Insider Top 50: A Cup keep, an Athletic, a blue collar defender, a “comeback”, and a show stopper

Matt Roik has played in the past three Mann Cups and won last year's Champion's Cup too. (Photo: Zach Heffner)
Matt Roik has played in the past three Mann Cups and won last year's Champion's Cup too. (Photo: Zach Heffner)

Every Tuesday Insider will release our next series of National Lacrosse League ball players ranked in our 2011 Top 50, our number one ranked player announced on the eve of the NLL season opener. Click here for a breakdown to find out what goes into selecting our Top 50, and check out this week’s next best below and after the jump.

40 (NR) Matt Roik, Washington Stealth
His numbers aren’t overwhelming, in large part due to his split clock with steady partner Tyler Richards, but Matt Roik was very much an impact goalie in 2010, a Cup winner in the NLL and a finalist again in Mann play. With only 50% of the Stealth’s minutes played, Roik was one of Insider’s highest ranked keepers in our 2010 Three Star Challenge, sporting a 6-1 record during regular season NLL minutes, looking every bit as good as he was with the Chicago Shamrox when he exploded back to the top of the heap in ‘08. He followed it back up with another solid summer for the New Westminster Salmonbellies, again sharing minutes with buddy Richards, the two guiding the Bellies to their third straight national finals. Still labelled as a hot head by many, Roik shed that knock long ago, and would likely be a high profile, full 16-game starter elsewhere in the NLL, but has instead checked any ego at the door and opted for team success instead.

2011: All signs are obviously pointing to the Stealth likely going with a two-man system again, and why not, it won them the whole show a year ago. Not sure the NLL has ever seen a well oiled tandem like Roik and Richards. Why mess with a good thing, right?

Rory Glaves and the Edmonton Rush saw their fortunes turn around in 2010.
Rory Glaves and the Edmonton Rush saw their fortunes turn around in 2010.

39 (NR) Rory Glaves, Edmonton Rush
A favourite of ours for NLL Defender of the Year mention, here’s what we had to say about Glaves in 2010;

“The former St. Catharines Athletics defensive leader deserves a huge shoutout in the NLL for his steady, no nonsense, high profile coverage, always seemingly on the floor and letting it all hang out play. Unlike when he was always gunning for a Minto during his junior days and getting a ton of buzz, Glaves had never played on a side that was a legit contender during his time with Anaheim and Edmonton (pre 2010). Now that the Rush are garnering all sorts of attention, hopefully Glaves sees the same kinda mainstream love soon too. He’s as consistent a pure defender as you’re gonna find this year.”

Yes Glaves was that good last year, yes he’ll continue at that pace starting in a few months, and hopefully he starts getting that mainstream attention his game definitely deserves, as steady a defensive defender as the game has today. Do others do what Glaves does? Sure. As well as he does? Very few.

2011: Mainly due to their constant press, up-and-down style, can Glaves and the Rush improve on their league worst 201 regular season goals against? The out of the playoff Colorado Mammoth and the first round exited Minnesota Swarm also allowed 201 against in 2010.

Rarely giving up and inch in the Rock's high pressure defensive system, Phil Sanderson nails Greg Downing. (Graig Abel)
Rarely giving up and inch in the Rock's high pressure defensive system, Phil Sanderson nails Greg Downing. (Graig Abel)

38 (35) Phil Sanderson, Toronto Rock
Not a bad 2010 for Sanderson who went to the Champion’s Cup final with the Rock and then was a bit of a surprise yet effective roster pick for Team Canada in Manchester, not having played high level field lacrosse since he was a teen with Canada at the U19’s in Japan. One of the first players brought back to Toronto upon the arrival of Troy Cordingley and Terry Sanderson, the 12-year NLL vet continued his self described blue collar role with Toronto, an uber important piece to the Rock’s rebuilt defensive game plan, one that saw the franchise drop an insane 62 goals against versus their ‘09 total, ranked second behind only the Orlando Titans last year. That’s almost four goals less allowed per game, a pretty staggering decline, Sanderson a big reason for that.

Quotable: “I don’t think we really had a choice. I honestly do believe that we were born and bred to play lacrosse and keep the dream alive in Orangeville. It’s in our blood. We have a great passion for the sport and we’d do anything to promote it.” – Phil Sanderson (Team Canada)

Honourable Mention: He just missed the cut for the Top 50 this year and might not be as high profile as some, but Rock defender Mike Hobbins is slowly turning into one of the most effective and high energy defenders on Toronto’s roster, an equally big difference maker for the Mann Cup winning Peterborough Lakers, a starter in all six games during this year’s final series. It was the 26-year-olds third Mann ring since ‘06, Hobbins’ first season of Senior A ball. He played more post-season lacrosse than almost anyone else this year, Hobbins no doubt a name to watch for in 2011.

