Last week, I gave you my thoughts on some of the players to watch during the coming National Lacrosse League season. Today, I offer Part II of my list. These are all players — in my mind — who have compelling plotlines to their play this year. Hard to believe the opener is about 1 week away, but the defending-champion Rochester Knighthawks will be in Washington to play the Stealth on Jan. 5 so with that in mind, let’s take a look at the rest.
1. Anthony Cosmo
It wasn’t that long ago that Cosmo was considered by many as the best goalie in the game. However, if a guy sits out half a season (well, actually six games) — after what was a so-so year for him the previous campaign in Boston — and the world seemingly moves on (note my sarcasm). Pro sports is a cruel world of ‘what-have-you-done-for-me-lately.’ When Cosmo did return to the crease, he was carrying a fair bit of rust on his shoulders and had a struggling Bandits team ahead of him. The results were very un-Cosmo like numbers: A 12.41 GAA and .759 save percentage in 382.02 minutes of play. Steve Dietrich has re-tooled the Bandits and the team looks to reclaim its status as a perennial title contender. Cosmo’s play will be a integral part of any return to glory for Buffalo. He’s still big, he’s still mobile and he’s still capable of being the best backstop in the NLL.
2. John Tavares
Time eventually catches up to all athletes — no matter how exceptional they are. Just ask Wayne Gretzky or — better yet — Michael Jordan. The greatest basketball player in the history of the game (IMO) embarrassed himself with too many ‘comeback’ bids. However, John Tavares seems to be defying Father Time and continuing to play at the top of his game year after year after year. At 44 years of age, Tavares is still one of the best players in the game. The NLL’s all-time leading scorer (and the best box lacrosse player ever in the mind of many), he quietly put together another great year last season despite the struggles of most of his teammates around him. He finished second in goal-scoring with 41 and was tops in PP markers with 21. Coming off his record-setting eighth Mann Cup win this past summer, the southpaw shows no signs of slowing down.
3. Casey Powell
CP is the best American to ever suit up in the NLL. He made the difficult transition from field stud to NLL star and has done it better than any U.S. player before or after him. It took awhile and the transition wasn’t the smoothest, but he has solidified himself as one of the best to ever suit up in the NLL. He’s notched 254 goals in 119 regular season games, including 34 in 15 games during his last NLL campaign in 2011 with Boston (He’s scored 30 goals in 12 playoff games). Powell has gotten better as the years have gone on and one can’t help but wonder if he has another MVP-calibre season in him? He’ll be playing second fiddle (or maybe third or fourth) to Cody Jamieson, Johnny Powless and Dan Dawson, but maybe that will help facilitate his return to the NLL: Less attention from opposing defences is always a good thing.
4. Garrett Billings
Billings set a single-season assist mark last year with 82, while chipping in 32 goals. He ended up with 114 points. Any other season that would have been the story of the year. Had it not been for John Grant Junior’s heroics, more talk would have been made about what Billings accomplished. If you were picking anyone to lead the NLL in scoring this year not named Junior, Billings has to be the odds-on favourite. He’s blessed with tremendous skill and incredible floor vision — a deadly combo. Having players such as Colin Doyle, Josh Sanderson and Stephan Leblanc to feed, it’s a good bet Billings will rack up the assists again this season.
5. Evan Kirk/Tyler Carlson
Two-goalie combos (1a and 1b) are nothing new in the NLL. While most teams prefer a starter and backup, the nature of today’s game means there’s often a lot of rotating in and out of the pipes. With a nine-team league, there’s a glutton of goaltenders leading to a logjam with most clubs. However, last season’s Dynamic Duo of Kirk and Carlson was truly one of a kind, even for the NLL: They were both rookies and shared the crease all season. Kirk played less — 415.47, but sported a better 9.81 GAA and .807 save percentage. Carlson saw 498.31 minutes between the pipes, with a 12.04 GAA and .745 save percentage. Can the pair continue to share the goaltending duties with Minny or will one emerge as the No. 1?
Congratulations to Kaleb Toth on an incredible career.
He has been the face of the Roughnecks since Day 1 and done more to grow the game of lacrosse and sell the NLL in Calgary than could be chronicled in this space. On the floor he won two titles with the Riggers (a third with the Rock after his famous last-second goal) and racked up offensive numbers with a monstrous outside shot and a much-less heralded inside presence, especially working the two-man game with former road roommate Tracey Kelusky.
When Toth was required to be the team’s main weapon in the early years of the franchise, he filled that role. As his career went on, he was happy to play any part the team needed. He set picks, created space and let the club’s young stars shine. He was the consummate professional.
A future Hall-of-Famer, all that’s left is for the team to raise his No.-9 jersey to the rafters in the Saddledome. If any player deserves to have his number retired in Calgary first, it’s Toth.The assistant managing editor of the Calgary Sun, Pilson began covering the NLL when the Roughnecks started in 2000. The longtime lacrosse player has been contributing to Inside Lacrosse ever since. Email him at email@example.com or go to CalgarySun.com.
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