May 1, 2012

NLL Notebook: Grant Jr. Overwhelming MVP Favorite

by Neil Stevens |

"John has had a truly remarkable season," Mammoth GM Steve Govett said of John Grant Jr.
© Colorado Mammoth 

The National Lacrosse League might as well start etching John Grant Jr.'s name on its MVP award.

The Colorado Mammoth star certainly deserves the recognition after breaking the single-season points record. Grant's 116th point came on a perfectly placed overhand shot over goaltender Tyler Carlson's right shoulder with 4:22 remaining in a 16-13 road loss to Minnesota last Saturday night. The previous record of 115 was set by Buffalo's John Tavares in 2001.

The Swarm organization and players showed a lot of class in the way Grant was congratulated after the game. He didn't like being on the losing end but he appreciated the display of sportsmanship.

''It's cool to be recognized but I'm more focused on the playoffs at this point,'' Grant said afterwards.

Mammoth GM Steve Govett gambled in 2010 when he traded the rights to Matt Vinc, who was coming off a goalie-of-the-year season, to get Grant from Rochester, hoping that Grant had enough left to lift his team back into championship contention. That gamble has paid off handsomely. Thanks in large part to the scoring exploits of the 37-year-old Canadian, the Mammoth are once again an elite team.

''John has had a truly remarkable season and I couldn't be more proud of him,'' says Govett. ''Junior is at the top of his game right now. Obviously, it's a nice record for him to have, but the Champion's Cup is what he cares about most.''

Billings Close Behind

Toronto forward Garrett Billings finished just two points back of Grant after scoring five goals and assisting on three in a 12-11 win in Edmonton.

He established a single-season league assists record with 82, surpassing the 74 by Dan Dawson and Josh Sanderson in 2009, and his 114 points broke Colin Doyle's club record of 111 in 2005.

Jones, Tops in Rookie Points

Colorado's Adam Jones led all rookies with (29-47) 76 points, while Philadelphia's Kevin Crowley produced the most goals among first-year pros in finishing with (36-35) 71 points.

Does that mean one of the two will win the award for rookie of the year?

Not necessarily.

Minnesota transition player Jordan MacIntosh has been impressive. Despite defensive obligations, MacIntosh has fired in 23 goals. His speed and finishing touch on fast breaks gives the Swarm offense a valuable element. He has been consistently good all season and also is one of the league's best at faceoffs.

Other rookie forwards who merit consideration are Rochester's Stephen Keogh and Colorado's Jamie Lincoln. While Crowley's scoring waned, these two came on strong in the closing weeks when a lot was at stake. Keogh scored 26 goals and Lincoln got 27.

Colorado defenseman Dan Coates didn't grab headlines by piling up points but his effective checking did not go unnoticed.

Minnesota goalie Evan Kirk was the only goalie in the league to finish the regular season with a save percentage over .800 _ he figured in at .807 _ but the rookie netminder was on the floor for less than one-half his team's games.

Kirk Has Been Awesome

It is Kirk's turn to start in goal for Minnesota and, unless the Swarm suddenly abandon their routine of rotating Kirk and Tyler Carlson, he'll face the Colorado Mammoth in Denver on Saturday with the best save percentage among the eight goalies expected to start the playoffs.

How they stack up: 1. Kirk .807; 2. Mike Poulin, Calgary, .789; 3. Aaron Bold, Edmonton, .775; 4. Anthony Cosmo, Buffalo, 759; 5. Chris Levis, Colorado, .758; 6. Matt Vinc, Rochester, .753; 7. Nick Rose, Toronto, .751; 8. Brandon Miller, Philadelphia, .742.

Snider Breaks Brother's Record

Washington Stealth faceoff specialist Bobby Snider won a record 319 draws, breaking the previous single-season mark by one. Big brother Geoff Snider (2008) and former NLL player Peter Jacobs (2005) each won 318 faceoffs with Philadelphia.

Jeff Reynolds of the Wings was third this season with 276 wins and Minnesota rookie Jordan MacIntosh was fourth with 151 wins.

Buffalo, Colorado Win at Gate

The Buffalo Bandits and the Colorado Mammoth are the 2012 NLL Box Office Champions.

Average attendance: 1. Buffalo 15,906; 2. Colorado 15,239; 3. Toronto 11,273; 4. Minnesota 8,596; 5. Calgary 8,313; 6. Philadelphia 8,212; 7. Edmonton 7,039; 8. Rochester 6,832; 9. Washington 3,860.

Buffalo had the biggest crowd when 18,690 showed up April 21 to witness a 14-9 win over Rochester.

Champs Rely on Rose

Nick Rose went 5-1 after being acquired from the Calgary Roughnecks in March and is a big reason why the Rock landed in first place.
© Ward Laforme/Toronto Rock

The defending-champion Toronto Rock will be relying when they face the Buffalo Bandits in an East Division semifinal Saturday night on a goalie without a minute of NLL playoff playing time to his credit. Nick Rose was previously in the playoffs with the Boston Blazers but didn't get off the end of the bench.

