It’s been five and a half months, 168 days to be exact, since there’s been on-floor NLL action after the Colorado Mammoth captured the 2022 Cup championship back on June 18, seemingly a lacrosse eternity ago.
That changes Friday as the 2022-23 NLL season gets flying on Face Off Weekend with East Conference rivals the Philadelphia Wings against the Halifax Thunderbirds at Scotiabank Arena in a nationally televised Game of the Week on TSN in Canada and ESPNews in the U.S. (6 pm ET).
Both the Wings and Thunderbirds were playoff teams last season, but were one-and-done after tight one-goal losses in the first round.
For Halifax, Friday’s season opener at The Nest is a chance to start the journey back to the postseason. The Thunderbirds, 7-2 at home last season (11-7 overall), have championship aspirations
“As a team we have many small goals that will lead to our ultimate goal of bringing a championship to Halifax,” says Thunderbirds captain Cody Jamieson, who returns for his 12th NLL season with 823 points in 166 career regular season games. “We would love to have a successful season, getting better each game, hopefully propelling us to some home-floor playoff games. We know our fans give us a distinct advantage.
“Playing in front of our home crowd is always amazing. The city of Halifax has really embraced us. It gives everyone that extra motivation knowing our fans will be going crazy in the stands.”
Looking ahead to Philadelphia, Jamieson says: “We would love nothing more than to win every game we play. That’s the plan going into it. We will put forth our best effort, and we have confidence that we are talented enough to come away with two points.”
For the Wings, who were 5-4 on the road last season (9-9 overall) but 0-2 against the Thunderbirds, Friday’s opener is all about focus.
“Our team is focused on a big weekend in Halifax. It’ll be a tough building to play in Week 1,” says Philadelphia captain, Kiel Matisz, who’s back for his 10th NLL season with 504 points and 712 loose balls in 148 career games. “It’s always great to snatch up early season wins. Road wins are important too.
“We are really focusing on our team processes, and executing our game plan. We want to focus on us this season. Last year, I felt like we were chasing the moments in-game rather than taking advantage of them. We are looking to be better by improving our team’s competitive spirit and preparation.”
Both the Thunderbirds and Wings look a bit different this season. Halifax added two veteran scorers, righty Randy Staats and lefty Ryan Benesch, while Philadelphia lost Kevin Crowley (San Diego) and Corey Small (Toronto) in free agency but replaced their 154 combined points with Joe Resetarits who recorded 111 points last season for Albany.
Face Off Weekend continues Saturday with another Game of the Week on TSN as the Vancouver Warriors travel back east to renew their classic all-Canadian battle with the Toronto Rock at FirstOntario Centre in Hamilton (5 pm ET/ESPN+ in the U.S.).
The Rock finished 13-5 last season but lost two one-goal games to Buffalo in the East Conference Finals. The Warriors missed the playoffs at 6-12.
Toronto wants to take that next step this season and Vancouver is the first test.
“It’s very important, it’s the first game of the season and a tone-setter with regards to how you want to play going forward,” says Rock captain Challen Rogers, who’s entering his sixth season with 141 points and 401 loose balls in 80 career games.
“I think whenever you play a game in this league there’s a lot of parity, any team can get a win. I have confidence in our group. It’s a new season. We’re seeing them for the first time and we’re excited for the challenge.”
During the offseason, Toronto added veteran experience on offence in lefty Small and righty Stephen Keogh and on defence with Chris Corbeil (currently injured).
The Warriors, meanwhile, have a new head coach behind the bench with Troy Cordingly and have also added experience and scoring with veteran righty Shawn Evans.
“Both Troy and Shawn have been great additions to the team. They both bring intensity and obsession of winning mentality which is contagious,” says Vancouver captain and defender Brett Mydske, a three-time NLL Cup champion who’s starting his 12th season and second with the Warriors.
“Starting on the road against a talented team like the Rock will be a big test for us. They were one of the top teams in the league last year and they are a tough team to beat at home. The Rock has had our number for some time now and we are going to try and change that. Getting a win will help build momentum going forward.
“Last season the second half obviously didn’t go well for us. We had a five-game losing streak and missed out on the playoffs. This year our No. 1 goal is not to be outworked. If we play like that then all our other goals will be achievable. The ultimate goal is to win the championship and that’s how it should be every year.”
Philadelphia’s Matisz agrees with Vancouver’s Mydske, and Halifax’s Jamieson and Toronto’s Rogers also have similar expectations for this season.
“Every team’s goal is to win the championship,” says Matisz. “Ours is the same.”
Faceoff Weekend includes four other games on Saturday with Albany at Buffalo (7:30 pm ET), San Diego at New York (7:30 pm ET), Rochester at Georgia (8 pm ET) and Colorado at Saskatchewan (8:30 pm ET). All games are available on ESPN+ in the United States and on TSN’s digital properties, TSN.ca and the TSN App in Canada.
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