Postcards from camp: sights and sounds from the first weekend of NLL camps as the second weekend gets underway
As National Lacrosse League training camps kick into high gear this weekend, let’s take a look back at last weekend’s camp openings for the Minnesota Swarm, Colorado Mammoth and Toronto Rock. I spent last Saturday at the Toronto Rock Athletic Centre, enjoying almost eight hours of NLL lacrosse. I have to admit, at times it was almost like a torrential rain after a long dry spell—some of it just washed away before I could absorb it. But plenty did sink in so, with a nod to SI.com football writer Don Banks‘ Snap Judgments columns, here are some “musing, observations and the occasional insight” from the start of training camp.
* Practices are intense, right from the first day of camp. Once warmup and stretching is over with, teams get into it and players are running hard. Minnesota’s practices are perhaps the highest tempo. They’re run like Notre Dame football practices. That’s no accident; owner John Arlotta is a proud Fighting Irish alumnus and wants things to run that way.
It’s definitely different. Practice is broken down into a series of timed sessions, generally lasting about five minutes. Some are full floor with everyone taking part, some have players broken into smaller groups on different parts of the turf. It felt a little odd at first, but the style really grew on me as practice progressed. One result: every part of practice feels a bit like the end of a game, with the clock winding down and intensity rising in correlation. Very interesting.
* Different coaches achieve intensity in different ways. Troy Cordingley is a renowned yeller. He was in mid-season form at the Rock’s first practice of the year. A mild-mannered guy off the floor, Cordingley famously unleashes verbal salvos that could blister paint on the walls. Vets are used to it and understand it’s his way of ensuring they are paying attention to detail. Which raises the question: how long does it take to acclimatize if you’re a rookie coming into your first NLL training camp? One thing making the transition manageable for young players has to be that Cordingley and D coach Terry Sanderson, who can also be very direct, are outstanding teachers who back up the on-floor pyrotechnics with excellent, and quieter, communication in the locker room.
* In stark contrast to a Rock practice (and to be fair—Cordingley is hardly the only guy to swear while coaching lacrosse, it just stood out in a quiet arena Saturday), Joe Sullivan is almost strangely polite while putting the Swarm through their paces. For every F-bomb flying around the floor at many a team’s sessions, you’ll hear Sullivan saying please. As in, “Two-on-two down here, please [tweet, play ensues]. Ok, now one-on-one on the same side, please [tweet].” Make no mistake, though: Sullivan gets his message across and his players play hard for him.
* Gone appear to be the days of players showing up at camp to get in shape and knock the rust off. You’d better be ready to go from day one, even if you’re a veteran. One result is some surprisingly sharp play during practice drills. Gavin Prout stood out during some Mammoth power play work. After having missed out on the Peterborough Lakers Mann Cup run because of work commitments, Prout was handling the ball at the top of the PP like he’d played an important game yesterday, not six months ago.
* Speaking of veterans being ready to go, here’s a snippet of play that was impressive, particularly given its context. With two minutes to play in the Minnesota/Colorado scrimmage last Saturday night, the Swarm turned the ball over in the offensive zone and a Mammoth player took off down the floor looking for an outlet pass. Sprinting stride for stride down the floor, in fact gaining a step to get positional advantage, was Callum Crawford.
That’s right, veteran and 2012 team scoring leader Crawford was busting his hump to get back on D in the closing moments of a scrimmage that his team was losing 11-6. And once he got there, he played some seriously intense defence on Mammoth prospect Jovan Miller. Miller had been taking liberties on Minnesota players all night, including a dirty elbow to the head of Jordan MacIntosh off a faceoff.
Crawford took advantage of a shift on D to lay a few whacks onto Miller’s arms. When the youngster responded by cross-checking Crawford to the throat, the vet whacked him in the face with the basket of his stick, almost dislodging Miller’s helmet. Crawford earned his two minutes in the box and some props.
* Speaking of Miller and MacIntosh, it was a bit surprising that the former got through the rest of the game without any comeuppance other than Crawford’s slash. The elbow he threw happened just before halftime. Sullivan had some words—quiet ones, but definitely some words—with the refs as the teams left the floor. Then a group of Minnesota players who hadn’t played in the first half started warming up for their action in the second. Among them was Andrew Suitor, and it seemed likely the Swarm’s captain and elite fighter would make acquaintances with Miller when play resumed. Never happened, though.
* And speaking of Suitor, you get the feeling he and Mammoth defender Rory Smith don’t like each other very much. Whether the two would fight was a matter of much pre- and in-series speculation when Suitor’s Lakers and Smith’s Six Nations Chiefs met in the Major Series Lacrosse finals this past summer. They didn’t. At one point during the scrimmage, Suitor tore a strip off of Smith as he made his way to Minnesota’s bench. Suitor even stopped before he left the floor, turned back to face the Mammoth goal and continued to chirp loudly. Smith wasn’t shy about returning the chirps with vigour. If you’re a fan of dustups, you may want to circle Minnesota/Colorado in the regular-season schedule. It’s just hard to imagine those two won’t go at it at some point this year.
* Prout and Crawford certainly weren’t the only vets who look to be ready for the season to start already. It’s no secret that Josh Sanderson hasn’t had his best couple of seasons the last two years, but look for that trend to change in a hurry come January. Sanderson looked comfortable and sharp, making the crisp short passes he’s become known for over the years and beating goalies regularly with his shot that is far more difficult to stop than it looks like it should be.
I was sitting with Patrick Merrill and Dan Carey, who weren’t dressed for practice, and both talked with something approaching awe about how Sanderson is able to disguise where his shots are going and when he’s going to take them.
* Merrill also observed that draft pick Tyler Glebe was the best goalie in the practice for Toronto. There wasn’t much doubt about it: Nick Rose was just having one of those days goalies have now and then where everything seems to go in, and while Zack Boychuk looked fine, Glebe was playing very well…at least until Merrill noted it. Then on the next six shots he faced: four goals and two goalposts. As Merrill then said sheepishly, “Isn’t that always the way?”Stamp is a TV sports announcer and lacrosse lover whose skill set made him a defender but who always dreamed of being a goal-scorer. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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