May 9, 2012

NLL Notebook: Tavares Will Take His Time With Return

by Neil Stevens |

John Tavares will be 44 at the start of next season and is coming off a year in which he amassed 80 points, including 41 goals, in 16 games.

John Tavares would not guarantee his return for a 22nd National Lacrosse League season after his Buffalo Bandits were bumped out of the playoffs by Toronto for the third year in a row.

''We'll see,'' he said between goodbyes with teammates in the visitors' dressing room in Air Canada Center after a heartbreaking 7-6 loss to the Rock last Saturday night.

The NLL's all-time leading scorer will turn 44 on Sept. 4.

Tavares had an outstanding season, which lends credence to suggestions he'll be back for sure. He amassed 80 points, including 41 goals -- second-best in the league -- while appearing in all 16 regular-season games. It was the 17th time he led the Bandits in scoring. He added two goals on Saturday to increase his career total to 77 in 33 playoff games.

He'll take his time before definitely deciding on another season. In the meantime, the memory of the team going without a goal against Nick Rose in the second half in the last loss will linger.

''Our offense went stagnant,'' he said. ''We get a couple of goals in the second half and it's a different game, really.

''Their defense picked it up and their goaltender picked it up as well. We didn't have as many good opportunities as we had in the first half and when we did he definitely stood on his head. For a young guy, he showed a lot of composure. Overall, it was a good lacrosse game. Unfortunately, we couldn't find the back of the net in the second half.''

Tavares played summer ball in Peterborough, Ontario, last year so if he returns to the Lakers it's a good bet Bandits fans will see him for a 22nd NLL campaign.

Beirnes Was Bargain

Kasey Beirnes is a key cog in Toronto's offense. His three consecutive goals tied it 6-6 and set the table for the 7-6 victory over Buffalo.

Beirnes, a 31-year-old Canadian, is in his fifth season with the Rock. He bravely barges into the heart of opposition defenses, taking a beating at the front of the crease in his attempts to score. He potted 28 this year, which is his highest output in eight years.

''It's my role,'' Beirnes replies when asked why he's willing to dare defensemen to punish him. ''I'm an inside guy. We've got a lot of guys who like to shoot the ball from outside. I'm the kind of guy who likes to get in there and grease around for some rebounds. Part of that program is you get hit a lot. I can't not go inside or I'm not productive so that's just the way it is.''

The defending champions got him for practically nothing.

During the 2008 entry draft, Minnesota traded Beirnes to Toronto for the 11th and 53rd picks. The Swarm used the 11th slot to claim Kevin Buchanan and the 53rd slot disappeared on an unknown. Buchanan was subsequently traded to Boston for Mat Giles and a fourth-round pick in the 2010 entry draft that didn't work out. Giles was traded to Buffalo for a fourth-rounder next autumn.

Codd Headed to Final Again?

If Toronto defenseman Bruce Codd makes it to the Champion's Cup game this spring, he'll have appeared in the title tilt with three teams: Arizona Sting (2005), Calgary Roughnecks (2009) and the Rock. The Sting lost in Toronto and the 'Necks won the title on their home floor.

It didn't look as if the Rock were going to survive their first-round playoff confrontation with Buffalo last Saturday when they trailed 4-0 after one quarter.

''We didn't get off to the best of starts but we talked about staying the course,'' Codd said of the halftime dressing room chatter. ''We knew we might have to keep them to a real low second-half number so we amped up our pressure, and sure enough we got the result we were after.''

Buffalo won the season series 2-1 and victimized Toronto's defense for 21 goals during a regular-season win in Toronto.

''It's an old cliché but the playoffs are a new season,'' said Codd. ''You can take all the statistics from the regular season and throw them out the window.''

Slaying the Dragon

Codd's comments rang true after what happened in Calgary.

Edmonton had lost eight consecutive games to their Alberta rival going into the West Division semifinal. So, what happens? The fourth-place Rush go on the road with the statistically weakest offense in the league and bombard the No. 1 overall Roughnecks 19-11.

''It's slaying the dragon,'' said GM-coach Derek Keenan. ''They've had our number for two years. We hadn't beaten them since the playoff game two years ago (11-7). For some reason, I had a good feeling coming in here. I just felt that we had a whole lot better in us.''

Quinlan Wins Twice

It couldn't have got any better for Rush captain Jimmy Quinlan, who was a two-time winner Saturday. He was in Calgary with his teammates when he got a call informing him that his wife, Shelby, had gone into labor. Her due date was May 4. He drove to Edmonton to be on hand for the birth of their first child.

''My wife and I had decided I wouldn't miss that moment for anything and, fortunately, the baby girl, Gracie, co-operated with us,'' Quinlan told the Edmonton Journal.

