March 8, 2016
Scenes like this one — during a Feb. 15, 2015, game between the New England Black Wolves and Rochester Knighthawks — have become less common in the NLL. (Larry Palumbo)
Scenes like this one — during a Feb. 15, 2015, game between the New England Black Wolves and Rochester Knighthawks — have become less common in the NLL. (Larry Palumbo)

Quality Up, Fighting Down in National Lacrosse League

by Neil Stevens | | Twitter

Pro indoor lacrosse has never been better.

Athleticism and stick skills are in the forefront, while fighting has declined significantly in the National Lacrosse league. Sure, there are still fights once in a while. Matt Beers dropped Steve Priolo with a punch to the head last Saturday night. But fans don't see much of that anymore, and good riddance.

In the first 40 games of the 2006 season, 42 fighting penalties were assessed. In the first 40 games in 2016 season, 11 fighting penalties were assessed — a 73.8-percent reduction.

Several factors have contributed to this revolution in box lacrosse. First and foremost is the realization among players, at long last, that they should heed studies that have shown that hits to the head can lead to irreversible harm. To deny that concussions have consequences is akin to pretending global warming is a hoax.

Another significant factor was the grounding of goons via the league's decision to lower the number of runners who can be dressed each game from 18 to 16.

"There is nobody in the league dressing a fighter anymore," Saskatchewan general manager and coach Derek Keenan said. "You have to be able to play the game at a high level to earn a place in the lineup. Being just a fighter doesn't work anymore. You can't compete in the NLL like that today. Those days are done."

Bye, bye staged fights.

"Staged fights were silly and they went on for years," Keenan said. "The talent level just wasn't where it is now."

Another factor for the decline in the numbers of fights was the NLL's decision to eject from games players who instigate fights. That took care of the bullies.

"There are still guys in the league who can take care of themselves," Keenan said.

But they can play as well as punch.

Bill Hawstrowser of the Toronto Rock believes he fits the description. Coming up through the ranks, fighting was always part of his involvement in the sport, so he's not ready to abstain.

"Sometimes guys are trying to fight after a clean hit," he said. "I don't like that. But if you get dirtied or if one of your players gets dirtied, I think it should be OK to step in there and fight for your teammate. I don't see a problem with that, or getting some momentum going in a game if a guy wants to go with you. I don't see a problem with it, as long as they're both willing to go."

Hawstrowser is aware of the studies on effects of concussions. Why, then, would he want to be involved in a fight?

"That's a good question," he said. "I've never asked myself that question. It's just part of the game."

In fact, it becomes less part of the game each season.

Another factor: Expanded international play and shared business links have created friendships among players on opposing NLL teams. So while some fans like to see fights during games, Colorado star Adam Jones conceded, players are unlikely to beat up friends.

"Some of us play on summer teams with each other," Jones said. "I play in Peterborough with guys like Shawn Evans who are on NLL teams other than mine.''

It was Evans who had Jones in a headlock as time expired in Colorado's 14-13 home win over New England last weekend. But that ended with handshakes rather than punches. Times have changed.

Seven for Jones

Jones scored seven goals and was involved in a late-game incident that did not earn him a point but had a crucial impact on the final score.

It was 12-11 for the Mammoth when Jones checked Black Wolves defenseman Andrew Suitor at the boards behind goalie Evan Kirk's crease. It was Suitor's first game after lengthy rehab from knee surgery, and Kirk took exception to Jones roughing up Suitor.

Kirk ran out of his crease in pursuit of Jones. Callum Crawford shot into the vacant net to make it 13-11 with five minutes left.

Crawford scored again to make it 14-11. New England got late goals from Jim Purves and Pat Saunders to close within 14-13, and time ran out as Evans got Jones in that headlock near the same spot Jones hit Suitor.

56 in a Row

The first goal Jones scored extended his scoring streak to 56 games, surpassing the previous NLL record of 55 by teammate John Grant Jr.

"Death, taxes, and goals from Adam Jones," Mammoth president and general manager Steve Govett said. "He's one of the game's most talented scorers. I'm so happy for Adam. He's worked hard to perfect his craft and is truly one of my favorite people."

In the spring of 2011, Jones was playing NCAA lacrosse for Canisius College when he tore a knee ligament. But he went on to become the NLL's 2012 Rookie of the Year, and his scoring has gone up each season: 29 goals in 2012, 33 in 2013, 39 in 2014, 51 in 2015 and 34 so far this year.

More About Jones

Jones wore No. 13 on his back in minor lacrosse.

"I wore it because it was my grandpa's number," he said.

Moving up in the ranks, he graduated to a team on which a player already had a No. 13. Nobody had 16 so he started wearing the No. 16 that he continues to use today.

Perfect in Pepsi Center

Colorado has played five home games and has won them all. It is the only NLL team that is undefeated at home.

First NLL Goal

Buffalo rookie Mitch de Snoo's first NLL goal might be the easiest one he ever scores. Vancouver lifted its goalie, so the 23-year-old native of Oshawa, Ontario, via Drexel had an empty net into which to toss the ball with two minutes remaining in a 13-6 Bandits win Saturday.

Cosmo in Fine Form

Bandits goalie Anthony Cosmo, who had played sparingly while coping with an injury, was the difference in the win over the Stealth, who lost by seven goals despite a 50-49 shots edge. The 38-year-old netminder recorded his first complete-game victory since a Jan. 23 win over Toronto.

Smith Continues Torrid Pace

Buffalo's Dhane Smith collected eight points, including five goals, and leads all NLL scorers in goals, 38, and points, 84, through 10 games.

Colorado's Callum Crawford had a (2g, 8a) had a 10-point night and is first in assists, 47, and second in points, 65, through 10 games.

New England's Shawn Evans has the third-highest points total with 58 (24g, 34a) through eight games.

Dawson About to Pass Gait

Dan Dawson, whose overtime goal gave Rochester a 9-8 win in Calgary on Saturday, had a seven-point game and it moved him into sixth spot on the all-time points list. Dawson upped his career total to 1,158 points to eclipse the 1,152 by Shawn Williams. Dawson now is just seven points shy of NLL Hall of Famer Gary Gait's 1,165.

Time Line

MARCH 21, 1987: The Baltimore Thunder, coached by Bob Griebe, defeated the Washington Wave 11-10 to win the first league championship in front of 7,019 spectators at the Capital Center. Griebe played on U.S. world teams. Among the victorious players was Dave Pietramala, who the same year played on the Johns Hopkins team that won the NCAA championship. He has been head coach of the Blue Jays since 2001.

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