January 31, 2007

Jan. 18, 2007

Casey Powell and the rest of his New York Titans teammates will take one of the world's grandest stages Saturday night.

The Titans will play the first of four home games at Madison Square Garden, also known as "the world's most famous arena," against their expansion partners -- the Chicago Shamrox.

Being under the bright lights is nothing new for Powell.

The Rochester Knighthawks made the four-time All-American at Syracuse University the first pick of the National Lacrosse League entry draft in 1998 after he tallied 158 goals, 129 assists and 287 points while leading the Orange to four consecutive final fours.

That came on the heels of a record-setting high school career in Carthage (N.Y.), when he set Empire State records with 292 goals, 261 assists and 553 points from 1991-94.

But things didn't come so easily during his first two seasons in the NLL. After all, he'd been playing field lacrosse nearly as long as he'd been walking. He found out quickly that box lacrosse is a different, and more physical, game. In 1999 and 2000, he had 21 goals, 37 assists and 58 points in 19 games with the Knighthawks. Then he walked away.

"I think early on in Rochester he kind of got thrust into a situation where he wasn't making a lot of money, he was doing a lot of camps and missing a lot of practices," said Titans assistant general manager and director of player personnel Jeff Dowling. "But you're a No. 1 pick so you're expected to go out there and play and produce right away. Maybe the time away was good for him because when I had him in Anaheim he was becoming a dominant player again."

After sitting out for three seasons, Powell made a remarkable comeback with the Anaheim Storm while living in Newport Beach, Calif. He quietly had 54 goals, 71 assists and 125 points in just 29 games in 2004-05.

Because he now lives just a 45-minute flight away from the Big Apple in Syracuse, where he and his younger brother Mike run lacrosse camps and work for Brine, he was unable to play for the expansion Portland LumberJax -- with his brother Ryan -- when the Storm franchise left southern California.

"I was concentrating on playing for Team USA," said Powell, who will turn 31 next month. "But I decided I want to finish my career strong as a professional lacrosse player. When I saw of the names on the roster, that flagged my attention because I was so familiar with some of the (New York) players."

Though the Titans are 0-2, including a 15-12 loss at Chicago in their opener, Powell is thriving on a team plump with U.S. field talent. He has four goals and 10 assists for a team-high 14 points. He's one of only five players in the league with double-digit assists this season, joining the likes of All-Pros San Jose's Colin Doyle, Buffalo's John Tavares and Colorado's Gavin Prout.

"I saw Casey two years ago really step up his game in Anaheim," Titans head coach Adam Mueller said. "The thing that's impressed me the most is his work ethic. He's always had great moves but he's the first on the floor, working the boards with his stick. He's been nothing but a joy."

Powell is a guy against whom opposing coaches must game-plan. "One of the best things about Casey is that he sees the floor so well," said Bandits coach Darris Kilgour, whose team allowed Powell to post three goals and two assists in last Friday's 16-14 Buffalo victory. "He's a great passer, maybe not the best finisher. We try to get him to go to the net and become a shooter rather than a feeder."

"He didn't want any part of [the NLL]. I think he could do well in this league... Nobody would be able to catch him out there."

Casey Powell, on his brother, Mike Powell

Powell admits that his background in the field game has made scoring on the smaller NLL nets more difficult. And he's also adjusted to the hitting.

"It's a different etiquette now," Powell explained. "I've seen it, I've learned it and I'm having a lot more fun now. One of my goals is to relax a little bit more and just play lacrosse. That's what I'm focusing on now, going out and trying not to get thrown off balance by the opposing players."

Kilgour thinks he's been successful with that attitude.

"Once he got used to the grind of the game I think he found out it's really not that bad," Kilgour said. "He knows who he can go against and who he should really take a step back against. He's learned a lot and improved every year. The sky's the limit for him because he's such a great talent."

Ryan Powell, who lives in Portland, is in his second season with the LumberJax and has three goals and eight points to rank third on the team in scoring this season.

Casey says don't look for Mike Powell playing for an NLL team anytime soon.

"He didn't want any part of it," Casey said of Mike, who helped the Baltimore Bayhawks win the 2005 Major League Lacrosse championship. "I think he could do well in this league, no doubt about it. Nobody would be able to catch him out there. But we (Casey and Ryan) won't pressure him, he's on his own agenda. We do it because we love it. It's hard to commit yourself with all the travel and Mike's just not ready for it."

