Oshawa Outlaws Sit Atop ALL Power Ranking After Week 1
What's a lacrosse league without some power rankings? Well, you won't have to answer that question about the Arena Lacrosse League any more because IL Indoor has come to the rescue with the first ever ALL Power Rankings.
The challenge, of course, is figuring out how good teams really are after just one week of play. I was there calling play by play for all three games in the ALL's Showcase Event debut in Oshawa last Saturday, so I guess I've got as good a sense as anyone of what each team brought to the table and how they look going forward. So let's get on with rankings and a look at each of the teams in the Arena Lacrosse League.
1 Oshawa Outlaws (1-0)
Last week: W13-8 v Six Nations
This week: vs Peterborough
It's really difficult to compare these teams based on one game each. How do you know whether Oshawa is really better than everyone else or they just faced a Six Nations team that had a slow start? They get top spot because they're the only team that won by more than one goal and they have elite goaltending as long as Zach Higgins is available. Higgins was the story of the weekend as he was signed by Calgary, shone in relief for the Roughnecks Friday (.872 save percentage), took a 7 am flight back to Ontario and stood on his head for the Outlaws a few hours after arriving.
Oshawa showed nice balance on offence. Dylan Goddard is among the most talented players outside the National Lacrosse League. His fellow lefty John St. John had a pair of goals that were contenders for the nicest of the weekend, particularly a gutty effort where he fought through a passel of defenders to drive the net and dunk home a shot. Mike Triolo and Nick Chaykowsky bring a ton of size to the right side and provide a huge challenge for opposing defences. Veteran Ryan McMichael is a smart creator.
The defensive end looked solid in Week 1, led by a strong all-around performance by Darryl Robertson and Mark Debrone. With Zach Tomkinson and Nick Andreoli flying up the floor, the Outlaws back end provides plenty of support to the offence as well. Tomkinson should be on the radar of any NLL team that finds itself in need of a transition player.
Peterborough should be a good challenge for the Outlaws this weekend. As long as Oshawa has Higgins, they'll be in good shape. In fact, even without Higgins—who did everything he could Friday to show NLL teams he deserves another shot—the Outlaws will be fine. Lukas Coote led the Durham Turfdogs to the last Creators Cup CLax title in 2016 and is an eminently viable option.
2 Toronto Monarchs (1-0)
Last week: W12-11 v Paris
This week: vs St. Catharines in Oshawa
Higgins was excellent in Week 1, but he may not even have been the best goalie on ALL's debut weekend. Craig Wende was the OLA Sr B most valuable player in 2016 and he made it easy to see why on Saturday. The Monarchs weren't clicking at either end of the floor in the first half of their opener against Paris and the RiverWolves took advantage to run out to a 5-2 second-quarter lead. By the six-minute mark of the third the lead was 8-5. Without Wende being absolutely brilliant, though, Paris could easily have been ahead by 7or 8 goals instead of 3. Not capitalizing would come back to haunt the RiverWolves.
The Monarchs have talent up front with the likes of Seth and Luke Laidlaw, Jordan Dance and Shane Scott. It wasn't until they started getting NLL vet Matt Lyons more involved that things started to come together for them in the offensive zone. Toronto can be a dangerous team if they focus on ball movement rather than trying to do too much as individuals.
The defence got better as the game went on but still has some kinks to work out before it's playing up to its potential. Of course, the Monarchs are only 60 minutes into the season, so there's time to build cohesiveness. With leaders like Michael Gillan and Jayson Crawford, the back end should eventually be more consistent than it was Saturday.
3 Paris RiverWolves (0-1)
Last week: L12-11 v Toronto
This week: @ Six Nations
Jamie McMahon is simply an excellent lacrosse player. He has great vision and awareness on the floor, a high lacrosse IQ and good hands. He must get tired of hearing that the only thing keeping him from being in the NLL is his size, but it's hard to get around that. McMahon had six assists Saturday and was the most consistently effective runner on the floor in the ALL's first ever game. He's known more as a transition player but showed nice chemistry up front with Dan Keane and Spencer Pyke. Logan Holmes had over 100 assists with Jr B Windsor last year but it was his shooting that stood out in his first ALL game. Holmes fired a hat trick and looked like he fit in pretty well against the higher level of competition. Give him a while and he may just prove he can make the jump from Jr B to the NLL.
On defence, the Wolves run the gamut from Travis Burton, who just turned 20 on New Year's Day, to Jim Purves, who at 26 with NLL experience is a veteran in this league. Both were effective Saturday, although the defensive standout for Paris was Brett Ulbikas. Fresh off being named the Canadian University Field Lacrosse Association's top midfielder and top graduating player after his career at Guelph, Ulbikas is a buzzsaw in the indoor game. He needs to rein in his tendency to let rip with low-percentage shots from his off side when retaining possession would be a smarter move, but he made far more good plays than bad as the RiverWolves almost pulled out an opening-day win.
