April 24, 2013

Despite Playoff Miss, Bandits Coach Kilgour Safe

by Neil Stevens | LaxMagazine.com

No other NLL team was hit as bad as the Bandits by injuries — goalie Anthony Cosmo among them — but don't expect coach Darris Kilgour to be a fall guy for a rare Buffalo playoff miss.
© Bill Wippert

Buffalo didn't make it into the playoffs for the first time in 11 years and that is a big loss for the NLL. Buffalo draws large crowds so it is a letdown, especially for the league-record 19,300 spectators in First Niagara Center last Saturday night, to comprehend there'll be no post-season drama for them in 2013.

The Bandits got off to a 3-1 start but nosedived to a 6-10 finish. A six-game losing streak including a 0-5 March poisoned their season.

''There are no words,'' GM Steve Dietrich responded when asked to sum up the level of his disappointment. ''You go into every season wanting to win the championship and we didn't even get a ticket to the dance.

''It's incredibly disappointing.''

Poor drafting and an aging lineup were factors.

''You try to breathe new life into it,'' Dietrich said in an interview. ''Maybe we made too many moves, I don't know, but I think we're on the right path.''

No other NLL team was hit as bad as the Bandits by injuries. It was probably the most significant factor in a throwaway season. Patching lineup holes diluted chances of ongoing cohesion.

So, will head coach Darris Kilgour be a fall guy? No, said Dietrich. He wants the all-time winningest coach in NLL history to return.

''I had no problem with the work the coaching staff did,'' he said. ''I can't guarantee anything for any of us because I haven't sat down with my bosses yet, but I don't foresee any changes there.''

John Tavares is going to take his time to decide if he is physically capable of playing a 23rd season at age 45. Pro indoor lacrosse's all-time leading scorer wants to continue but he's unsure if the legs can take it.

''I certainly hope he comes back,'' Dietrich said. ''He's done more than enough to write his own ticket if he wants to continue to play or to ride off into the sunset. We hope he comes back. Even if his numbers seem to be declining, the stuff he brings to the team on the floor and in the dressing room can't be measured by points.''

Duch Lights it Up

Rhys Duch was the NLL's most prolific goal scorer this year as he led a pack of 15 players who had 30 or more. The top six and nine of the top 10 are all from the West Division.

The Fabulous 15: 1. Rhys Duch, Washington, 45; 2. John Grant Jr., Colorado, 43; 3. Curtis Dickson, Calgary, 42; 4. Dane Dobbie, Calgary, 40; 5. Mark Matthews, Edmonton, 38; 6. Ryan Benesch, Minnesota, and Kevin Crowley, Philadelphia, 34 each; 8. Adam Jones, Colorado, and Jeff Shattler, Calgary, 33 each; 10. Shawn Evans, Calgary, and Callum Crawford, Minnesota, 32 each; 12. Lewis Ratcliff, Washington, and Kasey Beirnes, Toronto, 31 each; 14. Garrett Billings, Toronto, and Drew Westervelt, Philadelphia, 30 each.

''It's great to be rewarded and recognized for your successes and, obviously, scoring goals is something that I take pride in,'' Duch told Ben Tole, the Stealth beat writer for NLL.com. ''So it's a cool feeling to win that award but I score goals to help my team win.''

Crowd Counts

Average attendance this season: 1. Colorado 15,760; 2. Buffalo 15,620; 3. Toronto 10,729; 4. Calgary 10,215; 5. Minnesota 8,741; 6. Philadelphia 7,647; 7. Rochester 7,353; 8. Edmonton 6,714; 9. Washington 4,184.

Vinc is Busiest and Best

Matt Vinc was the busiest goalie, making a single-season-record 662 saves during 955 minutes of action, and he posted a league-leading .803 save percentage in the process.

The save percentages (minimum 100 minutes): 1. Vinc, Rochester, .803; 2. Tyler Richards, Washington, .795; 3. Brodie MacDonald, Edmonton, .795; 4. Nick Rose, Toronto, .791; 5. Tye Belanger, Colorado, .776; 6. Brandon Miller, Philadelphia, .771; 7. Tyler Carlson, Minnesota, .771; 8. Anthony Cosmo, Buffalo, .751; 9. Aaron Bold, Edmonton, .744; 10. Mike Poulin, Calgary, .742; 11. Dan Lewis, Colorado, .739; 12. Evan Kirk, Minnesota, .735; 13. Kurtis Wagar, Buffalo, and Matt Roik, Colorado-Washington, .713; 15. Angus Dineley, Philadelphia, .647.

