ILIndoor.com: The top headlines of 2011

Brad Banister, right, said the existence of the Roughnecks was in peril, but the team made it through the season long enough to hand off the reigns to the  NHL's Calgary Flames and new GM Mike Board. (Photo: Calgary Sun)
Brad Banister, right, said the existence of the Roughnecks was in peril, but the team made it through the season long enough to hand off the reigns to the NHL's Calgary Flames and new GM Mike Board. (Photo: Calgary Sun)

Just when you think you’ve seen it all, the 2011 calendar year throws us for a loop. Plenty of news, good and bad, gave us headlines for this past calendar year. Last year, ILIndoor named the John Grant Jr.-Matt Vinc deal between Rochester and Colorado as its top story. The year before, it was the epic Mann Cup series between New Westminster and Brampton. So what gets the green light as the top headline for 2011? The Calgary Roughnecks? The Whitby Warriors? Rules changes in the NLL? Executive shakeups in the WLA? Plenty of possibilities, for sure, but the only way you’re gonna find out for sure is to make the jump and check out the list.

20. Gavin Prout traded back to Colorado: We’ve mentioned it before, and it’s not exactly a huge breaking story. But when Gavin Prout was traded back to the Colorado Mammoth, it was a curious series of events that followed. As the Mammoth trudged through a well-publicized home losing streak that stretched over 13 games, the deal in March that brought the forward back did more than energize an offense. It meant the end of the home losing streak when the Mammoth defeated the Blazers in overtime in his first game back, and the Mammoth turned that momentum into a playoff berth after missing the dance the season before.

Marty O'Neill
Marty O'Neill

19. Mouradian in with Philly, O’Neill out in Minny: Fed up with non-playoff seasons, the Philadelphia Wings shook things up from the top down. Dave Huntley was out as coach after the 2010 season and John Tucker tried to fix things. A 5-11 record and yet another playoff-less season didn’t do it, so Tucker stepped down and the Wings brought in Johnny Mouradian, who will take on the role of GM and coach. He’s off to a good start with the acquisitions of Dan Dawson and Kevin Crowley as the Wings look to restore their glory days. In Minnesota, GM Marty O’Neill’s contract was not renewed, marking the end of his 7-year tenure with the Swarm. He was the Swarm’s only GM and built a team that had 5 playoff appearances, but the Swarm wanted more from the 2-time GM of the Year. The Swarm announced their GM duties will be handled by committee.

18. Langtry, Nadelen call it a career: All good things must come to an end, and so it is for Brian Langtry and Shawn Nadelen. Both announced their retirements, closing their chapters as significant contributors to the NLL as players. Langtry will go down as one of the finest American forwards to play the game, his approach being a perfect fit for the rabid fans in Colorado. Nadelen, who called it a career to focus on his new head coaching duties at Towson, will be remembered as one of the finest American defenders to suit up. His lockdown style for the Wings was textbook, and his calm, quiet leadership will be missed in the Wings’ locker room.

Shawn Williams
Shawn Williams

17. Resurgence of Brooklin Redmen: Brampton and Peterborough. Those 2 have pretty much been the class of MSL, playing each other in the Ontario finals every season since 2002. This year was no exception, but it almost was. The Brooklin Redmen got Shawn Williams back and the cagy veteran was on fire from the get go, carding a 9-point (3-6) effort in the season-opening 12-8 win over Peterborough. Powered by Williams, who finished the season with 120 points, the Redmen opened the season with a 9-2 mark en route to a 13-7 final record. Hopes were high entering the playoff round and the squad even took a 2-0 series lead on Brampton. But the Excels rallied to end Brooklin’s season, winning 4-2 in a series that included 3 overtime games.

16. Executive shakeups in WLA: The wild west could only dream of so much action. Lots of shakeups in the Western Lacrosse Association and we’re not talking players. We’re talking bench bosses. Les Wingrove is out as GM of the Coquitlam Adanacs after 20-plus years with the team. Bob Salt is sacked as coach of the New Westminster Salmonbellies after losing 3 straight Mann Cup finals, and he’s later hired to coach the Adanacs. Walt Christianson resigns as coach of the Victoria Shamrocks and he’s replaced by Bob Heyes. And it didn’t stop there as the WLA found itself with a new commissioner in Casey Cook, replacing Ernie Truant.

