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2024 NLL Semifinals Primer

There were no upsets in the NLL Quarterfinals; nobody played spoiler to a higher seed, and thus the top four regular season teams are the ones remaining to challenge for a berth in the NLL championship. The defending champion Buffalo Bandits are the fourth seed and will face the first-place Toronto Rock, while second-place San Diego will have to get by third-place Albany for their first entry into the Finals.

Below, we take a look at how each series might play out.

 

(1) Toronto Rock vs. (4) Buffalo Bandits

Game 1: Friday, May 3   7 p.m. ET   TSN, TSN+, ESPN+
Game 2: Sunday, May 5   5:30 p.m. ET   TSN, TSN+, ESPNU, ESPN+
Game 3: *if necessary

This season:

  • The Rock only lost three games this season, and two of them were to the Bandits. Buffalo won 16-14 back on January 14 at FirstOntario Centre, which was Toronto’s first loss of the season. Buffalo also took the rematch at KeyBank Center on March 16, 14-12.

History:

  • This is one of the most talked about and anticipated rivalries in the League.
  • In the last decade, the Bandits have bounced the Rock out of the playoffs four times, including the last three.
  • Buffalo won in two games last season, 14-5 and 17-8. In 2022, they won in two straight 18-17 and 10-9. Prior to the pandemic, they won the Eastern Final (a single-game elimination) 12-8. Both teams had some middling years before that: the last time they met in the playoffs before this current streak was 2014, when Buffalo won the Eastern Semifinal 15-13.

Offense:

  • History shows us that despite having two of the best goaltenders in the league in this series, we should expect high-scoring games. There are two possible reasons for that: a) everything is amplified in the playoffs, especially the energy from both the players and the crowd, and b) both team’s offenses are on a heater. The stakes are higher.
  • Josh Byrne hasn’t scored fewer than five points in a game since December, while Dhane Smith scored six points or more in every game this season. They finished one-two in League scoring with 135 and 134 points, respectively. Byrne scored six points in the Quarterfinals win over Georgia, five of them goals including the game winner in overtime.
  • Josh and Dhane lead the show, but their supporting characters are the best in the league: Tehoka Nanticoke, Chase Fraser, Ian MacKay, Chris Cloutier, and Kyle Buchanan. They are a dangerous offensive group.

Defense:

  • Both Toronto and Buffalo sport tough, physical back ends, led by strong veterans. The Rock added Chris Corbeil to an already formidable defense that includes Brad Kri, Mitch de Snoo and Billy Hostrawser. Buffalo is led by captain Steve Priolo, Nick Weiss and newcomer Paul Dawson. It will take crafty moves from the offense to break through these defenders.

Goaltending:

  • Nick Rose vs. Matt Vinc is the matchup every lacrosse fan dreams of. It’s happened so many times in the last decade, from NLL regular season and playoff games to summer lacrosse. They’re easily capable of matching each other save for save.
  • Without looking at the detailed numbers, Vinc, the 18-year veteran, seems to have the edge when it comes to success, especially in the playoffs, but if ever there was a year for this to change, it’s 2024. Nick Rose, a 14-year vet, is having the best season of his career and is a frontrunner for Goaltender of the Year.
  • Among starting goaltenders, Rose finished first in save percentage at .810 and first in goals against at 9.18. Vinc tied for fourth with a .780 save percentage and was eighth in GAA at 11.34.

What the difference will be if they are to win the series:

  • “It’s going to come down to a lot of factors. I don’t think it’s something as simple as ‘what’s going to be the difference to be successful.’ There’s no doubt about it, they’ve got the better of us in the past couple of seasons. It’s up to us as a group to change that narrative. We plan to go out and play our best lacrosse and give ourselves every opportunity to be successful.” – Matt Sawyer, head coach, Toronto Rock
  • “Playing a full 60 minutes, and not taking unneeded penalties. I think penalty trouble has been our Achilles’ heel all season. If we can get that fixed up we’ll be in a good position, as well as finishing on our offensive opportunities. It’s staying focused on the job we’re there to do. Keeping each other in mind, and the reason we’re putting everything on the line: to have another week together, another game together. To keep our season going.” – Chris Cloutier, Buffalo Bandits

Of note:

  • There are five Indigenous players in this series: Challen Rogers and Justin Martin on Toronto, and Tehoka Nanticoke, Adam Bomberry and Frank Brown (IR) on Buffalo.
  • Buffalo is the tallest team in the Semifinals, with an average height of 6’2. Four players on the team are 6’5.
  • Both teams have an average age of 29 years, with Toronto being slightly younger at 224 days, while Buffalo is 257 days.
  • Toronto and Buffalo share the shortest distance between their two arenas at 106 kilometers or 65 miles, or, an hour and 20 minutes to drive. Each team should be prepared for an influx of visiting fans, making for an intense and exciting atmosphere.

