January 2, 2013

Something New, Something Old as NLL Year Begins

Powell back after year off, Tavares returns for 22nd season

by Neil Stevens | LaxMagazine.com

After taking a year off, all-time leading American scorer Casey Powell returns to the NLL with Rochester. The NLL season begins Saturday.
© Larry Palumbo/Knighthawks

The NLL opens its season with a single game — Rochester at Washington on Saturday night — and all eyes will be on Casey Powell.

Indoor lacrosse's all-time leading American scorer returns with the Knighthawks after a year off. He's been a class act on and off the floor throughout his career and his peers applaud his reappearance.

"He's a unique player," veteran Toronto Rock forward Blaine Manning said. "He's such an unbelievable athlete that you can't really guard him one on one. You have to have guys helping out to double team him. He's a real dynamic guy, probably the best American to ever play the box game. He's a threat all the time."

Pat Campbell, one of the many goalies victimized by Powell over the years, has a ton of respect for Powell.

''Casey is a fantastic player and a fantastic person,'' said Campbell, the former Toronto goaltender who is now on the Rock's coaching staff. ''He's a great team guy and great with fans and the kids. Everywhere he goes this season, he's going to be a player people are talking about.''

Facing Powell was never one of Campbell's favorite memories.

''When he changes direction on the floor he pretty much breaks defenders' ankles trying to keep up with him,'' Campbell said. ''He always keeps goalies guessing. It's impossible to put a book together on his shots because he hits every corner. I'm excited for the league, for Casey, but I hope I don't see great things out of him when he sees the Toronto Rock in front of him.''

Tavares readies for 22nd NLL season

It was only a preseason game but John Tavares got so riled up in exchanging slashes and pokes with Brodie Merrill that he was ordered to the penalty box.

Tavares is 44 now but don't for a second imagine that age will turn him into a floater. The Buffalo Bandits star is as intensely competitive as he's ever been as he approaches his 22nd pro indoor campaign.

''I'm looking forward to it,'' he said. ''We've got a lot of new faces and I'm looking forward to playing with all these young players and trying to fit in as we try to get back to the championship caliber team we had in the past.''

Tavares has scored 765 goals in 268 regular-season games in his illustrious indoor career. That is 130 more than the next closest man, retired great Gary Gait, in the record book. He has 1,627 points. Colin Doyle is second on the career list with 449 fewer points. Tavares is so far ahead he might never be caught.

He hasn't lost his scoring touch. Last winter, only league MVP John Grant's 50 goals topped his 41.

This season's roster turnover is unique in Bandits history.

''In the past, we'd always kept the same nucleus and tweaked here and there,'' Tavares said. ''This is probably the biggest turnover I remember — definitely the biggest turnover since Darris Kilgour has been our head coach.''

His run-in with the physically larger Merrill in a no-points game just before Christmas is indicative of how tough the man-on-man battles are going to be in 2013.

''All the games are really close,'' Tavares said. ''There's so many good players available but with only nine teams there's only so many spots so you're bound to have nine good teams.''

He declares himself totally fit as the Bandits prepare to open a new season with a Jan. 11-12 challenge: at Philadelphia on the Friday and back home against Minnesota on the Saturday.

''I'm as healthy as I'm going to be for a 44-year-old,'' Tavares said.

White back in Buffalo on Feb. 2

Chris White shocked Bandits fans when he jumped to the hated Toronto Rock after becoming an unrestricted free agent.

While emotions will run high, the ex-Bandits captain is already trying to play down his first appearance at First Niagara Center in a Toronto uniform. He talked to LaxMagazine.com about his return to Buffalo on Feb. 2.

''It's going to be fun,'' he said. ''I spent a few years there but once the game starts it'll be just another game. Our focus is on winning games and that'll be the focus that night.''

We have a sneaking suspicion that Bandits fans won't treat it as just another game.

White had good reason to make a switch. He lives in Peterborough, Ontario, more than an hour's drive northeast of Toronto, so after seven years of commuting for Buffalo games and practices he finds the travel load a lot more acceptable now.

''Toronto has a storied franchise and it's closer to home,'' he said. ''It's a great place to play. The team has great ownership and management and a great bunch of guys in the dressing room.''

Buffalo and Toronto play similar styles of defense so he'll adapt easily.

''We try to pressure a lot. We try to make teams move the ball and think a lot quicker than they're used to. To come in and be a part of it, it's great.''

