(Photo: Terry Jensen/NLL)
The 2019-20 NLL season is just over a Month away with training camp getting underway in a few weeks. As always, how meaningful games in the first month and a half of the season vary from team to team. But no matter what a certain game in December might do to affect a team in May, there are marquee matchups to be circled almost every week of the season.
Here are five games to circle in the first month of the 2019-20 NLL season.
Saskatchewan Rush @ Colorado Mammoth
The 2019-20 NLL season opens up with the Saskatchewan Rush traveling to take on the Colorado Mammoth in a battle between division rivals.
While the battles between these two usually live up to the hype, this season-opening tilt has a little extra juice to it after the Mammoth knocked the Rush out of the playoffs in the divisional semifinal (first round) last season. Also, that playoff win last season marked the first time that the Mammoth had beaten the Rush in Saskatoon since they relocated from Edmonton prior to the 2017 season.
Also, with this being the opening game of the season, each side will be looking to set the tone for the season and make strides in areas where they struggled last season. For Saskatchewan, they want to get their defense started strong and playing at championship level, especially with Jeff Cornwall back in the lineup after missing all of last season, after struggling on the back end last season. Colorado will want to get this young offensive core firing on all cylinders right out of the gate, especially after the flashes that players like Kyle Killen showed last season with outstanding performances.
Calgary Roughnecks @ Vancouver Warriors
The defending champs kick off their season on the road against the Vancouver Warriors, a team they have opened the season against three out of the past five seasons.
Calgary will be looking to start their title defense on a high note and secure their first early-season win against Vancouver since moving from Washington in 2014. Calgary’s last early-season win against the franchise was in 2012 when they beat the Washington Stealth 13-10 during the second week of the season (Jan. 14th).
Vancouver beat Calgary on the road to start the season last year, and they will be trying to replicate that performance from a year ago while also trying to improve on both ends of the floor and get their season started with a bang. Calgary will be without Rhys Duch due to an Achilles injury sustained over the summer and Jesse King may be limited after having surgery on his thumb at the end of the summer. It may be a different look Calgary team, but they will still be strong, and searching for a win to start the season off strong no matter what.
New York Riptide @ Halifax Thunderbirds
While only New York is an expansion franchise, these two new teams will kick off a new era of the NLL against each other in just the second week of the season. There is a chance that these two franchises could become cross-division rivals at some point.
In this contest, Halifax will be looking to start this new era of their franchise strong after moving from Rochester over the offseason. The Thunderbirds missed the playoffs last season, but as the Rochester Knighthawks became one of the most storied franchises in the NLL. But everything is new and they open up against a new opponent in New York.
New York will be looking to see how this roster fits together early and how well they put this club together between the expansion draft, free agency, and the entry draft. Halifax brought in a lot of guys from Rochester after wheeling and dealing last season to get the group they wanted to bring to Halifax, and they will certainly be looking to click early on, as well.
Toronto Rock @ San Diego Seals
In what should be a great battle between two playoff hopefuls, the Rock will travel to San Diego in one of the final games if week three.
Dan Dawson returning to San Diego after leaving for Toronto in free agency will be one of the biggest stories of this contest. Also, the number of Toronto and Ontario connections with this San Diego club will be on display just like last year, as well.
Both sides have expectations to live up to this season, but this matchup, in particular, will showcase two great goaltenders against each other with Nick Rose between the pipes of Toronto and Frank Sciligiano in net for San Diego. These squads also have some stellar offensive talent, as well. Tom Schreiber will be leading the way for the Rock along with Dawson, Rob Hellyer, and others. San Diego may not have a fully healthy Austin Staats this early in the season, but even if he doesn’t play they still have Wes Berg- who they picked up via trade over the summer-, Garrett Billings, and some other young guys and new additions, as well.
Rochester Knighthawks @ Halifax Thunderbirds
While neither of these teams may be pegged as title contenders coming into the season, fans will be glued to this matchup for sure, especially because of the unique relationship these two squads and cities now share.
The expansion Rochester Knighthawks will travel to take on the Halifax Thunderbirds who just moved from Rochester and went by the Rochester Knighthakws for 24 years. To say fans were salty when the team left is an understatement, but beyond the fans, Rochester head coach Mike Hasen and multiple players were part of the former team, as well.
Ironically, this game should be similar to Halifax’s matchup against New York with both teams sporting newer lineups that no one knows exactly how they will shake out just yet. Also, both sides have some very good young offensive talent that can get hot at any time. Nonetheless, this is one that fans can’t wait for.
Other Early-Season Games to Circle
San Diego @ Buffalo – December 7th
New England @ Saskatchewan – December 14th
Colorado @ Georgia – December 28th
San Diego @ Vancouver – December 29th