Even Casey's strong performance so far this winter hasn't been enough to dull the sting of Team USA's loss to Canada in the championship game of the World Lacrosse Championships last July in London, Ontario.

"It hangs with you," said Casey, who won the Lt. Raymond Enners Award (the forerunner to the Tewaaraton Award) as the most outstanding player in Division I in both 1997 and `98. "The first loss in 28 years for the U.S., it's tough. But you move on. Canada had a great team and it was a great experience. Hopefully in four years the U.S. team will be able to get the title back."

Will Casey be a part of the red, white and blue team in 2010?

"Four years is a long time," he said. "But if I'm still playing I'd definitely give it another shot. There are a lot of great young players for the U.S. coming up so it might be their turn to take it over and give it a run."

We're going streaking

A couple of NLL teams are on hot streaks. The defending champion Colorado Mammoth, who face a busy weekend with games in Edmonton Friday and Calgary Saturday, are on an eight-game winning streak and have won six straight at home.

The Portland LumberJax, who meet the Arizona Sting Friday in Glendale and Saturday in the Rose City, have won eight straight regular season games, as well as six straight road games. Portland lost only twice on the road as an expansion team last year but the first defeat came at what is now known as Jobing.com Arena on opening night, a 12-7 drubbing by the Sting.

So where do these streaks rank in league history?

Portland is just over halfway to the longest road winning streak. The Bandits won 11 in a row away from home from 1992-94, and the Philadelphia Wings won nine consecutive road contests in 1997-98.

Interestingly, Portland's road winning streak is already better than the top streak by the Toronto Rock, who are traditionally one of the strongest away from home. The Rock, who came into the league in 1998 as the Ontario Raiders, have put together three different five-game road win streaks.

Colorado has long way to go to threaten either the overall or home win streak. Buffalo won 22 straight games from 1992-94 and Philadelphia took 15 consecutive home games from 1993-95.

When the Edmonton Rush beat the Wings, 13-12, on Jan. 6 at Rexall Place it was the franchise's first home victory. That ended an eight-game home losing streak that tied for the longest in NLL annals.

The league doesn't acknowledge streaks in its record book, but here is a look the top ones:

When Minnesota visits HSBC Arena Saturday to face the Bandits, two of the principals responsible for ending the longest overall winning streak in league history will be working for the Swarm.

The Boston Blazers defeated the Bandits, 14-10, on Feb. 19, 1994 before a sellout crowd of 16,284 at Buffalo's Memorial Auditorium to end the Bandits' 22-game winning streak, which covered 742 days, parts of three seasons and two championships.

Swarm general manager Marty O'Neill made 41 saves in goal for Boston in a game that ended with a full-scale brawl that began with eight-tenths of a second remaining. There was a major fight in the stands that raged on for about 10 minutes and a couple of scuffles in the hallways after the game.

The Bandits had beaten O'Neill five times during their winning streak.

Neil Doddridge, now an oil rig firefighter in the Alberta/British Columbia oil patch as well as the Swarm's director of scouting, had a goal and three assists that night for Boston.

Buffalo got revenge three weeks later with its own 14-10 win before 9,125 in Boston Garden. That night, O'Neill (31 saves) was outplayed by his counterpart Bill Gerrie. After Buffalo starting goalie Ross Cowie went off to serve a slashing penalty early in the first quarter, Gerrie came off the bench to make 45 saves and was named the game MVP.

O'Neill finished his nine-year career with a 4-8 record against the Bandits. His final days as a player came in a Buffalo uniform in 1999 and 2000.

The weekend ahead

Whoever drafted the 2007 schedule knew what they were doing, especially concerning Saturday night's games.

That night includes rematches of all four of last season's first-round playoff games:

* Buffalo beat Minnesota, 11-10, en route to a spot in last year's Champion's Cup final. The game sends Swarm rookie head coach Duane Jacobs against the organization he spent the past two seasons in as an assistant coach, heading up the defense in 2005 and the offense in 2006.

"I know he knows everything that we do," said Kilgour, who has enjoyed a long friendship with Jacobs. "They were a really tough matchup for us last year (Buffalo won three of four meetings). I'm sure Duey (Jacobs) will be coming in with a different philosophy."

