Winners and Losers: From Aaron Bold, Bandit Land and great D(h)anes to empty Stealth seats and one-off uniforms

Troy Cordingley has the Bandits on a 3-game win streak, bringing optimism back to Buffalo. (Photo: Todd Bauders)
Troy Cordingley has the Bandits on a 3-game win streak, bringing optimism back to Buffalo. (Photo: Todd Bauders)

Four weekends have come and gone in the 2014 National Lacrosse League season. And while that may not be enough lacrosse to establish clear favorites for the league’s title, it is plenty of time to pick up on trends and issues that gives us all pause. So we hit up the minds at ILIndoor to get some thoughts on stuff that we think deserves a thumbs up and/or a thumbs down. It’s the debut of our Winners and Losers, a weekly look back at box lacrosse issues that we need to get off of our collective chests. So check out the issues that come to mind and let us know if you agree or disagree. You’ve got the ILIndoor message board to use as a soap box, or the various Twitter handles to get your point across.

Winners

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Ty Pilson: @SUNTyPilson

Aaron Freakin’ Bold. Everyone talks about Edmonton’s amazing D and currently the focus is on Mark Matthews and the now-lethal offence. Bold doesn’t get enough credit. I think he’s one of the top-3 ’tenders in the league right now (with Matt Vinc and Tyler Richards). He has the second-best GAA in the league behind Vinc at 8 even and made 38 solid saves in Edmonton’s 15-8 beating of the Roughnecks Friday night.

Teddy Jenner: @OffTheCrosseBar

WINNER: American field players in the NLL. This weekend we saw two pure US kids make their NLL debuts, for Canadian teams no less, in Eric Law (Toronto) and Josh Hawkins (Vancouver). Yes, Hawkins has since been released but the fact that two Canadian franchises drafted and held on to two Americans just goes to show that the game is making serious headway south of the 49th.

Casey Vock: @cvock

Brodie Merrill. Not one to often throw down, you had to like the way the Merrill handled himself against a fellow former Orangeville standout and one tough cookie in Andrew Suitor. The Wings needed a jolt this past weekend, and they got it in the form of an important win against the Swarm, and Merrill was outstanding as usual, but also showed that he’s not one to back down.

Stephen Stamp: @StampLax

D(h)anes. Dhane Smith is having a remarkable second season. He’s actually increased his scoring output since moving to a primarily back door role, he’s deadly on the power play and he’s been effective killing penalties. Smith is showing that he can be a capable defender and with his speed and hands he’s a threat to score from anywhere on the floor. Dane Dobbie is off to a torrid start to the season, as well, scoring goals at a pace that would shatter his single-season high even without the extra couple of games this year. It’s a great time to be a D(h)ane in the NLL.

Bob Chavez: @IL_Indoor

Bandit Land. Fans in Buffalo are accustomed to excellence and the 2013 was a struggle, to put it mildly. The loss to open the 2014 season didn’t do much to restore hope, but the team is 3-0 since and the Buffalo barn is rocking again with optimism. With smaller rosters this winter for the 9 NLL teams, finding talented players is not tough to do. But there’s a difference between finding talented players and the right players. The Bandits appear to have the right players in place to make 2013 a distant memory, and fans in Buffalo have something to take their minds off the Bills and Sabres.

Brian Shanahan: @sbdshanny

The Buffalo Bandits’ Steve Priolo. The 6’5 defender scored a hat trick against the Mammoth on Saturday in Buffalo’s 16-9 victory. The previous week he scored 2 against the Toronto Rock in Buffalo’s 12-10 win. The fifth year pro had 4 goals in his first 4 NLL seasons in Buffalo and already has 5 goals in 4 games this year. I’m not implying that a defender’s value is measured by his goals — just ask the Rochester Knighthawks if they care that Sid Smith has never scored — but it sure takes some pressure of the “O” guys when back door players like Priolo chip in.

Marty O’Neill

In an NLL way too focused on names, it’s nice to see that the Vancouver Stealth went in a youth direction in two very important positions this year. While Doug Locker got GM of the year in 2013 he is already looking good in 2014 with the additions of Cody Bremner and Tyler Digby. Both Digby and Bremner have added depth to this Stealth offensive unit and the dynamics have switched so that everyone is active and the ball is staying hot. The payday will be two local players that can spend years playing in a local environment with support of family to help build a success in Langley.

