Please note: the holiday season delayed the start of this column for 2014, but as they say, better late than never. These quotes are from the conference call after Opening Weekend.
On Wednesdays, Doug Fritts, National Lacrosse League VP of Broadcast Services & Communications, leads the NLL Coaches & Media Conference Call and each week I will highlight three topics from it that I think stood out.
On the Call for Week 2
Toronto Rock Head Coach John Lovell and forward Garrett Billings
Calgary Roughnecks’ Head Coach Curt Malawsky and captain Andrew McBride
Colorado Mammoth Head Coach Bob Hamley and defender John Orsen
Vancouver Stealth Head Coach Chris Hall and forward Lewis Ratcliff
Theme 1 – Training Camp
Since the Mammoth were the only team in action this past weekend some of the focus was on how camp went for the other three teams playing this weekend.
This is how Curt Malawsky, in his second year as head coach of the Roughnecks, summed up his team’s pre-season workouts. “This year we went light night numbers at camp like a lot of teams did. We didn’t have a lot of filler in the drills that we did. We worked a lot on our systems.”
About 900 kilometres west of the Stampede City, the lower mainland, or The Coast, as it is known in lacrosse verbatim, is hyped to have the NLL return for the first time in a full decade.
Chris Hall gave his thoughts on the paces he put players through. “Well, we had a great camp. We started back in October with an open camp and took some players from there to our main camp. We finished that up this past weekend and guys are obviously excited to get going. Sometimes training camp can drag on and it seems a bit of a long time and what you are looking for is game action, so I think we are looking forward to getting going in Denver on Saturday night.”
One of Hall’s offensive leaders, Lewis Ratcliff, had glowing reviews of the Stealth’s preseason workouts. “From a camp perspective I thought it was outstanding. I thought it was the best one we have had, probably in my time in Washington and now Vancouver. The talent level, with less spots and roster spots dropping guys all over the league, is unbelievable, so nobody’s jobs were secure and guys were going hard. It was just a great camp from start to finish.”
Out east, Garrett Billings thought that the Toronto Rock were in a unique situation leading into this season.
“I think we are coming at it from a lot different perspective, especially comparing ourselves to Calgary.” said Billings. “I watched that preseason game of theirs and they basically had a very similar line up to what they had last year and not many changes, where looking at our team and maybe the roster changes aren’t huge, but having a new coaching staff and having Blaine (Manning) and Cam Woods retire, it’s a big change. On top of that, you drop a couple of roster spots so there is some battles in camp, guys just trying to earn jobs, so it’s been kind of hectic, to tell you the truth, since the beginning of training camp so we haven’t had the luxury of being able to look outwards, we’ve been too busy focusing on ourselves and getting ourselves in order.”
Theme #2 – Learning from 2013
When the Toronto Rock were defeated in the first round of the playoffs last season by the younger, more athletic Minnesota Swarm, much was made about the Rock’s transition game and their difficulty keeping up with the pace the Swarm set. Toronto Sun writer Richard Mauntah asked John Lovell and Garrett Billings if they took anything from that loss into consideration when preparing for 2014.
“We adjusted our team speed, I think. I think we’ve got some younger players going into our line up,” stated Lovell. “For the most part though, we have a pretty experienced team here and there doesn’t need to be a lot of changes. I think for the most part that was a game that can happen in this league. It’s happened before, even to the Toronto Rock on a number of occasions, so in terms of addressing it, I think we have and we’re just moving forward.”
An Achilles Heel of the Roughnecks’ in the past has been maintaining their composure, so Bob Chavez from IL Indoor asked Andrew McBride if that was something that the team has talked about for 2014.
“Definitely. It is something we have addressed over the past couple of years,” began McBride. “Maybe we didn’t get the message in previous years, but this year we really need to understand that if we let teams on the power play , especially with guys in this league, you’re going to get burned. It’s not like the NHL where teams are firing on 16 or 22 percent. Good power plays like Toronto and around the league are at 50 or 60 percent, so we need to understand lacrosse is a physical game. We are going to take some penalties, but let’s take the kind of penalties while we’re working hard.
