Game Previews

Hive Five: Game 2 Champion’s Cup

"I've got nothing, they've got Mike Poulin." -that lax ball, probably | Photo Credit: Kyle Hess

“Next week is going to be the hardest game of the year.” – Mike Poulin, 30

Truer words were never spoken.

Game 1 of the Champion’s Cup was a night 13 years in the making for the Swarm franchise, and it could not have gone better. The game was starting to look like it was Saskatchewan’s before Jordan Hall in the third quarter sparked an unbelievable seven-goal run. For the second time this year, the Rush were bested by the Swarm at The Hive. Fans rocked the arena with raucous cries as their team ran through Saskatchewan on the way to its first-ever Champion’s Cup game win.

Oh yeah, Ludacris performed, too, no big deal.


"No big deal." Luda killed it during the halftime show | Photo Credit: Kyle Hess

But now Georgia travels to new territory this year for Game 2 at SaskTel Centre. The arena will be filled with rabid Rush fans looking to will their team into forcing a Game 3, but Georgia will be doing everything possible to end things there.

Game 2 will be incredible, so prepare yourself for it with these Quick Stings:

1.  Home and Away


When you make noise, good things happen | Photo Credit: Kyle Hess

So we’ve seen how Georgia does things against Saskatchewan at The Hive, knocking the Rush down with 18 goals twice. No other team scored more than 14 goals against Sask all season. Now we get to see how Georgia takes on Sask in its home. The last time Georgia played there was March 12, 2016. The Rush won it 14-8 last season. But Georgia has the one thing no other team in the NLL can claim: a winning road record. Including the postseason, the Swarm has a road record of 7-3, losing to only Calgary, New England, and Colorado.

Working against that is Sask’s insane success at home. The team has only lost once this year in SaskTel Centre, when New England squeaked out a 13-12 overtime win. Averaging nearly 15k fans each game, the Rush are an almost unstoppable force at home. The Swarm are aware of this fact, and everyone spoken to on the team has echoed the same sentiment: we don’t want a Game 3 at The Hive. It would be amazing to win the first ever Champion’s Cup at home, but you do not want to give Sask ANY momentum.

And Sask won’t want to give this guy any momentum after…

2.  Sellars' Crazy Night


Sellars going toe-to-toe with the eldest Thompson Brother | Photo Credit: Stephen Jones

I’ve mentioned before how I keep extensive game notes for every game I cover, highlighting the moments I think were the best in the game. And I straight didn’t write this one down because of how much it impressed me.

Got to build it up first. Eldest brother Jeremy Thompson is a phenomenal all-around player and Sask’s go-to faceoff guy. He finished the season 225-for-418 on those opportunities, collected 179 loose balls and caused 16 turnovers. Jeremy plays typical Thompson Brothers lacrosse: really bloody good, aggressive, and intelligent lacrosse. Standing 5’11” and weighing 195 lbs., Jeremy runs that floor like he’s half a foot taller and 20 lbs. heavier, again like the rest of his kin. He won 14 of his 23 faceoff opportunities in Game 1. And Connor Sellars pushed him back.

Granted, Sellars is 6’3” and 220 lbs., but you just forget that in the face of any Thompson Brothers athlete, that’s how little a size advantage seems to matter. But Jeremy and Sellars met in the faceoff circle in the fourth quarter, Georgia up 15-13 after Miles Thompson put the team back up by two after Sask’s EA goal and PPG. Jeremy had stepped up his aggressiveness in the fourth quarter, looking to do whatever he could to help put his team on the board. The ref blew the whistle, and the two went at it. Jeremy stood up first, and Sellars leapt forward to push Jeremy back off his feet and impressively win the faceoff.

Swarm GM and Owner John Arlotta went big and athletic on the defensive end over the offseason, and it’s paid off in moments like this. Sellars was a force that night, constantly pressuring Rush players across the floor and getting a falling assist late in the game. His performance was one of the many defensive pieces on Georgia’s side playing out of their mind that night. The D stepping up against the second-best offense in the NLL gave the Swarm O an opportunity to figure out…

3.  How to Beat Bold


That's one way | Photo Credit: Kyle Hess

Memorize this chart detailing Aaron Bold's numbers in front of the net all season, it'll be important for the next two Stings:

GA
SOG
SOFF
SV%
GAA
W/L
Min.

