NLL Week 5 Team Reports: ‘We have to get our behinds in gear and make a run at this thing’ — Colorado’s John Grant Jr.

Brad Self and Matt Vinc bring a rough Rochester defense to Buffalo for a Week 5 showdown. (Photo: Larry Palumbo)
Brad Self and Matt Vinc bring a rough Rochester defense to Buffalo for a Week 5 showdown. (Photo: Larry Palumbo)

With 13 games played in the last 2 National Lacrosse League weekends combined, this is the weekend we can catch our breath. Or can we? Just 3 games are on tap for the weekend, but all 3 offer varying degrees of intrigue. Rochester and Buffalo renew their rivalry, the latest chapter being written in Buffalo, where the Bandits haven’t beaten Rochester since the 2012 season. Colorado is at Calgary for the second time this season and Colorado’s last trip there, on Jan. 10, was the start of its current 4-game losing streak. So yeah, the Mammoth are eager to get things turned around, especially against a West Division rival. And the Edmonton Rush take their 3-0 record into B.C. for a matchup with the Stealth. While the Rush bring one of the league’s best defensive units, it’ll have its hands full with an offense that includes the likes of Rhys Duch and Lewis Ratcliff. So just because there are fewer games this weekend doesn’t necessarily mean there’s less action; it’s just a bit more concentrated.

SATURDAY

Rochester Knighthawks at Buffalo Bandits
Saturday, January 25 - First Niagara Center - 7:30 p.m. EST

Records: Rochester 3-0; Buffalo 3-1.
Broadcast: YouTube.com/TLN.
Last week: Rochester defeated Toronto, 12-8; Buffalo defeated Colorado, 16-9.
History: Rochester leads all-time series, 28-21 (12-11 in Buffalo).
Goals for: Rochester 33 (8th); Buffalo 53 (3rd).
Goals against: Rochester 23 (1st); Buffalo 47 (6th).

Knighthawks notes

The Knighthawks D is giving up just 7.6 goals per game, best average in the NLL … Rochester G Matt Vinc has a league-best save percentage of .833. “V is only as good as the guys in front of him,” said coach Mike Hasen. “Right now, these guys are playing extremely well, they’re playing as a group and they’re limiting quality looks.” … D Scott Self and the Birds obviously are pleased with their 30 start, the team’s first since 1998. “We were able to limit their chances,” he said, referring to a defense that’s holding opponents to just 34 shots per game. “But it’s a big game this weekend with first place on the line heading into Bandit Land … They’ve won 3 in a row and we’re looking forward to a great game in a great atmosphere.” … The Bandits are 3-1 after winning 3 straight, the same start they had in the 2013 season before the wheels came off. But Self sees a different Bandits team in 2014. “Anthony Cosmo is really playing well,” he said. “In the past few years, I think he’s struggled a fair bit to find his consistency. He had good games here and there, but he could never get in his groove … when the goalie is playing well, it gives the rest of the guys confidence.” … Coach Mike Hasen like the ball movement on offense and the way the defense plugged lanes against Toronto, but knows Buffalo brings a different challenge. “They’re playing extremely well,” he said. “It’s a tough place to play in we’re looking forward to the challenge.”

Bandits notes

At 60%, the Buffalo power-play ranks No. 1 in the NLL … The team’s 12 power-play goals are tied for No. 2 in the league, but goes up against a Rochester PK unit that has given up just 6 PP goals, second-fewest in the NLL … Bandits D Billy Dee Smith and his Buffalo teammates are well aware of the the defensive numbers for Rochester, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be solved. “They’re very good at playing the wall,” he said. “We’ve got to get to the middle of the floor … and get our cutters through, get the ball moving East and West to get some good looks for our offense, which means getting to the dirty areas of the floor and muck it up a bit.” … GM Steve Dietrich said veteran F John Tavares tweaked “something” at practice last week and the decision to make him a scratch against Colorado didn’t come until just before the game. As for this weekend, “he went light (Tuesday) night and all systems are go,” said Dietrich, adding the clarification that the decision won’t be 100% until later this week. … Dietrich said he was pleased with the win against the Mammoth, pointing mostly to a defensive and transition unit that’s coming into its own. The offense is coming together as well, but still has some ground to gain. “Ryan Benesch has made a tremendous difference, but it’s not only been Ryan. Guys like Joe Resetarits and Jamie Rooney add a different dimension that maybe we didn’t have last year,” said Dietrich, referring specifically to the off-ball work of the trio that keeps a defense moving. “But our offense is nowhere near where we hope it can be.” … On playing Rochester? “It’s a litmus test,” he said. “They’re back-to-back champs, so this is going to let us know how far we still have to go before you before we can be talked about in the same sentence as teams like that.”

