NLL OUTLOOK: League / Northern Division / Central Division / Eastern Division / Mid-Season


By Ted Montour, Canada/NLL Editor

Week Eight of the 2002-03 National Lacrosse League season has passed, and, while most teams have played at least half of their schedules - only Vancouver (2 wins, 4 losses) and Philadelphia (2 wins, 5 losses) have yet to reach their individual halfway marks - just eight more week-ends remain on the regular schedule.

I had suggested that there was more offensive talent in the League this year, and this would result in more scoring. So far, this has not been borne out, with teams averaging 12.4 goals-for per game (goals-for and goals-against won't even out until the end of the schedule), compared to 13.9 last season.

Last year's runaway regular-season leaders and Champions Cup finalists, the 14 - 2 Albany Attack, have stumbled to a 2 - 6 start, last in the Central Division. "This year's Albany", arguably, are the Calgary Roughnecks, riding a 4-game win streak to a 6 - 3 record and second place in the Northern Division. The "Drillers" sit one game and 33 percentage points behind the Toronto Rock, after a 4 - 12 inaugural season in which they tied with the Ottawa Rebel for last place in the Division and the League.

Mid-Season's Biggest Surprise: Over 16,000 in average Attendance in Denver!

Everyone's pre-season pick, the Toronto Rock, are 7 - 3 atop the Great White North and 3rd overall, winners of five of their last six contests and well-positioned for another run at the championship. The Rochester Knighthawks, most emphatically not off to one of their slow starts, are sporting an NLL-best 5-game winning streak and a 6 - 2 record. The travelling medicine show that is now the Colorado Mammoth lead their fellow underachievers in the Eastern Division at 4 - 4, and also lead the NLL in attendance (averaging 16,170 at Denver's Pepsi Center) after years of playing to thousands of empty seats in Baltimore, Pittsburgh and Washington D.C. They have yet, however, to win on the road.

At the start of the season, I opined that the Buffalo Bandits remained John Tavares' team, and that he and Darris Kilgour, archetypal Bandit and new Head Coach, would lead the team back to respectability (OK, so I'm paraphrasing myself a bit).

John Tavares

John Tavares leads all goal- and point-scorers (31 goals, 38 assists), and the Bandits lead the Central Division and the League with an 8 - 1 record, winners of their last five games. Kilgour has his players, as well as lacrosse commentators, talking about old school lacrosse, and indeed, these Bandits bear a striking resemblance to the MILL Champions of seasons past. They lead the NLL in scoring, loose balls, penalties, penalty minutes and shorthanded goals. The power play is ranked 3rd, the penalty kill 5th, and their team goals-against average is second only to the Toronto Rock.

The Bandits are perfect at home and in the Central Division, their only loss coming January 24 at the Air Canada Centre. This was a bruising affair that saw a lot of woofing between players, benches and coaches (even Rock owner Brad Watters got into it), and twice as many penalties to Buffalo as to Toronto (16 versus 8), including a 5-minute charging major to back-up goaltender Corey Quinn, which he had to serve himself, for coming nearly to mid-floor to Pearl Harbor a fast-breaking Glenn Clark. This game also saw what were quite possibly the two most outstanding individual offensive performances in one game to date this winter: - Blaine Manning with 5 goals and 8 assists for the Rock, and 5 goals and 3 helpers from John Tavares. The Bandits avenged this loss a couple of weeks later at the HSBC Arena. Elsewhere in the NLL, there have been some noteworthy occurrences.

Northern Division

While the Rock are cruising along in first place, with the Roughnecks a game back with a game in hand, the Ottawa Rebel sit third at 4 - 4 (although they have yet to beat a Division opponent), with goaltender Matt Disher sporting a League-best .786 save percentage. The phrases "Matt Disher" and "stands on his head" have become boilerplate in Ottawa sports reports, but too many Ottawans are missing his routinely brilliant performances. Owner Brad Watters has challenged fans, in particular the local lacrosse community, to turn out in more respectable numbers, amidst rumors of a possible move of the franchise to Winnipeg, site of a Rock - Rebel pre-season game that reportedly impressed the local ownership of the Canadian Football League's Blue Bombers. While Watters will 'neither confirm nor deny' a possible Rebel retreat, Vancouver lacrosse fans have recently seen Ravens' owner Paul Reinhart take a total powder, apparently walking away after losses in the millions and diminishing attendance. Last year's NLL Executive of the Year, franchise founder Tom Mayenknecht (whom Reinhart manouvered out), has stepped into the breach.

Toronto's Blaine Manning, Glenn Clark and Bob Watson

Central Division

If the season were to end today, as the saying goes, the Central would send three teams to the playoffs. The Bandits and the Knighthawks are two wins apart, with their Divisional series still to come, while the Columbus Landsharks (6 - 4) have a better win percentage than anyone in the Eastern Division. Although they have tailed off a bit lately, losing their last three, the 'sharks remain the best collection of young talent in the League, a situation they enhanced when they re-acquired Ken "Monster" Montour from the Bandits, to share the goalkeeping duties with All-Rookie Mike Miron.

