December 8, 2011

Neil Stevens' NLL Training Camp Report

by Neil Stevens | LaxMagazine.com | Related: Stevens' NLL Notebook

Edmonton general manager-coach Derek Keenan is thrilled that former Rochester captain Shawn Williams is now with the Rush. He's 37 but has shown he has a lot left in the tank.
© Rich Barnes

The Dec. 22 deadline for the nine teams to announce their active rosters of 23 players for the new season is fast approaching and the battle for jobs has been intense.

Hold on, we're about to make some camp stops:

Buffalo Bandits

John Tavares is into his 21st season with the Bandits and the 43-year-old attacker who owns all of pro lacrosse's offense records sounds as eager as any rookie.

''I still love the game,'' says Tavares. ''Eventually, I will not be able to do it.

''My body has been telling me the last few years that I should probably stop but I still love it. Why not try to continue doing something you love? I'm going to savor every minute possible.''

Tavares has amassed 1,547 points in 252 regular-season games during his glorious career. His next goal will mark a significant milestone because, when his 32 playoff games are factored in, it'll be his 800th. He gets his first shot at it in Buffalo's season opener Sat., Jan. 14 at home against Toronto.

Calgary Roughnecks

So, how's Shawn Evans taking to Calgary after spending his first six NLL seasons with Rochester?

''Calgary is a beautiful city and I'm happy to call it home,'' says the draft-day acquisition. ''We have a great bunch of guys -- great team guys -- and some great leaders. The guys battle for each other and you've got to love that. I can't wait to be on the floor with these guys and to raise the Champion's Cup in Cowtown.''

The feisty forward will be a valuable floor general as the 'Necks try to maintain the excellence that led to their league-best 11-5 regular-season record last season. The new stable ownership of the NHL's Calgary Flames will surely aid in that pursuit.

''They're renovating the locker room, providing meals after practice, things like that,'' says Evans. ''They want us focusing on lacrosse and not worrying about the behind-the-scenes stuff. It's a great situation for the players.''

Evans amassed 363 points (143-220) in 93 career regular-season games with the Knighthawks. He's only 25. 'Necks fans are going to love this guy.

Colorado Mammoth

Mac Allen is out until April after knee surgery but there were 18 other defensemen to start camp. Four have been cut, so 14 remain, with four yet to be let go. Whew, tough decisions ahead for the coaching staff.

''There will be one or two veteran players who won't be coming back,'' says assistant coach Sean Ferris.

Colorado had the stingiest defense in the West last season but with a 5-11 record no jobs were safe and offseason acquisitions on the back end -- all proven pros -- included Jon Sullivan, Rory Smith, John Orsen and Creighton Reid. Highly regarded Dan Coates, a first-round draft pick, will make the team.

So, who goes?

Tough one.

''We're going with younger, stronger, athletic defenders who'll fit the style of defense we'll play given the rule changes that'll speed up the tempo of play,'' says Ferris.

Smith, who is tougher than nails and doesn't hesitate to drop the gloves, will thrive in Denver.

''Rory is going to be a mainstay for us,'' says Ferris. ''He's going to make all the players around him a foot taller. We didn't have that presence last year.''

Edmonton Rush

Athan Iannucci hasn't shown up and GM-coach Derek Keenan doesn't comment on holdouts, but he can't say enough about Shawn Williams, the former Rochester captain who's 37 now but showing he has a lot left in the tank. Williams is sixth in all-time points, 396-573=969.

''He came to camp in tremendous shape and leads the offense by example with an outstanding work ethic in every drill,'' says Keenan. ''He is a very intelligent player who is able to contribute in so many different ways.

''He can score from the perimeter and from inside and is a great passer and playmaker. He's also capable of playing three different spots on the power play. He will play a major role with our offense, especially in terms of leading the young players like Corey Small and Zack Greer.''

Iannucci can score. Nobody is contesting that. But it's a team game and Williams will turn out to be the most significant addition to this offense.

Minnesota Swarm

Work ethic is the camp theme.

''We're going to be the hardest-working team in the NLL,'' promises Minnesota associate GM Joe Sullivan. ''Other general managers will say the same about their teams but there's no down time with us. We're pushing guys more than they've been pushed in the past.''

