December 8, 2011

NLL Notebook: New Rules Aim to Quicken Pace of Play

by Neil Stevens | | Related: Stevens' NLL Training Camp Report

Runners like Washington's Paul Rabil should thrive under tweaks to NLL rules that aim to speed up pace of play.
© Larry Palumbo

Fans can look forward to non-stop action and more goals in 2012 thanks to alterations in NLL rules.

That's the aim.

Teams will have only eight seconds instead of 10 to get the ball across the center line, and players will have to place the ball immediately onto the turf when there's a change in possession or risk a delay-of-game penalty.

''Fans will see a faster and more up-tempo game, which we believe will lead to more excitement with end-to-end action,'' NLL vice president of operations Brian Lemon said during an interview. ''The sport is fast as is but with these changes it'll be even faster. We wanted to enhance the game and I think we've done that.''

Lemon is getting feedback from referees via conference calls following preseason contests.

''They're telling me that they've noticed the pace is quicker and they have to react a bit quicker,'' says Lemon. ''We had a tendency in the past of players trying to slow things down to help their team's line changes but that aspect is now taken out.

''Expect to see quicker transition plays because of the eight-second rule and because the ball is going to be blown in faster than in the past.''

Runners such as the Washington Stealth's Paul Rabil, the Philadelphia Wings' Brodie Merrill, the Buffalo Bandits' Tom Montour and the Calgary Roughnecks' Jeff Shattler who mainly defend will be given the green light more often to go for goals. They should thrive.

''The middle zone, that transition area, should see more action,'' says Lemon. ''Instead of going off on a line change, there might be situations where a player stays on to try and catch the opponent with an odd-man, fast-break situation.''

Defenses will have to adapt.

''You might see teams losing possession of the ball put a bit of a press on,'' says Lemon.

Pat McCready, the 2011 NLL defender of the year with the Rochester Knighthawks, sees exactly that happening.

''I believe that teams will put in presses which will make it difficult to get the ball over center,'' says McCready. ''When I played with Buffalo, they had some presses in place that made it difficult to clear the ball.

''Now, I imagine guys will lock off the 'D' guys who are identified as ball handlers and let the egg and spooners try to carry the ball before jumping them.''

Anything to reduce line-change parades will be welcomed by fans.

''Some teams may try to play a style of two-way lacrosse, which will definitely speed up the game,'' says McCready. ''And having a goalie who can throw the ball will be of added importance.''

Also, stick lengths have been reduced to a maximum 42 inches from 46 to cut down on the number of passes intercepted by defensemen, and goalie pads have been trimmed by an inch.

''We studied goals scored numbers and they've been gradually declining,'' says Lemon. ''We used to be around 25 goals a game on average and we've come down to about 22.

''A couple more goals a game on average would be a good thing. Defenses have certainly grown stronger over the last couple of years.''

Player safety has been addressed, too. It'll take three goals instead of two to release from the penalty box a player nabbed for a major infraction, which should mean fewer hits to heads. Let's hope so because concussions are an ongoing concern.

''Our players are our most prized possessions and their health is of upmost concern,'' says Lemon. ''We've been putting in more strict rules for the last few years. We want to keep the physical nature of the sport but we want the big hits that are legal and not above the neckline or below the waist.

''By adding this rule it's just another progression to let the players know we need to play the game legally and clean or there'll be stiff penalties.''

Patterson Pumped

The reduction in the size of goalie pads won't make much difference to Minnesota's Nick Patterson, who as one of the league's smaller goalies at 5-11 relies more than bulkier goalies on quick reflexes.

''The gear does feel a bit lighter for being a bit smaller,'' says the 29-year-old native of Vancouver, British Columbia.

The reduction to eight seconds from 10 to advance the ball across center ''will really speed up the game,'' he adds. ''Another one that is going to be really good is players having to place the ball down immediately instead of holding onto it or rolling it when there is a change in possession. With those two changes, there are going to be more chances for fast breaks on transition.''

Patterson had a solid 2011 in helping the Swarm into the playoffs and he's determined to be even better in 2012.

''I'm feeling really good,'' he says. ''I like the way the team is looking and the defensive system we're going to use will help me play to my strengths.''

