Philadelphia Wings vs. Minnesota Swarm in 2013 action
With the National Lacrosse League's 2014 season starting in just a couple weeks, it's time to look back at the last season and reflect on the great plays that make indoor lacrosse the best spectator sport ever (in my opinion, at least).
As I demonstrated at one point last year, the action is so exciting in a typical NLL game that a great highlight package can be put together using clips from a single game. As a result, trying to distill an entire season into 15 plays is a challenge, and it means spending some time hunting down the best of the best.
The good news is that the NLL has done a very good job of providing highlights on its You Tube page, making my task a little less intimidating. In fact, their crop of highlights is so good that I found myself unable to trim it to 10 highlights, which is why you're looking at a Top 15.
Going through all the highlights, it would be easy to just pick all the across-the-crease dive plays and call it a day, but I wanted to make sure there's a variety of sweet plays, so I made sure to give props to big saves, big hits and great passes as well.
So without further ado, let's dig into the NLL's Top 15 Plays of 2013. And if you think I missed something, feel free to let me know in the comments.
Geoff Snider of the Calgary Roughnecks is the best faceoff man currently in the NLL, possibly the best ever. He ran away with the league lead in faceoff wins last year with 310, 48 more than the next best draw man, his younger brother Bob.
He is second all-time in wins with 1,895 and will almost certainly pass all-time leader Jamie Hanford some time in the 2014 season. And with two more games on this year's schedule, there's a good chance that he'll break the single-season record of 319 (coincidentally held by Bob Snider).
This play shows just what Geoff Snider is capable of. Snider wins the opening faceoff decisively—you guessed it, against brother Bob—collects the ball and bulls through two defenders to score the first goal of the game, just seven seconds in.
Having a weapon like Snider at your disposal game in and game out is one of the many reasons the Roughnecks have been at the top of the standings for the last several seasons.
Toughness and grit are key components of any lacrosse player. There is no room for delicate flowers in the NLL.
And so it was with this play where 5'10" Buffalo forward Jamie Rooney went into the corner after a loose ball with 6'2" Colorado Mammoth defender Creighton Reid. Rooney knocked Reid to the floor, came up with the ball and stormed to the net, making the diving shot around Mammoth goaltender Tye Belanger.
The tough, aggressive, athletic play by Rooney pays dividends, as those plays often do in this league.
This wouldn't be a proper lacrosse highlight package without at least one fight...
The Colorado Mammoth's Rory Smith and the Buffalo Bandits' Steve Priolo apparently don't like each other.
A week prior to this bout, Smith and Priolo were the centerpiece of a full-on line brawl at the end of a 12-6 Mammoth victory in Buffalo.
The two heavyweights decided to trade pleasantries again early in the St. Patrick's Day game a week later in Denver (technically, it was March 16, but the Mammoth were nevertheless decked out in their Irish greens).
Smith and Priolo traded haymakers for almost 30 seconds before Priolo finally scored the takedown, and the refs stepped in.
The net result in the game was no different, however. The Mammoth won 16-13 en route to making a late-season push to the playoffs while the Bandits, after a good start to the season, tanked badly in the second half and missed the postseason entirely.
Shawn Evans of the Calgary Roughnecks won the NLL MVP Award in 2013 on the strength of his 112-point season.
It was a career year for the 5'8" forward whose combination of grit, finesse and playmaking made him an unstoppable force all the way through the season. He collected at least two points in every game last year and had 10 or more on five occasions.
In this play against the Colorado Mammoth, Evans took a pass from Jeff Shattler behind the Mammoth goal. He powered his way to the front of the net while Mammoth transition Ilija Gajic worked him over, giving him a couple shoves and a couple high sticks to the grill.
Evans maintained his poise and his footing through all the abuse before snapping a no-look shot past Colorado goaltender Tye Belanger.
The Rochester Knighthawks returned to the Champion's Cup game for the second year in a row in 2013, this time facing the Washington Stealth. The scoring finally started a little over three minutes into the contest and, naturally, it was a spectacular play.
Joe Walters set up the play by drawing the defense his way and then making a fine across-the-body pass to Cory Vitarelli, who was left open on the Stealth's doorstep.
Vitarelli executed two pump fakes before zipping a sidearm shot around Stealth defenseman Chris O'Dougherty and goaltender Tyler Richards.
Although Washington would find a way to tie the game on three occasions, Rochester would never trail, going on to win 11-10.
Garrett Billings of the Toronto Rock has now had back-to-back 100-point seasons, finishing with the second-most points in the NLL in both 2012 and 2013. There's little question that Billings is one of the finest offensive players in the league.
One of the things that make him so dangerous is that he has the full complement of weapons. He can beat you with a perfectly timed pass, a strong, accurate shot or a finesse play, which means defending against him is difficult at the best of times.
That makes him even more dangerous when the Rock are on the power play, freeing him up to be even more creative with the extra space to operate.
In this game against the Rochester Knighthawks, the Rock power-play unit got the ball down to Billings just a couple steps away from the net. After faking a shot, he turned his back to the net as if looking to make a pass, then zipped the no-look, behind-the-back shot past Knighthawks' goalie Matt Vinc before anyone could react to it.
The Washington Stealth played in the Champion's Cup for the third time in four years in 2013, making them one of the best teams in the NLL over the last several seasons.
One of the many reasons is that they have guys up and down the lineup who can make things happen.
In this game against the Edmonton Rush, the Stealth are in transition, pushing the ball down the floor. Defenseman Tyler Garrison led the rush, taking the ball into the corner before passing back to fellow D-man Curtis Hodgson at the point as transition Mitch McMichael went for the net.
