April 23, 2009

Theresa Smith: Casey Takes the Cake

by Theresa Smith | Special to Lacrosse Magazine

Casey Powell returned from an undisclosed injury to lead the New York Titans to the East Division regular season title, making him the NLL's most valuable player, writes LMO's Theresa Smith.

The parity in the National Lacrosse League was not limited to the tight finish in the East Division with New York, Boston and Buffalo all finishing with identical 10-6 records. It was part of an assist records chase that came down to the last day of the season. Boston's Dan Dawson and Calgary's Josh Sanderson tied with 74 assists, breaking Sanderson's 2005 record of 71.

San Jose's Colin Doyle, who had the lead going into the last weekend of the season, finished third with 73 assists, but won the points crown with 111 points. Dawson was second with 104, followed by Sanderson at 103 and Buffalo's Mark Steenhuis at 101.

The goal-scoring race ended in a tie between Bandits' teammates Steenhuis and John Tavares with 51 goals each. Calgary second-year forward Dane Dobbie was next with 41, followed by New York's Casey Powell and Philadelphia's Merrick Thomson at 40 each.

Powell put up his numbers in only 13 of the 16 games, due to an injury.

Tavares, 40, was the highest-percentage shooter among the goal leaders, converting at an amazing .357 rate. While shooting percentage stats are not available prior to 2006, it is by far the best shooting rate in his past four seasons. His previous best was .261 in 2007. Tavares' goal tally ties his season best from 2001, the year he set the single-season points record of 115.

Buffalo goaltender Ken Montour posted the best goals against average from the start of the season until the end, finishing with a 9.57. The 29-year-old from Six Nations, Ontario, also led the league in save percentage at .813.

San Jose rookie Tyler Richards was second in GAA at 10.08, followed by Boston's Anthony Cosmo at 10.14. Cosmo ranked second in minutes played with 840. New York's Matt Vinc led the league with 916 minutes.

The best tandem was the Calgary pair of Matt King and Pat Campbell, who ranked No. 4 and No. 5, respectively at 10.23 and 10.51, respectively.

Despite missing two games with a fractured trachea, Philadelphia's Geoff Snider led the league in loose balls with 220, followed by Portland transition star Brodie Merrill (216), the NLL career leader from Rochester, Steve Toll (178) and Edmonton's Ian Hawksbee (150).

Snider also led the NLL in faceoff percentage,, winning 260 of 353 (73.7 percent). New York rookie Stephen Peyser won 239 of 370 (64.6 percent).

The NLL will announce its annual award winners next week. As a preview, here's one take on the awards races:

Most Valuable Player

Casey Powell gets the nod after returning from an undisclosed injury to guide the New York Titans to the East Division title. Powell might have won the goal scoring title if he had played the three games he missed. He also would have had a shot at the points title.

Powell's shooting percentage of .223 was high, with the exception of comparing it to Tavares.

While the Titans have a number of productive players around Powell, including Jordan Hall, Pat Maddalena and Brendan Mundorf, he has been the straw that stirs the drink. He has a knack for scoring timely goals or finding the open man in crucial situations. His on-floor leadership, battling for loose balls by the boards, was a key in New York's rally against Philadelphia in a key game late in the season.

The Titans were 1-2 during Powell's absence, another sign of their reliance upon him. Although, since other MVP candidates did not miss games, it is impossible to know how their teams would have fared in their absence.

Also considered: Dan Dawson is another compelling MVP candidate. He alternated between running the offense as a feeder and taking key shots as a scorer and was a leader to the league's youngest players on and off the floor. Anthony Cosmo also played a large role in leading the expansion Blazers.

John Tavares, Mark Steenhuis and Ken Montour all share large loads with the Bandits, the other East team with a 10-6 record.

In the West Division, Calgary put up the best record in the league, but its strength is in numbers. Josh Sanderson, Dane Dobbie, Tracey Kelusky and Kaleb Toth all contribute heavily on offense, and Matt King and Pat Campbell lead the defense. The Roughnecks' balance is their strength.