One last word about the Buffalo Bandits:

Their loss to the Rock revealed the only downside of "Bandit ball" - too many penalties relative to the opposition, and too many power play goals given up as a result. Whether or not the zebras saw "D. Kilgour" on the back of every Bandit jersey on the floor, or were overly deferential to "Bart" and the Rock (when will they start calling Dan Ladouceur's head-hunting?), I would offer the following comparison. John McEnroe, the most talented tennis player of his (and my) generation, and more notably, is the only elite athlete that I have ever seen who could lift his game with his anger. With the warrior spirit and team cohesion Darris has infused into the Bandits, they may have the talent to translate their outrage into victories as a team.

Not angry in Buffalo are the The Bandettes, Lindsay, Tristine, Lindsey, Erin, Nichole, Tawnya, Kim,
Tina, Melissa, Karla, Melanie and Julie. They are very pleased with the Bandit's start in 2003!

Eastern Division

Although the Colorado Mammoth have made the most of their move to the Mile-High City, with great home gates and a 3 - 1 record at the Pepsi Center, they have hardly been road warriors, losing in Ottawa, Philadelphia and New York. The Wings have not seen much success with their youth movement, and are off to their worst start in years. New York and New Jersey are a combined 3-and-14, and Jim Brady has recently left the Storm bench to concentrate on his G.M.'s duties, designating assistant Peter Vipond the new Head Coach. The Wings can still give the Mammoth a run for their money, but the chances of a wild card playoff entry coming from this Division are zero to nil.

Roy Colsey (The Bobblehead)

Through games of February 24th, 2003

## Player-Team               GP  No.  Avg/G
 1.JOHN TAVARES-BUF.........  9   31   3.44
 2.GARY GAIT-COL............  9   29   3.22
 3.COLIN DOYLE-TOR.......... 11   27   2.45
 4.JOHN GRANT-ROC...........  9   26   2.89
 5.CHRIS DRISCOLL-NYK.......  8   25   3.12
 6.ROY COLSEY-NJY........... 10   24   2.40
   PAT MADDALENA-CBS........ 10   24   2.40
 8.JONAS DERKS-BUF..........  9   22   2.44
   BLAINE MANNING-TOR....... 11   22   2.00
10.DEL HALLADAY-COL.........  9   21   2.33

## Player-Team               GP  No.  Avg/G
 1.COLIN DOYLE-TOR.......... 11   39   3.55
 2.JOHN TAVARES-BUF.........  9   38   4.22
 3.JIM VELTMAN-TOR.......... 11   34   3.09
 4.JOHN GRANT-ROC...........  9   33   3.67
 5.BLAINE MANNING-TOR....... 11   31   2.82
 6.SHAWN WILLIAMS-ROC.......  9   30   3.33
 7.JOSH SANDERSON-ALB.......  9   28   3.11
 8.GARY GAIT-COL............  9   27   3.00
   CORY BOMBERRY-ROC........  9   27   3.00
10.DEREK MALAWSKY-ROC.......  9   25   2.78

## Player-Team               GP Goals Ast. Pts.  Avg/G
 1.JOHN TAVARES-BUF.........  9    31   38   69   7.67
 2.COLIN DOYLE-TOR.......... 11    27   39   66   6.00
 3.JOHN GRANT-ROC...........  9    26   33   59   6.56
 4.GARY GAIT-COL............  9    29   27   56   6.22
 5.BLAINE MANNING-TOR....... 11    22   31   53   4.82
 6.CHRIS DRISCOLL-NYK.......  8    25   24   49   6.12
 7.JIM VELTMAN-TOR.......... 11    12   34   46   4.18
 8.GARY ROSYSKI-ALB.........  9    20   24   44   4.89
   SHAWN WILLIAMS-ROC.......  9    14   30   44   4.89
   KEVIN FINNERAN-TOR....... 11    20   24   44   4.00

## Player-Team               GP  No.  Avg/G
 1.JIM VELTMAN-TOR.......... 11  136  12.36
 2.BILL GREER-CBS........... 10  108  10.80
 3.ERIK MILLER-COL..........  9   99  11.00
 4.GORD NASH-NYK............  8   96  12.00
 5.JOHN TAVARES-BUF.........  9   92  10.22

## Player-Team               GP   GA Saves Avg/G
 1.MATT DISHER-OTT..........  7   69   254   .786
 2.BOB WATSON-TOR...........  7   72   250   .776
 3.PAT O'TOOLE-ROC..........  8   73   247   .772
 4.CURTIS PALIDWOR-CGY......  9   92   302   .766
 5.ERIK MILLER-COL..........  9   96   300   .758
 6.DEREK GENERAL-NJY........  8   89   275   .755
 7.MIKE MIRON-CBS........... 10   98   296   .751
 8.ROB BLASDELL-ALB.........  8   90   255   .739
 9.DALLAS ELIUK-PHI.........  8  102   284   .736
10.GORD NASH-NYK............  8   98   272   .735

All photos are from team websites. Stats are from NLL.Com