Kevin Crowley
Kevin Crowley

15. Depth of talent in 2011 NLL entry draft: When it comes to living up to the hype, no one does it better than the 2011 entry draft class. From Kevin Crowley to Stephen Keogh to Evan Kirk to Jeremy Thompson to Travis Cornwall. The entry draft for 2011 had a little bit of everything for everyone and that was no joke. When you consider that the first 20 draft picks, that’s every name called in the first 2 rounds, plus 2 more picks, made the final rosters of the teams that selected them, what more evidence do you need? And when we say rosters, we say active rosters. Not practice squads. As impressive as that is, it’s even moreso when you consider the league lost a team, meaning 23 fewer jobs. So with 22 drafted rooks on rosters, you pretty much have your own expansion team and it actually might not do that bad. Going with first-round picks only, the lineup could read something like Evan Kirk in goal, Dan Coates and Travis Cornwall on defense with Crowley and Keogh on the right, and Johnny Powless on the left side up top. Any way you shake it down, you’ve got perhaps the deepest pool of talent in a rookie class. Ever.

14. Emergence of NALL and CLax: NLL ain’t enough for ya? Need more than Major Series or the Western Lacrosse Association? Even more than Junior A, B, or C? How about Senior B? Still not enough? Well, maybe the new North American Lacrosse League or even CLax will do it for you. Either way, the addition of these 2 new box leagues adds to options for lacrosse fans across America. The NALL is situated in the United States with 5 teams, its priority being the opportunity for American players to learn the box game will earning a paycheck. CLax, with 6 teams, is based in Canada and will bring the game back to an old-school style with limited substitutions on defense that will encourage fast breaks and re-learn the value of true 2-way players. The NALL kicks off on Jan. 19 and CLax opens Jan. 7, so make plans to follow and cheer even more box lacrosse.

Derek Keenan
Derek Keenan

13. Edmonton Rush makeover: If it’s urgency you’re sensing from the Edmonton Rush, you’re senses are working. Of course, 1 playoff appearance in 6 season of existence tends to do that, especially after your 2010 season ended with you being 1 goal away from a berth in the NLL title game. And then in 2011, the expectations fall flat to the tune of a 5-11 record. Trades and drafts helped GM and coach Derek Keenan revamp the Edmonton roster, bringing in the likes of Aaron Wilson, Scott Evans, Kyle Rubisch, Chris CorbeilShawn Williams, Aaron Bold and Brodie MacDonald, a goalie who just helped the Langley Thunder reach their first Mann Cup. They also got Athan Iannucci, but the forward has yet to report or sign. But this is more than a reshuffling of the chairs on the deck of the Titanic. It’s more like a stocking of prized bulls at the rodeo. The Rush are primed to field an offense the likes of which Edmonton fans have never seen. It’s a roster full of proven veterans who were traded away by teams they’ll be eager to show made a mistake. Throw in a stable full of young, eager talent and the Rush could very well be contending for an NLL title this spring.

12. Rochester Knighthawks deal trio of veterans: Loyalty only gets you far in certain parts of this world and when that world is the business of lacrosse, it’s not very far at all. And that’s understandable because priority No. 1 in any professional sport is winning and the Rochester Knighthawks believe they’ll do more of that with a younger lineup. So that’s what they’ve done. They’ve created a young lineup, a very young lineup after trading away veterans Shawn Evans, Scott Evans and Shawn Williams. And that comes after the 2010 trade of John Grant Jr. So gone are 4 of the most talented sticks in the game, in exchange for some young, but unproven talent. How it all plays out remains to be seen but if the preseason is any indication, those young legs will serve Rochester well after the Knighthawks won both of their preseason games.

