January 15, 2014

NLL Notes: Packed House Greets Stealth in Vancouver

by Neil Stevens | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter

Fans packed the stands to watch the Stealth as they opened their home slate in British Columbia with a win over the Swarm. (NLL.com)

It was great to see all the 5,200-plus Langley Events Centre seats occupied for the NLL's return after an absence of 10 years in British Columbia, and the Stealth rewarded the home crowd with a hard-fought 8-5 victory over the Minnesota Swarm that should keep them coming back.

''The crowd was awesome,'' said Stealth forward Rhys Duch. ''You could feel the energy even from the early-comers during the warmups.

''They were supportive throughout the game and there was a great turnout for autographs afterwards.''

The performance by goaltender Tyler Richards alone was worth the price of admission. Minnesota outshot Vancouver 50-33 including 20-4 in the fourth quarter. Richards was amazing.

The crowd was twice the size of what the Stealth had been drawing in Everett, Washington. Swarm captain Andrew Suitor was impressed enough to send a post-game Tweet emphasizing the ''great atmosphere'' and how it was ''good to have lacrosse back in B.C.''

The defunct Vancouver Ravens played in the city's huge main arena from 2002 to 2004 and went belly up. The suburban LEC is smaller, although it does have 24 private suites, and appears the more fan-friendly venue for lacrosse. Langley, population 25,000, is on the east side of Metro Vancouver.

GRANT THIRD MAN WITH 1,200 POINTS

Colorado captain John Grant Jr., with 17 points in his team's first four games, has increased his career points total to 1,201.

Only two men have more points and Grant is among only six who have more than 1,000: 1. John Tavares, 1,678; 2. Colin Doyle, 1,271; 3. Grant, 1,201; 4. Gary Gait, 1,165; 5. Josh Sanderson, 1,153; 6. Shawn Williams, 1,115.

RUSH ROOKIES FIT RIGHT IN

Riley Loewen (Limestone) has been an instant hit with the Edmonton Rush.

Loewen scored two goals in the season opener, a 13-10 win in Denver, and he potted two more while also picking up four assists in a 17-6 romp over the visiting Mammoth last Saturday night. The Burnaby, British Columbia, product was Edmonton's second pick, 11th overall, in the 2013 entry draft.

Robert Church (Drexel), the team's first pick and fifth overall, made his NLL debut Saturday and was credited with five assists.

FIRST NLL GOAL FOR LEUNG

In Calgary, rookie transition player Karsen Leung (Bellarmine) scored his first NLL goal during a 13-11 win over visiting Colorado last Friday night. The six-foot, 180-pound rightie was the Roughnecks' second pick, 10th overall, in the 2013 draft. He's from Victoria, British Columbia's capital city.

Leung has a peculiar quirk: he puts his equipment on from head to toe, according to the team's website.

JONES SCORES FIRST NLL GOAL

In Vancouver, rookie Minnesota forward Scott Jones (UMBC) scored his first NLL goal during his team's 8-5 loss to the Stealth. The six-foot-four, 225-pound native of Port Coquitlam, B.C., was the seventh player selected in the 2013 entry draft.

TOUGH START FOR SWARM

Minnesota had the worst possible schedule to begin the new season: open against the two-time defending champions in Rochester (an 8-6 loss) then provide the opposition to a Stealth team eager to please fans in their new home in the return of the NLL to Canada's West Coast (an 8-5 loss).

The Swarm defense in both games was first-rate. Holding those teams to eight goals each was an accomplishment. Trouble was, the offense didn't score often enough on Matt Vinc and Tyler Richards.

You know who they could have used? Ryan Benesch. The slick forward they traded to Buffalo last summer for a draft pick has six goals in three games with the Bandits. Or how about Zack Greer? The hard-shooting forward they traded to Edmonton a couple of years back for a draft pick (used to select Cam Flint who has yet to make his NLL debut) has eight goals in two Rush games this season. It's nice to stockpile draft picks but, sometimes, that strategy comes at a cost reflected in the win-loss column.

VINC TOPS GOALTENDING STATS

Matt Vinc was the NLL's best goaltender through the season's first three weeks. No wonder Rochester is 2-0. Having the league's best defense corps helps, of course.

The save percentages (minimum 100 minutes played): 1. Vinc, .837; 2. Aaron Bold, Edmonton, and Tyler Richards, Vancouver, .814; 4. Anthony Cosmo, Buffalo, .796; 5. Nick Rose, Toronto, .790; 6. Dhillon Ward, Colorado, .789; 7. Tyler Carlson, Minnesota, .761; 8. Mike Poulin, Calgary, .752; 9. Evan Kirk, Philadelphia, .739; 10. Tye Belanger, Colorado, .644.

Goals-against averages: 1. Vinc, 7.5; 2. Bold and Carlson, 8.0 each; 4. Richards, 9.0; 5. Rose, 11.0; 6. Ward, 11.29; 7. Kirk, 12.37; 8. Cosmo, 12.42; 9. Poulin, 13.07; 10. Belanger, 15.80.

STEVE PRIOLO'S SCORING SPREE

Big Buffalo defenseman Steve Priolo broke loose for two goals in the Bandits' 12-10 home win over Toronto last Friday night, matching his entire total in 16 games last season.

''(Coach) Troy (Cordingley) talked to me,'' said the six-foot-five, 234-pound checker. ''He wanted me to push the ball (up the floor) more, run the floor. We just fed off each other's energy.''

The Bandits also won Sunday, 11-10 in Philadelphia, improving their record to 2-1. The wild weekend erased the ugly memory of their 17-13 home loss to the Wings in their season opener.

''We started pressuring the ball on defense,'' he said after beating Toronto. ''We really got on their hands and didn't allow them to make those east-west passes. We wanted to make sure every time they got the ball they weren't comfortable.''

His transition runs helped his team overcome a 6-2 halftime deficit.

''The game is changing,'' he said. ''It's all becoming transition and I think we have a great transition team with guys who can put the ball in the net.''

Crowd sizes haven't been up to the numbers of past seasons so the players are hoping the weekend triumphs will bring fans back. Buffalo had lost seven in a row at home before crushing the Rock. It was a long-awaited treat to trot around the green carpet saluting the fans afterwards.

''I know the first game was just after Christmas and this one was on a Friday so the fans are going to be a little less and also, definitely, because we weren't winning,'' said Priolo, who turned 25 on Wednesday. ''We feed off our fans. We win at home and run around like that, they feel included, and hopefully people will come out next game.''


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