NLL 2021-2022 Outlook – Halifax Thunderbirds

Compiled and Written by “Muffler” Mike Kostiuk

New Faces:

F Stephan LeBlanc, F Rhys Duch, D David Brock, D Tyson Bell, G Aaron Bold

Key Losses:

F Ryan Benesch, F Mike Burke, D Chet Koneczny, G Peter Dubenski

Unfinished Business. Between the global pandemic stopping play for a season and a half and the move of the franchise to a new market in Halifax, Nova Scotia, it’s easy to forget that this team (in their previous iteration as the original Rochester Knighthawks) were just 10 minutes away from winning their sixth Championship in the 2017-2018 season. While their lead in the North Division was razor thin when play stopped two-thirds of the way through the 2019-2020 season, the Thunderbirds were a serious contender to become just the fifth team to win a Championship in its inaugural season in a new market (Baltimore ’87, Buffalo ’92, Toronto ’99, Saskatchewan ’16). Here’s how the Halifax Thunderbirds shape up heading into the 2021 2022 season…

Offense

Led by Cody Jamieson, Kyle Jackson, Clarke Petterson, and Stephen Keogh, Halifax ranked third in the NLL in goals and fourth in points when the 2019-2020 season was cut short. Future Hall of Famer Ryan Benesch was selected by Panther City in the Expansion Draft. Team owner and GM Curt Styres responded by signing two future Hall of Famers in free agency: lefty Stephan Leblanc (800 career points) in 2020 and righty Rhys Duch (1,000+ career points) in 2021. Add in promising young talents Austin Shanks, Chris Boushy, and Eric Fannell, and the sky’s the limit (pun intended) on the front end for this squad.

Defense

Just how good is this defense? Start with 3 time reigning Defensive Player of the Year Graeme Hossack. Add defensive stalwarts Scott Campbell, Luc Magnan, and Brad Gillies. Mix in face off wizard Jake Withers, arguably the best in the box game. Simmer with up and comers Colton Armstrong, Trevor Smyth, James Barclay, and Nonkon Thompson, then bake in a career year from goalie Warren Hill. The result is a defense that collected the most loose balls, won the second most faceoffs, and had the highest faceoff win percentage in 2019-2020, despite having the most penalty minutes of any team in the league.

But the recipe doesn’t end there.

The Thunderbirds added premium toppings during free agency in veteran defenders David Brock and Tyson Bell, as well as 2-time NLL champion and 2016 Finals MVP Aaron Bold to solidify their goaltending game. These additions made the defensive unit so potent that 2020 second-round draft pick Ryan Terefenko (PLL Chrome LC) was the only draft pick in the last two years to make the roster (albeit on the practice squad), with highly regarded 2020 first-round pick Ethan Riggs being released from the team before the end of training camp. With this level of talent from top to bottom, a dash of discipline may be all that is needed to start the “Greatest Defense in NLL History” conversation/speculation. It will be extremely difficult to believe the Halifax Thunderbirds won’t resolve that Unfinished Business in 2021-2022.

Gary Groob
Gary Groob

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, he made an association with Kevin Neibauer of Lax Philly, who convinced him to come on board and write for them. The rest 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.

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’s other sports interests include Hockey, Football, Boxing, Wrestling, and Baseball, competing competitively in Boxing and Wrestling for many years.

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