11. NLL rules changes: Drop the ball. Not so fast with that substitution. Slim down on the pads, goalie. Cut that stick, Mr. Defense. The NLL announced several new rules for the 2012 season and the popular belief is that they’re designed to hurry the pace of the game as well as encourage more offense. After all, who among us is adverse to scoring? In short, the new rules will require players to drop the ball in place on change of possession calls, subs will keep both feet in the box before entering the field of play, teams have 8 seconds to cross center line, defenders’ sticks are shortened from 46 to 42 inches and goalies’ padding is 1 inch thinner. It all adds up to being a boost for the offensive style of lacrosse that makes highlight reels. When’s the last time you saw a defensive check make the list of Top 10 plays? Exactly. Teams will be hustling to cross the center, they’ll be working against defenders with shorter sticks and shooting on goalies with smaller pads. There’s too much skill for offensive guys these days not to feast on these changes, and the early verdicts from preseason games is that these changes are for the better.

Mike Hasen coached Brampton to the 2011 Mann Cup title.
Mike Hasen coached Brampton to the 2011 Mann Cup title.

10. Brampton wins Mann Cup: Brampton was not supposed to even be at the Mann Cup, much less win it. The roster was gutted from 2010. No Shawn Williams. No Aaron Wilson. No Josh Sanderson. No Blaine Manning. No Brodie Merrill. And there they were, the maroon and gold as the last man standing after knocking off a resurgent Brooklin Redmen squad and then the star-studded Peterborough Lakers. A shot for their 10th Mann Cup title was there for the taking, even if the upstart Langley Thunder had other ideas in winning Game 1 of the series out West. The Excels were without forward Dan Dawson and goalie Anthony Cosmo in Game 1 and they were held to just 3 goals in an 11-3 win for the Thunder. But Dawson and Cosmo returned in time for Game 2 and the Excels won out to claim the title they had last won in 2009. But make no mistake, it wasn’t all Coz and Dangerous Dan. Zack Greer put up 13 points in the 5 games and newcomer Joe Walters was a pleasant surprise, also posting 13 points and that included a 2-3 performance in Game 2. Coach Mike Hasen took what he had in a roster that really lacked star power and turned it into a defensive machine led by the likes of Sandy Chapman, Kyle Rubisch, Jon Harasym, Tyler Burton and Chris Corbeil. Well done, Excels. Well done.

Click here to see a photo gallery of the 2011 Mann Cup

Chris Hall
Chris Hall

9. Chris Hall battles cancer: Chris Hall has established himself as one of the best coaches in the NLL and more importantly, one of the best human beings. Stern and demanding to his players, he’s also a father figure who hasn’t let the rigors of coaching overtake his human side. But that human side of Hall was made all too real for himself and those close to him as he announced a temporary leave from the bench of the Washington Stealth to receive treatment for throat cancer. The announcement stunned the NLL nation, but he promised to fight the disease and said doctors expect him to make a complete recovery so he can return sometime during the NLL season. So there is a silver lining in there, but still, it’s never easy to hear the news that man so classy and so professional is forced to fight this fight. No doubt, he’d much rather be breaking down Xs and Os but if he fights this cancer the way he approaches the game of lacrosse, there’s no doubt he’ll emerge a winner.

8. No Cosmo, no Powell: As the 2012 NLL season prepares to unfold, the league is ready to roll on without 2 of its best players. Goalie Anthony Cosmo and forward Casey Powell had performed admirably in Boston, Powell even becoming the first American to win MVP honors in 2010. But Boston is no more, and Cosmo was snapped up by Minnesota in the dispersal draft and Powell was taken by Rochester. Cosmo, who had the lowest goals-against average among starters last season, apparently told the Swarm he didn’t want to travel, and he’s sticking to his guns. Powell hasn’t said anything publicly, but it’s widely believe he has no intention of playing this winter. There was even talk he’d give the NALL a run, but that was squashed by a contract. Rumors abound for Cosmo, and the talk is he wants to play closer to home in Toronto, where the Rock are trying to fill the shoes of the retired Bob Watson. But the Rock say they’re happy with Matt Roik, who they acquired in a trade with Washington. The league will survive without Cosmo and Powell, but it sure would be a lot more fun with those 2 around.

