough. At least that’s one thing we can all agree on. So without further delay, ILIndoor’s Top 10 stories for the 2012 season.
10. Chris Hall returns to bench: The news hit us like a ton of bricks, so imagine how Chris Hall felt. The Washington Stealth announced in early November that their coach had cancer. A growth on his right tonsil. He said in a statement through the team that the prospects of beating it were good and that he fully expected to do just that. And knowing Chris Hall the way we know him, we believed him. The Stealth started the season 1-5 without their coach but just as he said he would be, he was back on the bench in early February. As much as we wanted to see the Stealth win for Hall, the team was hit hard by injuries and the team that had been to the championship game the prior 2 seasons didn’t make the 2012 playoffs. That stung in Washington. But seeing Hall back on the bench, doing what he loves to do, was a victory in itself, one that doesn’t show up on the stat sheet. And for that, lacrosse fans across the league were united in celebration.
9. New rules: Drop the ball where you stand. Keep both feet in the box before you sub in. Get the ball across center in 8 seconds, not 10. And defenders and goalies, your sticks are shorter and your pads are thinner. Those were among the new rules introduced for the 2012 season but none had greater impact than the rule stating the ball must be dropped, not rolled away, when the whistle blows for change of possession. It doesn’t sound like much, but it took some getting used to and being called for a 2-minute delay of game penalty when you didn’t do it went a long way in getting you used to it. The NLL said from the start that the rules were not designed to increase scoring. Rather, the league wanted the pace to quicken and that’s what it did. Plenty of fast-break opportunities were created by alert opponents who picked up the new possession quickly, and got the whistle to resume play when he did pick it up. And if you didn’t notice the impact of that rule, the players certainly did when asked about it in our midseason poll.
8. Rookie goalies in Minnesota: You come into the season with Nick Patterson and an unsigned Anthony Cosmo, who tells you he won’t be signing anytime soon. And you’ve just traded your other goalie, Kevin Croswell. The Swarm didn’t panic, even after Patterson gave up 20 goals in the season’s first game. Instead, the Swarm turned to undrafted rookie Tyler Carlson and another rookie, first-round pick Evan Kirk, and the dandy duo quickly emerged. It unfortunately made Patterson expendable and he was released. Cosmo never did sign and was traded to Buffalo for a pair of first-round draft picks in 2013 and 2014. So not only did the Swarm get stellar yet unexpected play from a pair of rookies, they were able to a pair of future first-round draft picks to help build the team elsewhere down the road. The Swarm regularly played 8 and 9 rookies per game this season, with Carlson and Kirk leading the team’s charge into the West Division final, where it lost to Edmonton. And if the Swarm played this well with so much youth, what’s this team going to do when this youth movement turns into an experienced bunch? It’s going to be fun to watch, that’s for sure.
7. A Rock and a hard place: Matt Roik really couldn’t win. By all accounts, he’s a fine, fine goaltender. He hits some streaky moments, but most goaltenders do. But when he came to Toronto to take the place of the retired Bob Watson, he was up against it from the start. He did well, and not so well, in his tenure with the Rock but ultimately, it was inconsistency that did him in. He was 4-4 with a 12.25 goals-against average and a save percentage of .725, but on March 19, the Rock released him. He was a professional through it all, never speaking ill of anyone as the team struggled and even shouldering the blame when he felt it was necessary. But as the Rock fell to 4-6 a season after winning the Champion’s Cup, they’d seen enough. And in releasing Roik, they brokered a trade with Calgary for young goalie Nick Rose. The future certainly does look brighter with the Orangeville alum in cage as he posted a 5-1 record with a 10.69 goals-against and .751 save percentage and then got a playoff win over Buffalo. He’s young, he’s at home in Toronto and he loves the game. Rose may not be Bob Watson, but he definitely gives Rock fans more confidence for the future.
6. Fall of the Stealth: The big question here is why, and if anyone knew why, we probably wouldn’t be asking it. But the big “why” for the Washington Stealth centers on a big tumble for the team. The Stealth were NLL finalists 2 years running, having won the title in 2010. And heading into 2012, not a lot of the parts had been changed. But even before the season started, the wheels started to come off. There was coach Chris Hall, battling throat cancer and not returning until near the midway point of the season. Injuries to Rhys Duch, Tyler Richards, Cliff Smith and Jeff Zywicki, among others, didn’t help either. There were other factors that Hall and his staff worked to correct and to a degree, did. But as he pointed out during the season more than once, the mistakes the Stealth were making surprised him because veteran teams weren’t supposed to do that. And just when they thought one problem was fixed, another one popped up. It all added up to the Stealth not only not making a third straight trip to the Champion’s Cup game, it added up to the Stealth being the only NLL team to not make the playoffs this season. For sure, a big fall from grace.
