The NLL’s Chase for the Championship begins this weekend with four intriguing first-round games. The writers here at Lax Philly are on top of all the details, providing a preview of each upcoming game below. Who will survive and advance to each best-of-three Division Series? All games will be broadcast on ESPN+ in the States and TSN in Canada.
Halifax Thunderbirds (11-7, #3 East) at Toronto Rock (13-5, #2 East)
Friday May 6, 7:30 pm ET – First Ontario Centre, Hamilton
This will be a game you won’t want to miss, as it will have something for everyone! No matter who triumphs, the winner of Albany-Buffalo had better take heed of their next opponent.
The Thunderbirds went just 2-7 over the second half of the season, but those two wins came in their last two games. It appears they have righted the ship just in time for the playoffs. Halifax has had its struggles on offense recently. However, they still boast the reigning 3-time Defensive Player of the Year in Graeme Hossack, and one of the top faceoff specialists in Jake Withers. Additionally, Warren Hill has proved that he is a starting-caliber goaltender. Simply put, this team is too deep in all areas to be a pushover in round one.
Toronto has been the hottest team in the league, having won 11 of their last 13 games. Their potent offensive attack is led by Tom Schreiber, who tied for the league lead in goals (47) this season. Couple that with a stingy defense showcasing Brad Kri and Mitch DeSnoo, who tied for second in the league in caused turnovers (39 each). This hungry Rock team is a serious contender for the championship.
Colorado Mammoth (10-8, #3 West) at Calgary Roughnecks (10-8, #2 West)
Friday May 6, 9:30 pm ET – Scotiabank Saddledome, Calgary
A long-standing rivalry continues…will the Mammoth be able to break the “Calgary Curse”? The Roughnecks hold a 10-1 playoff record over the Mammoth all-time; Colorado hasn’t defeated Calgary in the postseason since 2006. Colorado will need to put the past in the past if they hope to advance to the West Finals.
I expect the game to be a track meet. The Mammoth have arguably the top transition guy in the league in Joey Cupido. Meanwhile, Calgary has killed teams with Christian Del Bianco’s deep ball to get players such as Shane Simpson and Ethan Ticehurst in the breakaway. Ultimately, this will come down to whether the Mammoth’s defence can shut down Curtis Dickson, Tyler Pace, and Jesse King (97 combined goals this season). Colorado will also need to kickstart their own offence, featuring Ryan Lee (119 points), Connor Robinson (42 goals), and Eli McLaughlin (4 game-winning goals), sooner than they did in their final game of the regular season against the Roughnecks.
Albany FireWolves (9-9, #4 East) at Buffalo Bandits (14-4, #1 East)
Saturday May 7, 7:30 pm ET – Key Bank Center, Buffalo
“Muffler” Mike Kostiuk
Albany and Buffalo meet for the third time this year. Buffalo won convincingly at home in Week 12 before escaping with an overtime win in the Capital Region a few weeks later. On paper, you might think this is the easiest lock of the week. I’m here to remind you that you are reading this online.
The Bandits offense is led by the “Great” Dhane Smith (41 goals, 94 assists), who nearly broke his own single-season scoring record (137 in 2016) this year. Smith’s performance this year will certainly make him a candidate for league MVP. On the back end, the ageless Matt Vinc continues to break league records for goalies as he potentially heads toward his 8th Goaltender of the Year award.
The FireWolves counter with a potential league MVP candidate of their own in Joe Resetarits (47 goals, 64 assists). They also have the reigning Goaltender of the Year in Doug Jamieson, and a decided edge at the X with Joe Nardella (295 of 439; 67.2%). Adding to that is a defense that finally became fully healthy in time to win their final three games to make the playoffs. This game could become the catastrophe that Banditland desperately wants to avoid while pursuing their first title in 14 years.
Philadelphia Wings (9-9, #4 West) at San Diego Seals (10-8, #1 West)
Saturday May 7, 10:30 pm ET – Pechanga Arena, San Diego
The second meeting between these teams offers the Seals a chance for revenge. The Wings won an overtime thriller 13-12 on April 8, en route to a 3-1 record in their last four games, all of which were on the road, to secure the Wild Card playoff spot. Both teams started the season like juggernauts, but seemed to fall short of lofty goals and expectations. They also provided some head-scratching moments during their respective midseason slumps. However, this matchup has a good chance to produce the finalist out of the West bracket.
Philadelphia’s heralded offense has looked pedestrian at times this year. It will need to feed off the energy of that Week 22 overtime win against Georgia as it makes the cross-country trek. The Wings will also need to stay disciplined, as shown by their ranking as the least-penalized team in the league.
San Diego will lean on Austin Staats (37 goals, 42 assists) and an assorted cast who have carried the offense. Wesley Berg and 2019 MVP Dane Dobbie may or may not be the difference makers in this matchup. I believe this game goes to the final seconds, and possibly beyond. Could Brett Hickey be the one to end the hopes of the Wings, who traded him to San Diego at the deadline?
“Muffler” Mike Kostiuk was formally introduced to box lacrosse when he attended a New England Black Wolves game on a whim in 2016. Instantly hooked, he has since become an avid follower of the National Lacrosse League. Following the postponement of the 2019-2020 NLL season, he was offered the chance to share his wealth of statistical knowledge and unique insights with the lacrosse community at large. He cheerfully accepted, and currently serves as Edge of Philly’s correspondent for both the Albany FireWolves and New York Riptide.