Colorado Mammoth at Calgary Roughnecks
Saturday, January 25 - Scotiabank Saddledome - 9 p.m. EST

Records: Colorado 1-5; Calgary 2-2.
Broadcast: YouTube.com/TLN.
Last week: Colorado lost to Edmonton, 14-13 (OT), then lost to Buffalo, 16-9; Calgary lost to Edmonton, 15-8, then defeated Vancouver, 15-12.
History: All-time series is tied, 15-15 (Roughnecks are 9-8 vs. Colorado in Calgary).
Goals for: Colorado 62 (tied 1st); Calgary 47 (4th).
Goals against: Colorado 85 (9th); Calgary 54 (7th).

Mammoth notes

Opponents are averaging 14.16 goals a game against the Mammoth D, highest average in the NLL, something coach Bob Hamley said the team can fix by limiting or even matching runs as the Bandits had stretches of 4 goals and 6 goals that Colorado had no answer for. “We talked about not changing the gameplan. It doesn’t matter what the score is or what time of the game it is … We have to continue with the gameplan and the good things we do,” said Hamley. “There are going to be momentum swings, that’s just natural. We’re trying to focus on what we’re doing and getting better as a team on both sides of the ball.” … A 1-5 start “is not what we envisioned,” said Hamley. “But I can’t deny the effort. Our guys have battled really, really hard. A couple of breaks here and there, and we’re not talking about effort. We just have to cut down on some mistakes and stick with the plan.” … 2 of Colorado’s 5 losses are by 2 goals and 1 goal, but 2 others are by 11 and 7 … The Mammoth have given up a league-high 18 power play goals on 28 opportunities (35.7%) … Opponents are averaging 50 shots per game, most in the NLL … F John Grant Jr. has heard all the buzz about his under-handed goal against Vancouver, but said his focus has been elsewhere. “I don’t like to think about an individual thing since we’ve gone through a tough stretch, but if it helps the league get a little publicity, that’s good,” he said, adding that it was a short-handed goal that he hoped would spark teammates. “I’m just doing my absolute best to focus on what I need to do to improve on to help our team play better and what our offense needs to do. We have to get our behinds in gear and make a run at this thing.” …. Hamley was pleased with the work of F Athan Iannucci, signed last week and joining the team in time for both games. “In Vancouver, he was better than Saturday night,” said Hamley. “He did some good things off-ball and is setting some hard picks. We’re looking for him to continue doing that. He’s motivated and enthusiastic to be involved.”

Roughnecks notes

While the Mammoth are giving up the most goals per game on average, the Roughnecks aren’t doing much better, giving up a second-worst 13.5 per game … Part of that is a defensive unit that’s seen its share of injuries as the Riggers last week were missing 5 back-end players that played in the team’s final game of 2013. “It’s very unfortunate,” said coach Curt Malawsky. “The flip side of it is you get to get the young guys in and get them some experience. They’ve been thrown into the fire a little bit … but they’re all playing very well and they’re all competing. There are mistakes that are going to be made because they’re young guys but the mistakes that are getting made are getting made out of hard work.” … Beyond the win, Malawsky said Calgary’s last outing was big for the team. “We got taught a lesson up in Edmonton so it was a bit of a gut-check for our guys to see how they bounced back and I was proud of the way the guys competed and the way they battled. I think we got our offense back on track. (Shawn Evans) had a big night and Daryl Veltman got himself going … Dane Dobbie and Jeff Shattler have been our consistent guys all year and Curtis Dickson started taking the ball to the net the way he can. He resulted in 1 goal but I think he should have had about 3 or 4 more, but it was nice to see the offensive side of it happen.” … Malawsky said the Mammoth are a different team than they were just a few weeks ago with the addition of Iannucci and Mike McNamara. “They’re a team to be reckoned with,” he said. “We’re going to have our hands full.”

