NLL Week 8 Team Reports: ‘It’s been a Murphy’s Law kind of season for us’ – Vancouver Stealth coach Chris Hall

Dean Hill made his return to the NLL and scored a goal to help Colorado win its third straight game. (Photo: Dan Brodie)
Dean Hill made his return to the NLL and scored a goal to help Colorado win its third straight game. (Photo: Dan Brodie)

It certainly is unfolding to be an interesting National Lacrosse League season, isn’t it? The Minnesota Swarm, division finalists the last 2 seasons, are 1-5 and seeking answers. The Vancouver Stealth, NLL finalists in 3 of the last 4 years including an appearance in last year’s title game, are riding a 5-game losing streak. Meanwhile, the Buffalo Bandits, the team left out of last winter’s playoff dance, are off to a 5-2 start and sit in first place in the East Division. The 2-time defending champion Rochester Knighthawks are back on a winning track after losing 2 straight but face a big test Saturday night against a Toronto Rock team that’s got a red-hot offense. And the Colorado Mammoth have won 3 straight after their 1-5 start. But the best part of all this? We’re just about halfway through the season, so there’s plenty more to come. For now, we’ll just keep our eyes on Week 8 of the season, and the teams and their thoughts heading into it.

FRIDAY

Vancouver Stealth at Colorado Mammoth
Friday, February 14 - Pepsi Center - 9 p.m. (EST)

Records: Vancouver 2-6; Colorado 4-5.
Broadcast: Altitude, YouTube.com/TLN.
Last week: Vancouver lost to Colorado, 10-9; Colorado defeated Vancouver 10-9.
History: Stealth lead all-time series, 21-13 (Mammoth 10-7 vs. Stealth at home).
Goals for: Vancouver 84 (3rd); Colorado 100 (1st).
Goals against: Vancouver 97 (8th); Colorado 119 (9th).

Stealth notes

Vancouver is reeling after dropping its fifth straight, and while coach Chris Hall isn’t making excuses, he’s looking forward to finally fielding a full lineup for the first time this season. T Brett Bucktooth made his return last week and D Kyle Sorensen should be back after an injury and serving a 1-game suspension. “We’ve missed Sorrey and Bucktooh, who was the point man on our power play,” said Hall. “But he comes back and Rhys Duch is suspended. It’s been a Murphy’s Law kind of season for us and it doesn’t take much to shift things in this league.” … The Stealth lead the league in forced turnovers at 102 … G Tyler Richards leads the league with 315 saves, which puts him on pace to clear 700 for the first time in his career … With 24 points (11-13) through 8 games, T Cliff Smith is on pace for a career-high 54 points … Hall said the offense is struggling, being held to single digits in 3 of the last 4 games. But even though they lost to Colorado last weekend, he’s not too discouraged. “There were some good signs,” he said. “So we’re looking forward to another battle this weekend.” … Sorensen is eager to get back on the floor, that’s for sure. “I’ve been watching too much lacrosse,” he said. “I’m looking forward to getting back and seeing if we can get this club a W.” … So what has Sorensen seen from his perspective during Vancouver’s slide? “It’s tough to pinpoint,” he said. “It seems like something different every weekend. We played well last weekend, battling for loose balls but we ran into a bit of a hot goalie in the first half. We’ve got our hands full again this weekend, we’ve just got to get rid of the little mistakes and push forward.”

Mammoth notes

The Mammoth are winners of 3 straight since the tail end of the 2012 season. “We’ve been playing better and we just want to keep improving,” said coach Bob Hamley … Three of Colorado’s first 9 games have been against the Stealth, so Friday’s opponent is no stranger. “We’ve played them 3 times already so you know what you’re going to get,” said rookie G Dillon Ward. “We know goals are going to happen (against this team) so it’s just a matter of trying to limit them.” … The Mammoth lead the league with 5 short-handed goals … F John Grant Jr. has scored 2 or more goals in 5 straight games and has 45 points (19-26) through 9 games … F Drew Westervelt has 32 points (15-17) through 7 games, putting him on pace for 68, his highest point total since scoring 72 in 2010 … Newly signed F Dean Hill won’t fill the shoes of injured F Adam Jones, but Hamley said Hill will be part of the solution. “He did a good job considering he had just 1 practice with us,” said Hamley. “Nobody’s going to fill Jonesy’s shoes, but we’re going to do it by committee. The offense did a good job moving the ball and creating opportunities and Dean Hill is part of that.” … F Athan Iannucci hasn’t played in the last 2 games after playing in the 3 prior to that, but that doesn’t mean he’s not part of the team’s plan. “He’s part of our 20,” said Hamley. “He’s been real positive and a big influence on the guys.”

