NLL Notebook: Rock Resurgence Demonstrates Team's Depth

PHOTO BY GRAIG ABEL/TORONTO ROCK

Toronto Rock rookie Tom Schreiber scored his first NLL goal Saturday.


Saskatchewan and Buffalo, finalists for the Champion’s Cup last spring, are both 0-2 in the new season and the National Lacrosse League's other seven teams might want to view this as a worrisome development.

Sure, it’s odd to eyeball the standings and see the Rush and the Bandits at the bottom, but we are only three weekends into the schedule, so it would be foolish to write them off. Coaches around the league will be looking over their shoulders expecting trouble from them in the coming weeks.

The champs are in a hostile frame of mind as they look ahead to playing Rochester in their home opener Saturday.

“I thought our first loss was a wakeup call, and now we’ve had another one,” captain Chris Corbeil said after the Rush fell 11-9 in Toronto on Saturday. “One would have been enough for me.”

The Bandits have a more difficult row to hoe as they prepare for their third straight home game with Vancouver visiting this weekend. In the first quarter of a 18-14 loss to Georgia last Saturday, 2016 league scoring champion and MVP Dhane Smith limped off and did not return. The team has indicated Smith will not be in uniform against the Stealth.

“Dhane is the leader of our offense,” forward Ryan Benesch said. “We work the ball through him because he’s such a dynamic player. He’s got a great shot. He’s got great vision. Guys are just going to have to step up. Somebody goes down, somebody’s got to take his place. We’ve got to do it as a whole offensive unit.”

Georgia and Toronto are the only undefeated teams, each at 2-0.

Jordan Hall has fit in nicely on the left side of the Swarm attack, eliminating the slack created by the injury absences of Johnny Powless and Jesse King. Eleven different players scored in Buffalo.

“It doesn’t really matter who gets the shots,” coach Ed Comeau said. “We have lots of guys who can score. That type of ball movement makes a team tough to defend.”

Ditto for the Rock, who also had 11 players score in their latest win. This team is the league’s biggest positive surprise three weeks in. Think about this: Josh Sanderson and captain Colin Doyle retire; the year begins with leading scorer Rob Hellyer ruled out for the season after knee surgery; Brock Sorensen, Pat Merrill, Rob Marshall and Brandon Miller all are on injured reserve; Stephan Leblanc gets banged up in camp and doesn’t dress for the first two games; and Brett Hickey goes down in practice last Tuesday and can’t run against the Rush.

There were eight new faces in the lineup Saturday.

“You can’t worry about who is not available,” coach Matt Sawyer said. “You worry about who is. We do good work at practice. The guys on our practice roster are here for a reason. We’re confident in their abilities. It was great for them to be able to contribute to a win.”

One of the most impressive rookies is defenseman Challen Rogers, a 6-foot-4 force from Coquitlam, British Columbia, via Stony Brook, whom goalie Nick Rose aptly described this way: “He’s a horse, a real horse.” Also opening eyes on the back end is Latrell Harris of St. Catharines, Ontario, the youngest player in the league at 18.

Coaches Sawyer, Blaine Manning and Bruce Codd have effectively blended the rookies in with the veterans. Rose has been a standout. Brodie Merrill, 35, is playing with enough get-up-and-go to return him to debates on who should be transition player of the year. Forward Kasey Beirnes is, as always, a constant threat on the lower right side. Sandy Chapman, Jesse Gamble, Jeff Gilbert, Brad Kri and Bill Hostrawser anchor the back end.

Then there is defenseman Damon Edwards. Out all last season rehabbing from the second major knee injury of his career, he showed in scoring two fast-break goals in 44 seconds against the Rush just how important he is to the team.







Schreiber Gets First NLL Goal

One of the other Rock rookies earning admiration for his play is Tom Schreiber, who scored his first NLL goal Saturday in front of a crowd of 10,275. The Princeton grad who was MVP in the MLL last summer dodged big defenseman Brett Mydske at the front of the crease and fired a ball over goalie Aaron Bold’s left shoulder.

“The atmosphere was awesome,” Schreiber said. “It was one of the most exciting games I’ve played in. It was loud. It was a lot of fun. Our defense was awesome and Rosie was great. Our offense had a little lull at the beginning of the third, but we were able to step it up and make some great plays all over the field.”

Schreiber never previously participated in an indoor season but shows no hesitancy in banging with bigger opposition bodies on the right side of the attack.

“I’m getting there,” he said. “I’d like to get that shooting percentage up a little bit, but I’m enjoying the process and trying not to get frustrated with learning the [indoor] game. The team has been great. The coaches have been great. I’m learning as I go.”

Schreiber teased fellow American and Rock teammate Kieran McArdle by attaching the hashtag #TheEnforcer to a Twitter message. McArdle was assessed a major penalty for fighting, mainly defending himself against Ryan Dilks punches in a dust-up after McArdle barged into the crease and flattened Bold.

Another Reinholdt

After Brett Hickey went down earlier in the week, Reid Reinholdt was activated for his first NLL game, and he fired in a sidearm bouncer from the middle of the Rush zone late in the game for his first pro goal. Parents Bob and Cari Reinholdt had flown in to watch his debut ,and the goal was icing on the cake. The Limestone grad from Pitt Meadows, British Columbia, is a law student at the University of Western Ontario, which is a two-hour drive east from London. He’s the younger brother of Tor Reinholdt of the Calgary Roughnecks.

Another First

Saskatchewan’s Mike Messenger, another Limestone grad from British Columbia, dove into the Rock crease to score his first NLL goal in the third quarter.

Yet Another First

Phil Caputo also scored in his Rock debut, firing in a mid-zone bouncer to put his team up 2-0. The Brampton, Ontario, native was signed by Toronto in December after being cut by New England.