7. NLL strikes TV deal with CBS Sports Network: It’s been a struggle for the National Lacrosse League to get itself back on television since the 2008 labor discord nearly cost the league its entire season. But the season was saved and games on TV have been largely relegated to taped replays, at least on the national level. Games here and there on the Versus Network have been a welcome addition to help extend the reach of the game, but if it’s a live game you want to see, the internet was pretty much the only option. Until this coming season. Back in November, the NLL announced an agreement with CBS Sports Network to broadcast 8 games, including the championship, live and in high definition. Sure, it’s the CBS Sports Network, but it’s a start. And it’s live.

6. Canada wins gold in Prague: It was more of the same at the World Indoor Lacrosse Championships, being contested in May in Prague, Czech Republic. The buzz going into the tournament is that Canada’s supremacy was going to be challenged by improved squads being fielded by the Iroquois Nationals and the USA. And as improved as those teams may have been, they still weren’t good enough to dethrone the Canucks. Team Canada put on a dizzying display of dominance, scoring a tournament-high 81 points and allowing a mind-numbing 8 goals in the 3 pool games. That bought them a bye in the quarterfinal round and a meeting with Team USA in the semis, where Canada won 15-10. Hurting the Americans the most was their 11-10 pool loss to the Iroquois. That mean the Americans had to play in a quarterfinal game and kept them out of the opposite bracket to set up a possible Canada-USA final. Instead, it was the Iroquois who advance to the final and Canada went on to win gold with a 13-6 victory. The U.S. settled for bronze after a 16-7 win over the host Czechs. Looking ahead to the 2015 tournament, is Buffalo poised to host?

The Whitby Warriors celebrate their 2011 Minto Cup victory. (Photo: Dave Fryer Photography)
The Whitby Warriors celebrate their 2011 Minto Cup victory. (Photo: Dave Fryer Photography)

5. Whitby Warriors win Minto Cup: Minto Cup fever was in full stride at Okotoks, especially for the defending champion Coquitlam Adanacs. The A’s had cruised right into the finals where they were to face a Whitby Warriors team that had played well in Ontario, but perhaps weren’t given the credit they deserved while a red-hot Six Nations team and an always tough Orangeville squad took the headlines. But the Warriors took charge under coach Derek Keenan and forward Mark Matthews, who ironically had played the year before in Coquitlam and led them to that 2010 Minto title. And in the end, it was Keenan, Matthews and the Warriors who were lifting the hardware to give Whitby its first Minto Cup title since 1999.

Click here to see a photo gallery of the 2011 Minto Cup

4. Langley Thunder make first appearance in Mann Cup: Brampton, Peterborough, Victoria and New Westminster. They’re all names we see regularly at the Mann Cup and Brampton was no exception in 2011, even though it was a bit of a surprise to see the Excels there after a slight revamp of their roster while the star-studded Lakers were sent home early. But as surprising as it was to see Brampton there, it was even more of a surprise to see the Langley Thunder come out of the West. Excitement was infectious for this franchise, making its first appearance after stunning Victoria and New West in the WLA playoffs. The Thunder looked poised to continue the string of upsets with a win in Game 1, but the excels got a few of their regulars back after job commitments were taken care of, and that was enough to end the dream for the Thunder. They didn’t win the series, but they won the hearts of many an adoring lacrosse fan who were pleased to see a different sweater playing for the Manner.

3. Boston Blazers fold: If general managers, coaches and scouts aren’t directly involved with summer ball teams in MSL and WLA, they’re still paying attention to what’s going on because their next superstar could be there. And that’s why they pay atttention, especially in August, because that’s playoff time and it’s also the time these NLL suits are preparing for the league’s entry draft that’s held every September. So imagine their surprise when they found out just a month before that draft that there’d be another draft because the Boston Blazers were folding up shop. That’s a pool of 26 players who already have NLL experience and it threw the entry draft strategy for a loop. It was a disheartening news outta Beantown because the Blazers appeared to be building a solid team with a solid fan base that even got to witness a “lap dance.” The Blazers said they’re working on returning to the league, hopefully in 2013.