SATURDAY

Edmonton Rush at Minnesota Swarm
Saturday, February 15 - Xcel Energy Center - 7 p.m. (EST)

Records: Edmonton, 6-0; Minnesota 1-5.
Broadcast: YouTube.com/TLN.
Last week: Edmonton defeated Philadelphia, 8-6; Minnesota lost to Calgary, 15-13.
History: All-time series tied, 5-5 (Swarm 3-2 in Minnesota).
Goals for: Edmonton 70 (7th); Minnesota 55 (9th).
Goals against: Edmonton 45 (1st); Minnesota 70 (4th).

Rush notes

A win on Saturday will make the Rush the first team to start a season 7-0 since the 1996 Buffalo Bandits … “We’re happy with the start but realize that it can turn around at anytime if you’re not paying attention,” said assistant coach Jeff McComb. … To that end, McComb isn’t looking at a 1-5 Swarm team the Rush are up against. He’s looking at a team that has plenty of talent and coaching, but has just run into some unlucky bounces. “It’s an extremely even game,” he said … Why do the Rush have arguably the league’s best defense? Because the unit is rarely down a man as the Rush have a league-low 69 PIM … F Mark Matthews was without a goal, on 13 shots against the Wings, for the second time this season and it broke a string of 4 games with at least 1 goal … F Curtis Knight has scored at least 1 goal in all 6 games this season and has scored 2 or more in 5 of those games … D Nik Bilic will be playing against his old team for the first time since an off-season trade. “I can’t be more excited,” he said of his return to Minnesota. “But it’s not about me this weekend, it’s about trying to keep this streak alive.” … And the 8-6 win last week, was it an ugly win? “It was different win, but we’ll take a win every time,” he said. … The Rush have won their last 3 games by a combined 4 goals and were held to single digits in each. “Some little things have crept into that we want to correct,” McComb said of the Edmonton offense, referring to setting hard picks, swinging the ball and sharing the ball. “We’re a group that needs to share it,” he said. “We need to move it as a 5-man unit.”

Swarm notes

For a team that played in Division finals the last 2 seasons, the Swarm are nowhere near where they envisioned they’d be this season. But they realize, too, that they can’t change the scoreboard. What’s done is done. “That’s our main focus,” said assistant coach Aime Caines. “We have to look forward and we have an opportunity to knock off the top team in the league and gain some confidence.” … The Swarm are on pace for just 165 goals, even with the 2 extra games, which would be their lowest total since scoring 158 in the 2006 season, their second in the league … F Callum Crawford has scored 7 goals in his last 3 games after scoring 3 in his first 3 … T Jordan MacIntosh has 5 goals in his last 2 since scoring 3 in his first 4 … F Shayne Jackson turned around his season with a natural hat trick in the fourth quarter of last week’s game, but he’d rather have the win. Still, the Swarm aren’t losing focus, he said. “We still have a lot of confidence in this group,” he said. “We’ve gotta believe in the systems that are in place. We made it to the semifinals last year and it’s the same systems in place, so the belief has got to be the same.”


Rochester Knighthawks at Toronto Rock
Saturday, February 15 - Air Canada Centre - 7 p.m. (EST)

Records: Rochester 4-2, Toronto 3-3.
Broadcast: YouTube.com/TLN.
Last week: Rochester defeated Buffalo, 9-6; Toronto defeated Philadelphia, 20-10.
History: Rochester leads all-time series, 23-19 (Rock are 15-5 at home vs. Rochester).
Goals for: Rochester 59 (8th); Toronto 69 (3rd).
Goals against: Rochester 48 (2nd); Toronto 69 (3rd).

