NLL Preview: A Make-or-Break Season for Halifax

PHOTO BY SCOTT PIERSON

Cody Jamieson, a star on both ends of the floor, could regain his MVP form this season.


The countdown to the NLL season is upon us, as the season kicks off Nov. 29. Check back to uslaxmagazine.com as we roll out our season preview — including Jack Goods’ predictions, team-by-team capsules and additional features. Next is a look at the Halifax Thunderbirds.

Halifax Thunderbirds

Head coach: Mike Accursi (first season)
2018-19 record: 6-12
Playoff finish: Did not qualify

Overview

The Rochester Knighthawks franchise looked to be hitting its stride in 2018. After finishing second in the East in the regular season, the team earned a spot in the NLL Finals and gave Saskatchewan a run for its money. With the young core Curt Styres and company had accumulated, it seemed the team should only get better in 2019.

That didn’t happen, as Rochester went 6-12 and missed the playoffs. The franchise has since migrated to the Canadian Atlantic and rebranded as a new avian species, the Halifax Thunderbirds.

As the T-Birds begin to roost in their new home at Scotiabank Centre, the franchise is set to discover if the last season was a fluke or if more serious changes need to be made.

What’s new

The franchise’s former head coach, Mike Hasen, opted to stay in Rochester to coach the new Knighthawks as opposed to following the team to Halifax. In his place behind the bench this year is Mike Accursi, a known winner as a player in the NLL getting his first look as a head man. He spent the previous two seasons as an assistant with Rochester.

Halifax had two picks in the first round of the draft and added forward Clarke Petterson (Brampton, Cornell) and transition player Trevor Smyth (Oakville, RIT).

What’s gone

The Thunderbirds fared quite well in the expansion draft compared to their counterparts, losing forward Dawson Theede and defenseman Mike Manley. Neither played more than half the season for the franchise last year, and Manley had just been brought back into the league after two years away.







What’s the same

The T-Birds still have many of the players who made the K-Hawks so promising two years ago, including stars on both ends of the floor in Graeme Hossack and Cody Jamieson. In all, the team’s top eight point-producers are back, as well as a majority of the defense. Some names to watch are Ryan Benesch, playing his first full season with the team after a midseason trade last year, and Chris Boushy, who notched 22 points in limited time in 2019.

What could they use

The Halifax offense needs to see some rebound years from its top weapons. Jamieson, Austin Shanks and Kyle Jackson all saw their point totals drop from 2018 to 2019. Stephen Keogh, reacquired by the franchise in a midseason trade last year, needs to show even more after being held to seven points in seven games.

Biggest question

What will the Thunderbirds get out of the goalie position? The franchise will have a new starter for a second year in a row after losing Matt Vinc to Buffalo due to the team parting ways with Angus Goodleaf. Likely stepping into the job is Warren Hill, a former second-round pick who set a career-high in minutes last year with 387.

His 10.36 goals against average and .810 save percentage last year are positive signs for the future.

MVP Watch

Cody Jamieson

The winner of the award in 2014, Jamieson appears close to his previous form after missing nearly all of 2017 with a knee injury. He’s still looking to get back to being a 90-point scorer, a mark he reached in each of three years prior to his injury.

Verdict

Halifax has all the talent to make a run for the playoffs, but it’ll have stiff foes in Buffalo and Toronto for the division spots.

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