February 2, 2011

NLL Notebook: Journeyman Goalie Brandon Miller Sizzles for Hot Wings

by Neil Stevens | Special to Lacrosse Magazine Online

Goalie Brandon Miller receives congratulations from Philadelphia Wings teammate and defenseman Taylor Wray during a 12-11 win Saturday over Colorado.

© Larry Palumbo

What Brandon Miller is doing proves that perseverance pays.

Miller's goaltending is a big reason why the Philadelphia Wings (3-2) are sitting second in the National Lacrosse League's East Division. The Wings won 11-5 in Boston last Friday despite being outshot 48-43, and they won 12-11 at home over Colorado on Saturday when they were outshot 55-38.

Miller has the league's best save percentage, .825, and best goals against average, 8.80, among No. 1 goalies.

The 31-year-old native of Orangeville, Ontario, has an unspectacular NLL resume that dates back to 2001. He played for teams in Albany, N.Y., San Jose, Calif., and Chicago that all left town. He didn't get first-string minutes until 2007 in Chicago.

After being acquired by the Wings in 2008, he split the job with Rob Blasdell. It was just last season that Miller took over completely.

Yet, here he is in 2011 with the best goalie numbers. Having Chris Sanderson as his goalie coach helps a lot, he said, and knowing coach John Tucker and general manager Johnny Mouradian will stick with him through thick and thin keeps him from worrying.

"It comes down to maturity and being comfortable in the net," Miller said. "I wanted to get to this position I'm in now so badly when I was younger, but there weren't that many jobs and I'd only get one or two starts a year and some cleanup work here and there.

"You'd grip the stick tight because with that little bit of opportunity you'd get, you'd want to make the most of it. Now, because I'm playing regularly, I don't get as nervous as I used to. With the confidence the organization has in me, knowing that I'm their starter every week, I can just play and not worry that if I let in one or two bad goals they're going to take me out. When you establish yourself, having that confidence goes a long way towards making you a better goalie."

He's certainly paid his dues.

Anthony Cosmo, who took the loss at the opposite end of the floor to Miller last Friday night in Boston, also lives in Orangeville. The two are teammates on a Sunday night recreational hockey league team. Cosmo is a defenseman and Miller is a forward.

"He's always looking to spring me for a breakaway pass," Miller said.

On Monday morning, Miller pulled on layers of clothing so he'd be warm working in the bitter cold. He's a Hydro One lineman, and his crew had to install a new pole along a highway north of Toronto. He also has two young children. How he finds time to fit it all in has to qualify him for some kind of award.

He'd settle for a playoff berth for the Wings.

Why does he wear 36 on his back?

Miller studied veteran goalies as he worked his way up. Retired Wings great Dallas Eliuk's fast reflexes always had him shaking his head in disbelief. He wanted to be able to do that. Eliuk wore 35, as did Miller earlier in his lacrosse career, but he wouldn't wear 35 when he joined the Wings.

"There's no way I was going to wear that number," he said. "That's Dallas' number."

Miller contemplated reversing the numbers or doubling the 35, but finally decided to just add one and make it 36.

The All-Police Team

The hectic lifestyle of many NLL players includes a weekday job as well as weekend games, and there are quite a few police officers in the league.

In forming our All-Police Team, Bob Watson of the Toronto Rock gets the nod in goal. The 40-year-old resident of Guelph, Ontario, hired on with the neighboring Kitchener-Waterloo force last year.

On defense, we have Pat McCready of the Rochester Knighthawks. The 36-year-old resident of St. Catharines, Ontario, who has a law degree, is with the Niagara Regional Police. Also on the back end, we could use Troy Bonterre, 32, who started the season with the Knighthawks and who is on the security team at the Bruce Power site near his home city of Owen Sound, Ontario.

Taking faceoffs is Pat Jones of the Edmonton Rush. The 32-year-old native of Oshawa, Ontario, has been on the security team guarding the nearby Pickering nuclear power plant. Joining him as a transition runner is Ryan Sharp, who joined the Rock from the Minnesota Swarm last week. The 28-year-old native of Peterborough, Ontario, is a Metro Toronto police officer.

Retired Rock defenseman Dan Ladouceur, who holds the Toronto record for most career penalty minutes, is a member of the Ontario Provincial Police tactical squad.

The coach of our All-Police Team will be Rochester assistant Paul Day, who is a detective with the Niagara Regional Police.

Stealth defense proves porous

The 2010 NLL champion Washington Stealth won't repeat if its defense doesn't show significant improvement. The Stealth (2-3) has allowed 64 goals, which is an average of 12.8 a game. That's worst in the league.

Matt Roik is 11th and last in goals against average, 12.31, among goalies who have played at least 100 minutes. Tyler Richards is 10th with a 12.27 GAA. Save percentages? Richards is 11th and last at .750. Roik is 10th at .753.

There's nothing wrong with the offense, which is averaging 11.8 goals a game, and Lewis Ratcliff (10g, 18a) and Rhys Duch (13g, 13a) are among the top eight scorers in the league.

Sanderson 20 shy of 1,000

Josh Sanderson of the Boston Blazers has moved to within 20 points of the 1,000-point mark in his National Lacrosse League career.

Buffalo's John Tavares (1,482), Rochester's Gary Gait (1,165) and Toronto's Colin Doyle (1,071) are the only players with more points.

Colorado's John Grant Jr. is fifth on the career points list with 925 and Rochester's Shawn Williams is sixth with 920.

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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