Brodie Merrill has brought leadership qualities from Edmonton to Philadelphia, where he is captain. "Great teams are filled with leaders so I want to encourage everyone on the team to lead in their own way,'' he said.
© Edmonton Rush

The Ultimate Pro

Wherever Brodie Merrill has played, he's been one of the most respected players in the NLL, which is why he always wears an A or a C on his chest.

Merrill was an assistant captain for four years when there was a team in Portland, Ore., and he was an assistant captain his first year in Edmonton before being named captain for 2011. Philadelphia acquired him in a blockbuster trade during the offseason and now he's captain of the Wings.

How does he define the captain's role in Philly?

''I feel the most effective way to lead is by example,'' he says. ''It is a new team for me so I just want to get to know the guys and build a level of trust. I think you do that by working hard and being a good teammate. Great teams are filled with leaders so I want to encourage everyone on the team to lead in their own way.''

Merrill was impressed by what went on during the first weekend of training camp, which included sessions with fans.

''There is a lot of enthusiasm and excitement surrounding this year's team,'' he says. ''The weekend was about establishing early chemistry and implementing some of our team systems.

''The goal for us to get a little better every time we get together heading into our opening game and I think we did that in our first weekend.''

Smith Attempts Comeback

Billy Dee Smith has re-signed with the Bandits after sitting out last season to rehab from a serious knee injury suffered in July 2010 at the world field lacrosse championship in Manchester, England, where he wore Canada's colors. If the 2009 NLL defender of the year can make an impactful comeback, his presence will be a huge plus for a squad capable of going all the way.

''After my injury and missing all of last season, I am more than anxious to get back in front of the fans again,'' says Smith. ''I worked so hard to get back with the team last year but I missed the end of the season by a month, which is probably for the best because now I know I am 100 per cent.

''It's nice to be back with the guys again and preparing for a championship. I truly feel part of the team again.''

There will be lineup changes, but that happens every year at this time.

''As a player, you hate it because you bond with everybody and it's never good to see a friend leave but you also know it's necessary,'' says Smith. ''What I've learned over the last 10 seasons is to trust Darris Kilgour completely. He's the best lacrosse mind out there and wouldn't make a move if it didn't put us one step closer to winning a championship. The team this year is exciting. It has a young and fast feel to it. I think it's our best all-around team in years.''

Pay Increases for 2012

The collective bargaining agreement of 2007 between the NLL and the Professional Lacrosse Players' Association called for annual increases of five percent on the maximum paid veteran and franchise players and six percent on the minimum paid veteran and second-year players and rookies.

That means the maximum veteran player compensation will be $27,177 and the minimum will be $13,045 this season. Teams designating one or two veterans as franchise players are to pay them $33,971.

The minimum for second-year players rises to $11,846 and the rookie minimum will be $8,781.

In addition to base compensation, players can earn signing and incentive bonuses as well as have the opportunity to earn additional money for making promotional appearances on behalf of their teams.

Sweeney Signs with Buffalo

It was only a matter of time before Kyle Sweeney resurfaced.

The 30-year-old defenseman from the Philadelphia area has signed with Buffalo. Sweeney broke into the NLL in 2005 with the Wings and was a fixture until being moved to Edmonton last winter. The intensity level at which Sweeney plays is right up coach Darris Kilgour's alley.

Multi-Talented Rookie

Colorado prospect Joey Cupido is a football star.

The Mammoth drafted him 38th overall in September and announced Nov. 17 that he'd agreed to a two-year contract. At 21, he's the youngest player in camp. Cupido amassed 100 points for the Jr. A Six Nations Arrows in southern Ontario the last two summers. He scored two goals in two Mammoth intrasquad games last weekend.

Cupido also plays defensive back in his home city of Hamilton, Ontario, for the McMaster Marauders and he helped them win the Canadian universities football championship and hoist the Vanier Cup on Nov. 26 in Vancouver. He holds the team record for most interceptions, four, in one game.

Rock-Stealth Game

The Toronto-Washington exhibition game in the Vancouver, B.C., burbs 7 p.m. Eastern on Saturday can be watched live at The Langley Events Centre will be packed as ticket sales are approaching the 5,500-seat capacity.

Neil Stevens has covered pro and Canadian lacrosse since 1971. He and the late Tom Borrelli -- a longtime Lacrosse Magazine contributor -- are the only media members recognized by the NLL Hall of Fame.

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