February 8, 2012

NLL Notebook: Westervelt Excels at Indoor Game

by Neil Stevens | LaxMagazine.com

Drew Westervelt (right) usually commutes with teammate Brendan Mundorf from the Baltimore region to Philadelphia for Wings home games.
© John Strohsacker/LaxPhotos.com

Drew Westervelt is setting the pace in National Lacrosse League scoring among U.S. players.

The Philadelphia Wings forward has pumped in 11 goals in four games, upping his total to 109 goals in 58 regular-season games since he broke into the NLL in 2008 out of the University of Maryland field lacrosse program.

He has some sound advice for anyone following him to the indoor, or box, game.

''The strategy of the box game on offense is different than the field game but there are skills that work in both,'' he says. ''Some guys think they have to morph their game for box but they might want to continue to use the strengths that have made them successful in the field game.''

Don't try to be two different players, he says.

''It takes times to understand the intricacies of the indoor game but the key is to hone the skills that have already made you successful,'' he says.

Westervelt's sweater number, 26, is the same as his age this year. He lives in the Baltimore region and usually makes the 90-minute drive to Philadelphia's home games with former UMBC and now Wings teammate Brendan Mundorf.

The Wings' record stands at 2-2, good for second place in the East Division, after a loss to Toronto. GM-coach Johnny Mouradian had 10 Americans in his 20-man lineup as the Wings continue to tap a strong East Coast talent base.

''We play more of a hybrid style than you usually see in the NLL,'' says Westervelt. ''For me, I really enjoy the box game. You play field and then you discover box, and it's such a totally different game. It's extremely challenging. I think a lot of Americans are finding the box game is a lot of fun. I think you'll see more Americans involved.''

Westervelt and the others who have survived roster changes after three years of missing the playoffs are looking forward to better times.

''It's been disappointing,'' Westervelt says of the lean years. ''A lot of our teams in recent years haven't played up to expectations. This was a powerful team in the past but we haven't been successful lately and that's been extremely frustrating.''

Their next chance to get back over .500 is Sunday afternoon when the Buffalo Bandits visit.

''The beauty of our offense this year is that everybody is clear in his role,'' says Westervelt. ''Everyone has been extremely unselfish.

''Everyone brings something a bit different to the table but the aim is to play unselfishly and move the ball. All of our roles are similar _ put points on the board and buy into the same system, and understand that staying within the system leads to the consistency we need. The coaching staff and leaders on the team have done a great job instilling that we have to buy into the system.''

Teamwork, and not solo heroics as might have been the case last year, is the key.

''The team this year has a whole new look to it,'' says Westervelt. ''Bringing in guys like Brodie Merrill and Dan Dawson, the youth of guys like Max Siebald, and a core group of guys who have been with the team for a while has created a good mix.

''The vibe in the locker room is really healthy. Everybody is working hard during the week and also when we get together. We have a roster capable of being successful and with the two wins (in a row in January) we're building confidence in what we can do if we continue to improve. There are a lot of positive things happening.''

The 15-6 loss to Toronto won't stunt the team's growth. It'll only make the players work that much harder.

A busy man, Westervelt is promoting his new product, Odorbalance, which supplies athletic cleaning products that assure long-term odor protection for lacrosse and hockey pads and uniforms.

Chris Hall Returning Soon

Washington head coach Chris Hall, who has been treated for a cancerous growth on a tonsil, says he'll be back behind the Stealth bench later this month.

He is three weeks into recovery phase after completing treatments and is doing well, he said Wednesday. He'll be in attendance as a spectator at his team's home game Friday against Calgary in Everett and will return behind the bench for the following home game Feb. 24 against Minnesota. He'll also travel to Buffalo to coach the West team in the Feb. 25 all-star game.

''I lost 50 pounds, some of which needed to go, so I really need to work on getting 15 or so of that back to be fit and strong,'' he says. ''That will take a while. I've just started to eat some solids again after being on the Boost-Ensure liquid train for the last eight weeks.

''All signs to date are that the tumor has gone and recovery should go well.''

