NLL Notebook: Rush Sweep, Del Bianco Shines and Byrne Breaks Loose

PHOTO BY NLL PHOTOS

Jeremy Thompson and the Saskatchewan Rush are sitting pretty at 7-1 after a weekend sweep in Colorado and at home against Vancouver.


Saskatchewan Rush goalie Tyler Carlson got his start since the opening game of last season and made the most of it in an 11-9 win Saturday over the Vancouver Stealth in front of an announced crowd of 14,387 at SaskTel Centre.

With Evan Kirk getting a rest following a 13-10 win at Colorado on Friday night, his backup got the nod and made 39 saves.

“When you’re the backup goalie, you have to be ready for any situation, and I made sure I was ready to go,” said Carlson, whose team-first attitude and upbeat personality make him a popular member of the Rush.

The two-win weekend kept Saskatchewan (7-1) comfortably atop the National Lacrosse League’s overall standings.

Saskatchewan is determined to win back the Champion’s Cup. Finishing first overall would guarantee home-floor advantage throughout the playoffs. The Rush are well on their way to getting it done.

Saskatchewan jumped out to a 4-0 lead against the Stealth and held on for the win after a day of arduous travel. The Rush caught a 4:30 a.m. bus to the airport in Denver and landed in Phoenix before flying to Canada. They didn’t arrive in Saskatoon until 4 p.m. local time. The game began 3 1/2 hours later.

“It was a character win for us,” Carlson said. “We had to battle through the travel. It was a late night for everybody and not easy travel, but we were ready.”

Carlson, 28, picked up his fourth win in his four seasons with the team.

Mark Matthews, Ben McIntosh, Robert Church, Ryan Keenan and Curtis Knight each scored twice for the Rush, who had a 50-48 edge in shots on goal. Carlson’s save percentage was a lofty 81.3.

Two last-second goals loomed large. The Rush were up 6-3 when Church scored in the last second of the first half, and it was 9-9 when Carlson was pulled for an extra attacker and Knight scored in the last second of the third quarter. Saskatchewan has the most efficient power play in the league, and going 3-for-4 was crucial to the outcome.

The Friday win in Denver improved Saskatchewan’s road record to 5-0. Keenan potted a career-high four goals in that game. The Rush were down 8-6 when captain Chris Corbeil scored a short-handed goal to ignite a rally that saw Saskatchewan score seven of the last nine goals.

Matt Hossack broke a 10-10 tie with his only shot on goal in the game with 2:28 remaining and Mathew Dinsdale cut through traffic to get to the front of the net and score with 1:52 left to end the suspense.

Kirk’s sensational fourth-quarter play was a key to the win. Colorado had a 49-45 advantage in shots on goal in front of a Pepsi Center crowd of 12,740.







NO LACK OF EFFORT

Vancouver (1-7) remains last overall. Work ethic hasn’t been in question. Mistakes have been costly.

Two Rush goals on power plays caused by Stealth penalties for having too many men on the floor loomed large, and coach Jamie Batley will seek a remedy.

“We’ll change something,” Batley said. “We’re not going to sit back and be idle.”

PHOTO BY RYAN MCCULLOUGH/NLL PHOTOS

Christian Del Bianco makes one of his 47 saves Saturday in Calgary’s 16-8 road win over the Toronto Rock.

DEL BIANCO TO THE RESCUE

Christian Del Bianco’s 47-save performance earned him Calgary game MVP honors in a 16-8 win in front of a Toronto crowd of 10,344 Saturday night. It was the first NLL win for the 20-year-old native of Coquitlam, British Columbia, who has the best goals against average (9.66) and save percentage (78.8) among NLL goalies who have played at least 120 minutes.

ROCK COACH DISMAYED

Toronto coach Matt Sawyer didn’t mince his words when asked to analyze the 16-8 home loss to Calgary that ended a winning streak at four games and dropped the Rock out of first place in the NLL East.