Said Jacobs: "Being under Darris for two years and having played for him for one season, I learned a lot. Obviously we want to win the game and he wants to win. Hopefully it will result in a great matchup."

The Bandits will likely give goaltender Mike Thompson his fourth consecutive start as Steve Dietrich, last season's NLL MVP, continues to recover from arthroscopic knee surgery.

* Colorado defeated Calgary, 18-17, in overtime in its first postseason step to taking the crown. "I don't think there's any dislike among the organizations," Roughnecks coach Chris Hall said. "It's more respect for each other that causes the games to be so hard-fought."

* Fourth-seeded Arizona beat top-seeded Portland, 14-11, at the Rose Garden in the first round.

* Rochester plays at Toronto Saturday night, a rematch of both last Saturday's 10-6 Knighthawks win at Blue Cross Arena and Rochester's 16-8 home triumph in the first round of last year's playoffs. Toronto fell to 1-13 all-time in Rochester last Saturday but the Rock has been nearly as dominant against the Knighthawks when this series is played in Toronto. The Rock has won 11 of the previous 14 all-time in TO.

"We're glad to get another crack at Rochester so quickly," said Rock assistant coach Greg Van Sickle.

Aside from the playoff rematches, the Shamrox can become the first expansion team to start off 3-0 since the 1989 Detroit Turbos if they can beat the Titans again on the Versus game of the week. The 1995 Knighthawks were the last expansion team to start off 2-0.

Last weekend by the numbers

* Buffalo's 37-year-old captain Rich Kilgour had two goals against New York last Friday despite playing with a flu bug that kept him out of the next night's game at Colorado. Kilgour, the older brother of the head coach, had just five goals in 39 games from 2004 through 2006. Against the Titans, he matched his season's goal totals from 2005 and '06. New York went 4-of-11 on the power play and leads the NLL with 27 man-up chances in just two games. The Titans pulled starting goaltender Curtis Palidwor, the MVP of the 2004 Champion's Cup final with the Calgary Roughnecks, with New York behind, 5-1, in the first quarter. He was replaced by Matt Vinc, who was an all-Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference long pole while playing at Buffalo's Canisius College. Vinc stopped 34 of the 45 shots he faced and the Titans outscored the Bandits, 13-11, with him goal. "Vinc had some phenomenal saves," Mueller said. "He's what was advertised."

* In San Jose's 17-16 overtime win at Calgary last Friday, Doyle passed for nine assists, and now has a league-high 20 in three games. Four of those helpers went to Jeff Zywicki, who scored seven times. Luke Wiles scored the winner 11:42 into sudden death, making it the longest game in NLL history. The previous record, set Jan. 10, 2004, was 10:45 into OT (just under 71 minutes). Peter Lough scored that night to give Arizona a 19-18 triumph over Anaheim.

* Portland's Brodie Merrill, last year's NLL Defensive Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year, had 18 loose balls in a 14-12 win at Philadelphia Saturday. Merrill, in his second season, has the highest career loose ball average in league history. He's gathered 246 in 18 games, for 13.67 per contest. Toronto captain Jim Veltman, who has led the league in that category during all 14 of his previous seasons, is next with 2,159 in 168 career games for an average of 12.85. Veltman out loose-balled Merrill, 226-214, last season.

* Rochester goaltender Pat O'Toole allowed just two scores furing the first three quarters of a 10-6 win over Toronto last Saturday. He stopped 51 of 57 Rock shots.

* Sixth-year pro Bryan Kazarian scooped a career-best 15 loose balls in Chicago's 11-10 win at Minnesota Saturday.

* The Roughnecks needed to score four of the five goals in the final 12 minutes to escape Edmonton with a 13-12 win Saturday.

* Jamie Hanford was money in the faceoff circle Saturday in Colorado's 11-10 overtime win over Buffalo at the Pepsi Center. He won 19 of 25 and has taken 60 of 81 (74.1 percent) so far this season.

* Craig Conn had either a goal or an assist on five of the scores during a decisive 7-1 surge that went from the middle of the third quarter to the middle of the fourth and carried Arizona from a 7-7 tie to a 14-8 lead in a 14-11 triumph at San Jose.

Contact Tom Borrelli at tbwrite@aol.com.
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