The National Lacrosse League's 2013 season opened last weekend with the Washington Stealth beating the defending champion Rochester Knighthawks 13-12.
Although Week 1 only included a single game, there's a full slate for Week 2, with five games scheduled on the weekend, featuring eight of the nine teams.
With last year's worst team beating the Champion's Cup winners last Saturday, it once again appears that there is a ton of parity around the league. On any given day, any team can win and any team can lose.
Buffalo Bandits at Philadelphia Wings
After signing Hall of Fame goaltender Steve Dietrich to take over general manager duties, the Bandits made a number of moves to strengthen their offense.
Adding veterans Shawn Williams and Aaron Wilson from the Edmonton Rush and Mike Hominuk from Philadelphia to a mix that includes all-time points leader John Tavares, Luke Wiles and highly touted rookie Carter Bender, the Bandits should have plenty of options on attack.
On transition, Jon Harasym and Mark Steenhuis are joined by another top rookie prospect in Dhane Smith.
Goalie Anthony Cosmo is supported on defense by a solid group featuring Scott Self and Derek Suddons.
The Wings made a huge deal in December, sending the Dawson brothers to Rochester in exchange for Paul Rabil.
Rabil is considered to be one of the best field lacrosse players in the world, and he's no slouch in a box environment either. He joins a solid transition unit that features perennial all-star Brodie Merrill and veteran Kyle Hartzell.
With Dan Dawson gone and Brendan Mundorf currently on the Physically Unable to Play (PUP) list, sophomore Kevin Crowley will be expected to lead the offense. He'll be supported by Drew Westervelt, Kevin Ross and Kevin Buchanan.
The defense features Jeff Reynolds, who is probably the best faceoff man in the East Division.
Between the pipes, Brandon Miller should once again get the nod as No. 1 goalie.
Philly is starting the season with five players on Injured Reserve and two more on the PUP list, and are looking a little thin.
Buffalo fared reasonably well in pre-season scrimmages, but they'll be missing Billy Dee Smith, who will be serving a two-game suspension to start the season.
I'm expecting Buffalo to win this one, 12-10.
Minnesota Swarm at Buffalo Bandits
Minnesota enters the 2013 season with the youngest team in the NLL and with very high expectations.
Powered once again by Callum Crawford and Ryan Benesch, the offense should be pretty strong. They'll be fed by a transition squad that includes 2012 all-rookie Jordan MacIntosh and third-overall pick in this year's draft, Kiel Matisz.
Second-overall pick Brock Sorensen starts the year on the PUP list and Andrew Suitor is serving a two-game suspension, so neither will be able to contribute to the transition game.
A solid defensive crew featuring Dan Ball, Nic Bilic and rookie Alex Crepinsek should keep the shots down for all-rookie netminder Evan Kirk.
The Bandits will be returning home to Buffalo one night after visiting Philadelphia and may be showing some signs of wear after playing what might be a physical game with the Wings. Buffalo might be further hampered by the fact that they have a number of guys on the wrong side of 30, so fatigue might be a factor in this game.
I'm consequently expecting the Swarm to best the Bandits 12-11.
Washington Stealth (1-0) at Colorado Mammoth
Washington is riding high after taking out Rochester last weekend. After getting solid performances from Rhys Duch and Athan Iannucci—and a spectacular performance from Cliff Smith, who scored a career-high eight points—the Stealth should be feeling pretty good about their offense.
Their defense did a solid job of controlling the Knighthawks offense as well. Tyler Richards was solid in net, turning away 35 shots, while Jeff Moleski and Bob Snider collected 7 loose balls apiece.
In fact, the Stealth dominated the Knighthawks in the loose ball category, collecting 19 more over the course of the game.
If Washington can maintain that energy level against Colorado, they'll be a handful.
The Mammoth will be looking to re-establish themselves as a powerhouse after finishing the regular season last year with the second-best record in the NLL.
