April 3, 2009

NLL Notes: Despite Adversity, Philly in Playoff Hunt

by Theresa Smith | Special to Lacrosse Magazine

It has been an uphill battle for Philadelphia all season long, yet with former National Lacrosse League Most Valuable Player Athan Iannucci rounding into midseason form and all-star transition player Geoff Snider returned from a life-threatening fractured trachea, the Wings might be in the playoff chase after all.

"It finally feels like we've got a full roster and we're on the same page," said Snider. "We're really coming together. It's a good feeling. We've got a great group of guys."

Snider was injured Feb. 27 and sidelined 28 days, but missed only two games because of a scheduling quirk and amazingly quick healing -- he returned a week earlier than expected.

One day after being cleared, he dominated the faceoff circle, winning 25 of 30, scooping 13 loose balls and scoring two goals in a 17-13 victory over Colorado.

"He's the best in the world at what he does,'' said Mammoth coach Bob McMahon. "He got them an extra 20 possessions and he tends to do that against most teams. He gets two goals, and he was in the middle of all the scrums. He's a very, very valuable player.''

Other than the protector on Snider's neck, McMahon saw no difference in the former University of Denver star.

"He was his usually crusty self,'' McMahon said. "He's in the middle of all the piles and talking to everybody on the floor.''

Snider's time in the penalty box was limited to an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty in the first quarter and a holding penalty in the third quarter.

"I went into the game being cautious on the advice of my family," Snider said. "I got more comfortable as the game went on. It felt great to be part of the team."

With Toronto (5-8) and Rochester (5-6) also vying for the final playoff berth in the East Division, the Wings' return to health has come just in time.

"We're in the drivers' seat," Snider said. "But at the end of the day, we've got to win games."

Philadelphia's schedule ends with a home-and-home series with New York on Saturday and Sunday, then Toronto and Rochester in the ensuing weeks.

Throughout the season, the Wings have been inspired by assistant coach Chris Sanderson, who has shown amazing resolve in a battle with brain cancer.

"We've faced more adversity than any team with Chris' cancer, Athan's knee, my throat and Sean Thomson's concussion," said Snider.

Sanderson underwent brain surgery in December and has missed just one game.

"He's been there with a smile on his face and wearing a helmet on the bench," Snider said.
Iannucci, the 2008 MVP, has scored nine goals the past two games, his greatest output since returning from offseason knee surgery. His return started Jan. 23, ended during the first quarter when he had to leave the floor, and resumed Feb. 21.

Sean Thomson remains sidelined.

The Wings (5-7) ended a two-game losing streak with a defeat of the Mammoth that featured four short-handed goals. They enter a crucial home-and-home this weekend with the New York Titans.

Team scoring leader Merrick Thomson scored three goals with two helpers and nine loose balls, and ranks fourth in the league with 30 goals, along with 19 assists.

Palidwor returns from 'holdout'

The wording for NLL transactions is odd, as evidenced by Mammoth goaltender Curtis Palidwor going on the holdout list to be home with his wife for the birth of their daughter, Millie.

"It is the only one you can use, even though it doesn't sound right," said McMahon.

Jeremy Ogden made his NLL debut in Palidwor's place -- replacing Andrew Leyshon briefly when Leyshon's pad broke -- and playing out the final minute of the Wings game, due to McMahon's desire to give the Philly resident a chance to play.

Palidwor was reactivated Monday.

The Mammoth, which has lost four regulars (Gee Nash, Jim Moss, Nenad Gajic and Bruce Murray) to season-ending injuries, remain uncertain about former all-star Dan Carey, who has missed the past eight games with a neurological condition.

"Realistically, there's no change there," McMahon said. "He has good days. Until he's cleared by a doctor, we don't think about him playing. It is still week-to-week."

Against the Wings, forward Chris Gill left early with a pulled calf muscle and the offense was short-handed, although transition player Nick Carlson took some extra shifts.

"When Chris went out people probably tried to do a little more than they should have been doing, a little one-on-one or too many outside shots," McMahon said. "We still put 13 goals up, and we've been consistently putting 13 up and that wins most nights. Defensively, we weren't very good."

A defense that has been stingy all season made uncharacteristic mistakes and allowed four short-handed goals, which is usually a season total.

Next up for Colorado is a home game Friday against Rochester, a team that is 0-4 on the road.

"We have to win Friday,'' McMahon said. "The schedule is set up pretty well for us. We have three of the last four at home -- we've been pretty good at home lately -- then, the last game on the road at Portland.

"We control our own destiny. We win four in a row, and I think that is good enough for second place and a home game in the playoffs."

Given the injuries, some would argue that McMahon and his staff have had a tougher coaching challenge, but he doesn't see it that way.

"We have confidence in everybody, that's why everybody was picked for the team," he said. "We're not using injuries as an excuse. We still think we can compete every night. We've done it; we've won big games, against Calgary game at home, the game in San Jose. We're beating good teams with the guys who are playing. We try not to talk about the injuries. It is something that happens to every team; maybe we got a little more of it.

"We're confident in who we're dressing. We battled against Philadelphia. We were within one goal at the beginning of the fourth quarter."

Steenhuis paces scoring title chase

With three weekends remaining in the regular season, Buffalo's Mark Steenhuis has a solid lead for the goal-scoring title with 41 goals. Ageless teammate John Tavares is next with 36 and Calgary's second-year phenom Dane Dobbie has 34.

In the point-scoring race, San Jose's Colin Doyle leads the pack with 86, trailed by Steenhuis with 84. Boston's Dan Dawson is next at 80, followed by Calgary's Josh Sanderson at 75.

Buffalo's Ken Montour still leads the netminders with a 9.04 goals against average. Calgary's Matt King is next at 10.19, followed by Boston's Anthony Cosmo (10.21) and Calgary's Pat Campbell (10.46).


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