April 23, 2013

NLL Scoring Champ Evans Little Man with Big Heart

by Neil Stevens | LaxMagazine.com

Shawn Evans (left), the newly minted NLL scoring champion, with 2012 champ John Grant Jr. after a Team Canada practice during the 2011 world indoor championship in Prague. Evans' Roughnecks face Grant's Mammoth in the NLL playoffs on Saturday.
© Neil Stevens

Shawn Evans is one of the toughest small men in pro sport.

He has just proved that for the 1,000th time. The 5-foot-8 Calgary Roughnecks forward, all 175 pounds of him, darted across the floor in the face of menacing defensemen to fire a ball between the legs of goalie Aaron Bold and give the Roughnecks a 12-11 overtime victory over Edmonton and first place atop NLL West standings on the final night of the regular season.

Evans, apparently, has no fear.

''I don't let my size affect the way I play,'' he said. ''I like to compete. I like to battle.

''If somebody tells me I can't do something, I try to do it. I try to use that as motivation to prove people wrong. I try to act like I'm 6-foot-6 when I'm on the floor. I like winning. It's in my blood.''

The entire Calgary lineup is displaying this attitude as it revs up for its shot at the Champion's Cup, and it could help them go all the way.

''It's a big accomplishment to come first in the division,'' Evans said. ''It was a big game, a hard-fought game, against Edmonton.

''We trailed 6-1 and we battled back. We worked together. We wanted first place so we could come back to Calgary for our home playoff games. It will mean a lot to our fans to be able to watch us play at home.''

Evans amassed 10 points in the overtime win to finish the season with 32 goals and a league-best 80 assists for 112 points and the regular-season points title. His presence on scoring sheets could also win him the league MVP award.

''It's a great honor,'' he said during an interview when asked about being the NLL's top point-getter. ''I give a lot of the credit to our offense.

''I got 80 assists trying to create scoring opportunities for teammates and they've been finding the back of the net. It's been an exciting season and I just want to carry this on into the playoffs.''

He came up four points shy of the NLL-record of 116 one year ago by John Grant Jr. of the Colorado Mammoth. Calgary is at home against Grant and the Mammoth in a West semifinal this Saturday.

Calgary, 9-7, has won four of its last six games.

''Our goal at the start of the year was not to try to be perfect at the start but to finish strong and be at our best during the playoffs,'' Evans said. ''We were 10-6 last year and lost [to Edmonton] in the first round so our goal this year was to finish the regular season strong and take that into the playoffs and keep building. I think we've done that. We're playing an overall strong team game.''

The Roughnecks might have to contend with the possible absence this weekend of both 40-goal shooter Dane Dobbie (knee), who couldn't play last weekend, and transition threat Scott Ranger (chest), who was injured in overtime.

''If Dobbie can't play, it's obviously a big loss,'' Evans said. ''He's a gamer.

''We've just got to work harder. We've got to move the ball and, hopefully, good things will happen. We've still got a lot of offense.''

The Mammoth also appear to be peaking at the right time.

''It looks as if they've found their groove,'' Evans said. ''It's going to be a good game. We'll watch video and study what they tend to do and, hopefully, watching that we'll find some weaknesses and try to attack them.''

The only other player besides Grant to win the scoring title with more points than Evans since the schedule was lengthened to 16 games from 14 in 2002 was Paul Gait, who amassed 114 points in 2002.

"I'm just happy and excited to have been able to contribute to the team effort,'' Evans said. "By good things happening for me, that means good things are happening for the team. I owe a lot to my teammates. If you play a good team game, good things will happen.''

Evans versus Grant in the Saddledome: it should be quite a show starring two guys with an intense will to win straight out of the hotbed of lacrosse that is Peterborough, Ontario. They were 2007 teammates on the Rochester team that won the Champion's Cup and now they'll be playoff opponents before reuniting as summer teammates with the Peterborough Lakers, who they helped win yet another Canadian title last year.

It's in the blood. Their fathers won Canadian boxla championships and Paul Evans, who is 58 now, played pro hockey as well. He had two cups of coffee with the Toronto Maple Leafs. His sons inherited his competitive drive. Shawn was 12 when he was riding his bike to the arena to watch guys like Grant and Tracey Kelusky play for the Lakers.

''I grew up watching those guys,'' Evans said. ''I was a kid with a lacrosse stick running around in the stands.''

Heart will take an athlete a long way.

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