January 7, 2016
MLS co-founder Nick Sakiewicz, the CEO of Philadelphia Union ownership group until last September, is the new NLL commissioner. (NLL)
MLS co-founder Nick Sakiewicz, the CEO of Philadelphia Union ownership group until last September, is the new NLL commissioner. (NLL)

NLL Hires Former Soccer Executive as New Commissioner

Nick Sakiewicz says league expansion is his first priority

by Neil Stevens | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter | Stevens Archive

An exhibition game between New England and Buffalo in Allentown, Pa., on Dec. 19 is the only National Lacrosse League game Nick Sakiewicz has ever attended but he'll see many more now that he is league commissioner.

"I am absolutely not an expert at all on lacrosse," Sakiewicz, 55, said after being introduced to the media via conference call Thursday. "I'm going to be a sponge over the coming months . . . to learn as much as I can about this sport."

He lives in Philadelphia but his address "will be whatever airport is located in an NLL city or a potential expansion city" as well as the league's New York head office.

"I plan on spending a lot of time on the road," he said. "I have a lot to learn and you can't do that sitting in an office."

He's flying to Atlanta to attend the Saturday home opener of the Georgia Swarm.

Sakiewicz is taking a job outside soccer for his first time in 21 years as a sports executive. He was CEO for the ownership group of the Major League Soccer's Philadelphia Union until last September. The former soccer goalkeeper was part of the group that started the MLS in 1995. That league now has 20 teams. He was co-founder of the Union when they became the 16th. The NLL now has nine.

"I've got my eye set on getting to 16 as soon as we possibly can," said Sakiewicz (Suh-KEV-itch).

Off-season buzz had at least two new franchise entering the league for the 2017 season.

"These are real men playing a real game and the world needs to see it."

— New NLL commissioner Nick Sakiewicz

"We have some markets currently identified that we're going to work on," said the new commissioner. He would not name cities but, asked about Canada, he said the NLL "would love to be back in Edmonton." Creating more regional rivalries is important, he added.

His enthusiasm for his new job in lacrosse, which he referred to as the fastest-growing youth participation sport in North America today, was impossible to miss during the conference call.

"NLL competition is the best-kept secret in professional sports entertainment," he said. "These are real men playing a real game and the world needs to see it."

His non-lacrosse background might be a valuable asset.

"I'll have an out-of-the-box perspective . . . and I think we're going to need that."

Other priorities are: augmenting or expanding digital platforms to enhance offerings to fans, players and coaches; developing youth lacrosse academies; and expanding broadcast and marketing partnerships.

"The NLL reminds me so much of where we were in the MLS 20 years ago," he said.

Steve Govett, chairman of the board of governors and GM of the Colorado Mammoth, said 150 candidates were vetted over the last seven months.

"We're looking for Nick to do for the NLL what he did for MLS," said Govett. "Big things are coming."

One of the things that swayed the board was Sakiewicz's "relentless pursuit of success."

Sakiewicz takes over from George Daniel, who carries on as league lawyer. Govett commended Daniel for helping the NLL establish stability and point it in the right direction for the future.

Oh, so close, for relocated Swarm

The Georgia Swarm have an impressive offense but they will have to tighten up defensively if they want to have a winning season.
That was my lingering thought after watching their season opener on my laptop last Friday night.

The Swarm overcame deficits to tie the score five times before snatching their first lead of the game, 14-13, at 7:28 of the fourth quarter. They seized another lead, 15-14, at 11:42, but they could not hold it and lost 16-15 in Denver to the Colorado Mammoth.

"We did some things well and the things we made mistakes on are fully correctable," said head coach Ed Comeau. "That was the message that we told the guys. We'll learn from this and have an opportunity next weekend at home to get into the win column."
The home opener in the Infinite Energy Arena in Gwinnett, Georgia, is at 7 p.m. EST Saturday against the 2015 league finalists the Toronto Rock.

