NLL Midterm Report: Eastern Division

Buffalo Bandits

Record: 5-5, 3.5 games out of first place.

What’s Happened: The Bandits have had a very up and down season to this point. At 5-5, they are certainly in a secure playoff spot, but are very behind the 8-1 Toronto Rock. Dhane Smith has become the player they hoped for and leads the team with 57 points. Ryan Benesch has also been a leader with 51 points. Free agent signee Alex Kedoh Hill has played in every game and has been a pleasant surprise with 18 points on the year.

Rookie goaltender Dave DiRuscio stepped up with Anthony Cosmo out and defeated the Colorado Mammoth to give the Mammoth their 5-5 record. Rookie Brandon Goodwin has six points in nine game and trade acquisition Nick Weiss leads the team with 56 loose balls.

The Bandits season started with a loss at New England before they defeated Edmonton the next night. They have been in mostly tight games all season, the biggest defect a 17-11 loss to Rochester, but the remaining games mostly one or two goal contests.

What’s Ahead: The Bandits face the Toronto Rock on March 13th as they face the division leaders in what will be their toughest challenge so far. It’s a back to back with the Rock, so Buffalo has two shots at it. They play only one western team for the rest of the season when they host Vancouver in late April. The rest are division opponents, and the schedule is very Minnesota/New England heavy.

Who’s Added: Zak Boychuk was signed last week to back up Dave DiRuscio but will probably be off the roster when Cosmo returns. Rookie Matthew Bennett was promoted from the practice roster for a game and he had zero points.

Who’s Gone: Buffalo hasn’t had many injuries, but the ones they had were impactful. John Tavares missed six games with a calf injury and just returned against Colorado. Meanwhile, Cosmo has a knee injury and there’s no way to know when he will be back.

Midterm Report: The Bandits have shown a lot of great things this year, most impressive probably being last week with their fourth quarter shutout to Colorado. The east has been owned by Toronto, and it would be stunning for Buffalo not to be in the playoffs. Going 0-3 against Rochester has hurt them tremendously. Their midterm report will be a B-.

New England Black Wolves

Record: 2-5, 5 games out in the east.

What’s Happened: New England started the season really well. And then they started playing very poorly. That’s the only story of the Black Wolves season so far, and it’s not a surprise for the young team to be inconsistent. However, it probably created a little too much expectation after their first two wins.

First they defeated Buffalo on opening night, and the next week they topped the defending champion Rochester Knighthawks with a 17-7 thrashing. The defense looked like one of the best in the league, holding teams below ten goals.

Until the next two weeks when they gave up 19 goals to Minnesota and 18 to Edmonton. They lost their rematch with Rochester, and then nearly stole one in Toronto before giving up a lead in the fourth quarter and losing in overtime. Then two weeks ago they trailed Colorado the entire time before nearly coming back and dropping a late power play opportunity.

Kevin Crowley has been the team leader as expected with 38 points. The Buchanans have contributed a combined 71 points, while Pat Saunders has had a quietly good season with 30 of his own. The Wolves’ defense has still been decent, with the third lowest goals against in the league, but they’ve also played the least amount of games.

What’s Ahead: New England has two western opponents left in Calgary and Vancouver. Travelling to Calgary in three weeks will still be a challenge, despite the Roughnecks abysmal record. They face division leading Toronto twice, but maybe more importantly they have three left with Minnesota, who they need to get ahead of to get into a breath of the playoffs. They also have three contests left with Buffalo, and if they can take two of three and win the season series, they could overtake them.

Who’s Added: Brett Bucktooth is back after missing the first four games and the veteran already has 10 points. He’s played well in his return, and rookie Mark Cockerton has also played well since joining the starting lineup, with six points in three games.

Who’s Gone: Quinn Powless is out for the year with an ACL injury, which is unfortunate after he played so well for the Wolves. Rookie Matt Crough saw the active roster for a few but is back on the practice squad and recent signee Jimmy Purves is also back there after playing one game.

Midterm Report: The Black Wolves have not been a good team with a 2-5 record. They have, however, shown flashes and they have opportunity. They are just 2.5 games back of a playoff spot and if they play well enough would have a chance. Their midterm report will be a C-.

Toronto Rock

Record: 8-1, first place in the east.

What’s Happened: Oddly, the Toronto Rock have been the surprise of the NLL this season. In a division where Rochester and Buffalo were projected as top dogs, the Rock have owned the division all year. Their 8-1 record is especially impressive in the context that they are without both Colin Doyle and Garrett Billings.

Starring for the year have been Josh Sanderson, who has 62 points, and also young players Rob Hellyer and Brett Hickey. With 60 points, Hellyer has been in the MVP discussion as he has been clutch for the Rock. Hickey, who was cut by Vancouver last year, has been one of the shocking stars of the season with 33 points, good for fourth on the team. Both goaltenders have played well; Brandon Miller has seen the bulk and has a GAA of 10.38, and Nick Rose has been equally as impressive with a GAA under 10 when he’s been called upon.

