Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the stretch run in the NLL.
As we enter Week 10, teams are showing who they are. The Mammoth are still atop the standings, while the Bandits and the Stealth are near the bottom. This week includes two games involving Edmonton and Calgary and two games between Colorado and Washington.
This week we will be given six games of action that spans all weekend. As I have for the rest of the season, Jim Flannery will be adding his predictions and previews for three of the six games.
Here we go. Jim’s previews will be first.
Philadelphia Wings (4-4) vs. Toronto Rock (4-4)
On Friday night, the Toronto Rock take on the Philadelphia Wings in a battle for first in the East.
Both teams suffered defeats at home last weekend and will be seeking to get back on track.
The Wings dropped an 11-8 decision to Rochester. They played pretty well, but were unable to finish against a white-hot Matt Vinc in net for the Knighthawks.
As usual, Dan Dawson paced the offense, with a five-point game. Rookie Kevin Crowley matched Dawson, with a five-point night.
Brodie Merrill had a typically strong game on transition, picking up a goal, an assist and nine loose balls.
Brandon Miller had a solid game in net for the Wings, turning away 39 shots, but it wasn't quite enough against a determined 'Hawks attack.
In a rematch of last year's Champion's Cup final, the Rock were dominated by the Washington Stealth, who showed signs of returning to top form after a very slow start.
Toronto, still hampered by the injury bug, struggled to score, with Garrett Billings, Josh Sanderson and Stephan Leblanc picking up four points apiece. But no one else on the roster collecting more than one.
Starting goalie Matt Roik had a shaky game, giving up nine goals on only 30 shots before being replaced early in the second half by Paddy Campbell.
Every time I say that Toronto is too banged up to compete effectively, it comes out and beats someone. Captain Colin Doyle was a scratch again last weekend with injury problems. It is still up in the air as to whether he'll dress for this weekend's action. Against a Philly team that wants to show what they're made of, Toronto will need him in the lineup.
I'm leaning toward the Wings to win this contest, 12-11.
Calgary Roughnecks (5-3) vs. Edmonton Rush (2-4)
Also on Friday, the Roughnecks head north to visit Edmonton in the first of back-to-back games to be played by these teams this weekend.
Two weeks ago, the Roughnecks handed the Colorado Mammoth a decisive 21-10 beat-down for the Mammoth's first loss of the year, so it probably came as a shock to many last week when they were beaten- down themselves 15-11 at home by Minnesota.
Shawn Evans paced the offense with a five-point night, while Dane Dobbie picked up four points while returning from injury.
Goaltending duties were split between starter Mike Poulin and rookie Frank Scigliano. Scigliano's relief appearance did not go well, forcing Calgary to return Poulin to the net.
The Rush stepped up big-time in their last game two weeks ago, upsetting the Philadelphia Wings. They'll be looking to extend their winning streak at home.
So far, Edmonton has lived and died on the outstanding play of netminder Aaron Bold. He is leading the NLL in goals against average (9.83) and save percentage (79.5).
Ryan Ward and Shawn Williams are tied for the team lead in scoring, with 24 points each, while Zack Greer leads the team with 11 goals.
Kyle Rubisch is commanding the defensive side of things, leading the team in loose balls (57) and forced turnovers (14)
An interesting wrinkle in this weekend's home-and-home series for the Roughnecks and Rush is that they are having a competition to see which team can bring in the most fans. The winner will receive a $5,000 charitable check from the loser in support of local minor lacrosse.
If the Rush can control Calgary's offense, they'll be in good shape to upset another strong team. Calgary has so many weapons, however, that this will be a very tall order. Look for Calgary to continue its domination of Edmonton and take a 13-10 win.
Buffalo Bandits (2-5) vs. Rochester Knighthawks (4-5)
Saturday's first game features two teams going in different directions.
On one side are the Buffalo Bandits who are in last place in the East. Although they had pretty good offensive output last weekend, with 13 goals scored, they still lost to a Colorado Mammoth team that continues to impress.
