Week Eight of the National Lacrosse League schedule featured some interesting story lines, with the previously undefeated Colorado Mammoth getting blown out at home, Philadelphia getting upset by Edmonton and the Washington Stealth continuing to struggle.
This week is shaping up to be just as interesting, with surprises and upsets happening on a weekly basis in the very evenly-matched league. Having a winning record thus far is no guarantee of future success. Each team has to come out ready to play every single night.
As has been the case all year, I'm working in tandem with Shea Haney, who so far is stomping me with his predictions.
Starting this week with my forecast:
Rochester Knighthawks (3-5) vs. Philadelphia Wings (4-3)
Rochester and Philadelphia both lost games last week that they probably wish they could have back. Saturday night, both teams will be looking to get back on track.
The Knighthawks, coming off a dramatic 15-12 win over the Washington Stealth while five of their players sat at home on suspension, dropped a 16-12 decision to the Toronto Rock last weekend with their five guys back in the lineup.
Had to be a huge letdown.
Rochester will be looking to Cody Jamieson (20 goals, 24 assists) and Mike Accursi (14G, 21A) to power what has been one of the highest-scoring offenses in the NLL.
Pat McCready and Brad Self will be called upon to tighten up the defense which has been giving up a ton of shots and 12.75 goals a game. They need to give goalie Matt Vinc a chance to perform up to the high level he typically displays.
On the other end of the floor, the Wings remain in a first-place tie with the Toronto Rock in spite of dropping a 12-10 game to the Edmonton Rush.
Big Dan Dawson is pacing the offense, as expected, having notched 46 points so far.
Brodie Merrill also has been his usual dominant self on transition, picking up 67 loose balls and forcing seven turnovers to this point in the season.
With Philly back at home, look for them to regroup and put together a 14-12 win over the up-and-down Knighthawks.
Washington Stealth (1-6) vs. Toronto Rock (4-3)
The Toronto Rock are hosting the Washington Stealth in a rematch of the last two Champion's Cup finals.
The Washington Stealth are off to one of the worst starts in franchise history. A return to the bench by head coach Chris Hall (who missed the early part of the season due to a cancer scare) was expected to help spark them to a win last weekend, but failed to do so. After going back to the drawing board, the Stealth will be looking to turn the corner and start on a winning streak.
The key will be getting the offense fired up. The triple threat of Rhys Duch, Lewis Ratcliff and Athan Iannucci was only able to produce seven goals in last week's game against the Minnesota Swarm. With all three of those players capable of scoring a hat trick or better every night, Coach Hall will be expecting much better execution from all three.
Tyler Richards will be expected to step up and show that he's a true starter as the Stealth goalie. So far, his 12.58 goals-against-average has failed to dazzle. If he can't get it done, recently acquired Matt King may be called upon to step in.
The Rock continue to fight the injury bug, with Colin Doyle going down again in their 16-12 win over the Rochester Knighthawks last weekend. With Rob Marshall and Blaine Manning still out with injuries, fingers are crossed in the Toronto clubhouse that Doyle will be good to go on Saturday.
If Doyle can't play, the offense remains in capable hands with Garrett Billings (42 points) and Josh Sanderson (35 points).
Matt Roik is continuing to provide decent net-minding for the Rock, posting an 11.43 goals-against-average so far.
I have to go with the team with momentum on this one, although Washington's offense is perfectly capable of exploding for a huge game. I'm nevertheless going to go with Toronto in a 13-12 home victory.
And now for Shea's predictions:
Buffalo Bandits (2-4) vs. Colorado Mammoth (6-1)
Both of these teams will look to rebound Saturday in Buffalo as they come off of losing weeks. The Mammoth were dominated 21-10 against the Roughnecks while the Bandits lost a heart-breaker to the Wings 14-13.
This is an important game for both squads. The Bandits need a win to try to salvage the season. The Mammoth will need to show the league that last week’s game was an isolated performance.
The Mammoth are led by John Grant Jr., who has amassed 59 points in seven games. Chris Levis will be the “X-factor” for the Mammoth. He needs to bounce back from last week. While the defense as a whole could be blamed for the 21 goals, Levis needs to forget that game and move on. If he can do this, the Mammoth should take this game.
The Bandits are led by Jon Tavares, who has 33 points in six games. He will need to continue to produce to pull the Bandits out last place in the East Division. They are only 1.5 games out of the top spot in the jam-packed East.
Look for the Mammoth offense to pepper Mike Thompson with shots and lead the team to a 15-12 victory.
Minnesota Swarm (4-3) vs. Calgary Roughnecks (5-2)
This is the most important game of the week in the NLL. This game in Calgary on Saturday involves two intense rivals from the Western division.
The Roughnecks are second in the West while Minnesota is third. Both teams are coming off huge victories in Week 8. The Roughnecks had a 21-goal output last week while the Swarm held the Stealth to seven goals. Something will have to give this week.
The Swarm are led by Callum Crawford, who has 40 points. The Swarm will probably go with Evan Kirk in goal. He has a 6.50 goals-against-average percentage. He also has a 2-0 record this season.
The Calgary Roughnecks are the new toast of the league. Since they knocked off the Mammoth last week, many websites and writers have the Roughnecks at No. 1 in their power rankings.
The Roughnecks have been led by Jeff Shattler with 35 points. The Roughnecks have had decent goal output while keeping rest of the league under an average of 11 goals per game.
Look for the Roughnecks to continue their push in the West with a 14-12 victory at home.
Shea Haney: 8-8
Jim Flannery: 5-10