Which National Lacrosse League players performed the best this past weekend with the playoff race in full swing? Find a preview of Stephen Stamp’s Three Stars of NLL Week 15 below for a rundown of the top performances from around the league.
Shawn Evans, New England Black Wolves
5 goals, 11 assists, 14 loose balls, 3 caused turnovers
The sheer volume of points, with 9 against Saskatchewan Friday and another 7 against Toronto Saturday, makes him a contender for the 3 Stars. But as usual Evans brought a whole lot more than just numbers. I’ve written about his winning goal from Friday and his nail in the coffin goal from Saturday. Both were things of beauty, showing off different aspects of his game: spatial awareness, tenacity, quickness, deceptiveness. Evans had the kind of weekend that helped to create excitement for the game in Uncasville and admiration from his teammates, not that they didn’t already know what he brings to the floor. Evans was an easy pick this week.
Evan Kirk, New England Black Wolves
2 wins, 79 saves on 96 shots, .823 save percentage
If anyone could have pushed Evans for the top spot it was his teammate. Kirk was supposed to get Friday night off, but when Tye Belanger struggled as the Rush roared out to a 6-1 first-quarter lead, it was time to call the cavalry. Kirk rode to the rescue, limiting the potent Saskatchewan offence to 7 goals through the final three quarters and helping the Black Wolves believe they could pull off what was looking like an unlikely comeback.
Kirk started slowly the next night in his scheduled start against Toronto, giving up goals on three of the first four shots he faced. He said afterwards he figured he was one more goal away from getting the rest of the night off. Instead, he got dialled in and held the Rock to 7 goals on 56 shots the rest of the way. If he can close out the season the way he closed out those two games, Kirk will be the easy choice as the league’s goalie of the year.
Dhane Smith (Buffalo): 5g. The Great Dhane may not always earn one of the 3 Stars but he is never far off. His first-quarter hat trick sent the Bandits on the road to their tenth win. Lest anyone think that my argument for Shawn Evans as a strong MVP candidate suggests I’m not high on Smith, let me quash that line of thought. He is having a transcendent season and establishing himself as one of the best to ever step on an NLL floor…Randy Staats (Georgia): 3g, 4a. The Swarm had lost five straight but for the most part hadn’t been that far away. For a young team, though (and the Swarm are still the youngest in the league) it can be difficult to see past the L’s piling up. When Colorado scored three straight goals on some Swarm breakdowns in the first quarter, I was interested to see how Georgia would respond. They showed character in coming back to have probably their best overall performance of the season and Staats was a key figure in making things click…Dan Dawson (Rochester): 2g. 5a. The Knighthawks scored 4 goals in three and a half minutes to tie up their rivalry game against Buffalo. Dawson had assists on the last three…Curtis Dickson (Calgary): 4g, 2a. His 55 goals matches the fourth-highest season total in NLL history and he reached the mark in 16 games. He’s likely to move past both of Gary Gait’s top seasons and trail only Athan Iannucci and, of course, Smith by the time this season wraps up…Sheldon Burns (New England): 1g, 11LB, 6CTO. Burns is probably the best defender that absolutely no one is talking about in the NLL. He was a nice player when he came out of junior but how high his upside was wasn’t clear. Well, he’s evolved into a solid D guy who can run the floor but rarely if ever gets caught leaking out early. The behind the back bouncer he tucked under the cross-bar Saturday was a beauty. I thought it may have looked a little flukey but a teammate told me he does things like that in practice all the time. Burns may be the breakout player of the year…Robert Church (Saskatchewan): 3g, 5a. Every time I see him play, Church does something that leaves me shaking my head at how good a play it was and how easy and effortless he made it look…Callum Crawford (Colorado): 1g, 7a. The assists pushed his season pace on track to break the record but it was his lone goal that I really enjoyed. Crawford has made a cottage industry of jumping into the air above the crease and tucking a full twister back to the short side. I wondered when goalies would catch on. Well, Brodie MacDonald was ready for that move and responded when Crawford started to implement it. Whether he planned to go far side the whole time or whether he has unbelievably quick reflexes, Crawford sold the fake then reached around MacDonald to deposit the ball just inside the post. It was spectacular…Corey Small (Vancouver): 2g, 6a. Oops. I almost left Small out completely because I thought I had included him earlier and was about to delete his name from the list of candidates I compile at the bottom of my 3 Stars working document. Fear not, Stealth fans, I did recognize how strong of a game he had…Kyle Rubisch & Brett Mydske (Saskatchewan): 4CTO, 2CTO respectively. The way Rubisch has played the last four or five weeks makes me wonder if he wasn’t fully healthy earlier in the year, when he was good but not as dominant as we’ve grown accustomed to. He looks like he’s at 100% now and that’s bad news for opposing offences. Mydske just plays almost impeccable, virtually invisible defence every time he hits the floor. He doesn’t blow guys up or create a lot of transition, but he rarely gets beat one on one, has exquisite slide timing and makes opponents pay if they head to the middle…Lyle Thompson (Georgia): 3g, 2a. Sunday was the best I’ve seen Thompson look in weeks. He snagged one loose ball on a rebound where his stick darted into a group of sticks like a cobra. He may not have had quite the season the hype led observers to think he would as a rookie, but he certainly looks like he’ll be very good for a long time…Adam Jones (Colorado): 4g, 1a. Such a pure sniper… Scott Campbell (Rochester): 1g, 1a, 4LB, 4CTO. Typically effective game for the Knighthawks unsung hero…Brodie Merrill (Toronto): 1g, 2a, 1CTO. I thought he had one of his best games of the season. Toronto’s D has been ravaged by an astonishing number of injuries and Merrill has really showed his renowned leadership in helping the unit remain competitive with all the changes the injuries have necessitated…Shayne Jackson (Georgia): 2g, 5a. Similar to Robert Church in that he doesn’t do a lot of spectacular things but always makes plays that help his team…Steve Priolo & Jay Thorimbert (Buffalo): 2g, 3CTO; 1g, 1a, 4CTO respectively. Contributed solid performances all over the floor…Zack Greer (Saskatchewan): 3g, 3a. Brings consistent scoring without needing to handle the ball too much or be involved in every play…Kevin Crowley, Kyle Buchanan, Patrick Saunders (New England): 6g, 5a; 4g, 4a; 5g, 4a respectively. Evans has been the catalyst for the Black Wolves, but a catalyst only works if there are other players for him to spark to greater things. This trio all…