February 5, 2009

NLL Week 6 Notebook: Leyshon, Danowski Spark Mammoth Turnaround

by Theresa Smith | Special to Lacrosse Magazine Online

Colorado Mammoth rookie Matt Danowski surprises New York Titans goalie Matt Vinc with a wraparound goal, mimicking teammate Brian Langtry, in the fourth quarter of a 12-8 Mammoth victory Saturday.
(Photo: Michael Martin)

An unlikely pair, goaltender Andrew Leyshon and rookie forward Matt Danowski, played major roles in what might be a turnaround game for the Colorado Mammoth, a contest that ended a two-game home losing streak with a 12-8 victory last weekend over New York.

Although Leyshon had played well in relief of Gee Nash when Nash was put on the disabled list with an ailing back, some speculated that coach Bob McMahon would keep Leyshon in his relief role and start newly-acquired Curtis Palidwor.

McMahon stuck with Leyshon, however, and his new goalkeeper lived up to his coaches' faith. Against the high-powered Titans' offense, Leyshon was stingy. In critical junctures, his reactions were razor sharp.

After the Titans tied it 5-5 on a laser by National Lacrosse League scoring leader Casey Powell, and tied it 6-6 on a quick stick by Mike McLellan, a Mammoth turnover left Stephen Peyser alone on a breakaway. A goal would have given New York the lead and possibly upset the fragile psyche of the Mammoth.

But Leyshon stopped Peyser, and moments later Dan Carey found Gavin Prout cutting through the slot. Prout's fake moved Titans' keeper Matt Vinc out of the way for a 7-6 lead.

Powell tied it again 7-7, but veteran Brian Langtry gave the Mammoth its final lead with a high-speed shot to make it 8-7.

Leyshon made another dynamic save to stop the tying pattern and after a goal by Danowski, Leyshon turned away Powell again.

Powell finished with three goals, one less than his average, on 14 shots, and Pat Maddalena was 2-for-9. Ryan Boyle and Brendan Mundorf were each 0-for-7.

Leyshon also made an assist on the second goal of the game, firing an outlet pass to Nick Carlson, who found Carey s treaking off the bench ahead of the defense. His 31 saves and eight goals allowed, dropped his goals against average to 8.55, fifth-best in the NLL.

Danowski, a two-time NCAA Player of the Year at Duke, had understandably struggled to learn the indoor game, particularly adjusting to the physical play. Defensemen were quick to hit him and knock the ball out of his stick in his first three games. When he held the ball too long, he was often sandwiched and forced into a turnover.  When he was able to hang on and get off some shots, he scored once in transition and once from the perimeter on 17 attempts.

All that changed on Saturday when he scored a career-high three goals on just six shots.

"That's the most comfortable I've been,'' he said. "And we're getting more comfortable with each other. We have more confidence now and we're rolling.''

Danowski used a screen by Prout on the first goal to pinpoint a shot in a sliver of space between Vinc and the near post for a 3-0 lead.

He made it 6-5 with his second goal, late in the third quarter, firing a high-speed shot off a screen.

Danowski said he was copying a move from Langtry when he zipped around behind the net and surprised Vinc with a wraparound shot between his legs. He didn't decide to do it until the last second, surprising himself as much as Vinc.

"It was an opportunity,'' Danowski said. "I saw Brian Langtry do it in the first game, and I thought I'd take a shot and get the crowd into it. It worked out.''

NLL coaches and general managers took notice, awarding the seventh overall pick in the 2008 draft NLL Rookie of the Week honors.

"We're very happy for Matt,'' said McMahon. "He's improved basically every game. He's the first to admit that he needs more experience playing without the ball. Right now, he's a real threat with the ball and he's getting better playing without it. We think he'll be a star in this league.''

While Danowski will get every opportunity, the future is less certain for Leyshon, due to the few and coveted spots for goaltenders in the NLL.

At this time last season, Leyshon was out of the league, following five seasons, the last three with Calgary. Cut by the Roughnecks in training camp, he was not picked up the rest of the 2008 season.

Over the summer he was the main keeper for the Burnaby Lakers, based in British Columbia.  Among the scouts at his games, Mammoth general manager Steve Govett, who grew up in the area.

With Chris Levis signing with Edmonton, Govett wanted Leyshon to back up Nash.

"No one wants an opportunity from an injury,'' Leyshon said. "Gee is a friend and teammate, but that is the way it works some times. You take your opportunities when you get them. In this league, you're only as good as your last game. I've only had one start, it went great, but we need to keep winning.''

Leyshon, 28, lives in Pitt Meadows, a suburb of Vancouver, and drives a truck for a furniture company.

Every week, he travels with other B.C.-based Mammoth players, including Palidwor, Bruce Murray, Rich Catton, Matt Leveque, Brian Safarik, and Tyler Crompton to Denver for home games and various NLL cities for road games.

On the other side of North America, in Farmingdale, N.Y., Danowski takes graduate courses and makes appearances for Nike.

Each weekend, the rookie and the journeymen meet and try to make their mark on the NLL.

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