Forward John Grant, Jr. and the Colorado Mammoth earned their first win at Pepsi Center as both home teams won in Week #2. (Photo: Jack Dempsey)
The 2014 National Lacrosse League season is officially underway after two Face Off 2014 openers in Week #2. After two more great games, all nine teams are ready to really get it going with six matchups set for Week #3. Before they do, check out postgame reactions to the media from locker rooms around the league from this past weekend.
Two teams opened their NLL seasons on Friday night as the Toronto Rock (1-0) defeated the Calgary Roughnecks (0-1) with a 16-11 home win before a crowd of 11,120 at Air Canada Centre.
“We came into this game prepared,” Rock forward Stephan Leblanc told the Toronto Sun. “We have a lot of respect for them, but we were the team that was fired up today.”
Leblanc had five goals and two assists while teammate Garrett Billings posted 10 points with one goal and nine helpers.
“It’s great to put up numbers like that," Billings told the Toronto Star. "I’ve been with this core group for four years now so I’ve got good chemistry playing with Steph going back to our junior days and ever since Josh Sanderson put on a Rock jersey for the second time we’ve had great chemistry, too. It helps knowing where all the guys are going to be on the floor. It’s fun. I’d have liked to have scored a couple more goals. But what can you do?”
Rock transition player Jesse Gamble was excited that Toronto came up big against the other division champion from last year's regular season in Calgary.
"It was a great way to start the season, to know that we're competitive and that we have the right guys," Gamble told the Canadian Press. "We can compete in this league. That wasn't a bad (Calgary) team. They've got a lot of skill and they are going to compete for the Champion's Cup so this win gives us a lot of confidence."
Rock captain Colin Doyle, the league's second leading all-time scorer behind Buffalo's John Tavares, began his 17th NLL season with the team's first goal of 2014. Even Roughnecks head coach Curt Malawsky complimented Doyle's game.
"He takes teams on his back, he does the dirty work when it needs to be done," Malawsky told the Canadian Press in a feature story. He scores nothing but big goals. Off the floor, a consummate professional and he's all about the team.
"I'm very proud to call him a friend and he'll be a first-ballot NLL Hall of Famer. Anyone who watches the NLL, he should be our poster boy for it."
As for the game, Malawsky acknowledged that stumbling out of the gate early on the road was maybe too much to overcome.
“Yeah, no question,” Malawsky added to the Star. “You’re down 7-3 to a team like that in their building. It’s tough to battle back. They went on three three-goal runs and a five-goal run and we only answered back with a four-goal run. We didn’t do a very good job of controlling momentum.”
“We got out to a slow start and got behind early, and when you get behind early against an experienced, veteran, well-coached team, it’s always a scrap to get back in it,” Roughnecks transition player Geoff Snider told the Calgary Sun. “I thought the second quarter we played a lot better. It’s a frustrating start, but it’s an 18-game season.”
“Sometimes it's better to lose games early rather than win them. You learn more about your team and teammates and what they're capable of when you're down,” he added.
Malawsky seemed confident that his team would adjust and be ready to go next game.
"We had a tough go and that's what lacrosse is," Malawsky told the Calgary Herald. "If you base your season on Game 1, you're not going to be very successful. Do we have to make some adjustments? Absolutely. We had a lack of ball pressure. Our feet weren't moving and they got a lot of second possessions. We got a little scrambled and running around back there and we need to reel it in. We'll be better."
Calgary forward Jeff Shattler scored four goals and while it wasn't enough to avoid a loss, the forward thinks there was a lesson learned.
“We came in with a plan and didn't execute,” Shattler told NLL.com. “It's a learning experience and at least we can learn it at the beginning of the season rather than midway.”
On Saturday night, the Colorado Mammoth (1-1) defeated the Vancouver Stealth (0-1) with a thrilling 13-12 home win before a crowd of 15,101 at Pepsi Center. The Mammoth earned their first win of the season and only the team’s second win in their last 13 matchups with the Stealth. Fans who watched the game live on TSN2 in Canada or on ESPN3 and Altitude in the United States saw some of the best action that the sport has to offer.
“A win’s a win’s a win in this league, it’s a grind. I thought we showed a lot of resilience,” Mammoth head coach Bob Hamley told NLL.com. “We got off to a good start which we wanted, we had a little low, but Dillon Ward held the fort for us. Offense got going, transition got going; I thought our ‘D’ did a good job too. It’s a one-goal league and we’re happy to be on the right side of it.”
The rookie netminder Ward picked up the win in relief of Tye Belanger by recording 30 saves on 38 shots including the biggest one in the game's final seconds.
“Just to see the team battle back and stay the course like that, we stuck to our game plan, bared down a little bit and we just gutted one out,” said Ward.
The back-and-forth game with highlight-reel plays made for some dramatics throughout the contest which ultimately spoiled the Stealth's opener.
"I thought we did enough, considering the circumstances, to be able to win, but we have to clean a few things up," Vancouver coach Chris Hall told The Province.
The Stealth were without captain Kyle Sorensen who was ejected in the first half for spearing.
"We made some mistakes late clearing the ball," Hall added. "Is that a product of tiring? I don't know."
Stealth forward Rhys Duch simply said a game can swing either way, especially if a team does not execute adequately for entire duration.
“I think it was a classic case of playing 50 minutes of good lacrosse and played terribly for 10, and they took full advantage of it…momentum swings like that are costly in this league," Duch said.
“They got on a bit of a roll and we gave up a couple goals,” Hall said. “We made some mistakes late in the game. We turned the ball over twice at center which was bad fundamentals."
All nine teams are in action in Week #3 with six games starting with two Friday night matchups as the Buffalo Bandits (0-1) host the Toronto Rock (1-0) at First Niagara Center at 7:30 p.m. ET before the Calgary Roughnecks (0-1) host the Colorado Mammoth (1-1) at Scotiabank Saddledome at 9 p.m. ET.