There’s an old saying in athletics that proposes one of the toughest feats to pull off is beating a single team three times in a single season. New York and Calgary are about to find out if that’s true. As we prepare for the National Lacrosse League’s East and West division finals this weekend, the Titans and the Roughnecks each play teams they’ve already defeated twice this season. So as the Titans gear up for the visiting Buffalo Bandits and the Roughnecks gear up for the visiting San Jose Stealth, each squad has plenty to ponder.
Buffalo at New York, Saturday at 7:30 p.m. (EST)
The Titans and Bandits didn’t play each other until March 28 and they played again on April 10, but New York won both by scores of 11-9 and 12-9, respectively. Of note here is that the Bandits, who led the NLL with 223 goals, were held to single digits in goals just three times this season. The first time it happened as an 8-6 Buffalo win over Toronto on Jan. 10, but the other two times were, you guessed it, the losses to New York.
This is not a huge concern for Buffalo coach Darris Kilgour, mostly because he’s pleased with how the Bandits returned to form in last week’s win over Boston. “We played very well,” said Kilgour. “We got back to the gameplan and played a full 60 minutes. We had some breakdowns, but when we did, Kenny Montour came through with his usual stellar play.” Indeed, “Monster” stopped 85 percent of the shots he faced and while Buffalo got offensive help from the usual suspects in Mark Steenhuis (4-0) and John Tavares (2-4), getting four points from Sean Greenhalgh and Cory Bomberry, along with three more from Mike Accursi gave the Bandits the balance they wanted.
They’ll need it again this weekend against Titans goalie Matt Vinc, who has steadily evolved into one of the league’s best. “I think we’ve gone in there before against Vinc with a little too much confidence, but he’s got our attention now.” As well as the offense is clicking, the Bandits have no plans to get away from their usual high-pressure defense. “We’ve got to take away the time and space,” he said. “Take away their decision-making time, which can lead them to bad decisions.”
New York coach Ed Comeau isn’t putting much stock in the two wins over Buffalo, but it does help to know that your system has been effective in previous games against a playoff opponent. “There aren’t a ton of secrets this time of year,” said Comeau. Any worries about your team being overconfident? “We happened to get the better of them on a couple of nights, but it doesn’t mean anything to us now.”
Of course, with Vinc in goal and Casey Powell directing the offense, the Titans to have plenty of options in which to place their confidence. Powell lit up Rochester for 8 points, including the team’s final three goals that included the overtime winner. Brendan Mundorf took control as well with his 6-point game and Ryan Boyle’s 5-point game should remind the Bandits that there’s more to the Titans than Powell.
San Jose at Calgary, Saturday at 9 p.m. (EST)
Calgary finds itself in the same shoes as New York, having posted 12-10 and 16-13 wins over San Jose. The difference here is that both of those Calgary wins came in the first four weeks of the season and as anyone who’s paid attention can tell you, this is a different San Jose team. It’s a squad that’s found its groove on offense with Colin Doyle leading the way, and Calgary assistant coach Dave Pym is well aware of that.
“We’ll keep our high-pressure system in place,” he said. “Doyle is obviously the key and we know he’ll raise his game to another level and bring the other guys with him. I think we’ll be ready for what they’ll throw at us.” Did Doyle really surprise anyone with his 9-point game in last week’s victory? Probably not, but those “other guys” in San Jose can do just as much damage. Jeff Zywicki scored 7 points, rookie Rhys Duch added 6 and Frank Resatarits and Cam Sedgwick each had 5. It’s a nice position to be in for coach Chris Hall, who really has no plans to change much at this point.
“Any coach worth his weight in salt has to grow and evolve with his system,” he said. “We’re doing some things differently in San Jose than we’ve done in years past, and I think we’ve changed some things to improve what we do. But the offense is playing great lacrosse and we got some goals out of the back end, which is good news for us.”
Of the two winning playoff teams from last week, San Jose’s 20 goals and Calgary’s 15 rank No. 1 and No. 2, and Calgary’s force up front has been one of the league’s smoothest all season long. Veterans Tracey Kelusky (3-2), Josh Sanderson (2-2), Kaleb Toth (1-2) and Curt Malawsky (1-1) are no secrets, but the contributions last week of Dane Dobbie (3-4) and Jeff Shattler (1-2) only solidified the Calgary balance. Dobbie’s 7 points led the way in the win over Colorado.
As offensive as both squads have been — both are the only West division teams to score more than 200 goals — the execution in cage should go a long way in determining who wins. Calgary’s hummed along quite nicely with Matt King and Pat Campbell in goal, while San Jose’s Matt Roik did much of the regular-season work until Tyler Richards responded down the stretch as a clutch keeper.
So if you’re trying to figure out which aspect of the game will determine a winner, it’s essentially a coin-flip. Offense? Both team’s got it. Defense? Present. “I think it was Vince Lombardi who said it’s not about plays, it’s about execution.” Because if anyone knows about Calgary’s system, it’s Hall. He coached the Roughnecks to the 2004 NLL championship and he’ll savor his return to Calgary, but he knows he and his Stealth boys are up against it. “The energy in that building will be tremendous, and I’m looking forward to it.”
Don’t forget, both teams will be streamed for free at NLL.com.Chavez is an avid lacrosse player in Rochester and a journalist for the Democrat and Chronicle as well as a longtime Inside Lacrosse contributor. Email him at email@example.com or go to RochesterSports.com.
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