Check out the top performers in the National Lacrosse League from Week 17 with a preview of Stephen Stamp’s Three Stars of the Week on Inside Lacrosse via IL Indoor. With just one weekend left in the regular season and eight of the nine teams either clinched or still in the playoff picture, Week 18 should make for a thrilling finale before the Champion’s Cup Playoffs begin.
“Week 17 was an example of concentrated lacrosse watching for those of us who can’t get enough of the National Lacrosse League,” Stamp writes. “Starting with Georgia at New England at 7pm Eastern, we got to see another game starting every hour through Saskatchewan at Vancouver facing off at 7pm Pacific. Every game had its moments of excellence and excitement. As I wrote yesterday, the night was full of milestones being achieved or approached as well. Below, read about the players who performed the best in Saturday’s five-hour window.”
Shawn Evans, New England Black Wolves
5 goals, 6 assists, 4 loose balls, 2 caused turnovers
Among all the performances in Saturday’s four games, Evans’ was both the best statistical showing and the most enthralling to watch. It’s simply exciting to see a player of immense talent when he’s in a zone like Evans was against Georgia (unless you’re a Swarm fan, of course, in which case it would be excruciating), burying shots, making excellent passes to set up goals and creating scoring chances by stealing passes in reverse transition. Evans took a game that was very much still in doubt and turned it into a rout.
Dillon Ward, Colorado Mammoth
49 saves on 53 shots, .925 save percentage
Toronto came into its game Saturday as the only team eliminated from the playoffs, ravaged by injury and trying to win mostly for pride. They gave it an effort, but were clearly outplayed by a Mammoth team for which the game just meant more. So maybe the 53 shots the Rock directed at Ward weren’t all of the highest quality. Any time you can turn aside more than 90% of the shots an NLL team takes, you’re playing extremely well. Ward is seeing the ball—thanks in part to the play of the defence in front of him, of course—and when he sees it he can usually stop it.
Mark Matthews (Saskatchewan): 5g, 2a. Matthews is taking almost two shots per game fewer than he did last year. He’s still fifth in the league in shots, so it’s not like he’s passing up chances, but he’s spreading the ball even better than he did a year ago and it’s helping the Rush be in the driver’s seat for gaining home floor advantage if they advance to the Champions Cup…Evan Kirk (New England): 45/56, .804 save percentage. Kirk had a bit of a slow start against Georgia but came up huge when the Black Wolves needed him most. With the season Evans has had, Kirk isn’t even his own team’s MVP but he could well be among the three finalists for the award league wide…Dhane Smith (Buffalo): 4g, 4a. Smith may not have pictured an empty-net goal when he imagined the point that would break the single-season scoring record. He managed to make even an empty-netter exciting, though, with the quickness that helped him elude Rochester’s double team on the restart that led to his clincher…Cameron Holding (Colorado): 2a. 9LB, 4CTO. Holding had one of those games where it looked like every time a defender made a play it turned out to be him. Other Mammoth defenders played well, including another who will appear further down the column, but Holding stood out in all the good ways…Dan Dawson (Rochester): 3g, 4a. It’s typical of Dawson that he was no passenger in his 231st consecutive game, which sets the NLL’s new iron man record. He displayed vision and touch; his .236 shooting percentage is by far the highest among the league’s top 20 goal scorers…Jesse King (Georgia): 4g, 2a. King has earned deserved accolades for his play as a setup man and ringleader in the Georgia offence, but his 4-goal game Saturday also moved him into third among rookies in goals…Sheldon Burns (New England): 2g, 2a, 8LB. Just a dynamic presence up and down the floor for the Black Wolves…Steve Priolo (Buffalo): 2g, 7LB, 3CTO. Ditto with Priolo for the Bandits…Joel McCready (Vancouver): 4g, 2a. Very similar numbers to last year are proving that his increased scoring wasn’t a fluke, and it’s not coming at the expense of doing the dirty work that is still McCready’s specialty…Ilija Gajic (Colorado): 2g, 4LB, 3CTO. Gajic is the player-to-be-named-later I referred to above. With the season he’s having, no wonder Colorado was so quick and excited to bring him back when Vancouver released him… Patrick Saunders (New England): 4g, 2a. Folks were surprised when Saunders became a 25-goal scorer two years ago (and I include myself in among them). They were surprised when he followed that up with 38 last year. I think the time for surprise has come and gone; he’s one of only six players with 40 or more goals this year…Joel White (Georgia): 2a, 13LB. It wasn’t a great day for the Swarm defence, especially late in the game, but White’s consistency is a boon to a young team…Mark Steenhuis (Buffalo): 4g, 2a. Three of his goals came during Buffalo’s decisive 6-goal run…John Ranagan (New England): 1g, 7LB, 2CTO. The NLL needs American players to be able to make teams; Ranagan is a testament that intelligence, athleticism and good coaching can combine to allow a field player make the transition indoors effectively…Rhys Duch (Vancouver): 2g, 6a. His 8-point night pulled Duch within two of his second straight 100-point season…John Grant, Jr. (Colorado): 2g, 3a. Classic Junior goal, backing down a defender then spinning to fire the ball home, let him tie for a Mammoth-high 230 in just his 95th game with the team…Justin Salt (Vancouver): 1a, 5LB, 3CTO. Salt generally gets overlooked but he has developed his defensive game and is one of Vancouver’s steadiest…