January 12, 2011

Stevens on NLL: Boston's Josh Sanderson Closes in on 1,000 Points

by Neil Stevens | Special to Lacrosse Magazine Online

Casey Powell (left) and Josh Sanderson (right), acquired by the Boston in the NLL offseason, made strong debuts in the Blazers' 10-6 win at Philadelphia.

© Larry Palumbo

Josh Sanderson is on the verge of becoming only the fourth player in National Lacrosse League history to amass 1,000 points.

John Tavares, Gary Gait and Colin Doyle are the only ones to do it before him.

"I know the three guys ahead of me are amazing players and, to join them, it would be an honor just to be mentioned with those three," said Sanderson.

It'll be quite an achievement for the 5-foot-7 Boston Blazers forward, who weighs just 155 pounds. Sanderson has added about five pounds in the last few years, and dismisses any notion he has gotten soft.

''It's all muscle," he joked.

Sanderson has 960 points after picking up six in a 10-6 win in Philadelphia in Boston's season opener Saturday. He should hit 1,000 in February if he stays healthy --  no problem, considering the 33-year-old forward has missed just four games over the last 10 seasons. Bruisers much bigger than Sanderson who try to check him usually miss, because he's so elusive.

"I try to use my smarts and quickness," he said. ''I move my feet and try to survive."

Boston's acquisitions of Sanderson, the 2010 NLL scoring champion with 104 points, from the Calgary Roughnecks and of Casey Powell, the 2010 league MVP, via a dispersal draft after the Orlando Titans folded, injected considerable zip into an attack already boasting 2009 league MVP Dan Dawson. The three working together certainly enhance the Blazers' chances of winning the Champion's Cup. Sanderson (2g, 4a), Powell (5g, 2a) and Dawson (8a) piled up 21 points in the opener.

If they keep that up, there will be no stopping the Blazers.

"Dan missed an exhibition game and Casey missed a week of camp, so we hadn't played a game together," Sanderson said. "That was our first game together, and as it went on, we got better."

Sanderson has a history with both. He and Dawson have won three Canadian senior championships during their summers playing amateur lacrosse with the Excelsiors in Brampton, Ontario, just northwest of Toronto. Sanderson and Powell were rookie teammates with the Rochester Knighthawks way back when.

''Josh is the best lacrosse player I've ever played with," Dawson said. "He makes everyone around him better. He took me under his wing early in my career. He is a great leader who has won at every level he has played."

Sanderson is quick to stress that it's not a three-man show in Boston. Kevin Buchanan, Jamie Rooney and Nick Cotter chipped in a goal apiece in Philadelphia.

"We need everybody going," Sanderson said. "The three of us have a lot of pressure on us to produce, but everybody in the offensive unit has to be clicking if we're going to be any good."

Sanderson has already won NLL titles with the Toronto Rock in 2005 and with Calgary in 2009, when he was named playoff MVP, and now is gunning for a third.


The NLL's all-time, regular season scoring leaders (current teams) going into Week 2 of the 2011 season:

John Tavares (Buffalo Bandits) - 1,164 points
Gary Gait (Rochester Knighthawks) - 1,164
Colin Doyle (Toronto Rock) - 1,051
Josh Sanderson (Boston Blazers) - 960

John Grant Jr. (Colorado Mammoth) - 901
Shawn Williams (Rochester Knighthawks) - 899
Tom Marechek (retired) - 773
Gavin Prout (Edmonton Rush) - 741
Blaine Manning (Toronto Rock) - 725

In Orangeville, further north of Toronto than Brampton and almost an hour's drive, Sanderson works weekdays at a sporting goods store that has a unique lacrosse-oriented management makeup. He co-owns the store with his father Terry Sanderson, the general manager of the Rock, and one of their employees is former Rock assistant coach and new Blazers head coach Matt Sawyer. Josh Sanderson and Sawyer were Brampton teammates on a Canadian junior championship team; Sawyer then coached Sanderson in Brampton in the summer and with the Rock in the winter before the two were reunited by the Blazers.

So, what does he like about Sawyer as a coach?

"Matty lets you know what he expects from you," Sanderson said. "I think he's a great coach."

For his first game with the Blazers, Sanderson flew out of and back into Toronto with Dawson, goalie Anthony Cosmo and defensemen Mike Kirk and Scott Campbell.

Sanderson said he'll keep playing "as long as I can be effective and can help the team win."

"I definitely won't play be past my time. I've got a family and, when I stop being productive, that'll be enough for me -- maybe another three or four years at the most."

Meantime, he'll relish every day of the rest of his NLL career.

"I like the group of guys we've got. We've just got to continue to get better. I know we have a lot of hype around us, but we've got to continue working hard and getting better."

Neil Stevens has covered professional and Canadian summer lacrosse since 1971 for various media outlets, including the Canadian Press. He retired from the CP in 2008. That year, Stevens joined the late Tom Borrelli -- a longtime Lacrosse Magazine contributor -- as the only media members recognized by the National Lacrosse League Hall of Fame. He played from age 5 to 23, including three years in the junior ranks and one year (1969) as a professional in St. Catherines, Ontario.

Check laxmagazine.com/nll throughout the season for more from Stevens and coverage of the NLL.

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