It hasn’t been an easy schedule for the Rock, either. They have one goal wins over Rochester, Calgary, New England, and Edmonton. They have a 20-11 blowout over Vancouver and in one game they held Minnesota, a team capable of scoring 19, to four goals. Their style of winning has been as versatile as any, all against different kinds of opponents.

What’s Ahead: The Rock face Colorado this week for the first time and it’s at the Pepsi Center. That will be a good challenge after they already beat a top west team in Edmonton last week. They have two more with Buffalo and two with New England and still have a good western slate left- hosting Edmonton and Vancouver and going to Calgary.

Who’s Added: Bill Greer is back on the defense and the veteran has played in two games. Patrick Merrill missed the first game with injury but has played in the last eight, and he has 30 loose balls and has forced eight turnovers.

Who’s Gone: Defense Scott Johnston is out for the season, and that’s why Greer was added. Rookie Mark White was sent to the practice roster after one game with the Rock. Colin Doyle has missed the entire season with shoulder surgery and should still be out for the remainder of the season. Garrett Billings has been cleared to return from a knee injury but by all accounts from general manager Jamie Dawick, he won’t be back in a Rock uniform.

Midterm Report: There is zero bad to say about Toronto on the field- they’ve shown domination and several other ways to win. The news of Billings has been a cloud for a few days, but the Rock have won eight games without him. Their midterm report is an A.

Rochester Knighthawks

Record: 6-3, two games out of first place.

What’s Happened: The defending champions had a rocky start, losing their first two contests. They lost a tight one to the Toronto Rock and were dominated on the road by the New England Black Wolves. Then, things turned around for the ‘Hawks as they defeated Toronto and Buffalo to get back to .500 only to fall to the Minnesota Swarm in a tough 8-7 loss.

The Knighthawks are undefeated since that loss, taking out Buffalo twice, extracting their revenge on New England, and defeating championship rival Calgary.

At 6-3, the Knighthawks are secure in their playoff seeding. However, they have shown flaws they did not have in their threepeat seasons, and aren’t the dominant force that was expected. They lost Johnny Powless and did not replace him with Jeremy Noble.

Yet, since Stephen Keogh returned in early February, their play has improved. Cody Jamieson is repeating his MVP 2014 with a 53 goal output thus far, and Dan Dawson’s 45 points have gone largely unrecognized on the Knighthawks star-studded roster. Matt Vinc has been his typical self with a 10.94 goals against, good for fourth in the league.

What’s Ahead: Rochester heads to Calgary next week in a rematch while they also have two more with Colorado still and a contest with Edmonton. They face Toronto one more time as well. It’s not an easy schedule, but they’ve already swept Buffalo for the season and put themselves in good position.

Who’s Added: Joel Matthews has been the surprise since he was added to the roster. The former Bandits prospect has 11 points in his five games played and has been somewhat of a spark.

Who’s Gone: Aaron Wilson was injured just two games in and is probably going to miss the rest of the season. Chris Attwood was signed and released before he played a game.

Midterm Report: Rochester has rebounded from their rough start and have relativity played well. Their stars have all done their job, and every position has been consistent. Their midterm report is a B+.

Minnesota Swarm

Record: 3-5 and 4.5 games out of first place.

What’s Happened: It’s been a weird season for the Minnesota Swarm. At times they have been dominant on offense and other times they’ve… scored four goals in a game. The Swarm are once again a very young team but they do have some savvy veterans who contribute.

Minnesota has plenty of talent. Callum Crawford is a top ten player in the NLL and Miles Thompson is running away with rookie of the year. However, some youth and inexperience has always been their downfall.

Shayne Jackson has emerged with a break out season, leading the team with 35 points. Logan Schuss turned out to miss just a single game and has 28 points following his rookie of the year season. Kiel Matisz, who had moved to defense, has stepped up when Crawford was injured and has 21 points of his own.

The Swarm have beaten Edmonton, New England, and Rochester this season. However, they have also suffered tough losses to Toronto (16-4) and Vancouver (21-15).

What’s Ahead: They have a tough matchup at Colorado soon and also have to go to Rochester. They still host Calgary and Edmonton, too. It’s not the hardest schedule in the world but the Swarm need to improve in a lot of areas to win enough games to contend for the playoffs.

Who’s Added: Shane MacDonald had a good start to the season before getting injured, and he just recently returned to the lineup. Defenseman Ian Crawford made his NLL debut last week. Corbyn Tao also was a backup goalie this year, so he “added” a position.

Who’s Gone: Nick Cotter made his return to the NLL for just one game before he was released. Crawford has missed the last two weeks but should be back their next game.

Midterm Report: Minnesota is always considered a team with potential, but they are yet to break out. They have struggled real bad at times this year and other times have looked good. They have a shot at the playoffs if Buffalo collapses, but honestly they wouldn’t go far in their 5,000th rebuilding season. Their midterm grade is a C-.