Last year John Grant Jr. set the new standard for excellence in the NLL by breaking the record for most points in a season, with 116. Along with veterans Gavin Prout and Sean Pollock and Rookie of the Year Adam Jones, the Mammoth offense forms a potent unit that led the league in goals for last year, with 217.
Ilija Gajic, Matt MacLeod, and Dan Coates will again be tasked with managing things on the other end of the floor and will be called upon to do a better job of keeping shots down, as the Mammoth were outshot 829-779 in 2012.
Chris Levis provided decent netminding for the Mammoth last year, posting a 12.26 goals against. If the defense can reduce the amount of rubber he has to face every night, that number should come down.
At the end of the day, betting against John Grant and company doesn't seem like a smart bet. I'll take the Mammoth 13-11 in this one.
Toronto Rock at Calgary Roughnecks
The Toronto Rock had the best record in the East last year before a second-round playoff loss to Rochester short-circuited their run at a second-straight Champion's Cup. They'll be looking to make up for that in 2013.
The Rock's offense is about as deep as any in the NLL. Garrett Billings broke the single-season record for assists last year, picking up 82. He is joined by a fine cast of front-line forwards including Stephan Leblanc, Josh Sanderson, Colin Doyle, Scott Evans and Blaine Manning, giving them more than a full line's worth of front line scorers.
Sandy Chapman, Cam Woods and Stephen Hoar will once again be patrolling the defensive end in front of goaltender Nick Rose.
Rose's arrival mid-season last year signaled a major turn-around for the Rock, who struggled early. Rose's 10.69 goals against and 5-1 record down the stretch were just what the doctor ordered. If he can repeat that performance in 2013, Toronto will be very pleased and very competitive.
The Roughnecks had the best record in the NLL last season, at 12-4, and then were stymied by a surprising Edmonton Rush squad in the first round of the playoffs. Under new head coach Curt Malawsky, Calgary will be on a mission to right that wrong this year.
The Roughnecks offense is at least as potent as Toronto's. Curtis Dickson, Jeff Shattler, Shawn Evans, Scott Ranger and Daryl Veltman are a deadly combination—the Riggers posted the second most goals for last year, just one behind the Mammoth, at 216.
Calgary's offense will be shorthanded for their home opener as Dane Dobbie serves a one-game suspension, but should still have good depth among their second line options.
Calgary's defense was best in the NLL last year, giving up just 170 goals against. Mike Carnegie and his brother Scott, Andrew McBride, Greg and Jon Harnett and Dan McRae form an outstanding unit that plays stifling team defense.
Behind them is Mike Poulin, who had a stellar season in goals for the Roughnecks. His 10.27 goals against was among the league leaders and he'll be looking to repeat that performance in 2013.
And then there's Geoff Snider on transition. As good or better than his brother Bob in the faceoff circle, his dominance in that category might be good enough for an extra goal per game or more, making him an invaluable asset.
This should be a very close, hard-fought matchup, but I think the Roughnecks have a slight edge on home turf. I'll give this to Calgary 12-11.
Toronto Rock at Edmonton Rush
Toronto heads north to Edmonton following their battle in Calgary. Like Buffalo on Friday and Saturday, Toronto has some aging veterans on the team who might be fighting fatigue going back-to-back against two of the toughest defensive teams in the NLL.
Edmonton, meanwhile, will be striving to prove that last year's appearance in the Champion's Cup game was not a mistake.
Ryan Ward, Zack Greer and Corey Small should provide most of the offense, but keep an eye on rookie phenom Mark Matthews. He comes with a reputation of having all the tools and will likely make an immediate impact on the Rush offense.
Transition Jimmy Quinlan will likely see most of his time on defense, pushing the ball to the forwards while Defensive Player of the Year Kyle Rubisch leads an excellent group that also features Chris Corbeil and Jarrett Toll.
Between the pipes, Aaron Bold will be seeking to show that his breakout year in 2012 was no coincidence as he seeks to equal or improve upon his 10.47 goals against from last year.
While I think Edmonton should fare better this regular season than last, I don't think they can hold Toronto's offense in check. Look for a 12-10 win by the Rock.
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