February 20, 2014

NLL Notes: Rush Extend NLL's Best Start to 7-0

by Neil Stevens | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter

Backstop Aaron Bold and the Rush defense have helped Edmonton start 7-0, the best start since the NLL was known as the Major Indoor Lacrosse League. (Kevin Colton)

Staying undefeated in the NLL this deep into the schedule is not just a difficult thing to do but it is exceedingly rare.

Edmonton is the first to start a season with seven consecutive wins since the 1996 Buffalo Bandits, who finished what was then a 10-game regular season 8-2 and who went on to win the championship of what was then known as the Major Indoor Lacrosse League, which became the National Lacrosse League in 1998.

GM-coach Derek Keenan's crew gets this weekend off before homes games Feb. 28 against Toronto and March 8 against Vancouver. The Rush then play in Calgary on March 14, at home March 21 against Buffalo and they finish off the month with games at Rochester on the 29th and Toronto on the 30th.

''We need to continue to stay level headed and continue to play one game at a time regardless of who we play,'' says goaltender Aaron Bold. ''Any team can win on any given night, especially if you underestimate them.''

Edmonton is No. 1 defensively, allowing an average of 7.71 goals against, and is No. 3 offensively, scoring 12 a game.

It has truly been a team effort. Mark Matthews is the only Rush player in the top 25 point-getters in the league. His 14 goals and 19 assists put him 18th. He's 20 points behind leader John Grant Jr. of Colorado although Matthews has played three fewer games.

Edmonton's newest players, including rookies Riley Loewen and Robert Church, have stepped right in to play important roles, and the pre-game preparations and game strategies put in place by GM-coach Derek Keenan and his staff have paid off, adds Bold.

Quick starts have been a 2014 Rush trademark. They pumped in the first three goals on the way to their 14-9 win in Minnesota last weekend.

MID-SEASON MUSINGS

With Colorado, Philadelphia and Vancouver at or past the halfway point of their 18-game schedules and with Buffalo, Toronto, Minnesota, Edmonton, Rochester and Minnesota just about there, some trends are obvious.

In the East, Buffalo and Rochester have been getting great goaltending from Anthony Cosmo and Matt Vinc, respectively, and are positioned to battle it out for the all-important first-round playoff bye that will be the prize for finishing first. Toronto and Philadelphia will be left to vie for the third and final berth, and last-place Minnesota won't be in any position to have a say unless it wins its games in Toronto and Philadelphia this weekend. A Buffalo-Rochester final appears probable.

In the West, given the way Aaron Bold is tending goal, only a total and unexpected collapse will keep Edmonton from clinching first place. Calgary should hold onto second place. Colorado and last-place Vancouver will be scrambling for the one remaining berth. A Calgary-Edmonton final seems most likely.

VINC, BOLD AND COSMO REMAIN DOMINANT

Goaltenders' save percentages (minimum 200 minutes):

1. Matt Vinc, Rochester, .823
2. Aaron Bold, Edmonton, .812
3. Anthony Cosmo, Buffalo, .810
4. Tyler Richards, Vancouver, .773
5. Evan Kirk, Philadelphia, .763
6. Dillon Ward, Colorado, .759
7. Nick Rose, Toronto, .754
8. Mike Poulin, Calgary, .730
8. Tyler Carlson, Minnesota, .701

BIG WEEKEND FOR BUCKTOOTH

Nine goals in two games _ it was an exceptional weekend for Vancouver's Brett Bucktooth.

The Stealth forward amassed 12 points (6-6) in a 19-9 win in Denver last Friday and picked up four points (3-1) in a 20-9 loss in Calgary on Saturday. He made a late start to his season due to rehab from off-season surgery and had scored one goal while appearing in only two of the team's previous nine games.

Bucktooth, 30, is from the Onandaga Nation outside Syracuse, New York. He's in his eighth NLL season. He matched his career high with 16 goals last year. He was the third overall pick in the 2006 entry draft by Buffalo after he'd helped Syracuse University win the 2004 NCAA title.

He's a busy man. He has one of the longer commutes in the NLL, flying an hour from Syracuse to Toronto and switching to a flight of 4 ½ hours to Vancouver for home games. He manages a lacrosse/hockey store and also sells life insurance on weekdays back home.

O'DOUGHERTY SITS

Chris O'Dougherty was put on the shelf for three weeks when the Stealth placed the fourth-year defenseman on injured reserve. O'Dougherty, 27, originally from New Jersey, is a high school lacrosse coach in the Seattle region.

O'Dougherty and Brett Bucktooth are the only U.S.-raised players with Vancouver. O'Dougherty was selected in the sixth round, 58th of 62 players picked, in the 2009 entry draft. He's the only man selected beyond the third round who is an NLL player today.

ACCURSI IN FAMILIAR GROOVE

Mike Accursi is only three games into his comeback but he's comfortable in his familiar spot on the right side of Rochester's offense. The 38-year-old Canadian left his front office post to resume his NLL career after Craig Point went down with a long-term injury and has been on a goal-a-game pace.

He's six points from passing retired Toronto forward Blaine Manning and taking over 10th place on the all-time points list. Accursi has 390 goals and 437 assists for 827 points in 237 games.

''It feels good,'' No. 44 said after helping the Knighthawks to a 17-9 win in Toronto last Saturday night. ''I mean I'm still getting into rhythm with the guys and stuff like that but I definitely feel good and I'm healthy so we'll keep playing and plugging away and let it all happen.''

BIG NUMBERS

The top two all-time leading scorers are about to reach crazy career milestones: Buffalo captain John Tavares needs seven goals for 800, and Toronto captain Colin Doyle needs only two for 500.

LOOKING BACK

Feb. 23, 2006: League founders Russ Cline and Chris Fritz, players Paul and Gary Gait, and the late coach Les Bartley were the first to be inducted into the NLL Hall of Fame during an all-star weekend ceremony held in Toronto.


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