Six-Goal Binge

Calgary star Curtis Dickson broke loose for six goals in a 14-10 win over Vancouver, letting the Stealth know he did not appreciate their spoiler role in the Roughnecks’ home opener the previous weekend. The University of Delaware hall of famer should be among finalists for the league MVP award come spring.

Second Chances

Mike MacDonald, another player who had a cup of coffee with the Black Wolves, is making quite an impression in Toronto colors. The Princeton grad had a goal in the season opener and got two Saturday, including one 10 seconds into the game.

MacDonald considered Blaine Manning to be one of his favorite players when he was a kid in Georgetown, Ontario. Now he’s being coached by Manning.

“There were openings on the left side so this is a great opportunity for me,” says MacDonald.

He works in the financial district near Air Canada Centre. Coincidentally, so does Manning.

Bandits Regroup

“It hasn’t been a fun start _ not what we expected,” defenseman Dave Brock said after Buffalo fell to 0-2. “It’s a competitive league. I’m going to try and keep it as positive as I can. We’ve played two games and we’ve got 16 more. Let’s get these stinkers out of the way now instead of in May.”

Added coach Troy Cordingley: “There are issues everywhere. We have a little soul searching to do.”

McLaughlin Saves the Day

Colorado forward Eli McLaughlin, sprung for a dash to the front of the New England net by a perfect pick play with Zack Greer, scored 51 seconds into overtime to give the Mammoth an 11-10 victory.

“It was a textbook pick and roll that we got them on,” said McLaughlin. “I’m just happy I put that one away.”

The third-year pro from Surrey, British Columbia, was the fourth player selected in the 2014 entry draft.

Salaries Breakdown

Minimum salaries for 2017 season: rookie $9,863; second-year player $11,783 to $16,068; veteran $14,652 to $29,113; franchise player $36,391; practice player $1,000.

Bonus monies available to be paid out by clubs range from $12,000 team minimum to $20,000/season.

Clubs that spend above $410,000 in salaries are subject to taxation.

Clubs can pay up to $25,000 for players’ participation in youth and lacrosse camps without being taxed.

Roughneck for a Week

Now this is odd: the goalie with the NLL’s best stats today is an unrestricted free agent without a team.

Zach Higgins, 26, of Courtice, Ontario, was released by Georgia last Sept. 15 after four years with the Swarm. He went to Toronto’s camp and was released. He signed with Calgary on Jan. 3 and was released on Jan. 10 after filling in during a one-game suspension of goaltender Frankie Scigliano. He played well in relief in that one game with the ‘Necks, showing he’s deserving of a full-time NLL gig.

On the NLL.com stats page, he has a league-best GAA, 6.80, and the top save percentage, .872.

Week 4 Schedule

All times Eastern

FRIDAY

New England (0-2) at Georgia (2-0) 7:35 p.m.

A schedule that started with three games on the road has not been kind to the Black Wolves, who lost 15-8 at Rochester on Jan. 7 and 11-10 in overtime at Colorado last Saturday. Now they head south to play the undefeated Swarm.

The Black Wolves defeated the Swarm the last two meetings, both back home in Connecticut: 14-13 on a Shawn Evans overtime goal in the first round of the 2016 playoffs last May 6; and 21-11 in the regular season on April 23.

Georgia won 18-14 in Buffalo last Saturday after winning its home opener 18-10 over Saskatchewan on Jan. 7.

Calgary (1-1) at Colorado (2-1) 9:30 p.m.

This is one of the NLL’s most heated rivalries. Calgary went into the Pepsi Center last May and won a first-round playoff showdown 11-10 on Dane Dobbie’s goal in the 11th minute of overtime. Colorado won two of the three regular-season meetings.

Calgary spoiled Vancouver’s home opener 14-10 last Saturday, with goalie Frankie Scigliano back in the nets after a one-game suspension, after the Stealth spoiled the Roughnecks’ home opener 12-11 the previous weekend.

The Mammoth opened with a 12-8 win in Buffalo, lost their home opener 15-9 to Vancouver, and edged New England 11-10 on Eli McLaughlin’s OT goal last Saturday. John Grant Jr. sat that one out with an unspecified lower body injury.

SATURDAY

Vancouver (2-1) at Buffalo (0-2) 7:30 p.m.

Vancouver fell back to earth in losing its home opener 14-10 to Calgary last Saturday _ starting goalie Tyler Richards was replaced early in the second quarter _ after opening with wins at Calgary and Colorado. Garrett Billings has yet to dress for the Stealth this season.

The Bandits lost their home opener 12-8 to Colorado on Dec. 30 then fell 18-14 at home to Georgia. No. 1 goalie Anthony Cosmo was replaced in the ninth minute. Now they’ve lost league scoring champion Dhane Smith to an unspecified lower body injury.

Buffalo has won four in a row against Vancouver, including 17-10 and 13-8 victories last season, since its last loss to the Stealth back in 2014.

Rochester (1-1) at Saskatchewan (0-2) 8:30 p.m.

This will be Saskatchewan’s home opener, and the Rush are looking forward to a loud supportive crowd. The champs need one after losing of 18-10 at Georgia and 11-9 in Toronto.

They won both games they played against Rochester last year, 13-9 and 11-8, and they are 7-0 against the Knighthawks since a 9-6 playoff loss in Rochester in 2012.

The ‘Hawks lost their home opener 12-5 to Toronto on Dec 29 but rebounded nicely to beat New England 15-8 Jan. 7. Cody Jamieson hasn’t played at all. Dan Dawson’s status was a mystery heading into Week 4. Canada’s 2015 world indoor championship captain was on the holdout list and inquiries about his absence yielded no explanation.

Bye: Toronto (2-0)

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