NLL All-Stars set to descend on Buffalo

The 2012 National Lacrosse League All-Star Game will bring out the best. At least on offense. Defense? That’s another story. “It’s a game of creativity and skill and talent,” said Washington Stealth coach Chris Hall, who will coach the West Division team against the East Division tonight at 7 p.m. (EST) in Buffalo. “Defenders will defend to the best of their ability but they don’t want to be overly aggressive. They don’t want to be embarrassed either, but they understand this is a showcase game.” The East won last year’s game, 30-26, to set a record for combined goals, so that gives you some idea of what the goalies and defenders are up against. “The guys I feel sorry for are the goalies,” said Toronto Rock coach Troy Cordingley, who will coach the East Division. “They’re going to face a load of shots.”

But like Hall said, the defenders understand. Fans don’t come to these games to see shut-down defense. They come to see offense and they’ll see plenty of it with sticks like John Grant Jr., Gavin Prout, Ryan Benesch, Jeff Shattler, John Tavares, Cody Jamieson, Luke Wiles, Kevin Crowley and Garrett Billings (see full All-Star rosters here). That’s quite a handful of offense, and like Hall said, the defenses will be picking their poison on a lot of shifts, but that doesn’t mean defense will be checked at the gate.

“I’m definitely looking to cheat a little bit more,” Buffalo Bandits defenseman¬†Billy Dee Smith told the Buffalo News. “I still don’t see myself letting someone running around me to score. I don’t think I’ll be as aggressive and hard-nosed as I normally am, but that doesn’t mean there will be a free lane to the net.”

And if fans are excited to see such a showcase, imagine being able to coach these teams. “It’s a lot of fun,” said Cordingley. “It’s great to have the best seat in the house.”

Hall, who has missed all of the season up to this weekend as he undergoes treatment for throat cancer, is understandably eager for his return to the bench. Both Friday night for the Stealth’s home game against Washington and tonight’s All-Star Game. “Yeah, I’m pretty excited,” he said. “I’m feeling pretty strong and have been working on nutrition, getting my strength back and putting some weight back on.”

The Buffalo News is reporting about 13,000 tickets sold for the game and the front office has been busy trying to coordinate schedules so all the All-Stars will get to Buffalo for the game. And that’s been nothing short of a challenge with 4 games on tap for Friday night, meaning several of the All-Stars will be grabbing red-eye flights.

But this is the All-Star Game, and most of the guys are looking forward to it. No matter how much rest they may or may not have heading into the game. “It’s a joy to be out there for these games,” Wiles told the Buffalo News. “It’s a pleasure to be out there with those guys. When I’m 40, 50, 60 and can barely walk because my knees are shot, I’ll think back to these times.”

Stay tuned to ILIndoor.com for Saturday’s All-Star game, where correspondent Steve Bermel will be providing regular updates.

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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