“We’ve got to avoid the undisciplined ones like chirping at the referee and taking offensive penalties. It’s definitely main focus for us in being disciplined and staying off the referees and that’s got to start from the leadership group down and we are going to be a lot more accountable and better for that this year.”
Theme 3 – The New NLL
The catch phrase ‘The New NLL’ has been used since the players signed a seven-year Collective Bargaining Agreement. Changes in roster sizes, a new playoff format and an extended regular season are all things that factor in to The New NLL, so it was interesting to hear which factor was addressed when the term came up.
Curt Malawsky used the phrase first and was then asked to elaborate on what he saw out of Week 1’s games as it related to the changes the new CBA has brought to the game.
“The transition was good. You know what was real good, is I noticed that teams were real fit. There is a lot of people talking that dropping the numbers that the quality of the game might drop down. I didn’t think it did at all. I think it was very fast, very competitive. The games were tight. I watched all three of them and they were tight all down the line. Even Buffalo was real solid early and Philly showed their athleticism, so I didn’t think the quality dropped like some of the naysayers said. I thought it was very exciting.
“It’s going to be up and down the floor and I think it is going the way of the guys who can play both ends of the floor. I think it is going the way of guys who can play both ends of the floor. You’ve seen a lot of guys have some guys who stay on and play up front; I know Rochester did that quite a bit so it is important that we drafted that way and I think it is going to be the key to a lot of teams’ success is to have guys play offence and defence.”
Garrett Billings alluded to the new playoff format when he was asked to comment on his team’s loss to Minnesota last year.
“Funny enough, I think the league has addressed those issues of one game blow outs,” said Billings. “I mean, that’s what it was and you had to be ready. Minnesota kind of caught us off guard and maybe it wasn’t the best match up for us, but (this year) one game won’t decide the whole thing, so you will be able to adjust and come back the next night and figure out what you did wrong.”
Since he already had one game under his belt, Mammoth defender John Orsen was able to weigh in about teams dressing 16 runners opposed to 18.
“I thought it was great.”, began Orsen. “Obviously as a player you always look to get more minutes and obviously with fewer bodies you are on the floor more. I think at times it was up and down and it seemed like there were fewer stoppages in play. I don’t know if that had to do with fewer bodies or just the game aspect, but I thought there were stretches where it affected players. Certainly these days you’ve got to be in shape and I think everyone pretty much on both squads were in pretty good shape. In the fourth quarter you saw some guys kind of tire out but it was fun. I think it’s great, short rosters, I like it a lot.”
Lewis Ratcliff was asked to comment on the same topic based on what he saw from the games played on the opening weekend.
“I think the game its fast, and it was fast last year. I think, and that’s the biggest thing, is that you are going to have to be in shape. The inability to make stupid plays and to turn the ball over and to get into kind of a track meet, you’re going to have to be smarter sometimes and know when to slow it down. With less guys, most teams are probably going to dress six O (offensive) guys, you’re not getting a lot of breaks, so if you’re not physically fit and ready to go probably every shift, you’re not going to be able to keep up.”
Kris Partington found the great game of lacrosse in what was his last year of Intermediate and fell in love with it instantly. During his time as a player, coach, referee and executive member, he has seen the sport grow exponentially in Edmonton and all over Alberta and he is excited to see it reach greater heights moving forward.
Have a comment or opinion that you want to share? You can find Kris on Twitter @partytown25 or e-mail him at email@example.com.
Make sure to tune in each Wednesdays at 10pm EST on The Lacrosse Radio Network as he hosts All Lacrosse Edmonton, a one hour show covering the NLL, local lacrosse and all things in between. He also hosts a pre game show that starts a half hour before all Edmonton Rush games.
You can listen on line at http://www.live365.com/stations/lacrosseradionet and download the free Live 365 app so you can tune in on your smart phone.