Going from bottom dweller to being a playoff contender in the matter of one season is impressive, but more importantly indicative of how the Warriors roster has bought into Head Coach Chris Gill’s Modus Operandi: play hard, play smart, and play for each other.
So, “what’s changed,” you ask?
Starting from the crease out we have seen the emergence of goalie Alex Buque who signed with the team as a free agent this offseason. The 29 year-old goalkeeper is putting together the best season of his seven year NLL career and is only showing signs of growing confidence, touting the league’s 5th best save percentage of .808%. Buque has four of the team’s five wins, and was a massive part in each of those victories.
On defence, new captain Brett Mydske is leading by example, throwing big hits, scooping up loose balls, and creating turnovers to gain possession. The acquisition of Mydske gave the locker room a new leadership feel and it has clearly paid tremendous dividends for the Warriors.
Owen Barker has taken massive steps towards being an elite defender in the NLL, going from somebody who was in and out of the press box for a few seasons to an established, leaned on veteran. Barker leads the team in caused turnovers with 15, and consistently puts his body on the line in the form of blocking shots and fighting for his teammates – Owen is in the conversation for the league’s Breakout Player of the Year Award.
Rookie sensation Reid Bowering is not only putting up one of the best loose ball totals for a rookie season but is on pace for one of the best single season loose ball totals of all-time. Sitting at 113 looseballs, Bowering has a legitimate chance at getting near or passing the single season record of 245 and leads the next best on the team (Keegan Bal) by 68. Game in and game out he lays it all on the floor, demonstrating tremendous poise defensively and in the transition game. Reid is seen by some top NLL analysts as the front runner for winning Rookie of the Year.
The offensive side of the ball was the usual suspects we are used to seeing early in the season (Mitch Jones, Logan Schuss and Keegan Bal), but some key injuries and Covid related absences have created a “Next Man Up!” mentality that sees new guys stepping up with big contributions each game.
Mitch Jones was putting himself in the conversation for NLL MVP again this season scoring 26 points in four games before a serious lower-body injury sidelined him and continues to do so. There is optimism that he could be back for the late season push for the playoffs.
As far as franchise staples Logan Schuss and Keegan Bal are concerned it has been steady as she goes. Bal has been his usual self scoring 17 times and assisting on 27. Schuss, however, has found another gear since Jones has been absent from the lineup scoring 15 points in the three games he’s played in.
New face Kyle Killen has been better than advertised thus far into his Warriors career. Pacing the team with 18 goals in eight games, Killen doesn’t just score a lot, but has demonstrated a clutch gene by scoring big game tying or lead taking goals late in games. After an early season healthy scratch, Killen came out and proved he wanted to be a mainstay on the team with a four goal, three assist effort against the Mammoth – he hasn’t looked back since, scoring at least two goals and three points in each of the team’s last four games.
Another rookie star, Adam Charalambides, had a disappointing start to the season, but over the last four games it is apparent the game is slowing down for him again, tallying 14 points over his last four appearances after starting the season with only six points in his first five games. Charalambides will be vital to the team’s success down the stretch with the absence of Jones on the left side of the offence.
Second Half Outlook
Looking ahead, the Warriors will be looking to secure one of the top three seeds in the West Division so that playoff aspirations can become playoff realities. It is easier said than done though given how close the standings are. Vancouver has proven they can run with the big dogs as they’ve been division leading San Diego but have also suffered a setback at the hands of bottom feeding expansion franchise Panther City. The promising thing is that unlike in years past where the team would get flat out beat by opponents, this year’s edition of the Warriors competes in every game and have been the better team in a couple of their losses – that is a fact that bodes well for the playoff hopes.
There is plenty to be excited about in Vancouver as the 2022 NLL campaign rolls into its second half, which is a stark contrast to the state of the team before the pandemic stoppage two years ago. So, Vancouver, we are asking you to come out, get loud, and wear our colours with pride – this team isn’t just gunning for the playoffs, we are gunning for the title.
The next Warriors home game is on Saturday, March 12 when the Toronto Rock fly west to battle Vancouver. It’s JERSEY NIGHT, so make sure you wear your favorite jersey and check out the Fastest Game on Two Feet. For single game tickets, flex packs, group tickets and VIP suites for the Warriors home games are on sale at tickets.vancouverwarriors.com/.