April 11, 2013

NLL Notebook: Rock Want to Stay Home for NLL Playoffs

by Neil Stevens | LaxMagazine.com

Toronto can clinch the No. 1 overall seed for the playoffs with a win on Saturday in Philadelphia.
© Ward Laforme

Go back three years and you might understand why Toronto is so driven to finish first overall.

Rock veterans will never forget advancing to the 2010 championship game and flying to the West Coast to play the Washington Stealth, who pulled away to a 15-11 win thanks to a 7-1 fourth quarter as Rock players' legs turned to jelly.

''It's real tough doing time changes,'' said defenseman Sandy Chapman. ''If you can avoid it, that's the way to go.''

Toronto, 10-5, plays the last game of its 16-game schedule in Philadelphia on Saturday afternoon and a win would clinch first place overall.

''These last few games, we've prepared for them as if they are playoff games,'' said defenseman Cam Woods. ''We've got one more to go and then we start playing for keeps. We feel good right now.''

Hall Gets 80th Coaching Win

Washington Stealth coach Chris Hall has become only the fourth coach in pro indoor history to reach the 80-win plateau.

Buffalo's Darris Kilgour is first with 120 wins followed by the late Les Bartley with 93. Paul Day, the current Rochester assistant, is third with 82 as a head coach, and Hall got his 80th last weekend. Fifth is Colorado's Bob Hamley with 74 wins.

Billings or Evans?

The scoring race is headed for a photo finish.

Toronto's Garrett Billings has 98 points with one game left, in Philadelphia on Saturday afternoon, and Calgary's Shawn Evans has 92 points with two games left, at home Saturday against Rochester and in Edmonton the following weekend.

Crowd Counts

Largest crowd last weekend was in Toronto where 13,073 watched the Rock beat Rochester 10-9 at Air Canada Centre. Elsewhere: 10,167 in the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul for Minnesota's 21-7 route of Buffalo; 10,008 in Calgary where Washington edged the Roughnecks 12-11 in the Scotiabank Saddledome; 7,467 in Rochester for the Knighthawks 14-7 win over Philadelphia at Blue Cross Arena; 7,172 in Edmonton where Colorado upset the Rush 9-7 at Rexall Place; and 6,861 in Philadelphia for the Wings' 15-13 win over Minnesota at Wells Fargo Center.

Big Saves

Tye Belanger of the Mammoth and Tyler Richards of the Stealth each made 48 saves in their teams' wins last weekend.

Richards has been so good this year that he'll be mentioned when talk rolls around to selecting a league MVP. Belanger hasn't played enough games to be in that category but he's certainly helped turned the season around positively in Denver.

Belanger played summer ball in 2012 in Ajax in Ontario's Major Series Lacrosse, rotating in the nets with Minnesota Swarm goalie Tyler Carlson. That experience, facing 50 or more shots a game, was vital in Belanger's development, said assistant Mammoth coach Sean Ferris.

Last Gasp for Bandits

Given that they've lost six straight, it is difficult to believe that the Buffalo Bandits are still — mathematically at least — in contention for an NLL East playoff berth.

If Rochester loses both its games in Alberta this weekend, the Bandits could lose to the Stealth in Washington on Saturday night and still make it in by winning their last game, which is at home against Rochester on closing day April 20.

Swarm All Smiles

If Buffalo fails to make it, the Minnesota Swarm will benefit greatly because they own the Bandits' first-round entry draft pick for trading them goalie Anthony Cosmo. Minnesota will have four first-rounders again come September including, in all probability, the No. 1 selection.

Top prospects include Robert Church (Drexel), Cam Flint (Denver) and Dillon Ward (Bellarmine).

Discipline Factor

Toronto beats Rochester by one goal after scoring three power-play goals to none for the Knighthawks.

Washington wins in Calgary by one after scoring five power-play goals while the Roughnecks only get two.

Yes, discipline is a key to success this time of year.

When Garrett Billings put Toronto up 3-0, Scott Campbell was sitting in the penalty box for an illegal cross check. When Stephan Leblanc scored a key fourth-quarter goal, Stephen Keogh was off for holding.

In Calgary, in Washington's decisive 6-2 third quarter, Lewis Ratcliff started a five-goal run by scoring while Geoff Snider served a slashing penalty and Rhys Duch capped the run with a power-play goal after Shawn Evans was sent to the penalty box for head butting.

''If you play with fire, you are going to get burned,'' said Calgary coach Curt Malawsky. ''The guys who took those penalties feel real bad — as they should.''

Congrats to Pat Merrill

The Les Bartley Award for inspirational leadership is one of the team awards most coveted by Toronto Rock players, and defenseman Pat Merrill is the 2013 recipient. Bartley died the day after Toronto's 2005 Champion's Cup triumph.

''It's a special award for me because Les brought me into this league by drafting me,'' Merrill said after the big win over Rochester last Sunday afternoon. ''He was a great leader, a great coach and an even better person. I still miss him. It's a huge honor to win the award and to be a leader in this locker room.''

Coach Didn't Know

Stealth defenseman Curtis Hodgson has missed only one game in nine NLL seasons and coach Chris Hall admits that he was unaware Hodgson had an Ironman streak going when he made him a healthy scratch during the 2010 season. The two have a good laugh when this is recalled.

''I'm OK with it,'' said Hodgson.

Looking Back

APRIL 11, 1992: The expansion Buffalo Bandits defeat the Wings 11-10 in overtime to win the championship of the Major Indoor Lacrosse League in front of 13,572 fans in Philadelphia. John Tavares was named MVP after scoring four goals.

APRIL 12, 1997: The Rochester Knighthawks defeated the Bandits 15-12 in front of 18,055 in Buffalo in the final MLL title game before the name change to National Lacrosse League. Steve Dietrich made 54 saves to get the MVP nod.

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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