The NLL All Star Game is back.
The best players from the Eastern and Western Divisions will converge in Western New York on Sunday to take part in the 2011 National Lacrosse League All Star Game at the Turning Stone Resort Casino.
After taking a year off from the game, the 2011 edition looks more like a veteran vs. newbie contest rather than an East-West Showdown.
The Eastern side will have plenty of experience as forwards Colin Doyle of the Toronto Rock and John Tavares of the Buffalo Bandits will be making their ninth appearance in the game, which happens to also be a league record. Of the six East starters—Doyle, Casey Powell, Mark Steenhuis, Pat McCready, Chris White and Brandon Miller—there is a combined 30 games of experience in the all star event.
As for the West’s starting six, there is only a combined 12 all star game appearances between them. Scott Ranger, Ryan Benesch, and Mike Grimes will be playing in their first contest while Brodie Merrill, Andrew McBride, and Nick Patterson have been there before.
Troy Cordingley, the head coach of the 2010 runner up Toronto Rock, will be leading the East from behind the bench. During the season, Cordingley’s team has tried to find ways to stop the other superstars in the league; however, this week, many of those superstars will be playing on his squad.
He does have experience coaching some of the players in this year’s all star class after being an assistant coach for several seasons in Buffalo.
“I’ve had the pleasure of coaching Mark Steenhuis and John Tavares [in Buffalo],” Cordingley said on some of this year’s all stars he’s coached before. “They are the greatest players in the game, and I think it is a good showcase for our league to witness these guys play together.”
However, before Cordingley can relax and enjoy the all star event, his Rock team will be looking for a win as they take on the Wings Saturday night in Philadelphia.
Unlike Cordingley, Chris Hall, the head coach of the West and of the 2010 Champion Washington Stealth, will be able to relax this weekend at the all star festivities with his team having a bye this week.
In the 2009 All Star Game in Denver, Colo., the West won 27-21, and Hall said he expects a similar competitive game, but in another relaxed atmosphere.
“You really want to enjoy the game,” Hall said. “I watched the NBA All Star Game last Sunday and it is a similar style of game where there is not a heck of a lot of coaching going on. There is competition and guys want to win, there is no doubt about that. Nobody likes to lose that game, but I think you go out and just relax and show your skills because that is what it is all about.
“Enjoy the day and enjoy working with your teammates because it is a rare opportunity that you will get that much talent on the floor at one time and be able to play with each other and be creative in what you are doing on the floor.”
The Oneida Indian Nation will be hosting the event at Turning Stone Event Center in Verona, N.Y., which is about 30 miles East of Syracuse. The game will begin at 2 p.m. EST and can be viewed live on Versus or on the NLL Network at NLL.com. The game will air at 10 p.m. EST on TSN 2 in Canada.
Before the All Star Game, there are two NLL regular season games on Saturday as Edmonton plays Rochester and Toronto plays Philadelphia. Here are previews of both week 8 NLL games.
Edmonton Rush at Rochester Knighthawks – Saturday Feb. 26, 7:35 p.m. EST
The Rochester Knighthawks last week had the chance to take first place in the Eastern Division, but after losing two games to Toronto in which they scored a combined 11 goals, the K-Hawks will just be looking to put the ball in the back of the net and get a win.
Sitting at 4-4, Rochester will need to pick up home wins when they can as five of their final eight games will be on the road, and four of those five will be against Eastern teams.
“We still have half the year and we are at .500,” said Rochester head coach Mike Hasen. “We are in a tough division and have a very tough schedule so it doesn’t get easier for us. We just have to get going here and have a fresh start for the next half of the year.”
Edmonton is 2-6 this season and sits in the fourth and final playoff spot in the West. However with Colorado just one game behind them, they would love to get a big road win to widen that gap.
The Rush have had trouble in close game this season, with their 12-11 loss to the Calgary Roughnecks last week as their most recent example.
“I think we’ve lost three one goal games and in comparison to a year ago, we had won three at that point and were 5-3 and now we are 2-6,” said Edmonton head coach Derek Keenan. “We have to find ways to win those games. We certainly he had our opportunities [last week].”
After the game with Rochester, Keenan will make the short drive to Verona, N.Y. where he’ll be one of the assistant coaches for the West in Sunday’s All Star Game.
Saturday’s Knighthawks-Rush game will begin at 7:35 p.m. EST at the Blue Cross Arena in Rochester.
Toronto Rock at Philadelphia Wings – Saturday Feb. 26, 8 p.m. EST
Even though Toronto Rock head coach Troy Cordingley will be coaching the East in Sunday’s NLL All Star Game, he and the rest of his staff will tell you that all of their focus is on the Philadelphia Wings on Saturday.
“My full focus is on Saturday night,” Cordingley said. “We have a huge game against Philadelphia so we’ve been preparing for that game. That is what we are doing as a coaching staff and obviously once that is finished, then my focus will turn to the all star game.”
After Toronto (7-2) failed to score in double digits in three straight games, the Rock’s offense and defense came to play last weekend as they defeated the Rochester Knighthawks 10-5 on Friday and 13-6 on Saturday.
Philadelphia head coach John Tucker said his team’s game against Toronto will be their most difficult challenge of the year because of the Rock’s offense, who leads the Eastern Division in goals scored with 101.
“They have so many playmakers and they are very unselfish on what we’ve seen on tape,” Tucker said. “They are the ultimate team on offense in that they have so many guys that can hurt you from different areas. There is not one guy that you can concentrate on and hope to stop that team.”
The Wings may have a 4-4 record, but they have picked up a few big wins this season, including defeating Buffalo last week. Toronto had lost to Buffalo earlier in the season.
Saturday’s game will begin at 8 p.m. EST at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia.
All three NLL games this weekend will be broadcast live and for free by the NLL Network at NLL.com.