The NLL Eastern Division lead will be up for grabs on Friday night as the Toronto Rock host the Boston Blazers at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto.
After the first two weeks of the season, Boston and Toronto are the only two undefeated teams in the league and a win on Friday would give one of them an early season edge in the division.
Boston head coach Matt Sawyer will be making his first return against his former club as he was an assistant with the Rock last season. He also served as an offensive coach for Toronto in 2005 when the team won the Champions Cup.
At the beginning of training camp, Sawyer was preparing for a season with the Rock, but after a late firing of Blazers head coach Tom Ryan on Dec. 23, Sawyer was hired five days later to take control of the reins in Boston.
Though Sawyer knows Toronto’s offense and game plan fairly well, he said that knowledge doesn’t necessarily correlate to an advantage on the field.
“You can have all of the schemes and you can have all of the game planning and preparations you want but in reality it comes down to the players on the floor and the players executing,” Sawyer said.
Toronto general manager and assistant coach Terry Sanderson also stressed his team’s execution when playing Boston at Wednesday’s league teleconference, but he also said that they weren’t going to change their game plan just because they were playing a former Rock assistant.
“When Matt was with us, we had a recipe of what we had to do to be successful in this league,” Sanderson said. “No other [opposing] coach in this league knows the Rock better then Matt [Sawyer]. It is up to Boston to find a way to stop that. He knows what we are going to bring and we have no reason to change that because we think it is a good thing. It is more about execution on our part than what Matt and the Blazers are going to try and do to us.”
The Rock (2-0) are currently riding a high after finally winning a regular season game at the Rochester Knighthawks last week. Toronto had been 0-for-15 in regular season matchups in Rochester until their 12-9 win on Saturday.
Boston (2-0) has played solid to start the year, picking up convincing wins at Philadelphia and at home versus Edmonton to start the season.
However, with one bad weekend, the Rock or the Blazers could fall from first place to the middle of the pack as both clubs will be playing on back-to-back nights. On Saturday, Boston returns home to take on Rochester while Toronto will head to Buffalo.
Playing on back-to-back nights, doesn’t seem to bother Sanderson as he said he thinks his team plays better with two games in one weekend.
“It is not as much of a challenge as the media makes it out to be,” Sanderson said. “The fact that you play the night before, everything about the game is still fresh in your mind. For one team in this league, we welcome the back-to-back. We think we are actually a better lacrosse club in those situations.”
However for Toronto to have a successful start to the weekend, they’ll need to find a way to stop, or at least limit the output of Boston’s Dan Dawson, Casey Powell and Josh Sanderson, all of whom are in the top 10 in the NLL in points.
The Rock and the Blazers will square off for the early edge in the NLL Eastern Division on Friday at 7:30 p.m. EST from the Air Canada Centre in Toronto. The game will be televised on TSN2 for Canadian viewers and on the NLL Network at NLL.com (Canadian blackout).
Here is a look at the other five NLL games this weekend.
Rochester Knighthawks at Boston Blazers—Saturday Jan. 22, 7:30 p.m. EST
After playing the Toronto Rock tightly last weekend, the Rochester Knighthawks will look to do the same thing on Saturday at Boston. They just hope that the outcome will be different.
Boston (2-0) will be coming in after playing the night before in Toronto in what will surely be a close and physical game against the Rock, giving the Knighthawks (1-1) a chance to get a road win in Boston.
However, Rochester will be up against a tough opponent, especially in net as Blazer goaltender Anthony Cosmo has the best goals against average in the country with him only giving up an average of 6.5 goals per game.
“It is going to be tough,” said Knighthawk head coach Mike Hasen on Cosmo. “We just have to continue with the ball movement that we had. When our chances are there we are going to have to bury them.”
Rochester will be bringing some firepower with them as rookie Cody Jamieson scored three goals and added three assists against Toronto last week. With that performance, Jamieson was named the NLL Rookie of the Week for week two.
Toronto Rock at Buffalo Bandits—Saturday Jan. 22, 7:30 p.m. EST
After a preseason brawl between the Toronto Rock and the Buffalo Bandits in December, who knows what will be in store when these two clubs meet in the regular season for the first time.
“Sometimes that stuff happens,” said Buffalo head coach Darris Kilgour on the preseason fight. “Sometimes that stuff carries over and sometimes it does not. We’ll find out on Saturday night. I know between the two teams that we have a lot of respect for them and we are going to come out with our A game and I know they’ll bring their A game at us.”