Assistant Art Webster has been in charge during the team's 1-3 start, which Hall says is understandable given changes on offense and an injury to Jeff Zywicki.

''The absence of Zywicki on the right side has had a profound effect,'' he says. ''We got him back late last season in time for our playoff run and he proved to be a key factor in that string. We hope he is back in full form when he returns from the IR.

''In the meantime, it has taken some time for the new units to find some chemistry. The (11-10 overtime) win in Buffalo last week was a great step forward in that vein.''

He has been missed.

''I look forward to getting back to the game,'' he says.

Bucktooth Savors Victory

When Washington earned its first win of 2012 last Saturday in Buffalo on an overtime goal by Rhys Duch, nobody savored it more than Brett Bucktooth.

Bucktooth helped Syracuse win the 2004 NCAA field lacrosse title and was picked by Buffalo in the first round of the 2006 NLL entry draft. He played for the Bandits for five years through 2011 when he scored three goals in the NLL all-star game in a casino arena in Verona, N.Y., not far from where he grew up.

The Bandits raised a lot of eyebrows when they released him just before the 2012 season began. Washington signed the free agent on Jan. 24. In his second start this year, Bucktooth scored his first two goals for his new team in that 11-10 thriller in the arena he used to call home.

Mammoth Earn Week Off

The 5-0 Colorado Mammoth get a much-deserved bye this weekend, and John Grant Jr. can use it.

Grant had another impressive outing _ three goals and five assists _ in an 11-7 home win over Edmonton last Saturday despite the fact that Rush checkers were all over him all night. He played a huge role in a late-game rally even as he was repeatedly lifting himself off the green carpet.

Grant has 19 goals and 26 assists for 45 points. The rest of the top five: Rochester's Cody Jamieson (16-20=36), Toronto's Garrett Billings (8-21=29), Buffalo's John Tavares (12-16=28) and Toronto's Josh Sanderson (10-18=28). Next is the top rookie scorer, Colorado's Adam Jones (5-11=26).

Colorado's Adam Jones will be a rare rookie all-star starter Feb. 25 in Buffalo's First Niagara Center, where Jones' former coach at Canisius, Randy Mearns, works Bandits games as TV analyst.
© Michael Martin

Jones Gets Rare Rookie All-Star Nod

Jones, the No. 3 pick in the entry draft last September out of the Buffalo region's Canisius College, gets the rare distinction of being named an all-star game starter as a rookie.

''Adam certainly is a gifted player -- one of the best Canisius has ever had,'' says Canisius coach Randy Mearns.

The all-star game will be played at 7 p.m. ET, Feb. 25, in Buffalo's First Niagara Center, where Mearns works Bandits games as a TV color commentator. A contingent of Jones' former Canisius teammates will take in the all-star game.

Jones learned the box game inside out in Ontario summer leagues in his home town of Owen Sound and in Orangeville before adding the field variety to his repertoire at Canisius.

''Adam is so explosive and can beat you off the first step,'' Mearns responds when asked to explain why Jones has been able to adapt to the pro game so seamlessly. ''He's also very elusive and can make you pay the price off ball if you take your eyes off him.''

He's always been a top scorer.

''Adam has real soft hands and amazing stick skills that are equal to those of today's NLL stars,'' says Mearns. ''Add to that how he thinks he game and is a step ahead of many opponents and he represents an ever-present threat anytime he's on the floor.''

There's more: ''What impresses me most is that he thrives on doing the dirty work in the corners, grinding for loose balls, setting hard picks, and doing anything to give his team an advantage.''''

Sanderson in All-Star Form

Josh Sanderson has been playing some of the best lacrosse of his career since returning to the Rock after two-plus years with Calgary and one in Boston. He's 34 now but he's as elusive as ever. He stands only five foot seven but he's a giant in the Rock offense. He certainly deserved the all-star nod he got Wednesday.

Sanderson was the fourth player selected, by Minnesota, in the dispersal draft when Boston folded last summer. The Swarm traded him to Toronto along with defenseman Nick Inch, who was released before the season began, in exchange for defenseman Jeff Gilbert, the ninth pick in the dispersal draft (Greg Downing), the 12th pick in the 2011 entry draft (Corbyn Tao) and a first-round selection in the 2012 entry draft.