“We just thought we were going to go out there and [a win] was just going to happen,” Sawyer said. “We got what we deserved, and they deserved to win. We weren’t willing to put in the effort to pay the price we needed to in order to be successful.”

PHOTO BY MICHELINE V/NLL PHOTOS

Buffalo Bandits rookie forward Josh Byrne is all smiles Saturday after one of his career-high five goals in a 16-14 win at Rochester.

BYRNE BREAKS LOOSE

Buffalo goalie Alex Buque made 45 saves to help Buffalo win 16-14 in Rochester despite being outshot 59-48 in front of a Military Night crowd of 9,425. Rookie Josh Byrne scored a career-high five goals as the Bandits (4-3) moved into a tie with Toronto for second place in the NLL East.

“Three of his goals, I’m shaking my head because of his incredible athleticism,” Bandits coach Troy Cordingley said of Byrne. “You can see his confidence growing and growing as we go here. We know the kid is a good player. He’s got a lot of potential to be a great player in this league. I love the kid because he’s team-first.”

Byrne leads all rookie scorers with 25 points, including 11 goals.

SMITH MOVES UP

Dhane Smith of the Bandits moved up in the scoring race with three goals and eight assists in Rochester. His 200th career goal made it special. Saskatchewan’s Mark Matthews and Toronto’s Adam Jones rank first with 49 points each. Smith and Saskatchewan’s Robert Church are next with 47 each. Tom Schreiber of the Rock is fifth with 46. Matthews and Church have played one more game than the other three.

SURPRISING SLUMP

Rochester started its season with awesome home wins of 17-6 over Calgary and 21-11 over Buffalo, so it is difficult to fathom that it has now lost five in a row.

“We’re working hard, but the shots just aren’t falling,” forward Cody Jamieson said. “Everybody’s working hard. We just ain’t getting the result we want. It’s a long season. We’ve just got to keep going, not give up on each other, keep going and keep, keep, keep trying.”

SPORTSMANLIKE SCHREIBER

Tom Schreiber puts up impressive scoring stats, but one of the most impressive entries on his ledger is zero, as in zero penalty minutes. He’s now played 28 NLL games, including playoffs, without stepping into a penalty box.

REVISITING THE SCHUSS-POWLESS TRADE

On March 31, 2015, the Minnesota Swarm traded Logan Schuss to the Vancouver Stealth for Johnny Powless. The deal made sense for both teams. Schuss was missing Swarm games due to weekday work commitments on the West Coast. The Stealth could picture him excelling closer to home. He’d been the No.1 overall pick in the 2013 entry draft, so the Stealth would have to give up something good to get him. Powless had been an effective contribution on championship Rochester teams but he was off to an inconspicuous start to his season with Vancouver. It was a one-for-one swap.

Since the trade (entering this weekend’s games), Schuss has played 45 regular season games with 91 goals and 141 assists (232 points), while Powless has played 40 games with 66 goals and 83 assists (149 points).

WHAT A DIFFERENCE

Ranking teams by goal differential: Saskatchewan +35, Toronto +24, Colorado +7, Rochester +5, Georgia +1, Buffalo -6, Calgary -13, New England -16, Vancouver -37.

EXPANSION DRAFT

The San Diego Seals and the Philadelphia Wings join the league next season and will get many of their players in a summer expansion draft. Each of the other nine teams will be allowed to protect one goalie and 10 runners or no goalie and 11 runners.

League bylaws stipulate a club can’t lose more players than the number of clubs participating in an expansion draft. Thus, each team can lose a maximum of two players.

WEEK 10 PREVIEW

A busy weekend with six games sees every team in action, with Buffalo, Rochester and Georgia each playing twice. All times Eastern.

BUFFALO (4-3) at NEW ENGLAND (4-2)
Friday 7:30 p.m.

New England is 3-0 at home. It is seventh in the league in attendance with a 5,490 average. Buffalo is 2-2 on the road.