Rance Vigneux was generally solid in net but did have, as he tends to, a bit of a lull. If he can discover a way to play well for a full 60 minutes, Vigneux will have a good chance to rise in the lacrosse ranks. As a young goalie, he has time to figure that out. Getting a chance to play through the winter is the perfect chance for him to keep making the kind of progress that has seen him improve by leaps and bounds over the past couple of years.
4 St. Catharines ShockWave (1-0)
Last week: W9-8 v Peterborough
This week: v Toronto in Oshawa
You could argue that St. Catharines should be atop these rankings and I would be hard-pressed to muster a strong rebuttal. That's just the nature of early-season rankings, especially for a brand-new league. Defence was the key to their success Saturday as Justin Pychel and Jordan Houtby led a quick and physical approach that limited Peterborough's opportunities by limiting the Timbermen's time and space both with and without the ball. Throw in Grant Crawley's usual steady goaltending and you have recipe that will give the ShockWave a chance to win most games they are in.
The offence was a limited for St. Catharines in the opener and only the fact that it's almost impossible to stop Chris Attwood from scoring allowed the Wave to come out on top. Attwood scored 4 goals and an assist, and he was the only St. Catharines player who consistently looked like a threat. His offensive teammates will have to avoid the trap of watching him and waiting for Attwood to make something happen once they get across centre. It's always hard to determine how much the St. Kitts' O should be blamed versus how much the Peterborough D should be credited for keeping the ShockWave under 10 goals. As is usually the case, it's probably six of one and half a dozen of the other.
5 Peterborough Timbermen (0-1)
Last week: L9-8 v St. Catharines
This week: @ Oshawa
Much like St. Catharines, Peterborough performed well in its own end but had some challenges on the offensive side. Nolan Clayton made his debut above the junior level a solid one; he made the saves he needs to make and sprinkled in some beauties to bail out his teammates. They returned the favour by mostly forcing St. Catharines into taking shots he would be comfortable with. Peter Rennie made it clear he's nearly ready for the next level; his continued improvement as a player has been steady and should result in greater opportunities soon. Doug Utting hasn't gained a lot of spotlight for his indoor play but was a tower of strength for the Timbermen.
Their best defender, though—and perhaps the best defender throughout the three opening-day games—was Riley Campbell. He was picked 33rd overall by the Vancouver Stealth in the 2015 NLL draft, which at the time seemed like a stretch for a player who was a solid but not sensational D guy with the Peterborough Jr A Lakers after working his way up from the Jr C team. Campbell worked hard on his game, though, and grew from occasionally being in the lineup for the Durham Turfdogs last year to being one of their better players in the playoffs. He followed that up with a strong summer for the Cobourg Kodiaks and just keeps getting better, based on his standout performance Saturday.
But you have to put the ball in the net to win and Peterborough had some trouble in that area. The left side, in particular, needs to step up. Six of the Timbermen's eight goals came from righty forwards (Matt Crough 3, Tim Bergin 2, Josh Wasson 1) and one came in transition from Garrett Lewis, who also happens to be a righty. Dan Michel scored the only goal by a lefty. They have the potential for success on the left side with Geoff McNulty and Cody McMahon, both of whom were key components of Durham's Creators Cup title. Getting into the win column against Oshawa in Week 2 will require a more dynamic effort up front for Peterborough.
6 Six Nations Snipers (0-1)
Last week: L13-8 @ Oshawa
This week: v Paris
Don't expect the Snipers to linger in the basement all season. They've got a blend of experience and young talent that should lead to much better results as the year goes on. A combination of running into a hot goalie, lack of discipline and some bugs to work out in transition defence led to Six Nations falling well short Saturday.
They allowed five power play goals and about the same number of transition goals. Even with all that, and with Higgins playing lights-out, the Snipers managed to overcome a 7-2 first-half deficit to pull within a goal at 8-7 about a minute into the fourth quarter. After Gage Board scored for Oshawa, Travis Longboat buried his third of the game to make it 9-8 with 8:31 to play. As is so often the case, the comeback appeared to use up a lot of the Snipers' remaining energy and it was all Outlaws from that point.
Boy, does Six Nations have something for the future in Longboat, though. The 18-year-old looks like a solid check could break him in half but he's resilient enough to play the game against bigger players, which is just about everyone. He's also one of the most deceptive and accurate shooters in the ALL already. He scored 37 goals in Jr B last year and should be a breakout player with the Jr A Arrows if he makes the jump up a level this summer.