This was the All-Star weekend in the NLL. Friday night was the inaugural “Hall of Fame Game”, where 5 people were inducted into the newly-formed indoor lacrosse hall of fame, which is currently an entity but not a building. The inductees were Russ Cline and Chris Fritz, the founders of the league that eventually morphed into the NLL, the legendary players Paul and Gary Gait, and the late Les Bartley, who was coach and GM of the Rock for 4 of their 5 championships (and coached Buffalo to 3 championships as well). The induction ceremony (which I missed because of crappy traffic on the QEW) was followed by the Toronto-Philadelphia game, which the Rock won in their second straight home overtime thriller. Very streaky game – with the Rock up 3-1, Philly scored 5 in a row, then Toronto scored 6 in a row, then Philly scored another 5 in a row, then Toronto got 2 to tie it up, and then Aaron Wilson scored the winner a few minutes into OT. The Rock, after an 0-4 start, are now 5-4 and are no longer last in the East!
At halftime, they had the skills competition, which featured four players for each of three events. The accuracy competition had players shooting four balls on Rock backup goalie John Preece from maybe 30 feet out – Gavin Prout was the only one to score (twice), and won that one. Then they had the hardest shot competition, won by John Grant with a shot at 151 km/h, although at least half of the shots weren’t registered on the radar gun. The players were moving forwards at the time, so the gun kept picking up the players movement – the player would fire a bullet into the net, and the gun would register “8”. Then they’d fire another shot, and the gun would say “145”.
The third competition was for the most creative breakaway, which the players had a lot of fun with. Jonas Derks (the eventual winner) started off by throwing his stick into the air a couple of times, then scored. Mark Steenhuis just kind of spun his stick around, and was kind of boring. John Tavares attempted a shot over the net, off the back board, and then tried to score on the rebound, but he missed the net. John Grant tried a neat one – throw the stick in the air, take his jersey off, catch the stick and score, although he didn’t throw the stick high enough, and had to catch the stick on a bounce.
The skills competition was pretty cool, but it could have (and should have) been much better – the problem was the announcers. It was the same Two for the Show guys that have been the Rock announcers for a few years, but it was painfully obvious that they don’t follow lacrosse at all. They pronounced a couple of names wrong, they had to check their sheet to see what team some of them played for, and generally treated this event like the silly little events they normally run at halftime – the Pizza Pizza relay, the Mazda scooter competition, or whatever. These are the best fucking lacrosse players in the world – they deserve an announcer that actually cares about their sport, and has at least done some research. Bruce Barker, who fits that bill very well, was sitting upstairs during the halftime show – I think he should have been on the floor for this competition, and I actually wrote a letter to Brad Watters, President of the Toronto Rock, telling him this.
Then yesterday was the All-Star Game, won by the West, 14-13. I expected the East to dominate, but Anthony Cosmo and Dallas Eliuk both played very well in goal for the West. Only 2 penalties in the entire game (not unexpected), and a rather low intensity level (also not unexpected), but there were some pretty hard hits and scrambles for loose balls. There were also a few things you wouldn’t see in a regular game – Mark Steenhuis spun the stick around like in the trick shot competition from the previous day, but did an even better job during the game. Twice, a player from the east would get the ball, then toss his entire stick (with the ball) to another player who would shoot. I think the first time it was Tavares tossing to Doyle, and the second was Grant tossing to Tavares, but the plan didn’t work either time. It looked like the players were having fun, and we all enjoyed the game.