Knighthawks notes

The Knighthawks have scored just 10 first-quarter goals, tied for fewest in the NLL, but offense is not a concern even though the team is averaging around 9 goals per game. “We’re not putting up a lot of numbers, but we’re not giving up a lot of numbers either,” said veteran F Mike Accursi. “Right now, it’s working.” … Coach Mike Hasen agrees. “This league is so tight,” he said. “And what we do off the ball is just as important. Am I worried about the numbers? Not really. Our offense is so unselfish.” … Toronto has not been kind to the Knighthawks, and Hasen says a win there is important as the team kicks off a stretch of 3 straight road games and 5 of their next 6 on the road. “It’s not the friendliest of confines,” he said. “We haven’t had a lot of success there so we’ll keep things as simple as we can. Their offense is clicking and they’re shooting the ball very well.” … Rochester is 4-0 at home … Rochester has scored just 9 power-play goals, fewest in the NLL … T Joe Walters is on pace for a 36-point season, which would be a career-best after scoring 34 last winter … F Cody Jamieson leads the team with 12 goals and is the only Rochester player in double figures for goals … D Scott Campbell leads the team with 12 forced turnovers, 7 of which came in last weekend’s win over Buffalo … The Toronto offense is getting a lot of attention, but the defense can’t be ignored, said Accursi, who said Toronto’s unit is a lot like Buffalo’s in that the Rock like to push from their back end. “We’ve got to be responsible and do our job and get off the floor,” he said. “And they have Nick in goal there. Once he feels the ball, it’s tough to get it behind him.”

Rock notes

Coach John Lovell watched Rochester’s win over Buffalo and was impressed. “I respect that defense,” he said of Rochester. “It’s what I call a solid team defense … as a unit, they play very well. We have to move the ball, move our feet and be aware of the ball because they don’t make mistakes.” … The Rock are just 1-3 against East Division opponents … F Garrett Billings has scored 13 goals in his last 3 games after scoring 2 in his first 3 games. He’s shooting 43% over the last 3 games. “We came in a little rusty,” he said of the start of the season. “Maybe I wasn’t shooting with much confidence but then the ball just started jumping in for me.” … One thing’s for sure, the Rock aren’t resting after scoring 20 goals because they know that’s more of an anamoly rather than a consistent. “We haven’t had a game like that in the 5 years I’ve been here,” Billings said of the win over Philadelphia. “And I’ve been on the other side of that, where nothing works. So we can’t pat ourselves on the back too hard.” … G Nick Rose made 41 saves on 51 shots for an .804 save percentage, the first game this season he’s cleared 80%.


Philadelphia Wings at Buffalo Bandits
Saturday, February 15 - First Niagara Center - 7:30 p.m. (EST)

Records: Philadelphia 3-5; Buffalo, 5-2.
Broadcast: YouTube.com/TLN.
Last week: Philadelphia lost to Toronto, 20-10, Philadelphia lost to Edmonton, 8-6; Buffalo lost to Rochester, 9-6.
History: Philadelphia leads all-time series, 25-25 (Bandits 14-11 vs. Wings at home).
Goals for: Philadelphia 93 (2nd); Buffalo 82 (4th).
Goals against: Philadelphia 94 (7th); Buffalo 76 (5th).

Wings notes

With Brandon Miller back in the fold, coach Blane Harrison said the Wings haven’t quite figured out how to platoon the goalies who were summer teammates for a Six Nations team that won the Mann Cup. “We’re happy with the way Evan Kirk has been playing and Brandon gives us an opportunity to start thinking more strategically down the stretch,” said Harrison. “We want to give Brandon a chance to get up to NLL speed.” … The Wings went into Toronto at .500, with 2 losses by 2 goals and 1 goal, but losing both ends was a bit of a wakeup call. “We were actually feeling pretty good about ourselves,” said Harrison. “We were 3-3 and thought we could have been 5-1 … but we embarrassed ourselves. The fact of the matter is, we weren’t ready for it.” … The blessing, in a weird way, was playing Edmonton on Saturday. It allowed the Wings to get back on the floor after their tough loss on Friday and even though Saturday was a loss, it was encouraging. “You want to prove to yourself that you weren’t as bad as you looked,” he said. “I was happy we bounced back a bit there in the second half and hopefully we can build off of that.” … The Wings have scored a league-high 22 power-play goals … The Wings have scooped a league-high 557 loose balls … F Tracey Kelusky has scored at least 1 goal in all 8 games this season and has 15, which is 1 fewer than he had in the last 2 seasons combined … F Kevin Crowley has scored 8 goals in his last 4 games after scoring 3 in his first 4 of the season. “I was disappointed with my play,” said Crowley. “But the last couple of games I’ve found a way to put the ball in.”