5. Holdouts: First, it was Athan Iannucci not reporting to Edmonton. Then he got his wish and was traded to Washington, where he gladly reported. But the person he was traded for, Paul Rabil, didn’t report. So Edmonton struggled a bit in that department but it obviously didn’t affect it too much as the Rush advanced to the title game. But before you pass judgement on these holdouts, remember that the NLL athlete is in a different world than the pro athletes we’re used to seeing hold out for more money. The holdout NLLer may be doing what he’s doing for more money but it’s not always the case. Because these men don’t earn the millions that other pro athletes earn, they’ve got to take into consideration other factors in life. Like jobs. Like the fact that they can’t just pick up and move to a new city to play their game. And while Nooch and Rabil never have quite mentioned the specifics for their holdouts, it’s not fair to judge them as prima donnas. Iannucci was on record as saying it wasn’t about the money in Edmonton. And Rabil said in the latest issue of Inside Lacrosse magazine that his decision to not play for the Rush was based pretty much on business issues, and his desire to be back East would have made life easier in that regard. It was pretty much the same story for goalie Anthony Cosmo, who didn’t report to the Minnesota Swarm after they selected him in the dispersal draft. He wanted to be closer to home. Today’s NLL player is making much more than their predecessors, but it’s still not enough to pick up roots and abandon other bread-winning jobs. It’s a fine line these players are trying to balance so before they’re ripped a new one for “being greedy,” consider the context of the life they’re living.
4. Rookie class of 2012: When all 8 first-round picks not only make the teams that drafted them, but figure prominently in the every-game plans of the teams, you’re on to something. And beyond that, when 17 of the first 20 picks play major roles for their teams, well, it just can’t be denied. This class of 2012 rookies has got to considered one of the best, if not THE best ever. From Kevin Crowley tying for the team lead in goals for Philadelphia, to Johnny Powless and Stephen Keogh being contributors to a Champion’s Cup team. From Adam Jones exceling with veteran John Grant Jr. to the Minnesota Swarm regularly playing at least 8 or 9 rookies a game, and reaching the West Division final, these rooks were ready for the big time and they produced. The depth of this class was evident in all thirds for the floor with Crowley and Jones leading the way for forwards, Minnesota’s Jordan MacIntosh setting the pace at transition and Travis Cornwall (Calgary) and Jeff Cornwall (Edmonton) helping their respective defenses, these rookies had it all covered. What’s that? There’s more? Oh yeah. There were more than a few rookie goalies stealing headlines as well, most notably in Minnesota where Tyler Carlson and Evan Kirk emerged (see above). But don’t forget about Frankie Scigliano in Calgary, either, because he stepped in and was solid when starter Mike Poulin was injured. All in all, we got a superb showing from the rookie class.
3. Playoff push from Rush: It was a surprising run, right? The Edmonton Rush in the NLL title game. Well, considering the team started the season 2-7, sure it was surprising. But considering the work coach and GM Derek Keenan did in the offseason with trades and signings then no, it was not surprising. This Rush team ended up exactly where it was designed to end up. It just took a little while for it to warm up. And for a team that plays such stifling defense, which usually isn’t all that exciting a brand of ball, the Rush sure were a thrilling team to watch down the stretch. Edmonton did not upset Calgary and Minnesota in the postseason with a lucky bounce or two. The Rush won outright with superior lacrosse and looked to be well on the way to an NLL championship after building a 5-1 halftime lead in the title game against Rochester. But the Knighthawks caught up and reversed course, leaving the Rush just short. It was a shame the playoff push had to end with a loss for Edmonton because it deserved more for the way it cowboyed up down the stretch. Still, it’s one of the season’s top stories.
2. Knighthawks win title: This question is being asked a lot about plenty of storylines from the 2012 season, but who saw this coming? OK, maybe the 10-goal win over Philadelphia in Week 1 projected something but it’s not like the Knighthawks maintained that pace through the season. It was quite the opposite, actually. Coach Mike Hasen more than once admitted his patience was being tested by his inconsistent team. And even the most ardent fan had to be feeling it, too. The Knighthhawks one game would look unstoppable and then look no better than the halftime youth teams the next week. But the Knighthawks got hot at the right time, won a playoff game in Toronto for the first time in a longtime and then had the stars line up just right for the chance to host the title game. So Rochester fan finally gets to see a title game in Rochester for the first time since 2003 and even though the Knighthawks had won the Champion’s Cup twice before, they’d never won it at home. The interesting twist to it all is that part of the CBS Sports Network broadcast team for the title game was Casey Powell, whose rights are held by the Knighthawks. Powell elected not to play this season to rest his banged-up body, but part of him had to be wondering what could have been had he signed with Rochester and won his first NLL title.
1. MVP season for Junior: Right from the get-go, it really was no contest. John Grant Jr. opened the 2012 NLL season with an 11-point effort to lead Colorado in a 20-14 win over Minnesota. And after he posted 30 points in his first 3 games, we figured something special was unfolding, and it was. The veteran left-handed forward missed 2 games with an injury but averaged more than 8 points in the 14 games he did play. He finished with 116 points to set the NLL’s single-season scoring record for points. Along the way, he charted his 1,000th career point and 500th career goal. He was the fifth NLL player to reach 1,000 points and the third NLL player with 500 goals (joining Gary Gait and John Tavares). He led the NLL with 50 goals and 4 times he was the NLL’s Player of the Week. And by the time it was all said and done for 2012, he’d been named the league’s MVP for the second time in his career. The 37-year-old made no secret of his motivation this season and the game he put on display this season will quiet anyone who thought he was washed up. It helps, of course, having teammates in sync with his game but the fact of the matter is, Junior put up MVP numbers from start to finish.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 firstname.lastname@example.org or go to RochesterSports.com.
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