May 9, 2013

Stevens: NLL Final Should be Super Bowl-like Event

by Neil Stevens |

Saturday's NLL final will be played in a non-NLL arena, a situation that could be avoided by alternating the site between cities like Denver and Buffalo, writes Neil Stevens.
© Larry Palumbo

Here's an idea: award the Champion's Cup game well in advance so the host city has lots of time to promote it.

''I have thought at times that you could do sort of a Super Bowl thing in this league which would give a host city a year to plan for the event,'' said Washington Stealth coach Chris Hall. ''Fans would know where the final was going to be. Everybody should know where the marquee game of the league is going to be well in advance of seven days before the game.''

That would seem more favorable than winding up with this spring's scenario: a title game in a city, Langley, British Columbia, without an NLL team and in an arena with a seating capacity (5,500) less than that of any NLL arena.

With a Super Bowl-like format, the final could be alternated between Denver and Buffalo, where NLL crowds are largest. NHL clubs in playoffs get first dibs on arena dates, of course, but since those clubs own these two profitable NLL franchises it shouldn't be impossible to arrive at a fixed date for an NLL title game.

Accursi Ties Grant

The goal scored by Mike Accursi in Rochester's 12-10 win over Minnesota last Saturday lifted him into a tie with Colorado's John Grant Jr. for third place on the all-time playoff goals list: 1. John Tavares, Buffalo, 77; 2. Gary Gait, retired, 67; 3. Accursi and Grant, 57; 5. Paul Gait, retired, and Colin Doyle, Toronto, 52; 7. Dan Dawson, Rochester, 44; 8. Mark Steenhuis, Buffalo, 41.

Tough as Nails

Edmonton defenseman Kyle Rubisch has established an awesome reputation in just three NLL seasons.

For the second year in a row, Rubisch, who played U.S. university ball at Dowling, won the award for defenseman of the year and was named the only defenseman on the first all-pro team as selected by members of the board of governors, the GMs and the head coaches. The 24-year-old native of Brampton, Ontario, is as tough as nails and every forward in the league has the bruises to prove it.

''Kyle earned this,'' said Rush GM-coach Derek Keenan. ''He is the most dominant, shutdown, game-changing defender in all of lacrosse.''

Rubisch is on the MLL roster of the Hamilton Nationals.

Magnificent MacIntosh

As impressive as Rubisch is on defense, Jordan MacIntosh of the Minnesota Swarm has no equals this year in his transition role. The 23-year-old native of Oakville, Ontario, who played U.S. collegiate ball at RIT, is the league's T-man of the year and also the first-team pro pick at his position. He's only been in the league for two years yet he's already accomplished so much.

''I think Jordan is just starting to scratch the surface of his potential in this league,'' said Swarm coach Joe Sullivan. ''He is mature beyond his years and takes a lot of pride in his skill sets. He is continuously working harder and harder to be the best that he can be.''

MacIntosh also switches to field play this spring and summer with the MLL's Rochester Rattlers.

The Other First-Teamers

Washington's Rhys Duch, Calgary's Shawn Evans and Toronto's Garrett Billings are the first team all-pro forwards. Rochester's Matt Vinc is the goalie. Vinc hopes to become the first man to be named goalie of the year and win the Champion's Cup in the same season.

''It is definitely an honor, especially with so many other goalies being more than deserving,''Vinc said of his first-team selection. ''It is also a testament to how well our D has played this year. However, my main focus is on winning the Champion's Cup. That's the real indicator of how successful we were as a group.''

Rookies Recognized

Edmonton's Mark Matthews and Curtis Knight, Minnesota's Kiel Matisz and Shayne Jackson, Colorado's Joey Cupido, Calgary's Joe Resetarits and Buffalo's Dhane Smith, the lone representative from the East Division, were named to the all-rookie team.

Others who were worthy included Minnesota's Brock Sorensen, Washington's Tyler Garrison and Philadelphia's Michael Manley.

Matthews was named rookie of the year on Wednesday. His 38 gcoals were fifth-best among all NLL players and third-most by a rookie in NLL history.

''It has been a great year and an honor to play with the players we have,'' he said in crediting his Rush teammates with helping him succeed. ''To win an award like this reflects a lot on the players I played with and I am happy to be mentioned with some of the great players to win this award.''

Matisz was second and Smith third in the voting by governors, managers and coaches.

Home Sweet Home

Rochester is 10-2 all-time in playoff games at home, including 4-0 in division finals in Blue Cross Arena.

Favorites Fizzle

The team finishing first overall during the regular season more often than not fails to win the Champion's Cup. In the 12 years the league had a 16-game schedule, only five times did the team with the best win-loss record go on to win the title. Toronto and Calgary were the top two playoff seeds this year and both are done.

Wait Over for Dawson and Self?

After playing on opposing teams for the last five years, Dan Dawson and Scott Self were reunited when Rochester acquired Self from Buffalo on March 13 and, given their past, nobody will be hungrier for a championship win this Saturday night than these two vets.

They were with the Arizona Sting in 2005 when they lost the final 19-13 in Toronto. They came a bit closer in 2007 when the Sting lost 13-11 at home against Rochester. Arizona's team folded but Dawson and Self played on. Self never got back to the Champion's Cup game until this season, while Dawson had a third shot at it in 2008 with a team that played out of Portland, Oregon. His team rallied in the second half but fell just short, 14-13, in Buffalo.

Rochester forward Mike Accursi won the title in 2007 and in 2012 with Rochester and in 2008 with Buffalo and would like to see his veteran teammates hoist it Saturday night.

''Dan has been there three times and come up empty every time,'' said Accursi. ''He's a premier player in this league. It definitely would be nice to pass him the Cup and feel the excitement some of us have felt before.''

Army Pals Will be Watching

Washington defenseman Tim Henderson is assured a sizeable fan following after the NLL announcement that the Champion's Cup game, besides being shown on CBS Sports Network, will be on the American Forces Network on Saturday night.

Henderson, 24, from Tully, N.Y., is a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. The NLL rookie played four years of U.S. college field lacrosse for Army.

Stealth GM Doug Locker and coach Chris Hall first scouted him as a long-pole defender during the North-South game at Harvard during the Memorial Day weekend last May. The Stealth drafted him in the third round, 23rd overall, last September. He scored a goal in his team's 14-13 win in Calgary last weekend. He'll be rejoining the Long Island Lizards of the MLL after the Champion's Cup game.

''He's really applied himself to learn the indoor game,'' said Hall. ''He's a sponge and soaks up everything he learns. We're pretty thrilled with Tim Henderson.''

CBA Expiring at End of July

The collective bargaining agreement between the NLL and the Professional Lacrosse Players' Association expires July 31.

''The league has already made a proposal to the PLPA and the parties are discussing the scheduling of bargaining sessions to occur after the season,'' said league VP Doug Fritts.

Looking Back

May 7, 2004: Calgary defeated Buffalo 14-11 in front of 19,289 spectators in Calgary to win its first NLL title. Roughnecks goaltender Curtis Palidwor won the MVP award.

May 14, 2005: Toronto defeated Arizona 19-13 in front of 19,432 spectators in Toronto to win its fifth title in seven years. Rock forward Colin Doyle was MVP

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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