- ReLaxing Luke
5 NLL Title Contenders
We are one-third of the way through the 2019/2020 NLL season. I decided it would be fun to analyze who the championship contenders are. Apologies for the pause in posting, my girlfriend was in town. Afterwards, I came down with the flu. After some fun and not-so-much fun, it’s time to write. So, who are my top five NLL title contenders? Read on and find out.
Honorable Mention: Philadelphia Wings
While I’m not ready to declare Philadelphia a contender, their record can’t be ignored. The Wings are 3-1 and second in the east. Philly’s signature win is an 8-7 road victory over Calgary. You can’t take anything away from that; however, Philadelphia’s three wins are against teams with a combined 3-11 record (Calgary, New York, Vancouver). Until they beat a team above .500, I don’t consider Philadelphia a true contender. They’ll have their chance to prove me wrong as they visit New England this week.
5. Colorado Mammoth
I wasn’t high on Colorado before the season began. After watching them, my tune has changed. Colorado is 3-2 and narrowly behind Saskatchewan for the top western division spot. Colorado has 51 goals, good for second in the league (more on the #1 offense later). They are one goal away from best in the west (8-9 loss to Saskatchewan). The Mammoth have two impressive road wins against Calgary (8-7) and Georgia (13-11).
Forward Ryan Lee (8 goals, 14 assists) leads a potent offense. Meanwhile, transition specialist Joey Cupido (4 goals, 3 assists, 21 loose balls) and defenseman Robert Hope (2 assists, 40 loose balls, 3 turnovers) are game changers. Colorado continues their quest to take control of the western division with a road game at Vancouver.
4. Toronto Rock
Toronto had an awesome offseason with the acquisition of veteran Dan Dawson. The Rock are 3-1 and second in the north. Their only loss is an 8-12 upset at the hands of New England (in hindsight, a good loss). One knock on Toronto: their record is a bit deceiving. Toronto’s past two wins are against winless Rochester (14-11 and 13-12).
Toronto’s trio of fantastic forwards Rob Hellyer (10 goals, 9 assists), Dan Dawson (7 goals, 10 assists), and Tom Schreiber (6 goals, 11 assists) keeps them rolling towards the playoffs. The scary part? There are so many offensive contributors, I had to choose who I’d mention. The Rock endure their first intimidating road game against Buffalo this week.
3. Halifax Thunderbirds
The former Rochester Knighthawks are making the most of their identity change. Since their makeover, the Thunderbirds are 4-0 and first in the north division. I didn’t see that coming! Halifax has the NLL’s top offense with 53 goals. They aren’t one-sided with the NLL’s fourth best defense (35 goals against). They followed two wins against expansion franchises with massive victories against Buffalo (15-10) and Colorado (12-9). What’s more impressive? Their wins weren’t in doubt. The Thunderbirds have yet to endure a late fourth quarter game.
Offensively, forwards Ryan Benesch (8 goals, 10 assists) and Cody Jamieson (7 goals, 11 assists) have taken control. Defensively, Jake Withers (1 goal, 1 assist, 74 of 101 on faceoffs) and Graeme Hossack (5 goals, 3 assists, 35 loose balls, 8 turnovers) have smothered the opposition. Hossack has a case as the NLL’s top defenseman. The quartet of stars will keep the magic alive against San Diego.
2. Saskatchewan Rush
The NLL blue blood finds itself second on this list. I love the Rush but they have issues. Despite a 3-1 start and owning the west’s top spot, the Rush have the NLL’s third worst offense (40 goals). Fortunately, they’ve countered this with the NLL’s second-best defense (33 goals allowed). Their 9-8 victory over Colorado is impressive; however, they lost 8-12 to New England (the only other good team they’ve played).
The offense obviously runs through forwards Mark Matthews (7 goals, 15 assists) and Robert Church (7 goals, 8 assists); however, someone else must step up. Defensively, Kyle Rubisch (2 goals, 2 assists, 40 loose balls, 7 turnovers) has been a one-man wrecking crew. Goaltender Evan Kirk extinguishes opposing momentum with a .831 save percentage. Hell, he might earn a shutout. Saskatchewan’s offense must get in gear to win their rematch against Colorado.
1. New England Black Wolves
New England’s spot comes as no surprise to those following me. New England’s 3-0 record (first in the east) has blown me away. The Wolves earned their undefeated record with two 12-8 road victories against Toronto and Saskatchewan. No fluky wins here. Hands down, New England has the league’s best defense (27 goals allowed).
Forward Callum Crawford (11 goals, 16 assists) is en route to an MVP trophy while third overall pick Andrew Kew (6 goals, 13 assists) solidifies himself as rookie of the year. Defensemen Nick Chaykowsky (3 goals, 14 loose balls, 3 turnovers) and Joe Nardella (19 loose balls, 4 turnovers) need to cool off or they’ll be charged for assault. They are dangerous. New England earns a stranglehold on the east’s top spot with a triumph over Philadelphia.
Do you agree with my contenders? Disagree? Who are your favorites to win it all? Whatever your thoughts, air them by connecting with me on Twitter or Instagram. You can comment directly onto this article by subscribing. By subscribing, you’ll be notified whenever I publish a new article. I plan to start some series for high school players next. Any and all support is appreciated! Regardless, thank you for reading. Keep enjoying the NLL season!