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A Look At The NLL’s Updated West Division

Reflecting on the moves and predicting the West's best

After the COVID-19 pandemic cut short the 2019-20 season and then forced the league to cancel the 2020-21 campaign, the National Lacrosse League returns to action for the 2021-22 season with opening weekend set for December 3-4, 2021.  The NLL will welcome a new team as the Panther City Lacrosse Club will be a part of the new West Division under the leadership of Tracey Kelusky as Head Coach and Bob Hamley as GM.

Here’s a team-by-team capsule of each club that will make up the West Division as we have had two offseasons to digest transactions.

Calgary Roughnecks (5-5, t-3rd in West Division 2019-20)

With the 2019-20 NLL season shortened because of the COVID-19 pandemic, a champion was not crowned, so the Calgary Roughnecks enter the 2021-22 season as defending champions.  Because the 2020-21 season was cancelled as a result of the ongoing pandemic, the Roughnecks will be adding players from both the 2020 and 2021 drafts into the mix.

“It’s going to be different,” said Roughnecks Head Coach, Curt Malawsky. “The young guys will have a chance to really prove themselves. We’re more of a team that was really established before and didn’t have very many spots. There’s going to be a lot of competition for spots this year.”

The loss of Dane Dobbie will hurt the Roughnecks offensively. When a player puts up 17 goals in four games, it is almost impossible to find talent to replace what is missing. The Roughnecks went 2-4 in Dobbie’s absence but expect players like Ryan Martel and a healthy Jesse King to increase their production. The core of the team is still intact and will remain competitive in the West.

Key Additions:  

Nate Wade and Harrison Matsuoka

Key Losses:

Dane Dobbie and Tyson Bell
Colorado Mammoth (7-6, 2nd in West Division 2019-20)
The Mammoth did not get off to a good start in 2019-20, opening the season by losing six of their first ten games.  But then came a three-game winning streak that pushed Colorado over .500 and into contention for a playoff spot. The tide was changing for the Mammoth who traded for right handed forward Tyler Digby from the New York Riptide to bolster the right hand side of the offense. In their last game, they had an impressive comeback against the Knighthawks after starting the game down 7-1.  That’s when the COVID-19 pandemic put an end to the season and now the Mammoth turn their attention to the 2021-22 campaign and providing the fans at the Loud House with a solid team.

The loss of captain Dan Coates will hurt the Mammoth defense and leadership in the locker room but provides more opportunities for young players such as Warren Jeffrey and Brett Craig to grow in their careers. The big splash for the Mammoth came when they grabbed Zed Williams from Georgia. Williams hasn’t suited up for the Mammoth yet but has put on an amazing two seasons with the PLL in the meantime.

“Our league is blessed to be in a position where we continue to attract the best box lacrosse talent in the world,” said General Manager Brad Self. “We’re thrilled to get back to work with last year’s group and look forward to seeing how our young guys fit into the picture moving forward.”

Key Additions: 

Ron John, Zed Williams, and Connor Robinson

Key Losses: 

Dan Coates, Jacob Ruest and Will Malcom
Panther City Lacrosse Club (Expansion Team)
The National Lacrosse League welcomes the Panther City Lacrosse Club in Fort Worth Texas as the league’s 14th franchise for the 2021-22 season and they will play their home games at 14,000 seat Dickies Arena.  Five-time NLL All-Star Tracey Kelusky will be the team’s first Head Coach.

“To say I’m incredibly honored would be an understatement,” said Kelusky. “I am very excited for the opportunity to assist in leading the Panther City franchise to become a Championship caliber team in the NLL.”

Kelusky was the first overall pick in the 2000 NLL Entry Draft and became an assistant coach following a 14-year, Hall of Fame playing career primarily with the Calgary Roughnecks.  Most recently, Kelusky was the offensive coach for the Philadelphia Wings and he oversaw the highest scoring offense in the league during the 2019-20 season.

Expansion teams did not fare well in the 2019-20 season and with a tough West Division, it remains to be seen how well Panther City will compete especially with some of their top picks from the 2021 Entry Draft returning to school or with Randy Staats potentially being out for the season with a knee injury. Bob Hamley has a vision but it might take a year or two to see the results of his plan pay off.

