Grant 'Surprised, Not Shocked' By Trade
by Theresa Smith | Special to Lacrosse Magazine Online
Steve Govett drew Gary Gait to Colorado, added to the star power with the free agency signing coup of then-all-stars Gavin Prout and Gee Nash, and continually reinvented the Mammoth as the franchise flourished on and off the floor, highlighted by the 2005 National Lacrosse League Champion's Cup.
The lowlight on the floor transpired five years later amid a 4-12 record, the first time in its eight-year history that the Mammoth failed to make the playoffs.
A fierce, sometimes grumpy competitor, Govett, Colorado's general manager, reacted with a complete revamping of the franchise, sending shock waves through the NLL with a flurry of deals, none bigger than Wednesday's acquisition of John Grant Jr., the 2007 NLL Most Valuable Player.
The trade to Rochester for Junior was four days short of the one-year anniversary of when he dealt fan favorite Gavin Prout.
While lacrosse continued to grow in the Mile High City with the arrival of Bill Tierney as coach at the University of Denver, the continued success (except in the playoffs) of the Denver Outlaws of Major League Lacrosse, and the awarding of Denver as host city for the 2014 FIL World Championships, the Mammoth lost luster when Gait left town to take over the Syracuse women's coaching job in 2008. The franchise appeared downright tarnished less than two years later, when Prout was let go in a youth movement.
Re-enter Govett, pulling the trigger on deals in the making since the Sept. 8 entry draft.
In the tight-knit world of lacrosse, Govett learned that Rochester might be convinced to part ways with its franchise player and that Grant was not averse to moving halfway across the continent with his wife and 7-month-old daughter.
Govett packaged vaunted goaltender Matt Vinc, Matt Zash and Brad Self to the Knighthawks for first- and third-round picks in the 2012 entry draft for Grant, stellar defender Mac Allen and the Knighthawks' first-round picks in the 2011 and 2013 draft. The 2011 pick is particularly valuable to Govett, who predicts the 2011 draft to be the most talent-laden since at least 2005 (the draft year of Vinc, Brodie Merrill, Shawn Evans and Jeff Zywicki), and possibly the deepest in the past 10 years.
Moreover, Govett is convinced that the left-handed Grant, who turns 36 on Nov. 7, has three or four years of high-scoring lacrosse remaining in his tank, similar to Gait's ability to produce after he came to Colorado in 2003 at the same age.
Grant, who missed the entire 2009 season after developing an infection in his surgically-repaired knee, ranked fourth in the NLL last season with 39 goals in 15 games, tied for seventh in goals last summer for the Toronto Nationals in MLL, excelled for Canada in its silver medal-winning effort in the world championships in July, and played several consecutive games to help the Peterborough (Ont.) Lakers claim the Mann Cup title on Sept. 17.
Grant's star power is expected to fill the void left by Gait and Prout.
"He's really going to be part of the community," Govett said. "It's really exciting for us and the community to have him out in the market place growing our game."
Junior, reached by phone at a tournament in Hawaii, had an inkling that Rochester might let him go after 11 amazing seasons.
"When you get to my age, you always know it is a possibility," he said. "The lacrosse world is pretty small. I've heard inklings for a couple of years. I was surprised, but not shocked, I guess."
A native of Peterborough, Ontario, Grant has lived in the U.S. for the past five years.
"I've got to spend a couple more years here in the states, and hopefully, I'll become a dual citizen," he said.
Although many NLL players commute long distances for training camp and home games, Grant has no qualms about relocating to Denver -- he's all in.
"I'm excited to be there," he said.
Since his flight to Hawaii left shortly after he was traded, he has not had the opportunity to speak to Govett at length about the off-floor roles Govett envisions.
"If that's what they'd like me to do, I'm all for that, teaching younger people the game of lacrosse," Grant said. "Lacrosse has given a lot to me and I'd like to give it back."
The domino effect that led to Grant's new address started with the Aug. 5 dispersal draft of the Orlando franchise, when Govett selected Vinc.
Vinc was understandably reluctant to jeopardize his day job, teaching in an Ontario system with a coveted pension plan, to make long, frequent commutes to Denver. Reluctantly, Govett sought to trade the talented keeper, and sifted through several offers -- none better, in his view, than acquiring Grant, the No. 5 all-time leading goal scorer in NLL history and the holder of a single-game scoring total of 15 points, including nine goals in 2007.
Govett kept dealing, sending Cory Conway, a 23-year-old rising star prior to his arrival in Denver, to Calgary for goaltender Matt King and a second-round pick in the coveted 2011 draft.
Conway, according to Govett, didn't pan out, and King, the Most Valuable Player of the 2009 Champion's Cup for Calgary, and a 2004 Cup winner, adds to unprecedented goaltender depth, joining Chris Levis and Curtis Palidwor, a 2004 Cup winner with King.
Palidwor, who missed all but a few minutes of the 2010 season, is stopping shots and showing no signs of the dizziness that plagued him since he took a shot to the eye that penetrated his helmet in the season opener.
Levis made a strong showing in six of the last seven games last year, and enters training camp as a favorite.
In a whirlwind offseason in which Rich Catton and Chris Gill retired, Govett also signed former Titan Jarrett Park, Tewaarton Trophy winner Ned Crotty of Duke and Tewaarton finalist Ken Clausen, a defender from Virginia. The potential future leaders join a young core, including Alex Gajic and his brother, Ilija, who battled Crohn's disease the latter part of his 2010 rookie season.
Alex is likely to share the floor with Govett's latest addition, accurate right-hander Mike McLellan, who was obtained from Toronto in exchange for Colorado's second-round pick in the 2012 entry draft.
A fifth-year player, McLellan was selected by the Rock in the dispersal draft after scoring 22 goals last season for the now-defunct Titans.
"I've admired him from afar for a very long time," Govett said. "When I told Junior about the trade for him, Junior said he would get 70 assists."
With the major deals behind him, Govett and coach Bob Hamley approach Colorado's Dec. 4 preseason game against Toronto with an entirely new outlook.
"We're excited about where we're going," Govett said. "We have a lot more firepower and we've shored up the defense. It's all about the 23 guys in the room and we're excited about those 23 guys."
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