The former Bandits captain likes the Rock chances of going all the way.

''We have a great shot,'' he said. ''I don't think that goal changes with this team year after year. It's either a championship or a disappointment _ almost a failure _ of a year so we're looking to build all year long and get back to the championship game and win it.''

High-sticking crackdown a wise move

Stiffer penalties including game misconducts for the most serious of high-sticking offenses are a necessary move by the NLL given the rash of concussions in recent seasons. Defensemen will have to guard against striking opponents above the shoulders or they'll pay a steep price.

''We've been trying to be more careful for the last couple of years about the high sticks,'' veteran Toronto Rock defender Cam Woods said. ''I don't know if anybody knows better than our team the results of the high sticks and what they can do to players.''

Rock forward Dan Carey announced his retirement a few days before Christmas when doctors told him they wouldn't clear him for game action. He missed the last month of the 2012 season and the playoffs with a concussion, and he'd missed an entire season when he was with the Colorado Mammoth.

Woods is not known as one of the league's high-sticking culprits.

''I've never been one of those kinds of players who goes for the head,'' he said. ''I try to play tough and hard but I've never targeted anybody's head. I agree with the new penalties. Deliberate hits to the head should be addressed. They don't belong in the game.''

That said, he won't be blowing kisses to onrushing forwards, he adds.

''Absolutely not. If (the stick comes up) unintentionally, if I do the crime, I'll do the time. But it's not going to change how I play. I'm still going to play tough and hard. Like I said, I've never targeted anybody's head, but I will probably be a little more aware of where I'm swinging my stick and where I'm cross-checking.''

No. 2 overall pick Brock Sorensen is rehabbing from a knee injury but could be ready to go for Minnesota's opener.
© Swarm

All first-rounders made the cut

All 10 players selected in the first round of the entry draft last September are on team rosters heading into the new season.

Edmonton is rebuilding its offense around No. 1 pick Mark Matthews (Denver University).

Big defenseman Brock Sorensen (Ohio State) continues rehab from a knee injury suffered last spring but the No. 2 pick could be activated by Minnesota for its opener.

Forwards Kiel Matisz (Robert Morris University) and Shayne Jackson (Limestone College), the No. 3 and 4 picks, add fresh legs to the swarm offense.

Buffalo got a gem in Dhane Smith at No. 5. He was impressive during an exhibition win over Philadelphia just before Christmas and gives the Bandits a right-handed scoring threat to complement Luke Wiles on that side of the floor. Smith led the Ontario Jr. A league in scoring with Kitchener last summer and moves straight to the pro indoor ranks.

No. 6 pick Joe Resetarits (University of Albany) gives Calgary more depth up front. He's the only American among the first-rounders who've made the cut. No. 7 pick Matthew Dinsdale, the B.C. junior league scoring champ out of Coquitlam, also made the 23-man Roughnecks roster.

Curtis Knight is reunited with Matthews with the Rush. The No. 8 pick was Canadian junior player of the year for 2012 and he and Matthews won the Canadian junior title together playing for the Whitby Warriors in Ontario. Minnesota's Jackson was also on that team.

Colton Clark (Bellarmine University) adds depth on Colorado's right side and shutdown defender Alex Crepinsek (Rochester Institute of Technology) joins the Swarm.

Toth scored sensational winner

Besides Dan Carey, who helped Colorado win the Champion's Cup in his 2006 rookie season, here are some of the other players who have retired: Pat McCready (Rochester), Mike Thompson and Darryl Gibson (Buffalo), Tom Hajek (Philadelphia), Jason Bloom and Cam Sedgwick (Washington), Bruce Codd (Toronto), Steve Toll (Edmonton) and Kaleb Toth (Calgary).

Toth's goal with one second remaining gave Toronto a 14-13 victory over Rochester in the 2000 championship game. He passed the ball to Colin Doyle. Doyle took a look at the net, opted not to shoot and passed the ball back to Toth, who planted the ball in an extreme top corner of the net. The capacity crowd went nuts. It was the last championship in any sport won in Maple Leaf Gardens, which has been turned into a supermarket with a small arena on the upper level. The NHL Leafs had previously moved to a new home, Air Canada Centre, where the Rock play today.

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. Follow Neil's NLL coverage all season long at LaxMagazine.com/NLL.

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