Thomas Hajek in action for the Wings at Buffalo. Photo Credit: Bill Wippert
The Toronto Rock needed to get a couple of games under their belt before showing the form that helped them win their sixth NLL title last year.
With the first quarter of their season in the books, the Colorado Mammoth are showing why they may hoist the Champion’s Cup later this year.
After opening defense of their most recent championship with a pair of losses, the Rock evened their record with a two wins in roughly 24 hours this past weekend.
On Friday, Toronto scored six straight fourth-quarter goals in a 13-11 win over the Rochester Knighthawks at the Air Canada Centre. The Rock then traveled to the Scotiabank Saddledome to meet the Calgary Roughnecks in a rematch of the 2012 NLL season opener, and erased a two-goal deficit with less than two minutes to play in regulation before coming away with a 14-13 win on Cam Woods’ goal 65 seconds into overtime.
“I hadn’t scored in a long time. But it was definitely worth the wait tonight,” Woods told the Toronto Sun. You can read the Sun’s recap of the game here.
With Blaine Manning (broken collarbone) out and Colin Doyle missing Saturday’s game – his first since 2000 – with a lower-body injury, the Rock got huge contributions from Garrett Billings and Stephan Leblanc. Billings totaled six goals and eight assists while Leblanc had two goals and six assists on the weekend.
For Calgary, it was a second straight loss in a game it appeared to have won. A week earlier, the Roughnecks surrendered the final three goals in the fourth quarter before dropping an decision to Colorado.
“We’ve got to work through that, find a way to dig down, really bear down. Maybe we’ve got to get a little more swagger at the end,” Roughnecks captain Andrew McBride told John Down of the Calgary Herald. Read Down’s account of Calgary’s late fades here.
While Toronto appears to have finally righted itself, Colorado continued on its hot start.
John Grant Jr. had three goals and four assists, pushing his league-leading point total to 37, as the Mammoth topped the Knighthawks 14-11 on Saturday night. Grant, who played 10 seasons with Rochester, told ColoradoMammoth.com that this matchup held special meaning for him.
“I was looking forward to this game a little too badly,” he said. “It’s a team I played 10 years with and I owe a lot to the organization. I really wanted a win in this barn and we got it.”
Colorado remains the only unbeaten team in the league and will play three of its next four at the Pepsi Center, considered one of the most raucous arenas in the NLL.
With its second loss of the weekend, Rochester dropped below .500. Cody Jamieson, though, was a bright spot with six goals and seven assists.
The Edmonton Rush don’t seem to be missing forward Athan Iannucci so far, having scored 28 goals while splitting its first two games of the season.
Edmonton bounced back from a season-opening loss to Colorado by routing two-time West Division champion Washington 16-5 on Saturday. The Rush got goals from five different players in the first 9:06 and cruised from there.
“We had contributions from all over the floor, so that was good to see,” said coach-general manager Derek Keenan. “It’s about a 100 percent buy-in and about nobody caring who gets the goals and assists.”
Corey Small had nine points (two goals, seven assists) to tie a franchise record set on Jan. 20 by newcomer Shawn Williams, who needs 16 points to become the sixth player in NLL history to reach 1,000 for his career.
The Rush expected Iannucci to be a key of their offense acquiring him from Philadelphia in a blockbuster trade last year. The 2008 NLL Most Valuable Player has yet to agree on a contract, but Keenan is happy with the lineup he has and what they’ve produced so far.
“It’s about the team offense concept and that’s the mindset of the group we have,” he said.
Washington, meanwhile, dropped to 0-3 for the first time in franchise history and is the only winless team in the NLL. Assistant coach Art Webster is looking for complete game on both ends of the floor.
“In the first two games, our defense and goaltending was holding us in. Then tonight, our defense goes south and all of (a) sudden, we’re down five goals. We took some stupid penalties and didn’t play intelligent and it kept piling on,” he said.
Forward Rhys Duch told Aaron Lommers of the Everett (Wash.) Herald that “it’s not quite time to push the panic button, but something has got to change.” Read Lommers’ recap of the game here.
In Minnesota, the Swarm lived up to their name following a 19-11 win in their home opener over the Buffalo Bandits on Saturday.
Minnesota had nine power-play and three short-handed markers while tying a franchise record for most goals in a game. Captain Andrew Suitor was one of four Swarm players with a hat trick, including a goal that traveled the length of the field into an open net to beat the end of first quarter buzzer.
Goaltender Tyler Carlson also played unlike someone making his NLL debut, stopping 38 of 49 shots and recording five assists.
"Tyler earned a shot," coach Mike Lines told mnswarm.com. "Tyler played excellent in camp."
Five players from each team were ejected for fighting just before the first half ended. Suitor was among those sent off and told NLL.com’s Jace Frederick that the Swarm would not be pushed around.
“I saw one of our guys go down and as soon as something like that happens it’s a chain reaction,” he said. “…They tried to bully us around and we just showed that we’re team tough and we’re going to stand up for each other.”
It was a tough weekend for the Bandits after they fell 13-10 at home to Philadelphia on Friday. After that loss, coach Daris Kilgour told NLL.com’s Alan Rosenhoch that “…you’ve got to learn from (a loss) and improve. We’ve got no one to blame but ourselves and that’s all correctable.”
However, Buffalo has allowed 25 goals in its last five quarters and dropped two in a row following a 2-0 start. The Bandits will welcome winless Washington to the First Niagara Center on Saturday night.
As for the Wings, they have turned things around in a big way after allowing 22 goals in a season-opening loss to Rochester. A 5-11 squad each of the last two seasons, Philadelphia has surrendered a total of 19 goals while winning its last two contests and has moved into sole possession of the lead East Division lead after the Bandits' loss on Saturday.
“It was a great team effort,” Mouradian told Kevin Cirilli of the Philadelphia Inquirer. “Every game in this league is a playoff game. You have to have the physical endurance and the mental endurance to win.” Read Cirilli's game story here.
The Wings will face a huge test Saturday night when the Rock visit the Wells Fargo Center.