Buffalo is 1-1 on the season, and they can make up some ground in the NLL Eastern Division the next two weeks as they’ll play the Rock (2-0) twice in that time span.
Toronto will be playing the night before for the NLL Eastern Division lead versus Boston and could fall to a .500 record and to the middle of the pack if they lose both games this weekend.
The Bandits and the Rock will play in Buffalo on Saturday before playing their second of three meetings against one another next week in Toronto.
Edmonton Rush at Minnesota Swarm—Saturday Jan. 22, 8:30 p.m. EST
After playing their first two games on the East Coast and losing in both, the Edmonton Rush can’t wait to get back home. Unfortunately, they’ll have to wait until next week to finally play at Rexall Place as this weekend they’ll be in Minnesota taking on the Swarm (1-1).
Edmonton (0-2) is coming off of a 10-7 loss to Boston where the Rush played the Blazers tit-for-tat the entire game. It was only a small let down in the third quarter that gave Boston the advantage late in the contest.
One of the stars for Edmonton in the loss was Alex-Kedoh Hill, who finished with two goals and two assists in his first NLL game.
Edmonton head coach Derek Keenan said Hill will be with the team when they make their trip to St. Paul this weekend, but he doesn’t know how much playing time the rookie will get in the game. However he did say that he feels comfortable putting Hill in during tough game situations.
“He made some mistakes and that is going to happen with a young player, but he is an exciting guy,” Keenan said of Hill. “He has a lot of skill and some special talent that not a lot of players have.”
Minnesota last week doubled up the defending champs, the Washington Stealth by a 16-8 score. Ryan Benesch scored seven times and helped on four other goals in the victory, earning him the NLL week two Overall Player of the Week.
Swarm head coach Mike Lines was pleased that he finally got a full 60 minute effort out of his team.
“We did a lot of the little things that sometimes people take for granted and slack off on,” Lines said. “We’ve seen it in the past that we’ve done it really well for a quarter or so but then gave up on it or got frustrated with it. We stuck with the plan for the whole game.”
Edmonton and Minnesota will square off at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul Minn. at 8:30 p.m. EST on Saturday.
Philadelphia Wings at Colorado Mammoth—Saturday Jan. 22, 9 p.m. EST
Even though it is only week three, Saturday’s game at the Pepsi Center may be a turning point of the season for both the Philadelphia Wings and the Colorado Mammoth.
A win at home would be Colorado’s first at the Pepsi Center since Apr. 17, 2009 against Edmonton while a Philadelphia loss would make them 0-3 on the season going into back-to-back games next weekend.
The Mammoth (1-1) last season won an overtime thriller in Philadelphia and the Wings (0-2) would like nothing more than to deliver the same blow in Denver this time around.
However, Philadelphia head coach John Tucker said they are going to have to start taking more shots from the inside of the field if they want to get the victory.
“At times we are settling for outside shots and we have to do a better job of driving into the center of the field and getting inside,” Tucker said. “Specifically working on that this weekend and we’ll see how it goes. We don’t want to be a team becomes a perimeter team. I don’t think there is a lot of success to be had in that type of game.”
Saturday’s game from the Pepsi Center will be televised on Altitude in Colorado and on Comcast Sports Net in Philadelphia.
Washington Stealth at Calgary Roughnecks—Saturday Jan. 22, 9:30 p.m. EST
In this rematch from week one, the Washington Stealth will be looking for redemption as they head to Calgary to take on the Roughnecks.
After winning on opening night, the Stealth have lost two games in a row, on Jan. 9 at home against Calgary and last Saturday in a 16-8 beat down by the Minnesota Swarm.
Washington is looking to get back to .500, but the task will be tough as Calgary (2-1) is also looking to get back in the win column after an overtime loss at home to rival Colorado last weekend.
“We obviously are aware of a good team that is coming in to play us on Saturday,” Roughneck head coach Dave Pym said of the Stealth. “That switch could be turned at any moment. It is a very dynamic offensive team that is coming in with a real big and strong athletic defense. When they get all of their cylinders firing they are going to be a dangerous team in this league. We were fortunate to catch them on the first weekend but we are going to have to play a heck of a lot better if we want to catch them again.”
Even though Washington has a 1-2 record in the early season, both the Stealth and the Roughnecks are the frontrunners to take the NLL Western Division title and a win this weekend would be big in both clubs’ climb to the top of the standings.
All six of this weekend’s games will be broadcasted live on the NLL Network at NLL.com (some blackouts may apply).