One game on opening weekend. Really? I’m still baffled as to why you want to kick off your season with only one game. Baffled last year. Baffled again this year. It’s like having just one beer. Or sleeping for just one hour. Or having just one bite of a burger.
Yes, it does focus your attention on the one matchup — but it’s incredibly annoying for fans and media alike who are craving NLL action. Opening weekend should feature EVERY team in action. And the first game should be a championship rematch. That’s my two cents. Not a game in the smallest arena in the league with a 10 p.m. EST start before what will likely be one of the smallest crowds of the season. However, to quote one of the most obtuse and thoroughly overused sports cliches around, it is what it is.
Thankfully for us, this weekend’s opener should be a helluva game between two hungry clubs: The defending champ Knighthawks — retooled and reloaded for a championship repeat run — and the Stealth — eager to atone for a dismal 2012 campaign in which they were the lone team to sit out the post-season.
As I’ve talked about in this space ad naseum, the parity in the NLL is just incredible now. Most games are toss ups on paper. This one is no different. Let’s break it down and see what team has the edge on opening night.
Cody Jamieson. I see your Jamieson and raise you a Lewis Ratcliff. I see your Ratcliff and raise you a Johnny Powless. I see your Powless and raise you a Athan Iannucci. I see your Iannucci and raise you a Casey Powell. I see your Powell and raise you a Rhys Duch. OK, you get the point.
These two clubs have some scary stars on offence. I haven’t even mentioned Dan Dawson yet. When you break down the two attacks, Rochester is the deeper group giving them the edge. Washington’s supporting cast includes Cliff Smith, Kyle Buchanan, Dean Hill and Brett Bucktooth.
Rochester, however, has Craig Point, Stephen Keogh, Mike Accursi, Cory Vitarelli and Kedoh Hill to pick from.
ADVANTAGE: Rochester (slight)
The Rochester backend is an unheralded group, led by Sid Smith and Rory Glaves. They’re not exactly a shutdown group full of star names. But, then, neither is the Stealth D corps, headlined by Jeff Moleski and Kyle Sorensen.
The Stealth added youth and size in the offseason and shook up their defensive/transition unit, adding draft picks Tyler Garrison (6-foot-2), Tim Henderson (6-foot-3) and Justin Pychel (6-foot-1) and free agents David Joyce (6-foot-6) and Patrick O’Meara (6-foot-5).
The big addition for the K-Hawks on defence — both figuratively and literally — is Paul Dawson. However, they lost do-it-all guy Jordan Hall.
Bottom line is both teams rely on their starting O guys to score goals and less on scoring in transition.
Like many of his teammates, Tyler Richards struggled last season, He battled injuries and had an ‘off’ year by his standards. He played in 13 games and posted a goals-against average of 12.70 and a .771 save percentage.
However, Matt Vinc didn’t have a 2012 to write home about, either. He posted a slightly better GAA of 12.21 and a .753 save percentage.
Both ’tenders are no doubt looking to rebound in 2013 and cement their statuses as two of the best — if not the two best — in the league right now.
Chris Hall is back and — like many of his charges — feeling happy and healthy heading into the new season. His knowledge of the game and lacrosse pedigree is second to none in the league. He has two NLL titles under his belt and has been in the championship game two of the last three years.
Mike Hasen, though, is no slouch, either. He just took his team on an impromptu championship run that no one outside their dressing room thought was possible. He has proved he can get the best out of his players.
Normally a cross-country flight would give the home team the advantage. But it’s the first game of the year and both teams will amped. Both have something to prove and both will have some new faces in the lineup leading to some potential chemistry issues.
One thing to watch will be the play of Iannucci and Ratcliff and their interaction on the floor. They played together all summer with Langley and the pair both said it took awhile to get used to each other’s games. They are definitely on the same page now.
ADVANTAGE: EvenThe 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 firstname.lastname@example.org or go to CalgarySun.com.
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