So, it's turned out to be a good deal for Minnesota, too: Gilbert, Downing and Tao were all in the Swarm lineup in Rochester last weekend, and the first-rounder next September is yet to come.

Faceoff Specialists

The Snider brothers remain the NLL's resident faceoff wizards.

Calgary's Geoff Snider has won 82 of the 103 draws he's taken and Washington's Bobby Snider is 61-for-100.

Rookie Jordan MacIntosh of the Minnesota Swarm is 54-for-91, while Philadelphia's Jeff Reynolds is 54-for-100.

Rochester's Tyler Burton is 41-for-76, and Buffalo's Jeremy Thompson has won more than he's lost, too. He's 34-for-64.

Nobody else participating in more than 20 draws has won more than he's lost.

Bold First and Vinc Last

It's funny how things work out sometimes.

Aaron Bold sat on the end of the Rochester bench last winter and watched Matt Vinc earn the league's goalie-of-the-year award.

Bold is Edmonton's starter now, and he's No. 1 in goals-against average, 9.67, and save percentage, .808. The former backup craved a shot at a starting job and he's making the most of his opportunity. Meanwhile, Vinc is struggling.

The save percentages (minimum 180 minutes played): 1. Bold, .808; 2. Chris Levis, Colorado, .783; 3. Matt Roik, Toronto, and Mike Poulin, Calgary, .769; 5. Mike Thompson, Buffalo, and Tyler Richards, Washington, .757; 7. Brandon Miller, Philadelphia, .733; 8. Matt Vinc, Rochester, .719.

Bold was named to the West all-star team Wednesday, which pleases Edmonton GM-coach Derek Keenan.

''He's a real student of the game who works hard at his trade during the week,'' says Keenan. ''He's been a backup for a number of years and is well-deserving of being a starter now. I can't say enough about how he's played for us. He's been really strong.''

Bandits in Mean Mood

Buffalo's three-game slump began with a home loss to the Wings and now the teams clash again in Philadelphia this Sunday afternoon.

''We really need this one,'' coach Darris Kilgour said during the NLL's weekly coaches' conference call on Wednesday. ''We need to turn it around. It'll be a tough one in Philly, as it always is.''

More goals from Kevin Buchanan would help. He's only scored two to date.

''He's creating some opportunities but he's not shooting very confidently,'' Kilgour said. ''Once he gets his next one things will start going his way.''

The Wings were blown out 15-6 at home against Toronto last weekend. Dan Dawson scored once on 10 shots on goal against the Rock and has only three goals on 26 shots in four games.

''Dan is not the only one on this club right now who has a shooting percentage that is lower than desired,'' said coach Johnny Mouradian.

Busy Weekend in the Hive

It's a real oddity when an NLL team plays two home games on the same weekend and it happens this weekend when Minnesota, 1-2, takes on Edmonton, 1-2, on Friday night and Rochester, 2-3, on Sunday afternoon in St. Paul's Xcel Energy Center.

''This is a huge weekend for us,'' says coach Mike Lines.

The Swarm are coming off a 16-14 loss in Rochester and will be gunning to turn the tables.

Wilson Returns to St. Paul

Edmonton forward Aaron Wilson will be playing in St. Paul for the first time since being traded to the Rush. Wilson has only scored four goals in three games.

''He's a guy who can be really productive without taking a lot of shots or having the ball in his stick for extended periods of time,'' says GM-coach Derek Keenan. ''He's a real gritty guy, too, and is hard to play against if you're a defender. He's been a bit snake-bitten this year but we expect that to get turned around.''

And a Question...

Washington and Toronto have been the NLL's premier teams on the basis of having met in the last two Champion's Cup finals, so, how could the starting all-star lineups not include any Stealth or Rock players?

Neil Stevens has covered pro and Canadian lacrosse since 1971. He and the late Tom Borrelli -- a longtime Lacrosse Magazine contributor -- are the only media members recognized by the NLL Hall of Fame.

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