Losers

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Ty Pilson: @SUNTyPilson

The people of Edmonton. At least the ones not coming out to see the Rush. Sure, the team has struggled to win games since entering the league and even struggled at home in recent seasons once they had become a contender, but they have turned the corner. They are playing some incredibly exciting lacrosse right now. In a city where local sports fans have been forced to watch the Oilers and Eskimos scrape the bottom of the barrel in the last nine months, they should embrace the Rush.

Teddy Jenner: @OffTheCrosseBar

The people who bitch and wine about the atmosphere at the Stealth games. B.C. lacrosse fans are purists; we like our lacrosse for what it is and don’t need all the bells and whistles that come with the NLL (music, pyrotechnics, dance teams, mascots and hype-men). But that in no means takes away from their passion and love for the game. For somebody to call out these fans for not ’supporting their team’ and not chanting ‘Go Stealth go’ when instructed is ridiculous. Sure the arena isn’t full and there’s some concern, but having been at both home games I can tell you that the LEC is loud and the fans are into the game from whistle to whistle.

Casey Vock: @cvock

One-off Uniforms: A few weeks back, we saw the Colorado Mammoth capture a thrilling 13-12 win over Vancouver on Star Wars Night, with the team wearing some custom designed helmets. This past weekend, the Mammoth held Military Appreciation Night in their matchup against Buffalo, an honorable gesture for sure. Unfortunately for them, the Force wasn’t with the team the way it was back on January 4, and Colorado was run over by Buffalo to the tune of 16-9 — the Mammoth’s fourth straight loss. As the ILGear.com guy who covers anything related to any special uniforms or gear teams are wearing, I had a funny conversation with a Division I coach last season. He’s an assistant for one of the NCAA teams that is best known for having a ridiculous assortment of helmet and gear options during the season, but the squad struggled last year. I asked him about three-quarters of the way through the season: “What do you have in store this weekend?” He responded, “No more, not until we start winning again.” I sometimes have to wonder if there’s a superstitious element to all of this that can actually manifest itself into something real on the floor or the field. The Mammoth obviously are struggling at the moment, but they didn’t get the same boost from their one-off uniforms this weekend that they received on Star Wars Night.

Stephen Stamp: @StampLax

The Philadelphia Wings got a tough break when officials mistakenly allowed a goal late in their Saturday game against Minnesota, a game they eventually lost by a single goal. Shayne Jackson dove to check Evan Kirk’s stick while Kirk was in the crease behind the net and had control of the ball, causing the ball to pop over the goal and right to Andrew Suitor, who popped it in for Minny’s 10th goal in the 11-10 win. The NLL announced that the call was a mistake; they said the official thought that one of Kirk’s feet was out of the crease, which would have meant his stick was fair game, but that on review it was clear his foot was on the line and he shouldn’t have been able to be checked. Kudos to the league for admitting the error, although it may not make it that much easier on Philly fans.

Bob Chavez: @IL_Indoor

Anyone going up against the defenses in Rochester and Edmonton. The teams are a combined 6-0 and while the front door units are loaded with talent, it’s the back end that’s getting all the love as they play out-of-this-world team defense. The Rush come at you with a punishing physical style that doesn’t make a lot of mistakes and can run the ball. The Knighthawks are a disciplined but physical unit that doesn’t over-commit and leave teammates hanging. Both are nearly impossible to find seams in, so the Feb. 1 showdown between Rochester and Edmonton in Edmonton is going to be must-see TV.

Brian Shanahan: @sbdshanny

The lacrosse fans in Vancouver who didn’t go to the Stealth’s second game of the season. It was great to see the packed LEC for their home opener but I was shocked to see the drop off for Game 2. In an arena that holds 5,000 fans, there is no reason that it should be half empty — especially given the quality of the home team. The fans who stayed away also missed one hell of a lacrosse game. I’ve heard some of the excuses and I heard many of them 10 years ago with the Vancouver Ravens. “The game was too soon after the opener,” “fans don’t want to pay a premium when they can watch these players in the summer,” “The weather was too bad,” “the weather was too good.” The bottom line is that if this team is to succeed, it needs support from the B.C. lacrosse community. And if this team does succeed in Vancouver (like I believe it will), the B.C. lacrosse associations reap the benefits for many years.

Marty O’Neill

Any NLL team that tries to play matinee games, especially on a Sunday when NFL football playoffs are being broadcast. Afternoon games are a sure fire way to keep your attendance about 30% lower than a Saturday night game. It is a big issue for most NLL teams to not get Saturday night home dates in their own arenas. Some teams have done well with Friday nights like the Rock, but Saturday night is crucial for financial success or at least a fighting chance at it.

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