To its credit, the Rush defense did a good job covering McMichael, taking away any chance he had of getting a shot off when Hodgson delivered the ball to him right on the doorstep.
Or at least they thought they had him covered until he took the only shot still available to him.
The Stealth have moved to Vancouver, BC, for the 2014 season, but all the key faces are back in the lineup, so look for them to be in the hunt for another trip to the finals when all is said and done.
Colorado Mammoth forward Joel Dalgarno isn't one of the top scorers in the NLL, averaging a respectable, but unremarkable, two points per game in his short career. But teammate and future Hall of Famer John Grant Jr. is.
JGJ makes everyone around him better and consistently puts himself and his teammates into positions where they can do some damage around the net. It is no coincidence that he set the single-season record for points (116) just two years ago.
Down by four in the first quarter of a game against the Minnesota Swarm, Grant walked a defender into a pick set by Dalgarno. Grant set his feet as if to shoot as Dalgarno released to the net, and Grant made a perfect behind-the-back pass.
Dalgarno found himself all alone against Swarm goalie Tyler Carlson, which is rarely good news for a goaltender in this sport.
Johnny Powless turned 20 during the 2013 season and already has two championship rings and 48 goals scored in the NLL. At an age where most young players are just entering the draft, Powless is already an experienced veteran who is likely to only get better and better.
It is young, athletic players like this that are key elements of Rochester's recent success, winning them two straight Champion's Cups.
With the Rochester Knighthawks down 6-3 to the Toronto Rock, Knighthawks' star forward Cody Jamieson spotted Powless slashing to the net and hit him with a perfect pass, putting Powless alone on the doorstep to put the moves on Toronto goalie Nick Rose.
The rules of box lacrosse basically give defenders permission to do just about anything they want to the guy with the ball, so long as you keep the abuse between the shoulders and the waist. There is, for example, a difference between legal cross-checking and illegal cross-checking.
This means that, in addition to the finesse and power frequently on display on offense, there is also a bunch of aggression and toughness shown on defense.
In this play, Colorado Mammoth forward Adam Jones was in hot pursuit of Minnesota Swarm defenseman David Earl as Earl tried to fight his way out of his own end. Jones worked Earl over until Earl finally surrendered the ball, giving Jones the opportunity to turn things around and convert the turnover into a nice goal.
Matt Vinc won the NLL's Goaltender of the Year Award in 2013, helping lead his Rochester Knighthawks to their second straight Champion's Cup win.
Along the way, he also set a single-season record for saves, stopping 662 shots.
He may have made a few more spectacular saves than this one, but none were more important. In the dying seconds of the Champion's Cup game, the K'Hawks were clinging to a one-goal lead. With the Washington Stealth desperately pressing the attack, Vinc came up huge, just as he had done all year long.
The Buffalo Bandits' John Tavares is the uncle of New York Islanders forward John Tavares. He's also the all-time leader in the NLL in games played (280), goals (779), assists (887) and overall points (1,666).
One of the many reasons the veteran lefty is so prolific is that he knows all the tricks. In this play, he conspired with teammate Luke Wiles to set up the hidden ball trick.
In fact, the play is so well concealed by Tavares and Wiles that even the play-by-play announcer is completely bamboozled—his description of the action on the floor isn't even close to what actually happens.
And that, boys and girls, is how it's done.
Mike Poulin won the Goaltender of the Year Award in 2012, making big save after big save and leading the Calgary Roughnecks to the best record in the NLL.
In the Roughnecks' 2013 home opener, Calgary found itself tied with the Colorado Mammoth in the dying moments of the game, with Colorado pressing.
As the clock ticked down to zero, a mad scramble in front of the Roughnecks' net eventually led to defending league MVP John Grant Jr. taking a point-blank shot for the Mammoth victory. Under normal circumstances, that is a sure-fire goal. But the Poulin Wall had other ideas, making what was arguably the save of the year.
Unfortunately for Poulin and the Roughnecks, the Mammoth would go on to win this game in overtime, but this stop to force the extra frame was nothing short of spectacular.
Edmonton Rush forward Mark Matthews won the 2013 Rookie of the Year Award after finishing fifth in the NLL in goals (38) over the course of the season. His goal total is also the single-season record for the Rush, making him one of the most effective offensive weapons the team has ever seen in just his first year.
Matthews is the complete package. He's big (6'4", 210 lbs), he's fast, he has a booming shot, and he can make the spectacular plays as well.
This is one of several goals by Matthews in a blowout win over the Calgary Roughnecks. The Rush broke out of their own end on transition, with Edmonton defenseman Chris Corbeil finding Matthews at the side of the Calgary net. Calgary goalie Mike Poulin had the angle covered, so Matthews just kept on going around the net.
Don't be at all surprised if Matthews is challenging for the league's MVP award sooner rather than later.
Dane Dobbie finished fourth in the NLL in goals scored (40) in 2013 in spite of only playing in 13 games. The lefty sniper for the Calgary Roughnecks is a maximum-effort player, barreling around the floor with reckless abandon.
Dobbie has a great nose for where to be on the floor and puts himself in position to score regardless of the physical price. As a result, he makes big plays on an ongoing basis.
In this particular case, a great effort is made on a number of fronts.
A scrum at the sideboards eventually squirted the loose ball to Geoff Snider near the center line. Snider managed to stay onside while making a perfect pass to Dobbie, who was streaking toward the net. He beat Colorado Mammoth goaltender Chris Levis so badly that Levis actually hurt his knee on the play and had to be taken out of the game.
Great pass, great execution. The very definition of a great play.
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