January 23, 2013

NLL Notebook: Wings' Crowley Thriving in Bigger Role

by Neil Stevens | LaxMagazine.com

Former Stony Brook star Kevin Crowley scored 36 goals in his NLL rookie season and has the potential to score 50 this year for the Philadelphia Wings.
© Philadelphia Wings/Larry Palumbo

Kevin Crowley is getting it done as the go-to guy on Philadelphia's offense.

Crowley scored three goals in a come-from-behind 8-7 win in Toronto last Saturday after he'd struck for four in the Wings' 13-8 win over Buffalo in their National Lacrosse League home opener the previous weekend.

The 6-foot-6 Canadian is everything Wings management figured he'd be when he was selected first overall in the 2011 entry draft out of Stony Brook. He scored 36 goals in his rookie season and has the moves and the scoring touch to push towards 50 this year as he gels with the team's American forwards. Nifty passes from Paul Rabil and Ned Crotty set up his two huge fourth-quarter goals in Toronto.

Asked what it's like playing for the first time in his life on an indoor team with mostly Americans on the roster, Crowley replied, "I love it."

"I kind of get myself open and they dodge and draw the double [coverage from the defense] and they find me," he said. "I'm fortunate to play with a lot of athletic players who are great feeders as well. It helps me out a lot."

GM-coach Johnny Mouradian knew that trading away former league MVP and right-hand shooter Dan Dawson would put more on Crowley's plate this season but he was confident that the righty No. 10 could handle the bigger role. Crowley has rewarded that confidence.

The 2-0 Wings are first in the East as they prepare to play in Buffalo this Saturday night. If Brandon Miller can maintain the goaltending excellence he displayed in Toronto, this is a team that will be difficult for any opponent to corral.

''We think we're an athletic team,'' Crowley said. ''We think we can run with teams.''

And, quite often, outrun teams.

''It's still early and we're still trying to grow as a team,'' captain Brodie Merrill said after the latest win. ''But it's nice to have some early success, especially with so much turnover from last year. We're still getting to know each other. It's a good sign when you're able to come back, especially against a great team like the Toronto Rock, who I feel like may be the top team in the league.

''We still just want to get better week to week and keep growing but this was another big step forward.''

Huge Goal for Sean Pollock

After the personal angst he's experienced, it's easy to understand why Colorado forward Sean Pollock appreciates every minute he's in a Mammoth uniform. His wife, Jenna, underwent aggressive treatments for breast cancer after she was diagnosed last April.

''It's been a long summer and a long fall but now she's through everything and it's nice to get back into the normal routine of playing lacrosse and being with the guys,'' Pollock said.

Six minutes into overtime in Calgary last Saturday night, Pollock took the shot that capped a mad rally to a 13-12 victory over the Roughnecks. Pollock played down his heroics.

''A number of guys could have scored that goal,'' he said. ''Luckily, I found myself open on the crease and outwaited the goalie and put it in.''

All the players knew how much that goal meant to Pollock and to the team.

''We're happy for him,'' coach Bob Hamley told The Canadian Press. ''He had a tough year last year so it's nice to see him smiling after the game.''

Great Start for Grant

If he keeps this up, John Grant Jr. of the Mammoth will be an MVP candidate again. The 2012 league MVP and scoring champion is off to a terrific start. He has 15 points after his eight-point binge (six goals, two assists) last Saturday. The only player with more points is Washington's Cliff Smith who has 16 but who has played three games to Junior's two.

As usual, Grant talked after the game about his team rather than about himself.

''The most important thing about this game is how much heart we showed,'' he said. ''That's very tough to do, to battle back against an excellent team. Hopefully, we can build on this down the road.''

Shawn Williams Lovin' It Back in Buffalo

Veteran forward Shawn Williams fully expected to return to Edmonton this year and help the Rush complete the task they so nearly completed last spring, when they lost to the Rochester Knighthawks in the Champion's Cup final. He told Rush general manager Derek Keenan as much. But Keenan had other plans and Williams wound up in Buffalo instead.

Williams is happy how it is working out with the Bandits.

''It's a great experience,'' the 16-year NLL veteran said. ''Knowing some of the faces, I'm feeling at home, and the organization is unbelievable. It's been a very warm welcome.''

Williams has a team-best 15 points (4-11) which is no surprise considering he's piled up the points throughout his career. He's sixth on the all-time list with 1,055. He'll pass Gary Gait (third with 1,165) before he hangs up the stick.

''I think there's a lot left in the tank,'' the 38-year-old Canadian said.

Along with Tracey Kelusky, 37, and John Tavares, 44, Williams helps form one of the most experienced attack trios ever put together in pro lacrosse.

''I get to be me,'' Williams said of his role. ''I'm another veteran on the same side as Tavares. I try to do whatever it takes. [The offense as a whole] hasn't fully clicked but it's starting to click. We've got a lot of new faces and we're working on things. You just try to stay consistent and do more right things than wrong things.''

It was Williams who drew the assist on Kelusky's winning goal with 12 seconds left in Buffalo's 14-13 win in Rochester last Saturday. It was kind of a fluke play involving Chad Culp.

''We had a quasi-play designed and it didn't go directly the way we planned,'' Williams said. ''I was trying to hit an open guy and the ball bounced off Culper's stick.''

Kelusky scooped up the loose ball and beat Matt Vinc with an over-the-back beauty.

Williams is a high school phys.-ed. teacher in Oshawa just east of Toronto. In terms of travel, playing for Buffalo is the most convenient NLL situation he's had since, well, since the last time he was a Bandit. That was 13 years go. That was a two-year stint. He was with Rochester for the next 10 years, winning the title in 2007, and on to Edmonton for one. It seems his career has come just about full circle now.

''It was a perfect situation getting to Buffalo again,'' he said.

Matthews Living Up to Pre-Season Hype

Mark Matthews has shown, so far, that he's everything the Edmonton Rush believed him to be when they selected him first overall in the 2012 entry draft.

Following up his three-goal game on opening night, Matthews fired in four in an 18-10 win at Washington last Sunday. He started early: his first goal came 31 seconds after the opening faceoff. He picked up five assists as well. He was named NLL rookie of the week on Wednesday.

''He's such a big, skilled kid,'' GM-coach Derek Keenan told Ben Tole, the Stealth beat writer at the game for NLL.com. ''He loves the game and loves to compete. He makes defenses respect him and consequently other guys are going to get open.''

Crowd Counts

The NLL's largest crowd last weekend was the 11,703 that turned out in Toronto and watched Philadelphia rally to an 8-7 victory over the Rock.

The other numbers: 8,221 in Calgary for Colorado's 13-12 overtime win over the Roughnecks; 7,834 in Rochester for Buffalo's 14-13 upset of the Knighthawks; and 3,766 in Everett, Wash., for Edmonton's 18-10 cruise past the Stealth on a Sunday afternoon when the NFL conference finals drew most of the attention.

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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