Rose went 5-1 after being acquired from the Calgary Roughnecks in March and is a big reason why the Rock landed in first place. Toronto lost two previous games against Buffalo this season when Matt Roik was their goalie but won 15-9 with Rose in the nets March 31.

''We got up early and weren't able to pull away,'' Rose recalls. ''They're a hard team to put away. You can't give them any breath or they'll take advantage.''

John Tavares scored four goals against him that night and he'll be the Bandits' main weapon on Saturday.

''He's a lot like John Grant Jr. in that you know he's going to get his goals,'' says Rose. ''You've got to try and limit what he can do against you.

''He certainly knows how to shoot a lacrosse ball, that's for sure. He can put the ball pretty well anywhere he wants no matter how he shoots it _ sidearm, overhand, whatever. You get out on him and read him as best you can.''

Rock confidence is high after five wins in the last six games.

''We've got a group that won the championship last year and knows how to win,'' says Rose. ''Hopefully, we can pull out a win this weekend for our fans.''

Cupido Gets to Play

Joey Cupido appeared in his first NLL game Saturday and it was an awesome experience for the 21-year-old forward.

''I didn't really feel nervous,'' he said after his pro debut with the Colorado Mammoth. ''I felt excited more than anything, just happy to get into the lineup and finally get a chance to prepare like anyone else. I got game film and watched a lot on Minnesota and a bit on us.''

Cupido, who was drafted 38th overall in the fifth round of the 2011 entry draft, had been on the practise squad soaking up everything around him.

''That definitely helped me, learning from some of the vets and picking up things they do on the floor and translating them over to my game,'' he said.

The pace of play early in the 16-13 loss in Minnesota was a challenge for the 5-10, 175-pound Canadian.

''It's a lot faster than the junior league I played in,'' he said. ''It's the best of the best. After a little bit of an adjustment in the first quarter, I think I settled down and fit right in by the end.''

He's impressed with Colorado's level of talent.

''We've got a good group of core guys and a lot of young players who have stepped up their game. I think we're going to make a great run in the playoffs and I'm just happy to be a part of it.''

A few weeks after being drafted, Cupido helped McMaster University of his home city of Hamilton, Ontario, win the Canadian universities football championship. He's a cornerback. But he's a lacrosse player now, and he's thrilled to be in the same uniform as John Grant Jr.

''He was literally my idol growing up, my favorite player. Now I'm his teammate. That's pretty cool.''

Sedgwick Bids Farewell

The Washington Stealth paid tribute to forward Cam Sedgwick as he ended his pro career last Saturday.

Sedgwick, 34, broke into the NLL in 2003 his home city of Vancouver when the league had a team in British Columbia's largest city and he joined the Stealth in 2005 when the club was in its second year in San Jose, Calif. He had (8-15) 23 points in 12 games this year. His career totals: 145 games played, 147 goals, 282 assists, 429 points. In 13 playoff games, he had (11-26) 37 points.

Mammoth Raise Funds for Pollocks

The Colorado Mammoth will hold a silent auction to conclude at halftime of their West Division semifinal Saturday to raise money for Jenna Pollock, the wife of forward Sean Pollock, who was diagnosed with breast cancer last Thursday.

Every Colorado player is donating to the auction, including John Grant Jr. who has served up his game-worn 2012 all-star game jersey.

''My thoughts and prayers are with Sean, Jenna and the Pollock family during this trying time,'' said president-GM Steve Govett. ''Our team considers itself to be a family and our whole family is hurting right now. Everyone within the organization is determined to do everything in our power to support Sean and Jenna.''

Surprise, Surprise

Some oddities and things that surprised us during the regular season:

10. An empty-net goal by Edmonton defenseman Kyle Rubisch results from a shot from deep in his own end and accounts for the only scoring in the first quarter of a Rush-Roughnecks game on April 21.

9. Garrett Billings scores or assists on all 15 Rock goals (4-11) during a March 31 win in Buffalo.

8. Minnesota releases veteran goalie Nick Patterson after one game and boldly goes the rest of the season with rookies Evan Kirk and Tyler Carlson in the crease.

7. Calgary has only the fifth-best average attendance (8,313) despite having a fast and entertaining team that finishes first overall at 12-4.

6. Philadelphia ends the regular season in a five-game nosedive that blows chance of first home playoff date since 2002.

5. Buffalo goes on a six-game losing streak that nearly costs it a playoff berth.

4. Nick Rose is traded off the end of the Roughnecks bench and his goaltending helps rescue Toronto's season with five wins in the last six games.

3. John Tavares scores 41 goals -- second most in the league and his highest number since 2009 --at the age of 43.

2. Minnesota relies heavily on rookies -- there were 11 in the lineup last Saturday -- yet manages its first winning record (9-7) since 2008.

1. Washington Stealth, the 2010 champions and 2011 finalists, suffer the dubious fate of being the one team among the league's nine that misses the playoffs.

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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