Rock Home to Stay

Toronto (10-6) will be at home for as long as it is alive in the playoffs. That's the reward for finishing first overall. It doesn't come with a trophy and Rock GM Terry Sanderson isn't interested in a regular-season pat on the back anyway.

''There's only one trophy we want to win,'' said Sanderson.

That would be the Champion's Cup.

''We've got a pretty good team,'' he replied when asked to pinpoint why the Rock wound up on the top of the heap. ''That is to take nothing away from the rest of the teams. What it shows is that we've been the most consistent. But not by much. There's not a lot of difference between the clubs.''

Minnesota (7-9) is the first-round opponent at 3 p.m. ET Sunday afternoon. These two teams met twice this year. A 3-0 fourth quarter lifted the Rock to a 13-12 home win Jan. 25, and a Tyler Hass OT goal gave the Swarm a 13-12 home win Feb. 8.

''They play a different style compared to us,'' said Sanderson. ''They love to run and transition is a big part of their game. That's not a position we're weak in by any means but, if you're going to ask anybody about the two teams, they'll say the younger legs of Minnesota are going to have an advantage in that aspect of the game.''

Toronto is 5-3 in Air Canada Centre this year. A Wednesday night practise would get the kinks out after a bye through the last weekend of the 16-game schedule.

''We'll go over what we do well,'' Sanderson said. ''We have to worry more about what we do than what they do. We'll fine tune some things.''

Matthews is Top Rookie

Mark Matthews of the Rush was the league's most impressive rookie attacker. He scored 38 goals and had 38 assists to finish with 69 points, which was 15th among all NLL players. His goals total was third-most by a rookie in league history behind only Paul Gait's 47 during a 10-game schedule with the Detroit Turbos in 1991 and Ryan Painter's 45 for the Ottawa Rebels in the first year of 16-game schedules in 2002.

Minnesota players were second and third in rookie points: Shayne Jackson got 63 (24-39) and Kyle Matisz got 62 (29-33).

Rubisch Does it Again

Kyle Rubisch of the Edmonton Rush led the league in forced turnovers for the second year in a row. He was credited with 44 this year, breaking the NLL record he set last year with 43.

''He's an impact player, that's for sure,'' said GM-coach Derek Keenan. ''There's a lot of good defensive players in this league and he's right at the top. He brings a lot of intensity every shift. He sets a real good example for the rest of our group. He's had a big impact for our team, that's for sure.''

Faceoff Fiend

Geoff Snider remains the No. 1 faceoff specialist with a success rate of 75.8 per cent for the Calgary Roughnecks on a win-loss breakdown of 310-99. When he hasn't been available, Nolan Heavenor has filled in capably with a win rate of 56 per cent (46-36).

Tied at 61 per cent are Geoff's brother Bob Snider of the Washington Stealth (262-166), Philadelphia's Jeff Reynolds (126-80) and Buffalo's Jay Thorimbert (261-167).

Jordan MacIntosh of the Minnesota Swarm is winning 55.5 per cent of faceoffs he takes (241-193).

Anybody else is losing more than he's winning.

Toronto finished first overall with Pat Merrill at 45 per cent (73-90) after the assignment was stripped from Stephen Hoar (72-107=40 per cent).

Edmonton's Jeremy Thompson has a success rate of 44 per cent (164-210) and Colorado's main man, Ilija Gajic is winning 38 per cent (104-171).

Rochester's Dylan Evans is at 36.5 per cent (81-141). The Knighthawks tried Scott Self (0-5) and Tyler Burton (0-6) to no avail in Buffalo on Saturday.

Kelusky Done?

It is doubtful that Tracey Kelusky, 37, will return with the Bandits next season. John Tavares will be 45 if he comes back and Shawn Williams is 38.

''We need to get younger,'' said GM Steve Dietrich, adding that he's doubtful he'd have room for all three again next season. ''I haven't even thought about next year to that extent yet but I don't think we'll have the luxury of doing that.''

Kelusky broke two ribs in practice and disappeared from the Bandits lineup after being placed on injured reserve at the end of February. The team hoped to activate him late in the season but the ribs hadn't sufficiently healed to allow for physical contact.

Kelusky is 12th on the all-time points list with 361 goals and 415 assists for 776 points in 178 games. He was captain of the Calgary Roughnecks and helped them win the NLL title in 2004 and in 2009. He got into only seven games this year and had four goals and six assists.

Hot Ticket

The Knighthawks are pulling out all the stops to fill Blue Cross Arena for their playoff opener against Philadelphia on Saturday. All tickets are priced at only $10.

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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