April 4, 2012

NLL Notebook: Colorado, Calgary to Begin Playoffs at Home

by Neil Stevens | LaxMagazine.com

Colorado clinched a first-round home playoff game over the weekend. On Saturday afternoon, an 11-point performance (3 goals, 8 assists) by John Grant Jr. in the Mammoth's 16-12 win kept him first in the NLL scoring race with 98 points.
© Colorado Mammoth

The most important development in the National Lacrosse League last weekend in terms of team play was Colorado and Calgary earning the right to play first-round playoff games at home on the May 4-6 weekend.

The Mammoth and the Roughnecks have identical 10-3 records and they both want to finish first to get home floor for a West Division final.

Calgary's remaining games: Friday at home against Rochester, April 14 at Rochester, and April 21 at Edmonton.

Colorado's remaining games: April 14 at home against Toronto, April 20 at home against Edmonton, and April 28 at Minnesota.

While their win-loss records are the same, Calgary is actually first and Colorado second in the standings. The first tiebreaker is head-to-head play and they've split, with Colorado prevailing 13-12 in overtime in Calgary on Jan. 21 and Calgary romping 21-10 in Denver on Feb. 24. The second tiebreaker is play within the division, and Calgary is 8-2 while Colorado is 6-2.

Anybody Got a Calculator?

The East Division is far from settled.

Last-place Buffalo, 4-8, could still, mathematically, finish first.

The Philadelphia Wings, 7-5, will have to beat some desperate teams if they want to stay on top. They finish their schedule at home against Minnesota on Friday, in Buffalo on Saturday, in Minnesota on April 21 and in Rochester on April 28. Win both this weekend and they've got it made.

Toronto, 6-6, is sitting second and has a longshot chance of finishing first. The remaining Rock games: Saturday at home against Edmonton, April 14 at Colorado, April 20 at Washington, and April 28 at Edmonton.

Congrats to Lewis Ratcliff

Washington Stealth attacker Lewis Ratcliff couldn't score during a 13-11 loss in Calgary last Saturday but the three assists he picked up gave him 801 career points, making him only the ninth man in NLL history to exceed 800.

High Sticks in Buffalo

Lack of discipline has been a chronic Bandits problem, and it was again a glaring deficiency in a 15-11 home loss to Toronto last Saturday night. The Rock scored three goals on each of the major high-sticking penalties assessed Jeremy Thompson for hammering Colin Doyle and Darryl Gibson for mashing Dan Carey, who didn't appreciate the head massage given his concussion background.

There was no disputing the referees' calls.

''You can't blame the officiating,'' said Bandits captain Chris White. ''You hit a guy in the head and it's a five-minute penalty.

''We've got to smarten up. We've been talking about that for 12 games now and it still hasn't happened. Until our guys want to wake up and fix our mistakes, because we keep doing the same things over and over, we're going to keep losing. That's the reality of it.''

Bandits Coach at a Loss

Darris Kilgour sounds as if he's had all he can take of his team's losing ways.

''You know what, play the season out, dump about seven or eight players and we move on next year, if I'm lucky enough to be here,'' Kilgour said after the loss to Toronto.

Billings Sets Club Record

The 15-point binge (4-11) by Garrett Billings against the Bandits set a Toronto team record. The previous single-game points high of 14 was by Blaine Manning (5-9).

''Garrett has been our best player all year,'' says coach Troy Cordingley. ''He's carried the load offensively.

''We've had a lot of injuries on offense and Garrett hasn't missed a beat.''

''Garrett, without a doubt, has been our MVP,'' says GM Terry Sanderson. ''Knowing what the kid is all about, I shouldn't be surprised, but being in on all 15 is pretty incredible.''

Manning, by the way, is close to being ready to get back into the lineup after rehabbing from a broken collarbone suffered Jan. 14 in Buffalo. The team will be cautious, however, and maximize his recoup time so he'll be 100 per cent come playoff time.

Movin' On Up

The 11-point performance (3 goals, 8 assists) by John Grant Jr. in Colorado's 16-12 win in Rochester last Saturday afternoon kept him first in the scoring race with 98 points (43-55), and Billings jumped into second place with 86 (23-63). Philadelphia didn't play last weekend and Dan Dawson slipped to third with 84 (16-68).

Colorado has a bye this weekend so Billings and Dawson get a chance to gain ground.

Ha, Ha

Brenden Thenhaus and Aaron Wilson wore smiles of satisfaction at the expense of their former teams last weekend.

Thenhaus scored 17 goals for Buffalo last year but was a late roster cut for 2012. He signed as a free agent with Toronto on Jan. 17. He scored two big goals in the 15-9 win. They were identical.

He maneuvered to the front of the crease, faked a shot, then picked a top corner of the net behind goalie Mike Thompson.

It was his first chance to play in First Niagara Center in a visiting team's sweater. He was asked if he felt good to help beat the Bandits.

''It definitely did,'' he said. ''They let me go so I wanted to come out and prove something.
''It definitely helped that I've shot on Mikey Thompson a lot of times. It was great to put a couple home in a great team win.''

As for Wilson, it was nice to see him get that overtime winner in Edmonton -- not nice for the losing Swarm but mighty fine for a veteran forward whose numbers have fallen off this year.

It was a great solo effort 1:57 into extra time.

''I saw an opening and took it to the net and, luckily, it went in,'' said Wilson.

He scored 40 goals for the Swarm in 2010 but was traded to the Rush last summer.

''It feels extra special against a team that trades you away,'' Wilson said of his winning goal. ''It's just a great win for our team.

''We've won a couple in a row now so we're building confidence as we go. I've struggled to score a bit so it feels extra good to get the OT winner and help my team get a win.''

Top Goaltenders: Poulin, Richards

Calgary's Mike Poulin, with a .791 save percentage, and Washington's Tyler Richards, with a .790 save percentage, have been the best of the goalies who have played at least five games.

''He's mentally very strong right now and he's confident in his game,'' coach Dave Pym says of Poulin.

The rest (minimum 300 minutes): Aaron Bold, Edmonton, .773; Chris Levis, Colorado, .765; Matt Vinc, Rochester, .756; Mike Thompson, Buffalo, .753; Brandon Miller, Philadelphia, .750; and Tyler Carlson, Minnesota, .728.

Minnesota's Evan Kirk has the best save percentage, .807, but he's only played 282 minutes, and Toronto's Nick Rose has a sparkling .797 save percentage, but he's only been in the Rock crease for 120 minutes.

Last Call

Washington (4-9) is last in the West and Buffalo (4-8) is last in the East. With the worst records in the league, it is likely one of the two will be the only team to miss the playoffs this spring.

The schedule maker could not have planned it this way but guess how the Stealth and the Bandits finish their schedules: Buffalo at Washington on closing day, April 28.

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