Goaltending is always critical in lacrosse and we’ve seen some pretty divergent performances so far. There were questions about the Rock’s youth in net, which led owner Jamie Dawick to tweet after their pair of weekend wins, “No goalie problems here in @TorontoRockLax. I’m expecting@NickRose66to be named NLL player of the Week.” Things weren’t as rosy in Colorado or Buffalo. The Mammoth situation was uncertain going in and both Chris Levis and Matt Roik struggled. In Buffalo, star keeper Anthony Cosmo got pulled from both weekend games. Today, IL Indoor’s crack roundtable team of Bob Chavez, Teddy Jenner, Ty Pilson, Marty O’Neill and Stephen Stamp discuss what we can expect in the nets for all three teams going forward as well as the role of rookies early in the season.
CHAVEZ: The success of Nick Rose this past weekend is not surprising. He’s poised for greatness. The situation in Colorado doesn’t surprise me either as there were plenty of questions there brought up before the season started. I was pretty surprised about what went down in Buffalo, though. Darris Kilgour said he pulled Cosmo to keep his confidence intact and that might work for a game or two as the Bandits get their act together on defence. Saturday’s game against the Knighthawks will be a real test, though. No disrespect to Philly, but if the Bandits struggled to solve that offence, what are they going to do against a unit that has Jamieson, Powless, Powell, Accursi, Dawson and Vitarelli?
PILSON: Ah, goaltending in the NLL. Is there any one position more important in this league? Definitely not. And if you have an off night or your defence struggles, the spotlight shines brighter on you than if a goalscorer struggles or a D guy gets burned two or three times. Rose looked solid in Calgary during his short time here, but it was obvious he still needed to adjust to the league. He had a great summer and earned two big wins over the weekend. Not to take anything away from him, but both Calgary and Edmonton did a great job missing the net and bruising his chest protector. Two games does not a season make but Rose is the real deal and Toronto does not have a goaltending issue. As for Buffalo, Cosmo needs the Bandits D to tighten up but he also needs the offence to play smarter. Stretch the shot clock, don’t turn over the ball and — most importantly — score like they did against Minnesota so he sees less rubber at his end. We knew the Mammoth had arguably the shakiest goaltending situation going into the season. Both Levis and Roik can play like MVPs, but they can also struggle mightily at times. I still think Levis is the guy for Colorado, but there’s no doubt he has to tighten up his game.
JENNER: Whoever questioned Toronto’s goaltending should be drug out into the street and shot…Rose is a top tier starter in the game of lacrosse and is a huge reason why Toronto finished so well last year, why Coquitlam was a force out west this summer and why the Rock are my favourites to win the East. Their only issue may be their back-up and Zach Boychuk has seen as much NLL playing time as Chavez, but that’s not to say he’s not capable. With the system Cordingly has in place, Rose is set up to confidently play his position because the defence makes it easy for him. Conversely, the Mammoth D does no favours to their tenders by leaving them out to dry. Case in point, how do you let Dean Hill slide down the backside of the defence unnoticed, get a pass and throw a few fakes before dumping it into the net. There are a lot of good goalies in this league but great goalies are often a benefactor of great defences.
O’NEILL: One game does not make a season in either direction. I think Brandon Miller is a very strong, mature goalie who in a one game take all would be right near the top of my list of goaler selections. The last few years have been a rough ride for Miller in Philly due to turnover and other forces that have left the Wings defence in a mess here and there. As a goalie you play the game that comes at you; it’s never the same twice. With age comes patience and the knowingness that whatever happens tonight, tomorrow is just another day. That is why I think the storyline is not set in any city, from Denver to Buffalo to Philly. Some nights my mother could stand in there and have 30 shots hit her while other nights it seems everything shot finds a corner or a deflection or comes around a screen and you can’t win for trying. If we were four games in it might be time for some movement, but so far I see a team effort in all the goalie chasing and some vets who need to buckle down next time out.
STAMP: Tell us how you really feel, Teddy. For the record, I was one of those people wondering how it would work out for Toronto having two young goalies. I think Rose is an excellent goalie and his experience playing tons of big games with Orangeville prepared him well for the higher levels, but you never really know how a goalie will work out in the NLL until you’ve seen him play in the league for a while. On the other hand, young players seem to be hitting their stride in the league earlier and earlier in their careers, particularly runners. Four rookies scored hat tricks last weekend and a bunch of young defenders played well. Even later round picks like Tim Henderson and Kyle Buchanan in Washington are having immediate impacts.
PILSON: I think the fact many draft picks come into the league now with a season or two of senior A ball under their belts really helps. Today’s young players also have incredible fitness levels, which greatly contributes to their early success in this league. You can see that even though the goalies are better in the NLL, the top-flight young forwards have such incredible sticks they take advantage of any chance they get and the extra net to shoot at.
JENNER: Ty nailed it—every year rookies are coming in more and more prepared. It’s an evolution and it’s great for the game of lacrosse. But it’s also stretching further across the board as veteran guys are realizing they have to keep up with the young guys in order to hold on to their gigs. Look at Luke Wiles—guy starts working out with Rabil and Hartzell and starts putting up career stats. Scott Self and Tracey Kelusky are other examples of guys starting to do more off floor work than ever before. What does that mean for fans?! Better lacrosse!
CHAVEZ: Ty also pointed out something else that NLL goalies in the past have talked about in that the NLL cages are slightly bigger than what they see in Canada all summer. Training camps and early-season games can be rough as goalies adjust. So like Marty said, some keepers might look shaky right now but let’s get a couple of more games in and then coaches will have a better gauge.
O’NEILL: I think that goes for EVERYONE. You even hear it out of Cliff Smith’s mouth that we’ve only seen a week or two of action. Buffalo and Minny saved their seasons last year in the month of April. Goalies having a hot team or defence has a lot to do with goalies getting in a rhythm. On the other hand, the Canadians have learned to bring up their fitness level like the Americans, which is a big factor why there have been less and less USA players in the NLL as of late. Teams have to get systems down in game, and that holds true for rookies more than the rest. There is more of that to come.Stamp is a TV sports announcer and lacrosse lover whose skill set made him a defender but who always dreamed of being a goal-scorer. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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