After four games in Week 2 of the National Lacrosse League’s 30th anniversary year, every NLL team has now hit the turf at least once, which means Brian Shanahan’s first edition of the NLL Power Rankings on Inside Lacrosse is ready for debate.
“Welcome to the 2016 NLL Power Rankings,” Shanahan writes. “Each week, I’ll give a brief update of the recent weekend of NLL lacrosse and rank the nine NLL teams. Depending on what team you cheer for, the rankings are sure to offend or please you.”
Before we get started, I would like to welcome the new NLL Commissioner Nick Sakiewicz. I was impressed with what he said during his initial press conference and love that he recognizes expansion as a priority as he comes into office. We have too many great lacrosse players for 9 NLL teams and frankly I’m looking forward to road trips to new and old (Montreal?) NLL cities. Good luck Commish.
We’ve now had two weekend of NLL lacrosse and every team has had at least one game. What have we learned?
Well, based on this weekend, the perennial Eastern power houses Toronto Rock and Rochester Knighthawks have a lot of work ahead of them. The Toronto Rock’s offence was non-existent in the second half of their 12-7 loss to the Georgia Swarm on Saturday and the Rochester Knighthawks looked nothing like the shutdown team we’ve been used to seeing over the last 4 years.
After starting the game with a 4-0 lead the Rochester was outscored 9-1 in the second quarter. On the flip side, most of the IL Insiders predicted the Georgia Swarm and New England Blackwolves to jockey for the bottom spot in the league. If Georgia showed it was not a pushover in its season opening 16-15 loss in Colorado, it showed us that it wants to be a contender when it defeated the Toronto Rock 12-7.
New England, on the other hand, shot the lights out in Vancouver, getting 4 goals apiece from Pat Saunders and the newly acquired Shawn Evans. We often say lacrosse is a game of runs. New England ended its game on an 8-goal run, Georgia used a 7-goal run in its victory and Colorado outscored Rochester 11-1 through a quarter and a bit.
The Buffalo Calgary game was different. No team ever scored more than three straight goals and from start to finish, there was never more than a two-goal lead. When the final buzzer went, it was Dhane Smith’s 2nd goal of the game, with 1:10 remaining, that gave the Bandits a 10-9 victory in front of 14,286 Buffalo faithful. It was Calgary’s second straight tight loss.
Without further preamble, let’s check out where I put your team in 2016’s first Power Rankings.
1) Saskatchewan Rush (1-0): The Saskatchewan Rush didn’t play this weekend but defeated the Calgary Roughnecks 10-8 in at the Saddledome last weekend. The Rush didn’t look like champs for half a game but when they awoke in the second half they reminded everyone why they struck fear into their opposition last year. Mark Matthews and the Rush will play their first every game in Saskatchewan when they host the Vancouver Stealth this Friday at the Sasktel Centre.
2) Colorado Mammoth (2-0): Colorado got its second straight win of the 2016 season when it went into Rochester and defeated the Knighthawks 16-14. The Mammoth have scored 16 goals in each of their 2 victories and have been led by Adam Jones and newcomer Callum Crawford, each scoring 8 points on Saturday. 43 year old legend John Grant Jr. hasn’t been too shabby either, scoring 13 points in his first 2 games. Next week the Mammoth will try to go 3-0 when they host the Buffalo Bandits in Denver.
4) Buffalo Bandits (1-0): The Buffalo Bandits started the non-John Tavares era (although he is now on the bench) with an exciting 10-9 victory over the Calgary Roughnecks in a hard fought game. The Bandits got balanced scoring from their lineup with 2 goals from both Ryan Benesch and Dhane Smith and veteran goaltender Anthony Cosmo was solid in the pipes. Next weekend the Bandits will travel to Denver to meet the Mammoth.
5) Georgia Swarm (1-1): In their season opening loss to the Colorado Mammoth the Georgia Swarm impressed me by how they didn’t let the Mammoth pull away from them and eventually turned the game into a 1-goal barnburner. This weekend, the Swarm impressed me even more by how they shut down Toronto’s offence in the second half. Rookie Randy Staats, the No. 6 overall pick in last fall’s draft, has scored 7 points in each of his two games and Johnny Powless has also got off to a great start picking up 11 points in his first 2 games on some pretty goals and passes. The Swarm will host New England on Sunday next week.
8) Toronto Rock (0-1): The Toronto Rock looked unimpressive in their 12-7 loss to Georgia on Saturday as their offense was stymied in the second half. Last season, the Rock’s offense was a beautiful thing to watch. It seemed logical to think that Colin Doyle’s addition would make up for the loss of Josh Sanderson. They are both crafty veterans who see the floor well and think the game better than most players who have ever played in the NLL. Saturday’s game showed that Toronto still has to work at finding the offense chemistry that seemed so natural for most of last year. We should add that Toronto’s offense was also missing underrated Kevin Ross, who did a lot of the dirty work last year and it was apparent on Saturday that Toronto was unable to get inside on Georgia as most of their goals were from the outside. The Rock will have their home opener on a Thursday this week as they face the Rochester Knighthawks. The two teams meet again in Rochester on Saturday.