The “Almost” comeback in the NLL
You see it all the time in many sports: a team has a terrible start to the game, or maybe plays well early then hits a rough patch and falls behind. By the time you get to the middle of the 4th quarter, 3rd period, or 7th inning, they're behind by enough that the comeback is unlikely and they decide to pack it in and save their energy for the next game. It's sometimes hard to watch a team go through the motions when they have ten more minutes to play but need nine goals to tie it. And don't forget, you also have to stop the other team from scoring while you score the nine goals, or you have to match their scoring and score nine extra.
One thing I've noticed a lot this season isn't so much comebacks but almost comebacks. Teams play terrible or go through a rough patch and fall behind, but instead of packing it in, they rev it up. Yeah, we're behind by a bunch and running out of time to come all the way back, but dammit, we're gonna try. Just last weekend, the Seals were getting destroyed by the Black Wolves – they were down by ten more than halfway through the third. But they kept chipping away and outscored New England 9-2 over the last twenty minutes of the game. No, it wasn't enough and they lost the game but the effort was there.
At the end of March, we saw a similar situation when the Rush were beating up on the Warriors 10-2 at halftime. This game had "blowout" written all over it. But Chris Gill and his coaching staff had other ideas. I'd love to have heard his halftime speech at that game because Vancouver came out and scored 7 goals in the second half and kept the Rush to just one (plus an empty-netter). Again, no they didn't win but they got back within two, which looked all but impossible at the half.
Another game last weekend featured the Rochester Knighthawks hosting the Rock. They hadn't yet been eliminated from the post-season but let's face it, the odds were slim. They could easily have mailed in their performance. They could have rested Benesch, played Jamieson on half the offensive shifts, and played rookies as much as possible to get them more playing time and experience. But the coaches said no. Benesch, Jamieson, Mike Burke, Graeme Hossack, and the rest of the Knighthawks said no. Warren Hill said hell no. They decided that if they were going down, they were going down fighting and they played with passion and won.
I don't want to sound condescending and say "yeah, you played badly but you tried real hard! Good for you!" but seriously, good for them. It says something about your team, your captain, and your coaches to keep fighting even if you've probably already lost. Yes, there have been games where teams have come back from seven-goal deficits. I remember going to a game in Toronto in 2005 when they were down by seven with less than nine minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. They scored eight goals in seven minutes and won the game. Those types of games are few and far between so it's unlikely to happen but if you don't put in that effort, it won't happen. Who said that thing about missing 100% of the shots you don't take? I think it was Einstein.
In the end, maybe it doesn't matter. If you lose 13-12, does it matter that you were losing 13-5 at one point? It still shows up in the standings as a loss. But I think it does matter. Each player who busts his butt in a game they're very likely to lose sends a message to his teammates, his coaches, and the fans: we are not giving up. Mailing it in is not acceptable.
The scoring, the energy, the athleticism, and the physicality are all great, but one of the things I love most about the NLL is the heart, the determination, and the passion that every one of the players puts into it.