Check out reactions from around the league as the 2014 NLL season opened up with three games. (Photo: Larry Palumbo)
The 2014 National Lacrosse League season opened up in style with three primetime games on Saturday night. Six teams started their quest for the Champion's Cup including the back-to-back NLL champion Rochester Knighthawks who raised their title banner to the rafters before picking up right where they left off with another win.
Check out postgame locker room reactions below along with links to media recaps from around the league.
After lifting up their banner, the Knighthawks shut down the Minnesota Swarm with a 8-6 home win at Blue Cross Arena to open the 2014 NLL season on Saturday night.
Matt Vinc, the reigning Goaltender of the Year, limited the young Swarm offense to six goals - the fewest Minnesota has scored in a regular season game since a 13-6 loss to Toronto on March 23, 2007. Vinc finished with 45 saves on 51 shots, good enough for a .882 save percentage.
“Tonight was a big one for the defense and ‘Vno,’” Knighthawks transition player Joel McCready told NLL.com. “They played like crazy. ‘Vno’ stood on his head, and our defense just put up a wall in the second half. Those guys, they get all of the credit for this win.”
McCready found himself taking more shifts on offense with the fewer roster spots this season in addition to the fact that both Craig Point and Cory Vitarelli were scratched for the contest. With fewer players on the bench, McCready’s position essentially became forward rather than pushing the ball up the floor from the backend.
“Every game, I’m not sure where I am going to play. Tonight they said I’d play a bit more out the front door,” McCready said. “Just wherever they want me I have to fit in. Wherever they need me, I’m going to work my hardest; I’ll play in net if they ask me to.”
For Minnesota, it proved too hard to win a game with six goals on the scoreboard despite a strong defensive effort.
"Defensively, we've got a lot of young faces and a young defense, an athletic defense, but we only allowed eight goals against," Swarm head coach Joe Sullivan told the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle. "If you look at it statistically if you can keep a team below 10, you typically get the win. If you keep Rochester, one of the more dynamic offenses to eight goals and you don't get the win, there's problems other places."
"I think they just took advantage of their opportunities late in the game," said the Swarm's 2013 NLL Transition Player of the Year and former RIT standout Jordan MacIntosh. "They had a couple of good looks and they buried them. We had some good looks late and we didn't."
The Philadelphia Wings opened the 2014 season and the Blane Harrison era with a convincing road victory, running over the Buffalo Bandits by a score of 17-13 before a crowd of 13,564 at First Niagara Center.
The Wings, the first team in NLL history with four first-overall draft picks on the same team (Kevin Crowley, Jordan Hall, Brodie Merrill and Tracey Kelusky), were uplifted by five goals from Hall.
“Jordan [Hall] has been an interesting individual,” Philadelphia's new head coach Harrison told NLL.com. “He’s a tremendous talent, I was [there] when we drafted him first overall a number of years ago, I’ve always enjoyed his game. He’s a consummate leader.”
Kelusky, who spent three seasons with the Bandits before leaving as a free agent this past summer, made quite the impact with six points (2+4).
“For me, talking with management, returning was something I wasn’t comfortable with, and I don’t think they were really comfortable with it either,” Kelusky told The Buffalo News in a feature. “I’m fortunate that Philly gave me the opportunity to go down there.”
“It wasn’t a matter of whether I could still play. It’s a matter of whether I wanted to still play,” Kelusky added. “When I got out there, the spark was kind of re-lit.”
“The boys were happy he could come back here and get a win. Good for him,” Harrison said.
Meanwhile, the start of the season of redemption for the new-look Bandits, who missed the playoffs last year, and new head coach Troy Cordingley did not go as planned.
“They taught us a lesson,” Cordingley told The Buffalo News. “We were outworked, outplayed, outwilled. Talk is cheap, but talk doesn’t win games. We were terrible. We’re lucky it’s only Dec. 28.”
One bright spot for Buffalo was the play of forward Ryan Benesch, acquired from Minnesota via offseason trade, as the scorer netted a goal and added two assists.
“Individual stats mean nothing,” Benesch said. “This is a team game. We came out flat and we lost that game as a team. There’s no other way to put it.”
The Edmonton Rush earned their first win in a season opener since 2007 by defeating the Colorado Mammoth with a nailbiting 13-10 road win before a crowd of 15,596 at Pepsi Center on Saturday night.
“We were a little sluggish coming out of the gate,” Rush general manager and head coach Derek Keenan told NLL.com. “I think we were a bit tentative and a bit rusty there…our defense kind of got us going, created some turnovers and we got running the floor pretty well and we started executing our offense pretty good…all in all you come in here the first week, it’s nice to get a win.”
Edmonton's former first-rounder Curtis Knight, entering his second pro season, scored three goals and added three assists to earn the game's first star honors.
“Sometimes you have more chances than other games, it seemed like tonight they were going in…I’m glad I was able to contribute and hope to continue that,” Knight said.
Conversely, the Mammoth suffered a bit of a letdown before a big home crowd at the "Loud House" in Denver after an exciting offseason.
“I’m disappointed, we had a good training camp and thought they were ready,” Hamley added. “I thought we made some real bad mental mistakes. When the lights are turned on you got to be better, and it’s really disappointing. We’ll have to regroup and figure it out."
Colorado's Adam Jones was one of the better players on the turf and was named the game's second star after posting a game-high four goals with two assists.
“It’s frustrating, we were all ready to go tonight, and nerves got the best of us there in the second quarter on that run,” Jones said. “That seems to be something that we got to work on."
The Mammoth will get right back to work in Week #2 as they host the Vancouver Stealth, who will make their season debut on the road, on Saturday, Jan. 4 at 9 p.m. ET live on TSN2 in Canada and ESPN3 in the U.S.
But first, the visiting Calgary Roughnecks and Toronto Rock will open their 2014 seasons at Air Canada Centre on Friday, Jan. 3 at 7:30 p.m. ET live on YouTube via The Lacrosse Network (YouTube.com/TLN).