Bandits notes

As GM Steve Dietrich looks back on the loss to Rochester, he sees an offense that struggled, not a defense. “The 5-0 score at halftime was flattering, for both sides,” he said of a Buffalo offense that was without a goal on 21 first-half shots. … Dietrich went on to say that the Bandits would be wise to learn from the Wings, a team that shares and moves the ball, without worry. “Everybody needs to start doing the little things,” he said. “And not worry about whether or not I get to carry the ball … It shouldn’t matter who scores.” …T Kevin Brownell agreed, saying the offense was nowhere to be found on Saturday. “Last week, we came out flat and didn’t get what we wanted,” he said. “We’ve got to get back to basics and get back to hard work.” … The Bandits have allowed 16 power-play goals, third-most in the NLL … T Dhane Smith has scored just 1 goal in his last 3 games (28 shots) after scoring 9 in his first 4 games … F Mark Steenhuis has 13 goals, including 5 in his last 2 games, and is on pace to score 33, his highest total since scoring 36 in the 2010 season … G Anthony Cosmo is averaging 41.7 saves per game, putting him on pace to make 750 for the season.


Vancouver Stealth at Calgary Roughnecks
Saturday, February 15 - Scotiabank Saddledome - 9 p.m. (EST)

Records: Vancouver 2-6; Calgary 3-3.
Broadcast: YouTube.com/TLN.
Last week: Vancouver lost to Colorado, 10-9; Calgary defeated Minnesota, 15-13.
History: Calgary leads all-time series, 17-13 (Stealth are 9-5 at Calgary).
Goals for: Vancouver 84 (3rd); Calgary 81 (6th).
Goals against: Vancouver 97 (8th); Calgary 81 (6th).

Stealth notes

Two road games in the same weekend, against different opponents, presents a challenge that’s unique to the NLL. “The best you can do is get through the first game and try to refocus as quickly as you can for the next one,” said coach Chris Hall … Captain Kyle Sorensen said fitness is the key to being successful on weekends like this. “It’s a matter of getting replenished,” he said. “It’s a little bit tough to get sleep and rest … at the level you want it.” … The Stealth have a league-high 159 PIM … Slow starts have hurt the Stealth, at least in the last 2 games; they’ve scored 1 goal in the combined quarters … F Lewis Ratcliff has just 1 goal in his last 3 games, on 27 shots … Rookie F Cody Bremner has just 1 goal in his last 5 games after scoring 5 in his first 3.

Roughnecks notes

You knew it was coming and last week was the week, as F Curtis Dickson erupted for 5 goals in the win over Minnesota. It matched his total through the first 5 games of the season. “Confidence is everything,” coach Curt Malawsky said. “It was big for him to get himself back into form.” … Malawsky said fitness played a role in Dickson’s slow start because he missed training camp. “He’s got a lot of heart and a lot of determination,” said Malawsky. “But he’s been working on (the fitness) and he’s a little lighter, quicker and stronger. The start of his season really upset him.” … The Riggers got some defensive and transition help last weekend with the activation of Travis Cornwall … F Shawn Evans has just 6 goals through the first 6 games this season after scoring 16 in the first 6 of last winter … F Dane Dobbie has 10 goals in his last 3 games … F Daryl Veltman has 6 goals in his last 3 games after scoring 1 in his first 3 of this season … Rookie T Karsen Leung continues to impress with his all-around play. “He’s been everything we expected,” said Malawsky. “He’s got a great lacrosse IQ and he’s creating a lot out of our back end. He finishes well … and for a young guy, wee more than happy.”

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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