There were 11 rookies among 34 players taking part in the Dec. 3-4 camp weekend and Sullivan predicts there'll be six or seven on the final roster. There should be a good dose of youthful enthusiasm at the disposal of head coach Mike Lines for the season opener against the Colorado Mammoth in Denver on Jan. 14.

As well, Ryan Benesch, who led the league last season in goals (46) and points (95) is primed to fly into the new season.

''He came in in great shape,'' says Sullivan.

Returnees Callum Crawford and Kevin Ross, who will get a lot more scoring looks than in the past, and rookie Jordan MacIntosh, will need to produce goals so defenses don't just key on Benesch.

Philadelphia righties Drew Westervelt (above), Dan Dawson, Matt Danowski and No. 1 overall draft pick Kevin Crowley have instant chemistry, according to Wings offensive coordinator Jim Milligan.
© Larry Palumbo

Philadelphia Wings

It was apparent from the first day of camp that the Wings have built a high-octane offense capable of giving opponents fits.

Righties Drew Westervelt (six-foot-five), Dan Dawson (6-5), Matt Danowski (6-1) and No. 1 overall draft pick Kevin Crowley (6-4) have instant chemistry.

''Kevin came out of the gate at full speed,'' says offensive coordinator Jim Milligan. ''He looked as if he'd played with Drew, Dan and Matt for a season already. I believe Kevin's adjustment will be quick and painless. His transition to the speed, size and skill level of the pro game will be seamless given his wealth of experience, and he has proven as much in every league he has played in.''

Lefties Brendan Mundorf (5-11), Mike Hominuck (5-10) and Ned Crotty (6-2) ''looked very athletic and gelled quickly,'' added Milligan.

Philadelphia had the weakest offense in the league last season but things have changed. The fireworks begin with the season opener at home against Rochester on Jan. 14.

Rochester Knighthawks

The 'Hawks began camp with one of the most impressive casts of veteran D-men in the league with the likes of Sid Smith, Troy Bonterre, Kyle Laverty, Rory Glaves, Scott Campbell, Mike Kirk and Ryan Cousins. Notice a name missing?

Pat McCready. He continues to ponder his future. The wily vet is 37 now and he could go out on the high of being named the 2011 NLL defender of the year and being an all-pro pick, or maybe not. Given his team's potential, he's tempted to go for a 17th season but nothing is definite -- yet.

''I haven't committed to playing this season,'' says McCready.

One thing is certain: McCready seconds with emotion the selection of transition veteran Chris Schiller as new captain of the 'Hawks.

''He's a great leader and should be a great captain,'' says McCready.

Toronto Rock

Matt Roik's quest to fill the goaltending void created by the retirement of Bob Watson is the big story in the Rock camp.

Roik's first appearance in game action went well. He allowed only two goals in playing the second half of an 11-4 exhibition loss to Edmonton last weekend. Coach Troy Cordingley was lauding his performance afterwards. So far, so good. Roik deserves another shot at being a first-stringer after being traded away by Washington when the Stealth declared Tyler Richards their No. 1. It would be great to see Roik succeed.

There is another scenario that involves Anthony Cosmo, whose rights are owned by Minnesota. But he hasn't reported. He says he needs to play closer to home, which just happens to be Orangeville where Rock GM Terry Sanderson also lives, northwest of Toronto. If Sanderson has the chance to make a trade with the Swarm to get Cosmo, one of the very best in the sport, could he pass it up because he's said he's committed to Roik?

Washington Stealth

Head coach Chris Hall is battling cancer -- a tumor on his right tonsil -- but that isn't squelching his sense of humor.

Two weeks of radiation would make him feel for weeks afterwards that he'd been hit by a truck but, he says, ''I'll definitely lose weight, which isn't a bad thing. There's always a silver lining somewhere.''

''It's tough thinking about training camp without CH,'' says forward Rhys Duch. ''He's been one of, if not the most, influential coaches in my life.

''Him being in a battle will cause us to battle harder. We are lucky he has such a good support coaching staff. CH is a great planner and spent months organizing our camp. He and his staff will make sure the team is ready for this season whether he is there for the start of not.''

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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