He drove back to Calgary just in time to pull on his pads.

''(Shelby) told me to get in the car and go take care of business and, fortunately for us, we did.''

Quinlan scored a goal in his team's upset victory and the ball was retrieved for him.

''It'll be a good present for the baby,'' he said.

Arlotta, Sullivan Reap Rewards

Congrats on winning NLL awards to John Arlotta, general manager of the year, and Joe Sullivan, coach of the year. No further proof is needed that the Minnesota Swarm have had a shockingly successful season to date.

Knocking off higher seed Colorado 14-10 has the Swarm at home for the division final, which is hard to believe considering the drastic roster revisions before the first shot was taken in January.

There have been 16 new faces in the lineup. A league-high 12 rookies saw floor time during the season. The top five draft picks -- Jordan MacIntosh, Evan Kirk, Corbyn Tao, Jay Card and David Earl -- all played key roles. Trading for defenseman Jeff Gilbert helped solidify a rebuilt defense. A risky move that paid big dividends was daring to go with rookie goalies Kirk and Tyler Carlson, who was a free-agent pickup after every other team ignored him. The decision to dump head coach Mike Lines after a 3-3 start raised eyebrows, but Sullivan did an admirable job pulling the reins the rest of the way and the Swarm finished at 9-7.

This could have been a team in turmoil. It wound up being a bunch of guys on a mission. The work ethic infused by Arlotta and Sullivan, and personified by the play of captain Andrew Suitor, has made the Swarm an unstoppable force in their last five games.

It's fitting that Arlotta and Sullivan get league-wide recognition for pulling all these loose ends together. After losses in the five previous post-season appearances in franchise history, the mood in Minny is uplifting.

''We're ecstatic about getting the monkey off our backs,'' Sullivan said of the win in Denver. ''[The players] played with a lot of resiliency and a lot of focus and we got the win so we couldn't be happier.''

Mammoth Shocked

Colorado's elimination was a huge disappointment to a squad that went 11-5 during the regular season and had high hopes of winning its first home playoff game in four years.

''We made a lot of strides this year,'' said head coach Bob Hamley. ''Nobody gave us a chance at the beginning of the year but it doesn't make us feel any better.''

League MVP John Grant Jr. did his part by scoring five goals but it wasn't enough.

''We played well in flashes, other times undisciplined,'' he said. ''This is going to sting for a while, but it's lacrosse. You've got to try and get past it.

''I thought we had a chance late in the game and then just a couple of bounces here and there and some calls and all of a sudden it's a one-goal game to a five-goal game.''

Jones Overcame Adversity

Colorado Mammoth forward Adam Jones winning the NLL award for rookie of the year one year after tearing a knee ligament at a Canisius College practice was quite an accomplishment. Jones might have been the No. 1 entry draft pick last September had there been no knee issue, but Mammoth GM Steve Govett was delighted to get him at No. 3. Jones meshed wonderfully with John Grant Jr. as the two lefties gave goalies fits all season.

''Adam and John had such great chemistry since the first day of training camp,'' says Govett. ''They were a dynamic duo.''

Getting knocked off in the first round of the playoffs was a bummer, but it doesn't diminish the individual accomplishments of Jones and of Grant. Jones is from Owen Sound, Ontario, and this is the seventh year in a row that a Canadian is rookie of the year. Last American was Maryland-born Ryan Boyle in 2005.

MVP Rarely Makes Final

Only once in the last 15 years -- John Grant Jr. in 2007 with the Rochester Knighthawks -- has the league's MVP been able to celebrate a championship in the same season he reaped the highest individual NLL honor.

Powless Known For Sportsmanship

Johnny Powless, who wears 93 on his sweater because that was his birth year, is the 2012 winner of the NLL's Sportsmanship Award. The 19-year-old Rochester Knighthawks forward amassed 50 points in appearing in all 16 games in his rookie season, and he was assessed only 10 minutes in penalties. The resident of the Six Nations community in southern Ontario won a similar award last summer in junior play.

Edwards Suspended

Toronto defenseman Damon Edwards has been suspended for one game by the league for his hit that drove Buffalo defenseman Ian Llord into the corner boards late in the first quarter last Saturday night. Llord's right shoulder was separated and he as done for the night. No penalty was assessed. The Bandits were irate and complained about the non-call after losing 7-6.

The Professional Lacrosse Players' Association appealed the suspension and a hearing was to be held late Thursday or early Friday, leaving the availability of Edwards for the division final in doubt for now. If he is not allowed to play, veteran D-man Phil Sanderson is ready to go after sitting out last weekend.

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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