Any lingering doubts that young players are coming into the National Lacrosse League more ready to play than ever can officially be put aside. A quick recap of the Week 2 slate of games shows exactly what I mean. Four rookies scored hat tricks, three of them in their first NLL game. Mark Matthews and Curtis Knight have already revolutionized the Edmonton Rush offence, blending seamlessly with returning players Ryan Ward, Corey Small and Zack Greer to produce slick ball movement that promises far greater returns down the road than the nine goals from Sunday’s loss to Toronto. Dhane Smith was supposed to be a longer-term project than the other first-rounders, but he had a hat trick including the game winner in a critical game Saturday for Buffalo. Nick Rose bumped his career record to 8-2 and sports a tidy .817 save percentage for 2013.
Nick Rose, Toronto Rock
2 wins, 10.0 gaa, 89/109, .817 save percentage
Edmonton helped him out some by hitting him right in the Rock logo far too often, but Rose was a model of consistency in leading Toronto to a pair of victories in a weekend Alberta travelogue. Coming out of Wild Rose Country 2-0 is no mean feat. At the end of the season, these two road wins could prove to be the difference in hosting East Division playoff games. Rose is largely to thank for Toronto’s sweep and went a long way to assuaging concerns Rock fans may have had over entering the season with two young goaltenders on the roster.
Cliff Smith, Washington Stealth
4 goals, 3 assists
Smith is on pace to break John Grant, Jr.’s year-old league scoring record with 120 points. No, we don’t think he’ll keep this pace up. But the fact that he’s scored 15 points in two games is remarkable given that his previous best season total was 20 points in 13 games in 2010. The way he’s playing he could eclipse that mark sometime in the third quarter against Edmonton next Sunday. The best part for the Stealth is he’s doing it as part of a well-oiled machine on an offence that is showing no signs of its many stars having any trouble sharing the ball.
Curtis Knight and Mark Matthews, Edmonton Rush3 goals, 2 assists each
I listed Knight ahead of Matthews on purpose because he deserves a little extra love. Everybody expected Matthews to be an impact player, if not immediately then at least in very short order. Knight didn’t attract nearly as much attention, though, as other first-round picks. But Rush coach Derek Keenan knew exactly what he had in the versatile young player. All three of Knight’s goals came on the power play, as did one of his assists.
Kevin Crowley (Philadelphia): 4g, 1a, 5lb. No Dan Dawson? No problem. Crowley ran the Wings’ O like a veteran and buried four goals in their 13-8 win…Colin Doyle (Toronto): 10a. A sublime weekend of work for the Rock captain, who continues to make it look easy…Kurtis Wagar (Buffalo): 49 save, .790 save percentage. How smart does Steve Dietrich look after this weekend? He brought in Wagar, who had been released by Philly, because he wanted a reliable backup for Anthony Cosmo. Wagar relieved Coz in both Bandits games and played well in both. He was actually better in the loss to the Wings Friday, but that game was already out of hand when he came in…Ryan Benesch (Minnesota): 3 g, 3a, 4lb. Benny’s not big enough to power through defenders in the slot, so Saturday he scored a goal after making three complete revolutions with the ball. Just another example of a smaller player finding a way to get the job done in the NLL…Shayne Jackson (Minnesota): 3g, 1a. Speaking of small players, there was concern that the Swarm erred in picking yet another small lefty to work with Benesch in the frontcourt. Early returns suggest Jackson is managing just fine after he made good use of his slick hands in his first game in the league…John Grant, Jr. (Colorado): 3g, 3a. Junior scored his hat trick on only nine shots, less than half of the 18.9 he averaged last year in leading the league with 265 total shots…Shawn Evans (Calgary): 3g, 2a, 7lb, 1FT. A typical night filling the stat sheet for Evans, but you know the fiery competitor will be upset about his team losing their opening game at home…John Lintz (Edmonton): He had an excellent night in one-on-one coverage for the Rush. They have a lot of good defenders and Lintz was the best of the bunch Sunday, adeptly finding a balance between solid stay-at-home work and aggressive chasing of ball carriers…Rhys Duch, Lewis Ratcliff, Dean Hill (Washington): Speaking of balance, all three scored hat tricks in a wonderfully balanced Stealth attack…Ilija Gajic (Colorado): 6FT, 9LB. I still feel like the Mammoth are missing out by not putting Gajic in the offensive zone more, but he’s proving Bob Hamley’s assessment of him as a solid D/tranny correct, leading the league this week in forced turnovers…Chad Culp (Buffalo) 3g, 2a, 9lb. Culp can step up offensively as he did with his five-point night against Minnesota, but what he brings every game is even more valuable. He’s happy to work diligently to create opportunities for his teammates and has the grit and awareness to produce extra possessions…Garrett Billings (Toronto) 2g, 7a. Took six shots against Calgary and 13 against Edmonton, showing he’s smart enough to figure out what he needs to do in a particular game and unselfish enough to do whatever that is…Kevin Buchanan, Jordan Hall and Kevin Ross (Philadelphia): The offensive left side has been a weak point for the Wings for years. Not any more, thanks to the three newcomers Johnny Mouradian brought in over the off-season. Buchanan notched a hat trick and three assists. Hall scored once and helped set up six other goals. Ross contributed four assists, six loose balls and a strong stabilizing presence with his maturing game…Dhane Smith (Buffalo): 4g, 2a. Looked like he was taking some time to adjust to the pro game in the Friday loss to Philly. Then looked 100% more comfortable on his way to a hat trick that culminated in the game-winner against Minnesota.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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