Colin Doyle is a contending candidate from the West, but Powell had a better shooting percentage, picked up only four fewer loose balls in three fewer games, and played in a more competitive division.

Goaltender of the Year

Ken Montour is the choice, based on exceptional consistency. Along with his league-best goals against average and save percentage, he made four assists to jumpstart the transition game.

Also considered: Rochester's Pat O'Toole, whose return from an injury lifted the Knighthawks from the depths of an 0-4 start to a playoff berth, was also considered, along with Cosmo. Taylor Richards did not play enough -- he took over the starting job down the stretch for the Stealth.

Transition Player of the Year

Mark Steenhuis showed that he is the best two-way player in the game. He tied Tavares for the NLL goals title with a career-high 51. He also had a career-high 50 assists for a career-best 101 points, fourth-best in the league, and he scooped 117 loose balls.

Steenhuis also set a single-game scoring record of 17 points, four goals and 13 assists, against Toronto on Valentine's Day and twice tallied at least seven goals. Although it doesn't count in league totals, he was terrific during the All-Star game in Denver, racking up six goals for a sock trick. In concert with fans who covered the floor with socks, he played the rest of the game with one sock off.

Defender of the Year

The NLL is considering adding deflections and/or steals to the statistical sheet next season, a move that would shine more light on defensive players.

In the absence of having an objective view of who alters the most shots, who takes the ball away most often or intercepts the most passes, we are left with few easy comparisons. The defender that takes on the opposition's best offensive player is one way of viewing top defenders, but with zone defenses played and help defense a key part of the game, it doesn't always play out.

With those factors in mind, the choice goes to Calgary's Andrew McBride, part of the stingiest defense in the NLL. McBride picked up 63 loose balls and when he wasn't defending, he had 10 assists and scored a goal.

Also considered: Minnesota's Ryan Cousins, Buffalo's Phil Sanderson, Colorado's Bruce Murray and Rich Catton also were considered. Murray sustained a season-ending knee injury in the ninth game of the season and Catton  suffered a knee sprain in the second quarter last Friday against Edmonton.

Rookie of the Year

It is an easy call for San Jose's Rhys Duch.

Duch surpassed his rookie class by breaking Gavin Prout's 2002 rookie scoring record of 82 points. He finished with 89 points on 35 goals with a .215 shooting percentage, 54 assists and 97 loose balls. Against Colorado, he scored the game-winner in overtime to clinch San Jose's berth in the playoffs.

Also considered: Boston's Daryl Veltman was a candidate through the early part of the season.

Coach of the Year

Ed Comeau, coach of the New York Titans, gains the award for guiding his team to the division title over defending NLL champion Buffalo and the surprising the expansion Blazers of coach Tom Ryan.

In his first season, Comeau developed field players, such as Brendan Mundorf, and challenged Casey Powell to improve his already stellar game, encouraging Powell to look for his shot more often.

Also considered: Calgary coach Troy Cordingley was given strong consideration for producing the best record in the league and dominating the West. As was Ryan, who guided an expansion team to the playoffs.

Coaches whose teams finish down in the standings are rarely noticed, but Colorado's Bob McMahon did an incredible job of juggling a lineup that was constantly depleted by injuries and lacking in transition talent. Hall of Fame player Paul Gait made a strong showing in his first foray into the coaching ranks, guiding Rochester, minus injured superstars John Grant Jr. and Scott Evans, from a 0-4 start to the playoffs, and Bob Hamley made significant progress with the Rush, taking them within a couple goals of a playoff berth.

General Manager of the Year

Boston's Tom Ryan, who is also the Blazers' coach, is the winner here for quickly building a contender. The Blazers never looked like an expansion team. After choosing a superior offensive player, Dan Dawson, and a stalwart goaltender, Anthony Cosmo, Ryan acquired young, talented players or overlooked players and convinced them to move to Boston to develop off-the-floor relationships and during-the-week unofficial training sessions. He also guided a marketing push to get people into seats in a town crowded with championship sports teams.

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