Ryan Benesch found a home in Minnesota, putting up career numbers in 2010 and cracking the NLL Top 10. (Larry Palumbo)
Ryan Benesch found a home in Minnesota, putting up career numbers in 2010 and cracking the NLL Top 10. (Larry Palumbo)

37 (NR) Ryan Benesch, Minnesota Swarm
Sometimes you just need to have the right sweater on to excel the way Ryan Benesch did in 2010. A fallout in Toronto that led to benchings and an eventual trade followed Benesch’s Rookie of the Year season with the Rock, and then a hot-and-cold run in Edmonton during a rebuild cut very much short left many wondering if Benesch was a pro flash in the pan. He wasn’t. Traded to the Minnesota Swarm as part of the Ryan Ward swap, Benesch flipped the switch to career best levels in Minny, scoring 28-goals, adding an impressive 55-helpers (fifth best in the NLL) and a point total that would see Benesch finish ninth in league scoring totals. Confident, composed and producing past what the Rock were likely expecting from him, Benesch was a perfect fit in Minnesota, ditto for his summer in Victoria. Benesch packed his bags for Bear Mountain, finishing second in Shamrock scoring just slightly behind Jeff Shattler, who logged five extra games during the WLA season. Again, impressive.

2011: Benesch signed a three-year deal with the Swarm in recent weeks, Minnesota GM Marty O’Neill pondering, “We’re excited to see what Ryan can do this year?” Even just cracking the Top 10 again would be pretty impressive from a guy some gave up on not too long ago.

Brandon Miller had a strong 2010 for the East basement dwelling Philadelphia Wings. (Photo: Larry Palumbo)
Brandon Miller had a strong 2010 for the East basement dwelling Philadelphia Wings. (Photo: Larry Palumbo)

36 (NR) Brandon Miller, Philadelphia Wings
Not sure there was a player, let alone keeper, that was relied on as much as Brandon Miller was in Philadelphia last year. Easily his best pro season over a decade in the NLL, Miller saw more minutes and heat than any other season to date, keeping the Wings in games they had no business being involved in. His stats weren’t the greatest, hard to do that on a 5-11 team, but his impact on last season was immeasurable, Miller was top shelf good, a should have been Keeper of the Year contender and even MVP outsider. Long considered the best backup in the game, Miller has grown well beyond that rep, now a legit starter at the highest level of the sport, cementing his new status with an outstanding NLL season with the Wings. Philadelphia’s current rebuild does not and will not require a search for a starter as long as Miller remains in the city.

Trivia: Both keepers in today’s rankings were actually swapped for one another during the 2008 season, a name that caught headlines during last week’s blockbuster between Rochester and Colorado also part of the trade mix. The trade saw the Wings send Roik, Brad Self (now property of Rochester), their first round selection in the 2009 entry draft and their second round selection in the 2010 entry draft to Chicago in exchange for Miller and a second round selection in the 2008 entry draft.

Numbers: Below, check out where Miller’s 764 shots absorbed ranks amongst the 15 most/best single season shots against by a tender in NLL history…


Season Keeper Team Shots
2002 Curtis Palidwor Montreal Express 861
2002 Matt King Calgary Roughnecks 833
2002 Rob Blasdell Albany Attack 831
2003 Dallas Eliuk Philadelphia Wings 804
2003 Gee Nash Colorado Mammoth 799
2009 Matt Vinc New York Titans 782
2005 Gee Nash Colorado Mammoth 779
2008 Nick Patterson Minnesota Swarm 778
2002 Dwight Maetche Vancouver Ravens 773
  2010 Brandon Miller Philadelphia Wings 764  
2004 Mike Miron Arizona Sting 760
2002 Steve Dietrich Buffalo Bandits 760
2010 Matt Vinc Orlando Titans 752
2002 Pat O'Toole Rochester Knighthawks 752
2006 Bob Watson Toronto Rock 747

# (last year)
50 (NR) Rory Smith, Minnesota Swarm
49 (NR) Jamie Shewchuk, Colorado Mammoth
48 (NR) Curtis Manning, Calgary Roughnecks
47 (NR) Alex Gajic, Colorado Mammoth
46 (25) Scott Self, Buffalo Bandits
45 (NR) Drew Westervelt, Philadelphia Wings
44 (NR) Pat Merrill, Toronto Rock
43 (NR) Curtis Hodgson, Washington Stealth
42 (NR) Paul Rabil, Washington Stealth
41 (29) Shawn Evans, Rochester Knighthawks
40 (NR) Matt Roik, Washington Stealth
39 (NR) Rory Glaves, Edmonton Rush
38 (35) Phil Sanderson, Toronto Rock
37 (NR) Ryan Benesch, Minnesota Swarm
36 (NR) Brandon Miller, Philadelphia Wings

The foremost boxla writer, Tutka is a former NLL scout and a longtime Inside Lacrosse contributor. Email him at paul.tutka@nllinsider.com.

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