Goalkeeper Anthony Cosmo looked shaky in his 2012 debut last weekend, giving up 15 goals before getting pulled for Mike Thompson in the fourth quarter. But he can probably be expected to pick his game up as he gets comfortable again.
Mark Steenhuis paced the offense with seven points, while John Tavares and Luke Wiles chipped in with five points apiece. Another positive for the offense was veteran Tracey Keluskey notching his first hat trick in what has otherwise been a pretty subpar season for him.
If the offense can continue to produce like they did last weekend, they'll give Rochester a real challenge.
Scott Self is leading the Bandits in loose balls with 41 and will be counted on to continue to manage things in the defensive end.
After last week's tilt with the Philadelphia Wings, Rochester has now beaten the Wings twice in Philly this year.
Unfortunately, Rochester hasn't been nearly as dominant against the rest of the league, going just 2-5 against everyone else.
Cody Jamieson and Mike Accursi continue to pace the Knighthawks' offense, picking up six and seven points, respectively, last week. Jamieson is third overall in scoring this year, with 50 points. Accursi is eighth with 42.
Pat McCready and Brad Self will once again be called upon to lead the defensive charge. McCready is ninth in the league in loose balls collected (53). Self is tied for third in forced turnovers (12).
Goalie Matt Vinc had a very solid game last week and may have turned the corner after a so-so start to the year. He turned aside 44 shots for an 84.6 save percentage against the Wings.
I'm expecting to see Rochester carry its momentum forward while Buffalo's slide continues. I'm going to call it 13-10 for the Knighthawks.
Edmonton Rush (2-4) vs. Calgary Roughnecks (5-3)
The second game on the “Battle of Alberta” will take place at 9 p.m. on Saturday in Calgary. This is the second game of the home-and-home weekend series.
The major item that comes into play in any such weekend is passion. Which team wants the game more? In addition, a big factor will be the momentum coming from Friday’s game. If one of these eams gets blown out on Fridaythat could lead to a long game Saturday as well.
This game should come down to the goalies. They are Aaron Bold for the Edmonton Rush and Mike Poulin for the Roughnecks. Look for a low-scoring battle.
My prediction: Edmonton will upset the Roughnecks 11-10 on the road.
Colorado Mammoth (7-1) vs. Washington Stealth (2-6)
The first game of a home-and-home series for the Mammoth and the Stealth will take place at 7 p.m. on Saturday at the Pepsi Center in Denver.
This game features the best in the league taking on the worst in the league. The Mammoth are coming off a huge road victory against the Buffalo Bandits. The Washington Stealth are coming off a gutsy win against the Toronto Rock.
This sets up an interesting Week 10 matchup. I expect the Denver crowd to be loud and crazy. The Mammoth defense needs to shut down Athan Iannucci and Lewis Ratcliff. The Stealth will look to control John Grant Jr., who is the general for this Mammoth offense.
I think the “X-Factor” will be Rhys Duch. If he can put up a five-or-more-point night, the Stealth should have a good chance at the upset.
My prediction: The Mammoth will take this game 13-12 on their home floor.
Colorado Mammoth (7-1) vs. Washington Stealth (2-6)
This game will take place at 8 p.m. on Sunday in Everett, Wash..
As I stated in the Rush preview, this game will come down to passion. If there is a gut-check time in the NLL, it is in the latter half of a home-and-home series.
If they drop Saturday's game, this will be a must-win for the Stealth. If the Stealth goes 0-2 this weekend, that would drop their record to 2-8 with six games to go. In addition, the Stealth need to give their home fans something to cheer about and some hope to make sure they come back for future games.
The matchups will be the same as the Saturday game, but look for a huge burden to be placed on the goaltenders. Fatigue and burnout will need to be staved off in order to secure a victory on Sunday.
Look for the Mammoth to sweep the weekend against the Stealth. I think the Mammoth will take this game 14-12 in Washington.
JIM FLANNERY: 5-12
SHEA HANEY: 9-9