We have just passed week ten of the season, and it’s time for mid-term reports of how the NLL teams are doing so far. I have decided to do this over two weeks, splitting up the east and west divisions.
This week, we will look at the East Division:
Buffalo Bandits (7-2) Grade A+
This team is always in the thick of things. They may have gotten a year older but are still playing at the highest caliber. Dhane Smith is on pace to shatter his points record, as well as go into triple digits for assists this year. The injury bug has been tough on the Bandits with Chris Cloutier and Chase Fraser out for most of the year. Tehoka Nanticoke, Josh Byrne, Dhane Smith, and Brandon Robinson have carried the majority of the load. Ian MacKay has been a force in transition as well.
With Matt Vinc in the net, you can never count out Buffalo. For a man in his forties, he is playing more like one in his twenties. Matt has been steady all season, giving his team opportunities to win every game they play.
Toronto Rock (6-2) Grade A-
A little rough spot to start the year, losing close ones to Rochester and Buffalo. This year’s reincarnation of the Rock is stronger, faster, and more skilled than years past. The additions of Corey Small and Stephen Keogh have yielded 68 points and made them much more dangerous around the net. The defense was top in the league last year and is doing the same job this year. Chris Corbeil was brought in but has yet to play due to injury.
Nick Rose has been spectacular in net and has been more agile this year in the Rock goal as well.
This team has to be one of the favorites for the championship this year.
Rochester Knighthawks (6-2) Grade B+
This year’s biggest surprise was the Knighthawks getting off to a 6-0 start this year. A couple of losses in recent weeks have brought the team back to Earth. The move to get Connor Fields in the off-season has been huge in the Knighthawks success. Ryan Smith, Holden Cattoni, Thomas Hoggarth, and Curtis Knight have all been instrumental in Rochester’s winning ways as well.
Rylan Hartley has had a terrific start to the year, and is making a real case for goaltender of the year, and with Riley Hutchcraft as a backup, the goaltending in Rochester will solid for a long time to come.
Halifax Thunderbirds (4-4) Grade B-
The Thunderbirds started the year looking unstoppable. Big wins against Philadelphia and New York had everybody talking about the well-balanced attack of Halifax. Ryan Benesch has looked great this year in his return to the Thunderbirds. Along with Austin Shanks, Clarke Petterson, Cody Jamieson, Chris Boushy, Wake:Riat BowHunter, and the Randy Staats, Halifax is an offensively powerful team. If this team can stay disciplined, it will be a force in the East.
Warren Hill has taken the bulk of the load in net, and although he hasn’t been as consistent as years past, he is still a top goalie in the league. The Thunderbirds will need him to be on his game if they want to make noise in this season.
Albany FireWolves (2-4) Grade: C
This team was dealt a big blow when Joe Nardella went down with a season ending injury, changing the landscape of the team. Offensively, there is plenty of talent in this new reincarnation of the team. Kieran McArdle, Hiana Thompson, Tanner Thomson, and Colton Watkinson have done a good job to keep the team competitive.
With a young team, there will be growing pains, and with a young defense, there will be lapses. Doug Jamieson has been strong in net but has been battling the injury bug as well. As long as Jamieson can stay healthy, the FireWolves can stay competitive.
Philadelphia Wings (3-4) Grade: C-
The Wings have had a really tough year to this point. Philadelphia has won three times so far, beating the expansion Las Vegas Desert Dogs, the winless Georgia Swarm, as well as the Albany FireWolves. They didn’t fair as well against the upper teams in the division like Toronto, Buffalo, and Halifax, with lopsided losses to each.
There is plenty of talent on the team with Joe Resetarits, Ben McIntosh, Matt Rambo, Blaze Riorden, who are all studs on offence. With the addition of Taite Cattoni, and Mitch Jones the Wings are even stronger now. Having the best faceoff man in the game with Trevor Baptiste should help get more possessions, and in turn, more opportunities to score.
In net, Zach Higgins has shown moments of greatness, but also moments of mediocrity. For the Wings to thrive, Higgins needs to be more consistent in net.
New York Riptide (1-6) Grade D+
The Riptide are going through yet another reincarnation. A disappointing start saw GM Jim Veltman fired, and Rich Lisk taking over. Deals were made to shake things up, as well as build for the future. This is now 100% Jeff Teat’s team. Connor Kearnan has had a good year, along with Reilly O’Connor, Larson Sundown, and Tyler Digby, who have been the main producers for the Riptide. The addition of Brett Hickey will pay dividends during the year as well.
Steven Orleman has had a tough year in net, and is still learning in his second full season in the NLL. As long as he can keep positive, he will be a spark that the team needs as it move forward in the future.
Georgia Swarm (0-5) Grade: D
The Swarm has had a major makeover this year. Losing Mike Poulin, Joel White, and Jordan Hall are big shoes to fill in each position. Lyle Thompson is still one of the greatest players in the game, but he needs more help. More production needs to come from Shayne Jackson, Andrew Kew, and Ryan Lanchbury if the Swarm hope to be competitive at all in the 2022-2023 season.
The goaltending has had Brett Dobson, and Craig Wende sharing duties this year. Neither have had great years, but both are young, and getting better with every outing.
Not helping things, this team has had a terrible schedule. Playing only five times in the first ten weeks, the Swarm have thirteen games in the next fourteen weeks, a daunting task for certain.
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Gary Groob has been involved with Lacrosse for the majority of his life, whether playing, coaching, or covering the sport for the media.
An avid fan, with a real drive about helping to “grow the game”, Gary became part of podcasts about the game 10 years ago. Through the podcasts, Mr. Groob had an opportunity to write about lacrosse, and the rest as they say, is history.
Through many miles (flying and driving) Gary has made inroads with the National Lacrosse League, Major Series Lacrosse League, the Ontario Lacrosse Association, as well as the Arena Lacrosse League, covering the leagues, their teams, and players, working for, and in concert with all of them.
In the year 2020, Mr. Groob was made the media person for the Arena Lacrosse League, voted onto the board of directors of the Brampton Excelsiors Lacrosse Club, as well as being made administrator of the Lacrosse page “Global Lacrosse” with a membership of 9000 members in over 90 Countries. Gary was also made an administrator of Lacrosse History Past Present and Future in 2022.
Mr. Groob co-hosts a weekly Lacrosse show on Spanglish Sports World, and ZingoTV channel 250, as well as writes a weekly lacrosse column for La Portada Canada News (both in print, and online).
Mr. Groob also hosts a Lacrosse talk show and podcast for The Edge of Philly Sports Network, seen live Sunday nights at 9pm (ET), and archived on the Edge of Philly YouTube page, as well as Spotify.
Mr. Groob’s other sports interests include Hockey, Football, Boxing, Wrestling, and Baseball, competing competitively in Boxing and Wrestling for many years.