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Takeaways: NLL Week One

Jake Withers with an all timer of a night

Withers wasted no time getting things going for Halifax. He completed a hat trick before half time, his first. He picked up an absolutely absurd 32 loose balls, tying an NLL single game record. He went 31-33 facing off. He was at the heart of multiple defensive stands, including making multiple plays in killing off a five minute major on which the Rush didn’t score. It feels like the pundits had a number of different names in the preseason who could be MVP contenders. Teat, Smith, Jones, the list goes on. To me, that suggests that the race could be considered wide open. On opening nice, Withers let everyone know not to leave him out of it.

Ryan Sheridan is the real deal

The Hofstra alum and BC native was a top five pick. He stood out in his rookie debut. He scored a goal and had an assist, so to just go by the box score, you might not think that’s all that special. But watching the game tells a different story. Sheridan’s goal came from range, letting it rip in transition and scoring five hole. He had a number of serious hits, throwing his 6’4, 205 lb frame around and impacting several loose balls. He attempted a between the legs shot in this one too. Didn’t score, but the attempt says something. It says he’s confident, he’s unafraid, and not intimidated by the players and stage that is the pro level. Panther City continues to build the offensive core with young players and Sheridan is a great fit.

Thunderbirds offense isn’t even whole and they were on fire

Just before the season started, Halifax put Randy Staats, Eric Fannell, and Cody Jamieson on the PUP List. That’s a lot of firepower. Compounded by the fact that Chris Boushy now plays for Toronto, and it was fair to wonder if the Birds might get out to a slow start on the offensive end. They did not. Jamieson was activated the morning of the game, and Staats was put on the Evaluation List, meaning he’ll be returning to play in short order. Jamieson played and had four points, but truth be told, the Birds offense absolutely cooked thanks to contributions from everyone. Clarke Petterson was on fire, with eight points and five goals on 12 shots. Eight Thunderbirds registered multiple points. Cole Kirst got his first career goal. Ryan Benesch was everywhere, with five points and 12 loose balls. On the other end, Warren Hill made 34 saves. Hard to imagine a team getting out to a better start than Halifax did, and pretty soon they’ll be adding Randy Staats to the mix.

Vancouver defense, evidence of a team on the turnaround

The Warriors are a team trying to turn things around this year. They made significant changes in the offseason. Matt Beers, John Lintz, and Ryan Dilks join to help rebuild the defense. Kevin Crowley joins to the elevate the offense. Really the defense stood out to me in the opening of their first outing. Panther City, who as noted above is a team with an offense full of promising young stars and weapons, didn’t score their first settled goal until into the second quarter. Matt Hossack was excellent. They frustrated Panther City early with well organized defense and physical play. Bringing in Curt Malawsky to coach means bringing in a winner, and as the broadcast team mentioned, he’s a coach with a blueprint. The first outing was a loss, but there’s a plan in action. The offense still forced Nick Damude to make 45 saves for Panther City. Keegan Bal won’t have many nights where he puts 10 shots on goal and doesn’t score. Adam Charalambides is taking his game to a new level this season.

No lead is safe

Some serious battles back happened over the weekend. The first came up just short. After going down 4-0 to Philadelphia, New York battled back to get within one or two goals multiple times. Solid runs that were triggered by Jeff Teat, Kiel Matisz, and Connor Kearnan had the Riptide right on the cusp of completing the comeback, but timely goals by Philly held them off. The other comeback was one that actually resulted in a surprise result. At half time, Calgary looked like they were rolling. They held a 10-5 lead over Rochester .Their stars were cooking, and it felt like the Riggers were firmly in control. Whatever happened in that Rochester locker room at half time must have been special, because it all changed in the third. The Knighthawks shut out Calgary in the third quarter and went on an 8-0 run to take a 13-10 lead. Four goals and two assists from Connor Fields, three and three from Ryan Smith. Last year, the hot start from the Knighthawks was the talk of the league. They just found ways to win. This year is starting like last year for them. Albany didn't hold a lead for basically the entire game. The expectations aren't high for the Firewolves this year as they break in a talented rookie class with an eye on the future. But everyone in the league can compete. Albany didn't hold a lead...until four minutes left in the game when they went up 11-10. Tye Kurtz put the icy on the cake with two minutes left. Vegas committed nine penalties, and no matter who you play, that's hard to overcome. The comebacks, one completed and one just short, both go to show that you can never assume. Your team hasn’t lost, or won, until that final horn blows.

Mitch Jones and Blaze Riorden, dynamic duo

Speaking of Philly, let’s take a second to appreciate the left side in Philly, specifically Mitch Jones and Blaze Riorden. The “did you know he plays forward indoors???” bit about Riorden has been done to death at this point, I don’t think it’s really news to most people, but that doesn’t at all take away from appreciating just how skilled he is around the net. He soaks contact and handles feeds while tip toeing the crease, and is outstanding at finding angles or scoring while diving across the front of the goal. His ability to handle a feed in tight quarters, or while he has limited shooting angle, makes him a perfect pair for Jones. Against New York, Riorden had four goals on seven shots. Jones finished with eight points, including six assists. Three of Riorden’s four goals were assisted, and Mitch Jones was the primary assister on all three.

We’re still just on appetizers

We had five games to watch over opening weekend. The two teams that played in the finals a year ago, including Buffalo who was the best team in the East last year, the team with the best record in the west (San Diego), and the team with the second best record in the east last year (Toronto) still haven’t played a game yet. We still have upsets, come from behind wins, and a bone fide goal of the year candidate from Ryan Barnable. Next week Buffalo, Colorado, San Diego, and Toronto all get their season rolling and the race to May is on.


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