Bob Watson rode off into retirement as an NLL champ. (Photo: Graig Abel)
Bob Watson rode off into retirement as an NLL champ. (Photo: Graig Abel)

2. Bob Watson heads into retirement a champion: Bob Watson said he was done. Said it before the season even started. No matter what went down, he was done. One of the greatest goaltenders to ever play the indoor game was true to himself, shying away from the accolades and praise. And who knows? Maybe that’s why he played goaltender, so he could comfortably hide away in all that padding. But for as quiet and as humble as he is off the floor, he’s a terror when he steps into that crease and all you need to do is ask any of the hundreds of shooters who shot on him, and were denied. But there is one thing that Whipper can’t deny. His rep in the game is cemented as one of the all-time greats, and the Toronto Rock winning an NLL championship, in Toronto, was as fitting an end for a champion as we’ll ever see in the NLL.

Coach Dave Pym didn't let off-floor issues affect the Roughnecks, a testament to his coaching abilities. (Photo: Roughnecks)
Coach Dave Pym didn't let off-floor issues affect the Roughnecks, a testament to his coaching abilities. (Photo: Roughnecks)

1. Calgary Roughnecks’ financial situation: We knew heading into the season that the Calgary Roughnecks were for sale and while the news was a bit of a surprise when it first broke, it was nothing compared to what followed. We love this game and we love the people who play it and make it possible to play it, but the news that the Riggers were facing the possibility of not even finishing the season because of financial difficulties was downright stunning. It sent us reeling and as much as we enjoy the rivalries and as cool as it is for us to root for our favorite teams to beat everyone else, no one wanted this. Bandits fans wouldn’t wish this on the Knighthawks and Rock fans wouldn’t wish this on the Bandits. Because when it comes to the larger picture of the game, we’re all fans and we all want each other around. If we’re not around, we have no rivalries. It’s as simple as that, so the NLL worked behind the scenes, talks were conducted and anonymous donors chipped in to help. And perhaps the most amazing thing about it all is that the Riggers themselves seemed undaunted, taking care of what they could only take care of, and that was the game on the rug. Coach Dave Pym deserves a boatload of props for keeping it together in the locker room, and he’d no doubt give credit to the boys themselves. Either way, they kept it together and the suits did their part as the Riggers were able to finish their season with an NLL-best 11-5 record and a playoff appearance. After the season ended, the sale of the team was made official to the NHL’s Calgary Flames and new GM Mike Board came, er, on board, with a genuine enthusiasm. That attitude, along with what seems to be a more secure financial footing, has everyone in Calgary, and around the NLL, feeling much better today.

Honorable mention

Casey Powell is on top as the No. 1 overall goal-scoring American in NLL history, surpassing former Wings star Jake Bergey. Powell finished the 2011 season with a combined 284 goals in the regular season and playoffs to surpass Bergey’s mark of 269. Powell’s season of 34 goals and 47 assists also made him the regular-season scoring champ among Americans, also passing Bergey’s standard. With possibly more NLL ball left in him, Powell currently stands at 254 regular-season goals and 595 points. Bergey’s marks are 256 and 557. … The Six Nations Junior B squad returned to the top with its win at the Founders Cup … St. Regis tops Snake Island to win the Senior B Presidents Cup … The Junior A St. Catharines Saints are pulling out all the stops in their attempt to return to the glory of years past, announcing that Darris Kilgour and Mike Lines will co-coach the team in 2012 … Welcome to the world of lacrosse, officially, Israel. The nation was granted FIL membership in June … Trades happen, some more alarming than others. So when Minnesota shipped former No. 1 overall entry draft pick Zack Greer to Edmonton, it made the news … You can’t say we don’t hold ourselves accountable here at ILIndoor.com. We analyze and report, but we also try our hand at predictions. How did we do in predicting which teams would finish where in 2011? Check out our guesses here … And in one more move of shameless promotion, check out our new Twitter handle if you haven’t already … And finally, if you didn’t like the way our staff picks turned out in 2011, how did you fans do?

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 bob.chavez@nllinsider.com or go to RochesterSports.com.

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