 

(2) San Diego Seals vs. (3) Albany FireWolves

Game 1: Friday, May 3   10 p.m. ET   ESPNU, ESPN+, TSN+
Game 2: Sunday, May 5   3 p.m. ET   ESPNU, ESPN+, TSN+
Game 3: *if necessary

This season:

  • San Diego and Albany only played each other once this season, back in January at MVP Arena. It was a 14-7 win for the Seals, who handed the FireWolves their first loss of the season. Wes Berg and Austin Staats each had 7 points in the game.

History:

  • In addition to their one meeting this season, the Seals and FireWolves have only met one other time: back on February 26, 2022 at Pechanga Arena. Albany won 13-12, with Jacob Ruest scoring the game-winning goal.

Youth vs. Wisdom?

  • The average age of the FireWolves’ roster is 26, while the average of the Seals’ roster is 30. The youngest player on Albany is Nicholas Volkov, born in 2003, and the oldest are Colton Watkinson and Joe Nardella, both born in 1993. Brodie Merrill is the oldest player on San Diego, born in 1981 – 12 years older than Watkinson and Nardella. Christopher Origlieri is the youngest, born in 2002.

Offense:

  • If NLL players weren’t such great athletes, age might come into play here, with Albany’s youthful offensive corps anchored by three men born in 1999, whereas San Diego’s leaders were born in 1993 (Berg), 1988 (Dickson) and 1986 (Dobbie). But every player is well-conditioned, and more than that – they have some of the best skills in the league. The Seals’ veterans are crafty, and the FireWolves’ rookies are dynamic.

Defense:

  • Brodie Merrill came out of retirement to win the NLL Cup because he liked San Diego’s chances this season. Kyle Rubisch chose to sign in San Diego for the same reason. They will do everything they can to hoist that trophy, and this is where their age and experience will be key.
  • Trevor Baptiste and Joe Nardella’s battle at the dot will feature two of the best American face-off men in the League. Baptiste won 71.5 percent of the faceoffs he took this season, while Nardella won 67.9

Goaltending:

  • Each team has confidence in their goaltending. Christopher Origlieri is among the most talented young goaltenders the League has seen since Christian Del Bianco, capable of handling tremendous pressure so early in his career. He played behind Frankie Scigliano the last few seasons as the Seals were eliminated early – perhaps handing him the reins will be the difference for the California club.
  • At the other end of the floor, Doug Jamieson is more of a stalwart in the League after seven seasons. He is considered the backbone of the team by his teammates, who have full confidence in his abilities.
  • Among starting goaltenders, the pair had similar stats in the regular season. Origlieri sported a 9.79 GAA (second only to Rose) and a .970 save percentage, while Jamieson earned a 10.12 GAA and a .800 save percentage.

What the difference will be if they are to win the series:

  • “It’ll just be focusing on our room, focusing on what we have. We always have a great game plan going. Believing in ourselves and sticking together as a group. The biggest strength for our team this year has been how tight we are, how much we enjoy being together and playing for one another.” – Jackson Nishimura, Albany FireWolves
  • “The difference for us to win the series is going to be attention to details! We are a very strong team when we execute the little aspects of the game. Additionally, staying focused on the process of each shift and finding ways to win little battles all over the floor.” – Cam Holding, San Diego Seals

Of note:

  • This series will feature five alumni of the University of Denver: Alex Simmons and Ethan Walker for Albany, and Danny Logan, Trevor Baptiste and Wes Berg for San Diego.
  • Six players in this series have Indigenous roots: Albany’s Marshall Powless, Travis Longboat, Leo Stouros and Doug Jamieson, and San Diego’s Austin Staats and Jerry Staats (IR).
  • San Diego has the most alumni from the BCJALL at 9, including four graduates from the New Westminster Salmonbellies and four from the Coquitlam Adanacs.

NLL