Dirty Dozen: Is bigger better for defense? Ratcliff situation could be a wake-up call, and the Knighthawks beef up their defense

The Edmonton Rush defense is regarded as one of the NLL's best, but is it the biggest? (Photo: Scott Pierson)
The Edmonton Rush defense is regarded as one of the NLL's best, but is it the biggest? (Photo: Scott Pierson)

Is bigger always better? Depends on who you ask, but in the context of the National Lacrosse League, it’s worth a look. Especially when we’re talking about defensemen, the big bruisers of the team who throw the lumber and drop body checks for a living. So we took a look at each NLL roster to determine which team is fielding the biggest defense by average height and weight. The math includes the changes that came with the trade deadline, but some of the rosters could change before the roster freeze kicks in later today. And because the position of transition can be so vague, we didn’t include any tranny players and went strictly with the guys listed as defensemen according to the rosters at NLL.com.

Not including the tranny players is a point of debate, no doubt. But their roles can be so vague because some of them are geared more for offense, others for defense. So it wouldn’t be fair to include a transition guy who does most of his work up front in the stats for a defense. So that’s why we went straight-up D.

And that put some teams at a disadvantage. Buffalo lists just 6 defenders. Rochester and Washington each list 12. Toronto has 9 and Minnesota just 5. Teams are all over the board when it comes to the position they list next to players, but we’re not here to debate positional listing.

So the easiest thing to do was to go by what was listed, and that’s what we did. And since the teams are all pretty much so close by height, we’re listing the defenses in order of weight, from heaviest to lightest.

And here’s what we found:

Philadelphia (9 defensemen): 6-foot-2, 210 pounds
Buffalo (6 defensemen): 6-2, 207
Rochester (12): 6-1, 206
Washington (12): 6-2, 203
Edmonton (9): 6-2, 201
Toronto (9): 6-1, 190
Minnesota (5): 6-0, 195
Colorado (5): 6-1, 192
Calgary (6): 6-0, 188

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SOBERING NEWS: The revelation this week of Lewis Ratcliff’s suspension from lacrosse governed by the CLA elicited plenty of response. A lot was negative, with fans and observers jumping quickly to conclusions about his failed drug test at last year’s Mann Cup. Ratcliff maintains the substances in his system were the result of prescription drugs for a shoulder injury. Who to believe? It’s a touchy topic, of course, and with all the performance enhancing scandals going on in other professional sports, it’s fairly accurate to state that lacrosse fans had hoped their game wouldn’t be among the affected. But it is. Ratcliff acknowledged his mistake and apologized for it, and he’ll have the next 2 summers off from Canadian lacrosse to think about it. But no matter which side of the fence you come down on, here’s hoping that this incident can serve notice to other players. The passion for the game is infectious, especially if you get to play it in front of paying customers. But is it worth a 2-year vacation from the sport? Be careful of what you put into your body. Mistake or not, if you’re not vigilant, the price is a hefty one.

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PARADE RAINED ON: Lost in the news of his suspension was Ratcliff scoring his 400th career NLL goal in the Washington Stealth’s 16-10 win over Philadelphia last weekend. His third goal of the game was No. 400 for his career and he’s just the seventh player in league history to reach that milestone. He scored a fourth goal to sit at 401 and could surpass Paul Gait (410) for No. 6 on the all-time list before the season’s over.

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BUSY, BUSY: The Rochester Knighthawks were the most active team as the trade deadline arrived on Wednesday, and they really beefed up their already strong defense. They shipped veteran forward Casey Powell to Colorado for established veteran Jon Sullivan, who should help tremendously with speed and an offensive touch out of the back end. Then, rather interestingly, they worked with their biggest rival to acquire Jim Purves and Scott Self in separate deals, giving up a draft pick and Kedoh Hill, respectively. There’s no doubt the addition of Sullivan and Self and Purves makes the Rochester defense stronger. It was already the best in the league statistically. The more pressing issue for Rochester is offense, and generating goals. Will Powell’s departure create more room for the stacked offense that’s left behind? We’ll get our first glimpse of that Saturday when Edmonton comes to town.

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CORRECTION: In Tuesday’s Rookie Report, we reported that Mark Matthews was on pace for 45 goals, which would break the rookie record for goals in a season of 37, held by John Grant Jr. We were wrong, because we missed Paul Gait’s incredible 1991 rookie season for the Detroit Turbos, where he scored 47 goals in 10 games. Over a 16-game season, that projects to 75 goals. We apologize for the error, and thank the astute reader who brought it to our attention.

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HE SAID IT: “It made me feel 19 again.”

Toronto Rock forward Colin Doyle, to the Toronto Star, on the throwback jerseys from the 1999 and 2000 seasons. Doyle is the only current Rock player who wore that jersey when it was used.

•••

BYE BYE BOMBERS: The Baltimore Bombers of the North American Lacrosse League closed up shop with just 2 games remaining on their schedule for the regular season. And with the Rhode Island King Fish on thin ice, the league pretty much just called a mercy rule end to the regular season and set up a March 16 championship game between the Boston Rockhoppers and the Kentucky Stickhorses. It’s a sad situation for such a promising premise of providing Americans an avenue to learn the box game. Sadder still is knowing that the premise of an American-based box lacrosse training ground would have a stronger foundation if the NALL and Professional Lacrosse League could find a way to work together. Someday, perhaps.

•••

BIG PROPS: The Toronto Rock raised $41,000 for Toronto’s Daily Bread Food Bank through the on-line auction of autographed jerseys, then the auction of game-worn jerseys from Friday’s win over Colorado. The combined auctions raised $15,000 and a $10,000 donation through ticket sales, along with $10,000 from Rock owner Jamie Dawick helped make up the total, along with 3,000 pounds of food brought by fans to the game. Thanks to everyone who contributed, the food bank today has a princely sum for its noble cause.

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HOME SWEET HOME? Apparently, playing at home means nothing in the NLL. Of the 9 teams in the league, only 2 teams having a winning record in their home barn and another is .500. That means 6 teams are better on the road this season, especially in the East Division. The Toronto Rock are 4-1 on the road and Rochester, Buffalo and Philadelphia are all 3-1 away from home. Weird.

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SMOOTH MOVE: The Ajax Rock are apparently getting ready to move to Oakville for the 2013 MSL season and if that news weren’t big enough, the Rock have Terry Sanderson on board as GM. And as Stephen Stamp points out, it’s a step in the right direction to keep the franchise afloat as it awaits approval from the OLA (MSL approved the move). Small crowds in Ajax aren’t doing much financially, but a shift to Oakville to play out of the Toronto Rock practice facility could be a fantastic move. And having Sanderson control player movement is even better. The bright side for Sanderson? He’s working for 2 teams in different leagues, but won’t be confused. Not when both teams are the Rock.

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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