March 20, 2013

Big Weekend for Former Stony Brook Teammates

by Neil Stevens |

SBU alum Jordan McBride scored four goals for Colorado in a win over Buffalo.
© Jack Dempsey/Colorado Mammoth

Kyle Belton and Jordan McBride, who were Stony Brook University teammates, had the best day of their pro box lacrosse careers last Saturday.

Belton scored his first three NLL goals as the Toronto Rock beat the Philadelphia Wings 13-8 on his 26th birthday, while McBride scored four goals in helping the Colorado Mammoth beat the Buffalo Bandits 16-13.

Both are from British Columbia and both were attackers at Stony Brook, which is on Long Island. Belton was Toronto's fourth pick and 27th overall selection in the 2012 entry draft after McBride was the 13th player selected in the 2011 draft.

Belton took a while to turn on a red light in this his rookie season for an obvious reason: the Rock has him in a mainly checking role.

''He's been finding his way,'' said GM Terry Sanderson. ''He wants to be sure of his defensive responsibilities first.''

His first NLL goal was a beauty. He ran the length of the floor and he switched his stick from his right side to his left wide just before reaching the crease. His shot eluded goaltender Brandon Miller 55 seconds into the game.

''It felt great,'' Belton said. ''It felt like it was like a long time coming but it felt good to finally break the ice.''

He scored his second goal 1:29 into the fourth quarter on another fast break to give the Rock an 11-6 lead. His shot struck Miller's legs and trickled over the goal line. His third was the easy one as he shot the ball into an empty net at 11:01 to make it 12-6. To get the three on his birthday was icing on the cake.

''I tried to make the best of my opportunities and it worked out on my birthday, of all days,'' he said. ''The first one definitely helped with my confidence. But, more or less, I was just taking advantage of opportunities that happened in the game.''

Learning a new role has been a challenge that he has embraced.

''I'm not going to say it's been easy but with this coaching staff and these teammates, especially the guys on the D end who understand I was kind of on the fast-track system to learn this system, have helped me adapt my game to the defensive end. It's actually gone pretty smoothly. I'm trying to be a sponge and soak up everything I can because there's still so much I have to learn.''

Kevin Crowley of the Wings, also starred in the Stony Brook offense with Belton and McBride, scored four goals against the Rock but we're not putting him in the ''big weekend'' category because his team lost.

''It was nice to see him in Philadelphia,'' said Belton, who roomed with Crowley at Stony Brook. ''I've played lacrosse with Kevin and Jordan since I was 15. I've seen them develop into unreal players over the years.''

It was a lot tougher defending against Crowley last Saturday than the days at Stony Brook when they worked together on the offense.

''You've just got to stick to your guns and play hard and hope for the best,'' said Belton. ''He's going to score his goals. You've just got to try and limit the number he scores.''

He was quick to contact McBride after his four-goal effort.

''I sent him a text message congratulating him on his big game,'' Belton said.

Mammoth coach Bob Hamley has been impressed.

''Jordan is really coming into his own,'' said Hamley. ''He's got great hands and he's constantly learning from some of the best, like (John) Junior (Grant). We've found over time that if he gets on top of a goalie he's money. We're pretty excited about his efforts and his maturity.''

Belton, McBride and Crowley will again play summer ball on the West Coast and operate the Sea To Sky Lacrosse Camp in New Westminster, B.C. They named it after the Sea To Sky Highway that links Vancouver to Whistler.

Crowd counts

Biggest crowd last weekend was in Denver where 15,511 took in the Mammoth game in the Pepsi Center.

''The energy in the building, it was awesome,'' said Casey Powell, who scored a goal in his first game with the Mammoth after being acquired in a trading deadline deal with Rochester. ''I remember being depleted by this same energy for many, many battles but it's great to be here. I'm excited we got the win and hopefully we can ride this momentum.''

Elsewhere: 7,830 in St. Paul to see the Minnesota Swarm down the Washington Stealth 12-5 at the Xcel Energy Center; 7,593 in Philadelphia for the Rock win at the Wells Fargo Center; and 7,009 in Rochester, N.Y., where the Edmonton Rush edged the Knighthawks 11-9 at Blue Cross Arena.

Richards has best save percentage

Tyler Richards of the Washington Stealth has the best save percentage among first-string NLL goalies.

The percentages (minimum 120 minutes played): 1. Tyler Richards, Washington, .806; 2. Matt Vinc, Rochester, .804; 3. Nick Rose, Toronto, .802; 4. Brandon Miller, Philadelphia, .774; 5. Tyler Carlson, Minnesota, .772; 6. Anthony Cosmo, Buffalo, .756; 7. Tye Belanger, Colorado, .755; 8. Dan Lewis, Colorado, .746; 9. Aaron Bold, Edmonton, .743; 10. Mike Poulin, Calgary, .737; 11. Evan Kirk, Minnesota, .734; 12. Matt Roik, Colorado/Washington, .720.

Injury bug biting Wings

Jeff Reynolds is the latest concussed Philadelphia player.

Reynolds was elbowed in the head by Toronto's Damon Edwards while taking a faceoff with two minutes left. Edwards got the boot and Reynolds trudged off to the dressing room. Captain Brodie Merrill missed a second straight game and defenseman Brett Manney was out a third, both with concussions, and now Reynolds.

The good news on the injury front is that veteran forward Brandan Mundorf is ready to suit up for his first game of the year after rehab from offseason surgery.

Max Seibald is yet to play this year and Rob Campbell got into only one game before joining the ranks of the walking wounded.

Will Champs make it?

The Rochester Knighthawks, last in the East at 4-6, are going to have to switch into a higher gear to qualify for the playoffs. The 2012 champions have this weekend off and a difficult row to hoe lies ahead. Their last four regular-season games are on the road against teams with superior records.

The 'Hawks play at home March 30 against league-leading Toronto and on April 6 against Philadelphia. They then go to Toronto for a game on the 7th, play on the 13th at Calgary, on the 14th at Edmonton and on the 20th at Buffalo.

That's a demanding schedule — two games are against the league leader and two in two days in Alberta. The 'Necks came on strong last spring and maybe they'll do the same again. At least that's the hope of head coach Mike Hasen.

Happy for Hopcroft

It was great to see Derek Hopcroft return to the NLL with such a splash last weekend. The 27-year-old native of Toronto via Bellarmine University scored three goals in his debut with the Buffalo Bandits, who got him from Colorado last December for a sixth-round 2014 entry draft pick. That was a steal. Hopcroft scored 15 goals in 11 games for the Mammoth last year.

''It felt great to finally get into the lineup,'' said Hopcroft, who was activated off Buffalo's practise roster. ''I want to continue to be part of this offense.''

Longer Schedule Could Help Fans

Let's hope in announcing an extension of the regular-season schedule to 18 from 16 games next year that the league can try and let fans see more of teams they rarely get a chance to watch play. For instance, Colorado's recent game in Toronto was the first Air Canada Centre appearance by the Mammoth in six years. John Grant Jr. is from Peterborough, which is a 90-minute drive from Rock home games, and southern Ontario fans would love to see him again before he retires.

No Expansion in 2014

While the schedule is expanding, the league will not be growing in 2014. No expansion applications are on file and they'd have to be received by now for scheduling reasons. Commissioner George Daniel has said that the league needs to expand to gain the exposure needed to attract more TV deals and sponsors but there seem to be no takers.

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