The 2023-2024 National Lacrosse League season premiered to rave reviews this weekend, with 10 teams taking the field possessed by the shared ambition of dethroning the Buffalo Bandits as league champions.
The action began on Canada’s east coast with the Halifax Thunderbirds defeating the Saskatchewan Rush 17-12. Halifax jumped out to a 9-2 lead and never looked back. Clarke Petterson tallied five goals and three assists, with teammates Ryan Benesch and Jake Withers each posting a hat trick. Withers’ goals were especially notable because each score came in the wake of a faceoff, and it was his first career hat trick.
Robert Church and newly acquired Zach Manns notched hat tricks for Saskatchewan, with Ryan Barnable adding a spectacular highlight-reel goal during the final minute of play.
Sin City was the setting for a highly entertaining battle between the sophomore squad from Las Vegas and the visiting Albany FireWolves. Despite Casey Jackson and Zack Greer combining for seven goals, the Desert Dogs went down in defeat 12-10. Vegas led 6-3 in the second, before Albany tied things at six. The team from New York’s state capital took charge of the seesaw affair in the fourth, securing the win amid scoring the final three goals of the evening.
Tye Kurtz, Ethan Walker and Sam Firth each found the net on two occasions, with Firth’s forays coming against the team that traded him away during the offseason.
Friday night’s slate of games capped off in the beautiful city of Vancouver, with the visiting Panther City Lacrosse Club outlasting the new and improved Warriors 11-7. While the biggest story of the evening involved the debut of iconic coach Curt Malawsky behind the Vancouver bench, the star of the show was PCLC’s Callum Crawford. The 39-year-old scored a dramatic goal in the final seconds of the first half, setting the stage for a five-goal performance, including four consecutive scores in the second and third quarters. Crawford moved into a tie with Mark Steenhuis at 10th all-time in goals scored with 460.
Warriors star Adam Charalambides lit the lamp twice for Vancouver, but nowhere close to enough against Tracey Kelusky’s hard-charging team from Fort Worth.
Saturday’s slate began with a thrilling matchup in upstate New York, with the Rochester Knighthawks coming back for a 14-13 victory over the high-flying Calgary Roughnecks. The stars lit up the sky in this one with Connor Fields (4G/2A) and Ryan Smith (3G/3A) scoring six points each, while Haiden Dickson and Tyler Pace netted three each for Calgary, including an unreal behind-the-back display from Pace.
The most noteworthy stretch of the game involved Rochester scoring eight successive second-half goals, flipping Calgary’s 10-5 lead to a 13-10 fourth quarter advantage for Mike Hasen’s on-the-rise lacrosse club.
Faceoff Weekend’s final affair occurred in the shadow of New York City, with the visiting Philadelphia Wings taking down the New York Riptide 13-10. Blaze Riorden blasted four shots into the back of the net, with Mitch Jones and Joe Resetarits doing their collective part, courtesy of a combined 11 assists. New York superstar Jeff Teat posted one goal and four assists, but his exploits were not enough to overcome the efficiency of the Wings.
Philadelphia cruised to a 5-0 lead before the boys from Long Island cut the lead to 6-5 at half. Just when it looked like the Riptide owned all the momentum, the aforementioned Riorden opened the third with a pair of quick goals, ending all hopes of a New York fairytale comeback.
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