Key Additions:

Ryan Benesch, Matt Hossack, Phil Caputo, Connor Kelly, Liam Patten, Connor Sellars, Taylor Stuart, Randy Staats and Jeremy Thompson.
San Diego Seals (6-6, t-3rd in West Division 2019-20)
When the COVID-19 pandemic prematurely ended the 2019-20 NLL season, the San Diego Seals were in the mix for a post-season berth.  They were riding a three-game winning streak that brought their season-ending record to 6-6 and look to bring a championship caliber squad to southern California for the 2021-22 campaign.

The Seals made arguably the biggest splash in the off-season by signing former NLL Most Valuable Player Dane Dobbie as a free agent where he spent his entire career with division rival, Calgary.

“Dane is one of the best offensive players of his generation,” said Seals General Manager and Head Coach Patrick Merrill. “And to put it simply, he’s a winner. He’s a true competitor to his core and we’ve been able to see that throughout his Hall of Fame-caliber career so far.”

The extra additions of Tre Leclaire and Mac O’Keefe make an already scary Seals offense even scarier. The Seals did lose Nick Damude in the expansion draft which gives Frank Scigliano the starting role in net. Damude split time in net with Scigliano last season and is credited with a 3-1 record in the 2019-20 season. Will this be the year that Brodie Merrill finally gets a NLL Championship?

Key Additions:

Dane Dobbie, Tre Leclaire and Mac O’Keefe.

Key Losses: 

Connor Fields, Kyle Buchanan, Nick Damude, and Connor Kearnan.
Saskatchewan Rush (7-3, 1st in West Division 2019-20)
The Saskatchewan Rush was a legitimate contender for the NLL title when the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the 2019-20 season.  They were leading the West Division with a 7-3 record and now they look to recapture their winning ways for the 2021-22 season.  Historically, the Rush don’t often pursue other team’s unrestricted free agents but they did fortify their back end with the signing of ten-year veteran defenseman Matt Beers.

“When Matt Beers became available, it was an easy decision for me to put together an offer,” said Rush General Manager Derek Keenan.  “Matt has long been a premier defender in the NLL.  Our fans are going to love Matt Beers.”

There are questions about the Rush’s age and whether their dynasty is reaching an end point with this group of players. Some would think Derek Keenan is exactly where he wants his roster to be. It would not surprise anyone to see the Rush lead the West Division and for players like Mark Matthews, Robert Church, and Ryan Dilks to have stellar seasons. The Rush did lose former Goalie of the Year, Evan Kirk in free agency which leaves a question mark for arguably the most important position in this expanded NLL with goalie talent thinning. Adam Shute has been in reserve for a few seasons, stepping in net in 2019 for a few games recording a 5-3 record on a .772 save percentage. It looks like it will be his time to start in net.

Key Additions:

Josh Currier, Matt Beers, Dan Lintner, Bobby Kidd III, and Marshall Powless.

Key Losses:

Connor Robinson, Jeremy Thompson, Matthew Dinsdale, Evan Kirk, and Matt Hossack
Vancouver Warriors (4-9, 5th in West Division 2019-20)
This coming season, the Vancouver Warriors hope to make some big strides since the NLL was last in action.  When the pandemic put an end to the 2019-20 season, the Warriors were sitting in last place in the Western Conference and were in the midst of a four-game losing streak.

Despite how the last season turned out and the loss of veteran defenseman Matt Beers, there is excitement in Vancouver about the addition of 2020 first round pick (2nd overall) defenseman and transition player Reid Bowering.

“Reid is a dynamic, two-way player that has the rare ability to dominate the game at both ends of the field.  He has won at every level he has played at and we see him as a future leader and future Captain of the Vancouver Warriors” said General Manager, Dan Richardson

The struggling Warriors will have many new faces, including first round pick from the 2021 entry draft in Adam Caharalambides, and a young core with the number of players who announced their retirement within the last few months. If Mitch Jones and Keegan Bal can have similar performances as they did in the 2019-20 season, they can be dangerous. The real question will be on the backend as they allowed three more goals per game than they scored in 13 games. The only teams to allow more goals on a per game basis were the expansion Riptide and Knighthawks.

Key Additions:

Matthew Dinsdale, Reid Bowering, Adam Charalambides, and Brett Mydske.

Key Losses: 

Matt Beers, Ian Hawksbee, Joel McCready and Jame Rahe.

With the defending champion (2018-19) Calgary Roughnecks, one of the best teams from the 2019-20 season in the Saskatchewan Rush and the expansion Panther City Lacrosse Club, the National Lacrosse League’s West Division should be a fun watch during the 2021-22 season.

In my next article, we’ll take a look at the NLL’s East Division.