January 18, 2011

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NLL Notebook: Blazers GM Apologizes for Racy Halftime Show; Goalies Dominate

by Neil Stevens | Special to Lacrosse Magazine Online

Bob Watson, Toronto's 40-year-old goalie, is playing some of the best lacrosse of his career with 89 saves in the Rock's first two games.

© Rich Barnes

Negative fan fallout over what many deemed a lewd halftime show has induced Boston Blazers general manager Doug Reffue to issue an apology and give away 2,000 tickets to the NLL team's home game against Rochester on Saturday.

A lap dancing exhibition during the Blazers' win over Edmonton, with the team's mascot on a chair and women girating in front of him, led to a flood of disapproving messages and unflattering media reports. Internet sites are awash in amateur video of the scene as shot from the stands.

"Our halftime show on Saturday evening was not representative of the Boston Blazers organization and we realize it offended the most important part of our team -- our fans," Reffue said in a statement posted on the team's Web site. "The halftime act was not executed as we expected and, for that, I take responsibility."

Reffue promised it would never happen again, and he pledged 2,000 tickets were being made available for families interested in acquiring them for the next home game.

Levis, Watson and Patterson shine

How important is goaltending in the NLL?

Huge.

Colorado's Chris Levis put on quite a show in Calgary during the weekend. The Mammoth was outshot by nearly a 2-to-1 margin, and the offense managed just one second-half goal, but Colorado won, 8-7, thanks to Levis' 54-save effort.

"Chris allowed us to stay in the game," said Mammoth head coach Bob Hamley. "He was huge for us."

The 34-year-old Levis is playing for his seventh NLL team while on a second tour of duty with Colorado. He owns two championship rings, having earned one with Calgary in 2004 and one with Colorado in 2006. At 198 pounds, the 34-year-old vet is not among the biggest NLL goalies, but he's always in great shape. Operating at a high performance training facility in downtown Vancouver has kept him fit, he said...

Toronto's Bob Watson was the Rock hero for a second week in a row in making 53 saves in a 12-9 win in Rochester. The Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario, police officer is 40 now, but is playing some of the best lacrosse of his illustrious career, which includes five titles with the Rock. He was already the NLL Overall Player of the Week after stopping 36 of 43 shots on goal in Toronto's opener against Edmonton, prior to his heroics in Rochester.

Watson's 23rd stop Saturday was the 6,000th of his career. That's third all-time behind only former Rochester goalie Pat O'Toole, who ended his playing career this winter to coach Knighthawks goalies, and the retired Dallas Eliuk.

At 6-foot and 200 pounds, Watson's greatest asset is quick reflexes.

"When we get lost on D, he comes up with huge saves," said Rock head coach Troy Cordingley. "He's a phenomenal leader and such a calming influence in the room. I'll say it again and again; he's the best to ever play the game."

Pat Campbell dressed as Watson's backup Saturday. It was his first regular season game in a Rock uniform since 2000, when he spent his second NLL season with the team...

So how did the Minnesota Swarm manage to sting the defending champion Washington Stealth, 16-8, on the road?

All eyes to the crease: Nick Patterson's 50-save performance. The 28-year-old native of Victoria, British Columbia's capital, is 5-foot-11 and 185 pounds, but he plays big. He clearly outperformed Stealth starter Matt Roik and had shooters totally befuddled by the fourth quarter.

Williams moves up

Rochester captain Shawn Williams has slipped ahead of former teammate John Grant Jr. of the Mammoth on the all-time NLL points list. Williams picked up four points during his team's Week 2 loss to Toronto, giving him 903. Grant got only one point in Colorado's win in Calgary and now has the sixth-best total, 902.

Attendance

There were five games, but not one five-digit crowd last weekend.

The biggest turnout was in Calgary, where 9,346 fans groaned when Colorado's Cliff Smith beat Mike Poulin for the game-winning goal with three seconds left.

There were 8,536 fans in Boston for the Blazers' 10-7 win over Edmonton; 7,764 in Philadelphia to watch the Wings drop a 9-6 decision to Buffalo; 6,025 in Rochester to see Toronto post its first-ever, regular season victory at Blue Cross Arena in 16 tries going back 11 years; and just 3,362 in Everett, Wash., for the second Stealth home game.

An owner might want at least 8,000 per home game to avoid being in the red at season's end.

Rush reckoning

Are we feeling sorry for the Edmonton Rush yet?

The Rush, getting top-flight goaltending from Matt Disher, has played well, but is 0-2.

General manager and coach Derek Keenan's players had to open in Toronto against the 2010 East Division champion Rock, losing 13-7 on Jan. 8, and then had to go to Boston to face the radically recharged Blazers, losing 10-7 last Saturday.

Now they have to go to St. Paul, Minn., to go up against a tough Swarm squad that is on a high after skewering the Stealth.

Sawyer on Powell

New Boston head coach Matt Sawyer, who started his on-floor duties with the Blazers at a New Year's Eve practice, has quickly learned to appreciate star forward Casey Powell.

"The thing that jumped out at me was Casey the person," Sawyer said. "He's a heck of a lacrosse player. But believe it or not, Casey Powell the person is better than Casey Powell the lacrosse player. He gets it. He's a down-to-earth guy who is very, very focused."

Faceoff scoop

Calgary's Geoff Snider and Washington's Jamison Koesterer continue to be the NLL's best faceoff specialists.

Snider is 44-for-68 in three games, including a dominating 15-for-19 performance in Calgary's 8-7 home loss to Colorado on Saturday. The 29-year-old native of Calgary is stocky, 5-foot-10 and 210 pounds, making him difficult to knock off the ball. In his fifth season out of the University of Denver, Snider went 295-for-390 least season with the Philadelphia Wings.

Koesterer is 50-for-81 in three games, including a 20-for-28 showing in Washington's 16-8 home loss to Minnesota last Friday. The 26-year-old New Yorker is 6-foot-3 and 230 pounds and a real challenge to confront. In his third season out of Johns Hopkins University, Koesterer went 265-for-446 last season with the Stealth.

Others who have taken more than 20 faceoffs: Pat Jones, Edmonton, 24-for-45; Ryan Hotaling, Boston, 16-for-29; Brandon Francis, Buffalo, 12-for-24; Matt Zash, Rochester, 13-for-27; Stephen Hoar, Toronto, 19-for-41; Matt Leveque, Colorado, 12-for-32; Travis Hill, Minnesota, 16-for-44; and Pat Heim, Philadelphia, 13-for-38.


Neil Stevens has covered professional and Canadian summer lacrosse since 1971 for various media outlets, including the Canadian Press. He retired from the CP in 2008. That year, Stevens joined the late Tom Borrelli -- a longtime Lacrosse Magazine contributor -- as the only media members recognized by the National Lacrosse League Hall of Fame. He played from age 5 to 23, including three years in the junior ranks and one year (1969) as a professional in St. Catherines, Ontario.

Check laxmagazine.com/nll throughout the season for more from Stevens and coverage of the NLL.


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