February 24, 2011

NLL Notebook: Banister 'Not Going to Quit' on Calgary; Whipper Wants One More Ring; Finneran Supports Powell; Bandits Sold

by Neil Stevens | Special to Lacrosse Magazine Online

Despite the NLL's fourth-best attendance and sitting in first place in the West Division, the Roughnecks' financial woes may not allow them to complete the season. "It would be an absolute shame to see something that has impacted the youth of the community disappear," said Calgary captain Andrew McBride.

If the Calgary Roughnecks can't sustain a franchise in the National Lacrosse League while sitting fourth among the 10 teams in attendance, what does that mean for the rest of the league?

Nothing good.

Owner-general manager Brad Banister made a plea to Calgarians to come to his financial rescue when he issued a statement in the form of a letter Tuesday night saying the Roughnecks might not be able to complete their schedule.

He reiterated during a news conference Wednesday that he needs corporate sponsors to come forward to keep the club afloat, and he began working to get players paychecks after telling them last Saturday they were delayed.

"We've got some great veterans," he said. "They've seen a lot of teams come and go in this league. Last weekend, they were shocked somewhat, but we're a pretty tight group in Calgary. The players have been supportive. They've got faith I'll get it done, and I'm not going to quit on them."

Banister put the team up for sale just before the season began Jan. 8 and has had no takers.
The Roughnecks are 5-3 and first in the West Division.

Banister's Tuesday letter said that "if immediate help is not given, it is unlikely we will be able to complete the current season."

Calgary's next scheduled game is March 5 against the Wings in Philadelphia.

"We intend on being in Philadelphia somehow," he said Wednesday.

The reality of his plight casts a dark cloud over preparations for the NLL All-Star Game Sunday afternoon at the Turning Stone casino just east of Syracuse, N.Y.

Calgarians have helped other sports teams when they were experiencing difficulties in the past, and now is the time to step up for the Roughnecks, Banister wrote in his heartfelt message.

"If ever there was a time when corporate Calgary was needed to step up and help a club that has brought two North American championships to this city in just six years, the time is now," he wrote. "I realize this is a very desperate letter, but it is all I have left. I have never turned my back on the city I was raised in, and I only hope it does not turn its back on me or this franchise."

It's obviously an emotional time for Banister.

"Life is full of peaks and valleys," his message began. "Today I am in the deepest of valleys with little hope of getting out. It is with sadness and desperation that I have to write this letter."

The best attendance in the NLL is for Colorado Mammoth home games. An average of 15,745 seats are occupied, and this despite the team's 12-game home losing streak stretching back to 2009.

The Buffalo Bandits are next with a 15,676 average, Toronto is averaging 10,251 and Calgary is fourth with 9,663 a game. Banister said he needs about 12,500 a game to break even.

Average attendance for the rest of the teams: Boston, 8,502; Philadelphia, 8,492; Minnesota, 7,812; Edmonton, 7,071; Rochester, 5,225; and Washington, 3,993.

Roughnecks captain Andrew McBride said it would be a sad day if his team folded.

"It would be an absolute shame to see something that has impacted the youth of the community disappear," said McBride, who with teammate Scott Carnegie as part of a team outreaach program met with 425 children on lacrosse and healthy lifestyles during a school assembly Wednesday. "As players, we're focused on getting wins and helping out in that regard."

Watson wants title in final season

Bob Watson is determined to go out a winner.

The 40-year-old Toronto Rock goaltender, having decided that this will be his final National Lacrosse League season, is playing as if every start is his last. His 8.42 goals against average is best in the league, and so is his .822 save percentage.

Watson allowed only five goals in each of two Toronto victories over Rochester last weekend. He was outstanding, as he has been all year. Toronto is 7-2, No. 1 overall, and Watson has been the most valuable Rock player.

As a big part of championship Toronto teams in 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003 and 2005, Watson earned the reputation as the best money player in the sport, meaning that he usually came through with his best performances when the stakes were highest.

Watson joined the Kitchener-Waterloo police force in his home province of Ontario last year and said his decision to quit the NLL and concentrate on his new job is irreversible. He relished a milestone win last Friday.

"One hundred wins is a feat that I'm very proud of," he said. "I've played with a lot of great players. I've been very fortunate."

But all good things must end.

"This is it for me," he said. "It was a big sacrifice for my family for me to continue to play lacrosse this year with my new job. The body is sore. It's breaking down. At 40, it's time for the young kids to take over."

After one more championship, he hopes.

Finneran still No. 1 among Americans

Kevin Finneran, who spent most of his pro career with the Philadelphia Wings, is No. 1 among American players in career pro points with 644, regular season and playoffs combined, and Casey Powell is closing in with 623 going into his next game with the Boston Blazers, which is on March 6.

Finneran said he loves to watch Powell play and, if anybody were to surpass his mark, he'll be glad if it's Powell.

"Casey is the face of American indoor lacrosse right now, and there is no greater ambassador for the sport," Finneran said.

Finneran retired as an NLL player after helping Toronto win the 2003 championship. He currently is assistant general manager and director of player personnel for the U.S. team for the world indoor tournament in Prague, May 21-28, and Powell is on the team.

Powell got seven points in his last game, lifting him to a regular-season total of 570 to eclipse Finneran's 564.

Where does the NLL stand today?

"It's the best of the best, but we still are where we are," Finneran said. "That's just a fact. Those of us who love the game would love to see it get to the next level, and maybe with IMG coming on board, it'll get to the next level."

From a game standpoint, there are a lot more scorers with the ability to finish in the league today, Finneran said. He misses some of the acrobatic goaltending and the defensive takeaways he said were more prevalent in his day than today.

"But the game is still awesome," he said. "It's still the greatest game I know of and I'm proud I've been a part of it."

Defense makes East better than West

The East is up 10-1 over the West in interdivisional play.


Team goals-against averages provide an excellent hint: 1. Toronto, 8.6; 2. Boston, 9.0; 3. Buffalo, 9.6; 4. Philadelphia, 10.1; 5. Rochester, 10.9; 6. Minnesota, 11.0; 7. Calgary, 11.1; 8. Colorado, 11.8; 9. Washington, 12.0; 10. Edmonton, 12.1.

Buffalo Bandits sold

NLL commissioner George Daniel confirmed that the sale for $189 million of the NHL's Buffalo Sabres from Tom Golisano to Terry Pegula, which was okayed Tuesday by the NHL board of governors, includes the NLL's Buffalo Bandits. Pegula sold his natural gas company for $4.7 billion last July.

Hacking, hacking, hacking

It remains a mystery to this observer why NLL referees don't act to stop the hacking that goes on while play is stopped during games. A defender will slash at an opponent during a stoppage and a referee will stand within 10 feet watching, but won't assess a penalty. Why not?

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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