All four of the team's 2015 first-round draft picks scored in their first pro indoor games. It was a high-powered attack.
Particularly impressive was Randy Staats, who had a team-best seven points including three goals. The six-foot-two Syracuse U. grad found top corners of Colorado nets with quick flicks of the wrist for all three. I do not recall seeing any previous rookie finding top corners so accurately for three goals in his first NLL game.

No. 1 draft pick Lyle Thompson also scored three goals. The record-setting U. of Albany grad wound up on his chest in the Colorado crease on his first. He'll take a beating to score and he'll score often in the NLL if he keeps that up.

"After I got my first goal, I felt relaxed and I felt more comfortable out there," he said. "I think that was the same feeling for a lot of us out there. We played with a lot more confidence in the second half."

Jesse King and Chad Tutton produced a goal apiece in their NLL debuts.

"We were really happy with all four draft picks in the game," Comeau said in the team news release distributed by media relations director Alec Schimke. "Our offense put up 15 goals, which is a good number, and we had lots of threats. Our younger players have a bright future in this league."

David Earl injured

The Swarm lost transition runner David Earl in the fourth minute of the fourth quarter Friday. No. 33 was chasing a ball towards the side boards when his left leg buckled and he crashed to the green carpet. The six-foot-one Connecticut native was unable to put any weight on the leg as two of his teammates helped him off the floor. Earl, who is in his fourth NLL season out of Notre Dame, scored his team's second goal in its 2015 season opener with a sidearm bouncer off a fast break.

Jordan Gilles continues to impress

He was the 52nd player of 55 selected in the 2015 entry draft so his chances of cracking Colorado's lineup were slim, but he made it.

To top it off, Jordan Gilles, a defenseman, scored on every shot on net he took in the opening-night Mammoth win. He only took one shot but let's not nitpick. True: the kid is shooting 1.000. He got his first NLL goal 47 seconds into the fourth quarter on a breakaway no less. He shot into a top corner of the net as if he were a seasoned pro. The 21-year-old Canadian is straight out of the Delta Islanders Jr. A club of British Columbia.

"Feels great," he told NLL.com Mammoth writer Nick Salen.

He loves being in Denver.

"I think it's one of the best organizations I can be in," he says. "I'm happy to be here and happy to get the first win under the belt."

A thrilling come-from-behind win

Talking about first wins, Saskatchewan's 10-8 triumph Saturday night was awesome. Calgary led 2-0 after one quarter and 5-2 at halftime but the Rush defense tightened up, goaltender Aaron Bold allowed only three goals in the second half, Mark Matthews got going, and coach Derek Keenan's defending champs got it done.

Matthews was non-factor through 30 minutes. A lot of the Rush forwards were lax. They are the only ones who know what was said in the dressing room during the break but, whatever it was, it worked. This was a different team in the second half.

The Roughnecks offered up a tremendous effort. They led with less than five minutes remaining but the Rush pulled ahead for good by scoring the last three goals. The last one, by Adrian Sorichetti, was a beaut. He caught a long pass from Bold, scampered towards the net, and blasted the ball over the goalie's right shoulder.

Berg gets first NLL goal

Former University of Denver NCAA field lacrosse star Wes Berg, who was the No. 4 overall pick by Calgary in the 2015 NLL entry draft, scored his first pro indoor goal at 11:01 of the second quarter Saturday night. Berg, who shoots from the right side, took an overhand shot that sent the ball off Rush defenseman John LaFontaine's stick webbing and bouncing past goalie Aaron Bold, giving the Roughnecks a 4-2 lead. Berg did not score again but had five shots in all and hit a post or two in playing an integral part in the offense. He was one of five rookies in Calgary's lineup.

Controversial Incident

Don't try this at home. ? @zackgreer88 = Whitby Warrior. @saskrush | #NLL

A video posted by National Lacrosse League (@nll) on

It happened in the sixth minute of the fourth quarter in Calgary. Saskatchewan was up 7-6.