GA 6/4
17
53
20
.679
17.00
L
60:00

COL 5/20
10
42
23
.762
10.00
W
60:00

COL 5/13
9
40
17
.775
9.00
W
60:00

CGY 4/29
5
20
9
.750
10.00
N/A
30:00

COL 4/28
9
53
19
.792
9.00
W
60:00

NE 4/15
13
48
16
.729
12.33
L
63:17

VAN 4/8
12
49
18
.755
12.00
W
60:00

BUF 4/1
14
53
21
.736
14.00
W
60:00

COL 3/25
14
47
20
.702
14.00
L
60:00

CGY 3/24
10
53
13
.811
10.00
W
60:00

COL 3/11
11
45
19
.756
11.00
W
60:00

VAN 3/4
13
40
24
.675
13.00
L
60:00

CGY 2/25
11
45
26
.756
10.77
W
61:16

COL 2/18
7
34
22
.794
7.00
W
60:00

ROC 2/11
12
48
18
.750
12.00
W
60:00

CGY 2/4
11
57
18
.807
11.00
W
60:00

VAN 1/27
12
51
10
.765
12.00
W
60:00

ROC 1/21
8
48
16
.833
8.00
W
60:00

TOR 1/14
13
49
22
.735
13.00
L
60:00

When I started this Quick Sting, I really thought that the way to best Bold was to constantly make shots on goal, overwhelm him with numbers. But that honestly hasn’t been the case. Bold has taken 50+ SOG five times before last Sunday’s game but has won every one of those contests (backup goaltender Tyler Carlson took 50 SOG against Toronto on 4/22, allowing only 10 GA the entire 60 minutes).

It seems like the best way to beat Bold is to let the Sask defense beat itself. It gave up 21 unforced turnovers and allowed Georgia to infiltrate the middle lane, and the defense did this while…

4.  5-on-5


Pretty good five right there | Photo Credit: Kyle Hess

“We gave up 15 five-on-five goals, and I can’t ever remember this group giving up that many five-on-five,” Rush head coach Derek Keenan told the Saskatoon Star Phoenix.

Looking at the graph in the previous Sting, the Rush haven’t even given up 15 goals in a game at all this season except for the two times against Georgia—the first meeting Bold didn’t play in; Tyler Carlson earned the loss by allowing 18 goals on 51 SOG on 1/7. Sask’s defense is phenomenal. Colorado, Toronto, and Rochester may have allowed less goals during the regular season, but the Rush have arguably the best defense in the NLL, a tough coalition of veterans and smart rookies stymieing opposing offenses. And…

5.  The Best Offense in the NLL…


"I've heard our O is pretty good." | Photo Credit: Kyle Hess

Ran over them by sticking to its game plan of players constantly moving the ball and moving their feet.

Six different Swarm players scored five points or more to help the team score 18 times.

An NLL team hasn’t scored 18 or more goals in the Champion’s Cup since Toronto scored 19 back in 2005 against the Arizona Sting.

And again, Georgia is the only team to score more than 14 goals against Saskatchewan this year (twice, no less).

Last week, the Rush dominated the postseason points leaderboards with four players having scored 10 or more points, Matthews up top with his 15 points (4G, 11A). Matthews still sits atop there, but Georgia got a few names in the top ten after last week’s game to even things up:

RK
PLAYER
TEAM
POS
GP
G
A
POINTS

1
Matthews, M.
SAS
F
3
7
15
22

2
Church, R.
SAS
F
3
6
14
20

3
Hall, J.
GA
F
3
10
6
16

4
Jones, A.
SAS
F
3
10
5
15

Jackson, S.
GA
F
3
7
8
15

Staats, R.
GA
F
3
5
10
15

7
Thompson, L.
GA
F
3
3
11
14

8
Leblanc, S.
TOR
F
3
4
9
13

9
McIntosh, B.
SAS
F
3
6
6
12

Schreiber, T.
TOR
F
3
5
7
12

Greer, Z.
COL
F
3
5
7
12

Reinholdt, R.
TOR
F
3
5
7
12

Crawford, C.
COL
F
3
3
9
12

Another key factor, oddly enough, is Staats scored the first goal of the game again. Sounds like a random thing to keep an eye out for, but the sophomore has scored the first goal in six games, two of them in the playoffs. Georgia is 5-1 whenever he scores first.

And again, Hall just went off. Five goals and three assists against one of the best defenses in the sport during one of the most important games of the year. Hall finished the season with 80 points (20G, 60A) but only had one night with more than eight points—nine against Colorado on 4/1, two goals and seven assists, the first game of the season where Georgia scored 21 goals in a game—and one game where he scored four goals—against New England on 2/11, a 17-15 shootout win for Georgia at The Hive.

“Defense wins championship” is a common saying in the NLL, but Georgia’s offense is so dominant that that mantra means little whenever the Swarm takes the floor.