January 22, 2013

Time-Tested Roik a Steady Presence for Colorado Mammoth

by Neil Stevens | LaxMagazine.com

Colorado goaltender Matt Roik on Saturday night earned an NLL win for the first time since Feb. 24, 2012, when he was with the Toronto Rock.
© Jack Dempsey/Colorado Mammoth

It was a long time — 330 days to be exact — between National Lacrosse League goaltending wins for Matt Roik.

He took control of the Colorado crease after starter Chris Levis left with a lower body injury early in the second quarter with his team trailing 6-3 in Calgary last Saturday night. The Mammoth rallied to score the last four goals of the fourth quarter and to win 13-12 on a Sean Pollock overtime goal, allowing Roik to experience the sweet taste of victory for the first time since Feb. 24, 2012, when he was with the Toronto Rock.

''It's a bit of a monkey off my back, to say the least,'' Roik said. ''I'm grateful and humbled to be back in the league and playing for a great organization.''

Roik faced 35 shots and stopped 29 of them in 48 minutes and 18 seconds of work. He'd relieved Levis in the home opener against Washington the previous weekend with the Stealth up 6-3 and was burdened with the loss in a 17-13 final.

''I felt a bit more comfortable this time,'' Roik said of the game in Calgary. ''That's a tough place to play but I've always enjoyed playing there. I've been fortunate to have had some success there in the past. It's a matter of repetition when it comes to goaltending. You get into a groove. Training camp really helped and I've aimed to get better each week.''

Roik was acquired by Toronto from Washington to be its No. 1 goalie when the 2012 season began, taking over from the all-world star Bob Watson who retired after the Rock won the 2011 title. That Feb. 24 win gave the Rock a 4-3 record. But they lost the next game, and the next one, and then got blown out at home by Buffalo to drop to 4-6. Nick Rose was acquired from Calgary and Toronto released Roik. Rose had never started an NLL game so it was a daring move, and one that left the veteran Roik out in the cold. He was shocked and so was everybody else.

He harbors no grudge towards the Rock and said he'll always be grateful for spending time with a group headed by owner Jamie Dawick, general manager Terry Sanderson and coach Troy Cordingley.

''I still have a lot of respect for that organization,'' Roik said. ''They had to make a decision. I didn't agree with that decision but that's part of the business. They felt they had to go in a different direction and that was out of my control. They treated me with respect. I felt blessed to be part of that organization. ''

He didn't play summer ball for the first time in many years.

''It was time to recharge the batteries,'' he said. ''I'd played from the year 2000 for about 13 years straight where the longest duration of a break I had was two or three weeks. The time off last year really helped. I took my mind off lacrosse to pursue other interests. ''

His mind was back on lacrosse as summer wore on and he talked with Mammoth GM Steve Govett last August about giving it another shot. He worked hard during camp and his name was there when final rosters were announced just before Christmas. Head coach Bob Hamley felt the Levis-Roik tandem could work.

''There was some satisfaction there, for sure, but I felt it was just one small step towards what I had to do for the team and for myself,'' Roik said. ''It was a step in the right direction. But there's still a lot of work to be done. I owe a lot to Mr. Govett and to Mr. Hamley for giving me this chance.''

There are quite a few familiar faces. Roik was on NLL teams with Mammoth players Eric Martin, Chet Koneczny and Richard Morgan, he played summer ball with Ilija Gajic and faced Levis, John Grant Jr. and others in summer ball as well. Grant dazzled with six goals and two assists in Calgary.

''I played with a lot of amazing players,'' Roik said. ''After what I saw last Saturday, I'd say he's probably the most talented player I've seen. He basically carried us in the first half.''

It was a comeback win that should boost the team's confidence.

''The way we won it showed a lot of heart, as Johnny Grant said after the game,'' Roik said. ''We had a lot of adversity to overcome. We lost Mac Allen early in the game but the rest of the guys stepped up. A five-minute major in the fourth quarter went against us but our penalty killers were something else. A lot of guys overcame some nerves. I was impressed with the guys, how they overcame all the adversity.

''You couldn't ask for better teammates. I'm pretty fortunate and pretty excited to be part of it.''

Roik lives in Toronto where he works for the Pepsi soft drink company as a sales rep/merchandising, and now he's playing for the Mammoth in, coincidentally, the Pepsi Center in Denver. Maybe it was meant to be.

He travels to games with others who live in Ontario: assistant coaches Sean Ferris and Eddie Comeau and players Gavin Prout, Mac Allen, Jon Sullivan, Adam Jones, Mat MacLeod and Joey Cupido. They'll be in Denver and up against the Roughnecks again on Friday night.

''I think you're going to see a great contest,'' Roik said. ''Calgary is definitely going to be hungry. They don't want to be 0-3. You'll see the intensity of both teams come up a notch. They're one of the most difficult teams to play against in the league.''

With Levis limping, it could be Roik's first start for the Mammoth. He's up for the challenge, and it's great to see him back between the pipes.

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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