May 8, 2009

NLL Notebook: Road to Cup Runs Through Calgary

by Theresa Smith | Special to Lacrosse Magazine Online

Kaleb Toth and the Calgary Roughnecks have hoisted the Champion's Cup before. They won their only NLL title in 2004, claiming it on their own floor in Pengrowth Saddledome.

With two victories needed to do it again, and home floor guaranteed, Toth was asked if he senses that this team is destined to bring another title to Calgary.

"It would be great to host the championship game, but first things first,'' he said. "We don't want to get ahead of ourselves. San Jose's a great team. We've had our way against them, but they've improved since then.''

The Riggers swept the season series from the Stealth, 12-10 on Jan. 9 and 16-13 on Jan. 24. But a midseason coaching change, replacing Jeff Dowling with Chris Hall, and the addition of new defenders Shaydon Santos and Steve Holmes on March 17 has made the Stealth the most improved team in the league.

With its 20-16 playoff victory over the now-in-limbo LumberJax, San Jose became the first team to score 20 goals in a playoff game since 1994.

The potent offense is led by NLL points leader Colin Doyle, with regular contributions from Jeff Zywicki and Rhys Duch, who set an NLL rookie scoring record.

Doyle scored two goals and had seven assists against the Jax. Zywicki netted a hat trick and assisted on four goals, Duch scored three and helped on three, and Frank Resetaritis scored three with two helpers.

According to Toth, Doyle will get plenty of attention.

"Defensively, we have to stick to our systems," he said. "But with a guy like Colin Doyle, one of the best lacrosse players in the world, you have to treat him differently.

In contrast, the Stealth's big, physical defense must stay out of the penalty box against the Riggers' NLL-leading power play.

"The reason we get a lot of power plays is because we move the ball so well and move our feet so well,'' Toth said. "They have to hold us to try to stop us."

Calgary's power play, which converted at 60.18 percent during the regular season, scored only twice on six attempts against Colorado, but that was one of the only shortcomings in a dominant performance by the Riggers, who prevailed 15-8.

Second-year forward Dane Dobbie led the balanced attack with three goals and four assists.

"I can't say enough about Dane," Toth said. "He sees the floor well. He has a great shot. He's great one-on-one against the goaltender, and he plays the pick-and-roll really well."

Toth, who chipped in one goal, two assists and six loose balls, has improved this season due to being injury-free and with a little help from his teammates.

"You get open and Josh Sanderson finds you, Dane Dobbie finds you or Tracey Kelusky finds you," he said. "I just have to get open and they'll give me the ball.''
Hall returns to Calgary

Chris Hall, the coach who led the Riggers to the 2004 title, ironically, is coming into the Saddledome to coach the Stealth in a contest Riggers' front office types are promoting as, "How the West was Won."

Hall had only pleasant things to say about his Riggers' experience.

"My time in Calgary was great," he said. "I really enjoyed it. The people there were great, the fans were great, and winning a championship was a fantastic experience. It will be a great atmosphere to be in."

A new day

New York swept the defending champion Bandits during the regular season, winning 11-9 on March 28 and 12-9 on April 11, but as the Bandits showed last week while eliminating Boston, the past doesn't always matter.

After all, the expansion Blazers were fresh off defeating the Bandits in Buffalo. In last weekend's first-round playoff game, however, the young Boston team was not up to a repeat and fell, 11-8.

Team leader and newly minted NLL Sportsmanship Award winner Dan Dawson was held without a goal, going 0-for-12 against the Buffalo defense and goaltender Ken Montour. Dawson did have seven assists.

When asked about any risk of the Titans being overconfident in light of the season sweep of the Bandits, New York coach Ed Comeau said: "I don't think there's an issue of overconfidence. We finished with the same records... They are the defending champs, and we know that their experience and desire to continue as champions is strong."

Good advice

While discussing the maturation of his goaltender, Matt Vinc, Comeau spoke of how Vinc learned to deal with his disappointment after being scored on.

"He's being able to live in the here and now, and not worry about the goal that just went in or three saves from now," Comeau said.

Speaking in general of all young goaltenders whose physical talents can be hindered by their inability to move on past disappointment, Comeau said: "Once they were able to do that, you see their true potential."

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