February 22, 2009

NLL Week 8 Notebook

by Theresa Smith | Special to Lacrosse Magazine Online

There are seven games in the National Lacrosse League this weekend. Here's a gander.

Friday: Buffalo at Toronto, 7 p.m. Eastern; Boston at Minnesota, 7 p.m. Central.

Saturday: Minnesota at Philadelphia, 7:30 p.m. Eastern; New York at Rochester, 7:35 p.m. Eastern; Colorado at San Jose, 7:30 p.m. Pacific.

Sunday: Boston at Calgary, 3 p.m. Mountain; Colorado at Edmonton, 6 p.m. Mountain.

Colorado is riding a three-game winning streak. Edmonton and Minnesota, both coming off byes, have each lost three consecutive games. Philadelphia has lost two in a row.

The Buffalo-Toronto matchup comes right on the heels of the Bandits' record-setting 25-10 rout of the Rock.

Toronto coach Jamie Batley is confident that his players will return to the floor with renewed determination.

"We have a lot of character players on our dressing room,'' he said. "I'm sure they'll rise to the occasion.''

Buffalo (6-1) leads the NLL with 105 goals and a .217 shooting percentage and has the league's best goalkeeping tandem, Mike Thompson and Ken Montour, who was named a starter in the March 7 All-Star Game at Denver's Pepsi Center.

"He's come a long way,'' said Bandits coach Darris Kilgour said. "When I first met him he was consummate back up...Now, he prepares really well and his confidence is really up.''

Boston (4-3) has played six of its seven games against the same opponents, Philadelphia and New York. Now the Blazers hit the road to Minnesota on Friday and Calgary on Sunday.

Although coach Tom Ryan's team has developed chemistry at a faster rate, due to the willingness of 14 players to move to Boston for the season rather than be fly-in players, the long trip should build camaraderie.

"No question it is a challenge to have two games in one weekend, but there are a lot of advantages,'' Ryan said. "It gives us a chance to spend time together and get to know each other a little more.''

Players such as Jason Bloom, the transition player of the week, and Gary Bining have transformed into full-time NLL players in Boston.

"We have guys who have made this the priority of their lives,'' said Ryan.

The coaching staff of Minnesota (2-3) spent the bye week studying film of the offense, which is averaging only 9.2 goals per game and shooting at a league-low .126 percent.

General Manager Marty O'Neill noted the offensive slump.

"They just have to stop holding their sticks too tight and stop over thinking,'' he said.

Calgary (5-1) is coming off its first loss of the season, 13-12 to Colorado.

Of Boston, Roughnecks assistant Dave Pym said: "It's going to be another great test for us. They are certainly not playing like an expansion team, far from it.''

Along with the Blazers' productive transition game, Pym is concerned with the way goaltender Anthony Cosmo can take over a game.

Wings coach Dave Huntley believes his team's 8-4 loss to Boston might serve as a wake-up call. Although his team is injury-riddled and several players were suffering from the flu, he gave all credit to the Blazers.

"First and foremost the result goes to Boston,'' Huntley said. "They were clearly the better team, better prepared, better executed. We had guys sick and banged up. The reality is every team has guys sick and banged up at this point in the year."

Huntley is confident that his team is prepared for the Swarm. "Sometimes, it is more clear what you need to be better when you lose,'' he said.

Said O'Neill: "This weekend, they're basically in the same boat as us. We're a desperate team. We need a win and they need a win.''

The New York-Rochester game is a rematch of last week's tilt in which the Titans prevailed 15-9.

At 5-3, New York is at the halfway point of the 16-game season.

"I think any coach would say you always want your record to be a little better,'' said New York coach Ed Comeau. "We've learned valuable lessons along the way and we're happy with some progressions. We need to keep working to get better."

Rochester coach Paul Gait, who inherited a team just before the start of the season - a team missing its best players, injured forwards John Grant Jr. and Scott Evans - is on a steep learning curve.

"Well, you know, it's a really good experience for me,'' said Paul, whose team is 1-5. "It certainly has opened my eyes to how role players play key parts and the importance of having a go-to player like John Grant Jr. or a young Gary Gait when games are tight or a team is down.''

Despite their record, the Knighthawks are only one game behind Toronto and Philadelphia.

"Yeah, only one win out of playoff spot makes the team feel better going into second half,'' Gait said. "But at the same time we need to change and get better before we start thinking about the playoffs."

Rochester made a big trade Thursday, acquiring 2008 NLL Rookie of the Year Craig Point and Dean Hill from the Minnesota Swarm for Aaron Wilson and a draft pick.

Colorado, the hottest team in the NLL with a three-game win streak, hits the road for a game in San Jose (2-4) on Saturday and at Edmonton (2-5) on Sunday.

Coach Bob McMahon is impressed by a Stealth offense averaging 12.5 goals and shooting .191, fourth-best in the league.

"They're really a tough team to play with such an intelligent offense," he said. "I've been a Colin Doyle fan. He makes everyone around him better and is a threat to score himself. We have to do a special job on him."

San Jose coach Jeff Dowling has seen the changes in Colorado.

"They're really picked up their play of late and Andrew Leyshon has come in and been stellar,'' he said of the Mammoth goalie, thrust into action in Gee Nash's injury-caused absence. "We understand they'll be fired up to beat us. They have a good offense with [Gavin] Prout and [Brian] Langtry and good off-ball guys."

McMahon credited the offensive improvement to the increased comfort of rookie Matt Danowski, a two-time national player of the year from Duke who is new to the field game, and former Stealth standout Gary Rosyski.

He also noted that Langtry has improved his shot selection and is taking fewer shots for a higher percentage.

Edmonton starts a stretch of five of its next six games at home after playing five of its first seven on the road. Moreover, the Rush played four games between Jan. 23 and Jan. 31, including three on the road. Now, they move to a snail pace of six games over the next six weeks.

Since defeating Colorado 11-9 in Denver on Jan. 24, the Rush has not scored more than nine goals in a game. Amid their current three-game losing streak they have averaged just 7.6 goals and only 9.1 goals overall.

In its last two losses, 16-6 to San Jose and 16-9 to Toronto, Edmonton has faded late.

Coach and general manager Bob Hamley, whose squad is 1-1 at home, is hopeful that the rest and return home is the remedy.

"I think we've been very good at home,'' he said.

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