New England was idle last weekend but, thanks to Toronto’s home loss to Calgary, is back in first place in the NLL East.

Buffalo’s 16-14 win in Rochester last Saturday tied it with Toronto for second place.

This will be the first of three meetings. The last time these teams met, on Feb. 19, 2017, Mitch de Snoo’s goal 25 seconds into overtime lifted Buffalo to a 16-15 victory. New England won two earlier games.

GEORGIA (3-3) at BUFFALO (4-3)
Saturday 7:30 p.m.

Buffalo is 2-1 at home. Average attendance of 11,976 is third-best in the league. Georgia is 2-2 on the road.

The Swarm had a bye last weekend. They have not lost in Buffalo since March 21, 2015, when they were based in Minnesota.

These teams are in the same division but they meet only twice. They’ll clash in Georgia on March 18.

Georgia won both games last season. Miles Thompson and Randy Staats scored four goals each, as the Swarm bashed the Bandits 20-7 in Buffalo last April 22. That was a week after a 17-16 win at home.

TORONTO (4-3) at ROCHESTER (2-5)
Saturday 8 p.m.

Rochester is 2-2 at home. Average attendance of 6,907 is sixth-best in the league. Toronto is 1-1 on the road. It plays four of its next six on the road.

Toronto will attempt to rebound from a 16-8 home loss to Calgary suffered Saturday. Rochester has lost five in a row. The latest setback was a 16-14 home loss to Buffalo.

This will be the second of three meetings. Toronto, getting four goals from Tom Schreiber and three from Adam Jones, won 17-9 at home on Jan. 12. They have an April 13 date in Toronto.

COLORADO (4-2) at CALGARY (2-5)
Saturday 9 p.m.

Calgary is 1-3 at home. It is ranked fourth in attendance with an average of 10,575. Colorado is 2-0 on the road.

Calgary put the brakes to a four-game losing slide with an emphatic 16-8 win in Toronto last Saturday.

Colorado’s chances of catching Saskatchewan were greatly diminished by a 13-10 home loss to the Rush last Friday. Of paramount importance now is holding onto second place to ensure home floor for the playoff semifinal.

Colorado is the least penalized team.

This will be the second of three meetings. Ryan Benesch scored five goals in an 11-7 Colorado win in Calgary on Dec. 29. They got at it again March 10 in Denver.

SASKATCHEWAN (7-1) at VANCOUVER (1-7)
Saturday 10 p.m.

Saskatchewan is on a three-game winning streak atop the NLL West. The Rush won 13-10 at Colorado and 11-9 at home over Vancouver over the weekend.

Saskatchewan is 5-0 on the road. Vancouver is 0-3 at home, where league-low average attendance is 3,610.

The Rush power play is 25-for-36 for a league-best success rate of 69.4 percent.

This will be the second of four meetings. They play in Saskatoon again on March 3 and on April 13 in British Columbia.

Former Stealth captain Curtis Hodgson’s No. 6 will be retired. He remains with the team in an executive capacity.

“We are excited to celebrate Curtis Hodgson,” Vancouver coach Jamie Batley said. “He was a great captain. He was a calming force on defense and, from my perspective as a coach, he deserves to be honored.”

ROCHESTER (2-5) at GEORGIA (3-3)
Sunday 6:05 p.m.

Georgia is 1-1 at home. Average attendance is 4,984, which puts it eighth in the league. Rochester is 0-3 on the road.

This will be the second of three meetings. Georgia, getting four goals from Jesse King, won 14-11 at home on Dec. 30. They have a March 10 date in Rochester.

Rochester will have played at home against Toronto the previous night.

TIME TRAVEL

Feb. 11, 2005: John Tavares became the first player in league history with 500 assists when he scored two goals and assisted on nine in Buffalo’s 20-9 win over Anaheim.

Feb. 16, 2007: Inducted into the NLL Hall of Fame in a ceremony in Philadelphia were Darris Kilgour, Tom Marechek, Mike French and Tom Borelli.

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