It’s true that all National Lacrosse League players have an out-of-this-world skill set, but which of these ethereally-talented laxers shined the brightest during opening weekend? Stephen Stamp weighs in with his NLL Three Stars of Week 1 on Inside Lacrosse as the league opened its 29th season with five NLL Face Off Weekend 2015 openers.
“What an explosive first weekend of the National Lacrosse League season,” Stamp writes. “We saw comebacks. We saw a team win in its new home. We saw a bit of great goaltending. And most of all we saw lots of goals. Things got off to a pretty average start on that front with 20 goals in New England’s win over Buffalo Friday, and the Bandits stayed on that course with a 9-8 over Edmonton Saturday. But the rest of the league got the scoring train rolling, from Toronto’s 13-12 win over Rochester to the real big ticket goal items of the weekend, Vancouver 18-14 over Calgary and Colorado 20-13 over Minnesota. There were a total of 14 goals in the fourth quarter alone in the Mammoth/Swarm game. So it’ll come as no surprise that the offensive guys dominate the IL Indoor NLL 3 Stars this week.”
John Grant, Jr., Colorado Mammoth
4 goals, 5 assists
With the game tied 10-10 early in the fourth quarter, the Mammoth were called for an illegal substitution. It would seem that would give the Swarm a golden opportunity to regain the lead they had just lost on Sean Pollock’s goal. Not so fast, though. Not with Junior on the floor to kill the penalty for Colorado. In just 31 seconds the seemingly ageless and virtually unstoppable Grant buried a pair of shorthanded goals that served to open the floodgates for Colorado’s 11-goal fourth quarter that helped set a handful of franchise records.
Rhys Duch, Vancouver Stealth
4 goals, 5 assists
Duch scored a goal in each quarter of the Stealth’s win over Calgary and had a pair of assists in the 11-goal run that turned that game around. It just felt like every time Vancouver needed to change the momentum of the game, he was there to do it with either a brilliantly-placed outside shot or a sweet feed. Plenty of players contributed to the offensive bonanza for Vancouver, but none more so than Duch.
Ryan Benesch, Buffalo Bandits
6 goals, 3 assists
Playing a back-to-back against Edmonton on the opening weekend of the season when you’ve already lost the first game is a recipe for digging an early hole for yourselves as a team. But the Bandits gutted out a 9-8 win over the Rush thanks largely to Benesch, who was involved in 7 of their 9 goals Saturday night.
Shawn Evans (Calgary): 2g, 6a. Showed why he’s led the league in assists the last two season. Evans has a remarkable combination of the vision to see when players are coming open, the timing to get them the ball at the precise moment they get open and the accuracy to put it in the right place.
Rob Hellyer (Toronto): 3g, 3a. Hellyer picked up right where he left off last season, doing his best Garrett Billings impersonation. In fact, scratch that. Hellyer is making his own name in the NLL while taking on a huge role for the Rock.
Cody Jamieson (Rochester): 2g, 6a. A pair of typical Jammer goals while keeping the offence flowing for the Knighthawks with his passing as well.
Evan Kirk (New England): 50 saves, .862 save percentage. Was particularly impressive in the second quarter when Buffalo pressed but Kirk’s play allowed the Black Wolves to outscore the Bandits 4-1 in the quarter.
Shayne Jackson (Minnesota): 3g, 4a. Provided exactly the type of performance the Swarm need from him as the de facto leader on the left side. Jackson moves the ball well and knows when to shoot.
Ben McIntosh (Edmonton): 3g. A natural hat trick spanning the third and fourth quarters helped get Edmonton on the brink of a comeback that they just weren’t able to complete, but a great start for the rookie top draft choice.
Ilija Gajic (Vancouver): 3g, 2a, 7LB, 2FT. A tremendous all-around performance from Gajic, reminding us of the skill set he flashed when he was such a dangerous forward for New Westminster. His transition play was key to Vancouver’s turnaround in a game that was important for the Stealth’s confidence after little went right last season.
Josh Sanderson (Toronto): 7a. Grant wasn’t the only older player showing he’s still got plenty left of what made him great in the first place. Shooter is one of the best passers ever and is critical to Toronto’s success with Colin Doyle gone for the year.
Adam Jones (Colorado): 5g, 2a. Another great start for Jones, who had an off summer but looked in mid-season form for the Mammoth Saturday.
Dane Dobbie (Calgary): 4g, 1a. Dobbie is a great finisher on the break and spot-up shooter, but Saturday he reminded us he’s also really good at creating scoring chances with his one-on-one moves in tight to the crease.
Kyle Buchanan (New England): 3g, 2a. Quick, resilient in traffic and with good hands, Buchanan is a great complement to Kevin Crowley (who also had a good day with 2 goals and 4 assists) in the Black Wolves offense.
Miles Thompson (Minnesota): 3g, 1a. Another rookie with a hat trick in his first game. Thompson is going to be a lot of fun to watch play in the NLL.
Tyler Richards (Vancouver): 48 saves, .774 save percentage, 3a. Richards wasn’t great all night, but he was outstanding when the Stealth needed him to give them a chance to get back into the game, and his great passing helped get the transition game clicking too.
Dhane Smith & Mark Steenhuis (Buffalo): 3g, 5a each. The right side of the offense is in good hands in Banditland between the veteran and the youngster.
Sean Pollock (Colorado): 3g, 3a. Pollock hit the 200-goal, 300-assist and 500-point plateaus for his career on Saturday.