Rush forward Zack Greer was standing on the left side in Calgary's zone. He did not have the ball. Roughnecks defenseman Greg Harnett charged towards him with his stick up. Greer raised his stick in what appeared to be an effort to protect himself. Harnett was felled by Greer's stick and hit the floor. A second or two passed before Calgary defenseman Scott Carnegie punched Greer on the jaw with a gloved hand. Greer's helmet flew off and, as he was falling to the floor, a teammate's pass sent the ball smacking against his lower face.

Greer was assessed a five-minute penalty for high sticking. Carnegie was assessed two two-minute roughing penalties. There are varying opinions on the penalties and here is mine. Greer was stationary when Harnett charged towards him and raising his stick to protect himself should not have warranted a major penalty. Again, he did not have the ball. I would have given Carnegie a fighting major for the punch to Greer's head and, because that was instigation, I would have ejected him because that's what the league's rules dictate.

"There's a lot of animosity there," Calgary coach Curt Malawsky said of the rivalry that has built up between these teams since the Rush entered the league 10 years ago. "They knocked us out last year and our guys didn't forget that. And we came out of the gate hard."

"There's no love lost there," Rush forward Mark Matthews told Laura Bates, the Roughnecks writer for NLL.com. "It's a battle every time."

New Captains

Georgia: Jordan MacIntosh, No. 24, in his fourth pro indoor season. The 26-year-old native of Oakville, Ontario, was the fourth player selected in the 2011 entry draft out of Rochester Institute of Technology. Winning the 2013 and 2014 awards for NLL transition player of the year proved his worth as a fast-break star. Last season, the six-foot-one Canadian scored 20 goals, which topped the output of many forwards around the league.

Colorado: Dan Coates, No. 37, was the first defenseman and eighth player selected in the 2011 entry draft. He is 28, six feet tall and is from St. Catharines, Ontario. He played NCAA field lacrosse at Buffalo's Canisius College. His speed and agility make him one of the NLL's most effective defensemen.

Buffalo: Billy Dee Smith, No. 3, went third overall in the 2002 entry draft and is in his 13th season with the Bandits. He missed the 2011 season rehabbing from a knee injury. Smith is also from St. Catharines. He is 33. The six-foot-three D-man is one of the most ferocious checkers in the sport.

Calgary: Mike Carnegie, No. 16, is in his ninth season, all with the Roughnecks. The five-foot-10 native of London, Ontario, is 32. He's one of those consistently good, solid-as-a-rock D-men. Outside lacrosse, Carnegie is known for his extensive charity work. He once went to Uganda to help build a school.

New England: Andrew Suitor is captain of the Black Wolves but he's on the injured list rehabbing from a knee injury so Shawn Evans will wear the C until Suitor gets back into the lineup. Evans will then wear an A as an assistant captain. Evans, 29, begins his 11th NLL season when his team plays in Vancouver on Saturday night. The native of Peterborough, Ontario, set a league points record and was the league's MVP last season.

This Weekend's Games

SATURDAY (All times EST)

TORONTO (0-0) AT GEORGIA (0-1), 7:05 p.m.
This will be the first of two regular-season meetings. They'll meet again Jan. 29 in Toronto. Toronto won all five games it played against the Swarm during the last two seasons when they were based in Minnesota. The last Swarm win over the Rock was April 28, 2013, when they pulled off an upset playoff victory in Toronto.

CALGARY (0-1) AT BUFFALO (0-0), 7:30 p.m.
This will be the only regular-season meeting. Home floor has not been a factor the last two times these teams squared off: Buffalo won 15-14 in Calgary last season and Calgary won 16-13 in Buffalo in 2014.

COLORADO (1-0) AT ROCHESTER (0-0), 7:30 p.m.
This will be the only regular-season meeting. These teams clashed twice last season and the home team won each time, Rochester trouncing the Mammoth 14-5 before losing 11-10 in Colorado.

NEW ENGLAND (0-0) at VANCOUVER (0-0), 10 p.m.
This will be the only regular-season meeting. Vancouver won 11-9 at New England last season.

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