Edmonton Rush at Vancouver Stealth
Saturday, January 25 - Langley Events Centre - 10 p.m. EST

Records: Edmonton 3-0; Vancouver 2-2.
Broadcast: YouTube.com/TLN.
Last week: Edmonton defeated Calgary, 15-8; Vancouver defeated Colorado, 14-13 (OT), then lost to Calgary 15-12.
History: Stealth lead all-time series, 12-9 (5-5 in Edmonton).
Goals for: Edmonton 45 (6th); Vancouver 45 (5th).
Goals against: Edmonton 24 (2nd); Vancouver 46 (5th).

Rush notes

Beating the nemesis Roughnecks is nice, of course, but coach/GM Derek Keenan says there’s more to like than the victory alone. “With a team like that, they can score in bunches and they had their opportunity at the end of the third quarter and we managed to stem the tide,” he said. “That’s important against the team because they can really score. Overall, I liked our performance and our effort level is where we want it to be.” … No secrets as the Rush head out to play the Stealth, but Keenan said the new pieces, especially up front, has made the Stealth a better team than it was before. “It’s a group that has gotten progressively better each game,” he said. “We’re gonna have to have our best on our back end.” … The Rush’s 8 goals per game-against is second-best in the NLL to Rochester, and the Rush and Knighthawks are the only 2 teams in the NLL in single digits in that category … Edmonton is ranked No. 1 in penalty killing, at 69.2% … F Curtis Knight likes the way his team has progressed as well. “We’re 3-0, which is good but the team has gotten better each game, which is important.” … D Chris Corbeil scored 3 goals against the Roughnecks, but Keenan said he’s just one of any from the back end who are capable of that. “He’s a great athlete and shoots the ball well in transition so it could be a different guy on another night,” said Keenan. “We look for a lot of guys to contribute from the back.” … The Rush will have their hands full with the likes of Rhys Duch and Lewis Ratcliff, but there are rookies in Tyler Digby and Cody Bremner to account for as well. “They’ve made a real positive impact on their team,” said Keenan. “Digby’s a big body, he finishes well and he creates space for the other guys and Bremner’s a skill guy who is a pretty strong kid, too. I think they add a lot.”

Stealth notes

Oddly enough, Stealth coach Chris Hall thought his team played better in the Saturday’s loss to Calgary than it did in Friday’s OT win over Colorado. “We were fortunate to win on Friday night after getting out to a slow start,” he said. “A few breaks went our way and we managed to get a little bit lucky and pull that one out. Saturday, I thought we played well but the breaks went the other way. I thought, in terms of performance, which game we should have won and which game we should have lost, it would be the reverse … Am I happy with a split? I probably am considering what happened and where we were.” … There isn’t much time to rest or reflect, though, as Edmonton comes to town. “I think their defense and goaltending has been outstanding,” said Hall. “And their offense is really starting to perform at a high level.” … The Stealth defense already has Mark Matthews and Curtis Knight to deal with, but rookies Robert Church and Riley Loewen add even more youth and potency to the offense. “With a good defense and the goaltending of Aaron Bold, it’s going to be a big challenge for us.” … D Tyler Garrison said 2-2 is a nice record, but could be better. “We’re just looking to find our identity,” he said. “Couple more games, maybe that’s what it’s going to take.” … The Stealth added Nick Weiss to the active roster and brought back Justin Pychel. “We were thrilled with the performance of Nick Weiss,” said Hall. “We had high hopes for him and with the roster cutdowns, it’s tough for a rookie to slide into a spot in the lineup. He patiently waited his turn and I thought he played very, very well on Saturday night in Calgary.” Pychel was brought back because of injuries to Kyle Sorensen, Jeff Moleski and Justin Salt. “We were looking for a veteran guy back there on the left … We’ve got a lot of confidence in Justin and he understands and knows our systems.” … Garrison, like many other defenders in the league, knows Matthews can give anyone fits when he’s got the ball. “Just stay in front of his stick and hope he doesn’t do something crazy around you,” he said. “There’s no tried and true way to guard a guy that’s 6-5 and 220 or whatever he is. If he’s going to the net, you just have to do your best.”

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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