Shooting touch heats up for Garrett Billings

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Garrett Billings may want to trade in those new Under Armour gloves for a pair of oven mitts — the guy’s got a white-hot stick right now. After scoring just one goal and eight points in his first two games of the season, he has 13 goals and 26 points in his last three games. He broke out of his early-season slump with five goals and nine points against the Stealth on Jan. 31. On Feb. 2 — a few days before his birthday — he had a pair of goals and five points in a loss to Buffalo before putting up monster numbers this past weekend with six goals and six helpers in Toronto’s 20-10 blowout win over Philly. So what changed for him? “Just confidence really,” said Billings.

“I’m more thinking shot first right now and everybody has to react against that. Sometimes you sit on your heels and try to make too nice a play or not being aggressive and going to the net and that makes it easy on the defence.”

As the old saying goes, he shot himself out of his slump.

“Those first two weeks I was a bit rusty and couldn’t get anything to drop for me,” said Billings. “It’s funny, in lacrosse, how things change for you and how quickly they can change.”

While the righty is one of the league’s best snipers and premier feeders, finishing second in league scoring last season to Shawn Evans, Billings admits games like his last one don’t come along that often.

“Luck had to go along with it last game,” he said. “They said I only had seven shots but I think that was maybe a bit of a mistake. But you can’t hope to shoot like that ever so I was happy they were dropping for me.”

On one goal, Billings wasn’t far past the restraining line near the middle of the floor when he fired an absolute laser sidearm shortside. On a shot like that, you wonder how much was aiming, how much was just getting it on net when there are a couple of bodies as screens. Billings said he doesn’t fire many Hail Marys at the net.

“I’m probably a guy that aims too much,” he explained. “In junior, the biggest part of development in my career I’d say, we were playing on four-by-four nets and the goalies had the big wood sticks so you really weren’t making goalies move at all. You couldn’t. So I was more of a guy who had to pick my spots. I’m better at the accuracy side of things.”

That accuracy has come from thousands of hours spent tossing balls at the net.

“I put a ton of time into shooting,” said Billings. “I’m a little spoiled. Where I grew up in Langley we had a really nice outdoor facility and later we had a covered facility so anytime of the year I could go shoot lacrosse balls anytime I wanted. And now playing and working for the Toronto Rock we have this year-round facility where I can go take shots basically any time of the day. So it’s a lucky situation both that I grew up in and also that I find myself in now where I can work on my shot as much as I want to.”

During last weekend’s game, one of the on-air hosts remarked that Billings shot seemed faster than in year’s past. I asked him about that.

“I would bet you it’s probably not any harder than when I played junior lacrosse,” he said. “I might have even lost a mile or two an hour.”

When Paul Rabil is playing, he likely has the hardest shot in the NLL. Billings said he’d love to know which Canadian guy has the hardest in the NLL right now. With Cory Bomberry and Kaleb Toth gone from the game, that honour would likely go to John Grant Jr. figures both Billings and myself.

“It would be very cool if they had a gun on during games,” said Billings. “I bet a lot of the goals that went in wouldn’t be as hard as everyone thought.”

If Billings isn’t picking corners from the outside, he’s tossing backhands into the net like a boss. It seems he’s scored a handful of them already this season.

“It goes in cycles a lot,” said Billings. “I used to score a lot of them and then there was a couple of years it really dried up and I couldn’t score a backhand goal if my life depended on it. Last year I had some pretty good luck with them. It’s all about catching the goalie off balance or sometimes getting a little lucky. But if those ones are dropping,” he added. “You’re going to have a good year.”

The Rock offence is a prolific one so I asked Billings if he ever worries about shooting too much in games, the one criticism leveled at every NLL goal-scorer at one time or another. Does he worry he’s hogging the ball, so to speak. Does he think about that during games, or do you just go out and do what you do?

“You just have to do what you do,” he said. “It’s a dangerous thought for any of us to start thinking about that. Whether I’m playing or coaching, I’m a big believer that you have to shoot and shoot and shoot and keep shooting until your team scores enough goals to win the game.

“I hope I don’t take too many outside shots that are selfish or bad shots but our whole offence is built on generating a ton of shots so generally I just do what I do.”

QUICK STICKS: We discussed in our ILIndoor.com weekly roundtable that this was a defining weekend for the Wings with two games against two extremely tough opponents. Could Philly win one of them or both? The games would say a lot about how good their team really was. Well, they went 0-2. Not exactly a ringing endorsement for the club. However, after being blown out 20-10 against Toronto Friday the club showed a lot of character and resiliency in their outing Saturday. Sure they lost, but they held the high-octane Edmonton offence to eight goals, just two in the second half. It’s something to give long-suffering Wings fans hope for the rest of the season … How badly did the Wings miss Jordan Hall over the weekend? Despite sitting out both games due to work commitments, he’s still fifth in NLL scoring with 36 points … Curtis Dickson doubled his season production in one outing, finally having his breakout game with five goals in the win over Minny Saturday night. Dickson had just five goals heading into the contest. No surprise to me that the performance came in a game when Dickson focused on what he does best: Attacking from the low post … Really surprising how ineffective the Knighthawks offence has been this season. They are 4-2 despite averaging just 9.8 goals-per-game. That’s second worst only to Minny’s anemic 9.1 GPG. That said, Rochester is allowing just 8 goals-per-game, second to the Rush who are incredibly holding teams to just 7.5 GPG … Pretty hard to imagine this season going any worse for the Stealth at this point. They are 2-6 after dropping another close game, 10-9 to the visiting Mammoth (an impressive effort considering they were minus the suspended Rhys Duch). Perhaps worse, the announced attendance was just 3,614, down from their last home game against Edmonton on Feb. 25 (3,840) … Shawn Evans has struggled to find the back of the net this season with just six goals but continues to be one of the best setup men in the league. He leads the NLL with 30 assists after collecting eight helpers in Calgary’s win over Minny … You see tons of hat-tricks in the NLL, not many natural ones. Shayne Jackson turned that trick with three straight in the fourth-quarter (all beauties) to spark the Swarm’s late comeback which fell just short … Move over Dan Dawson and Tracey Kelusky, there’s a new master of the swim move. Andrew Suitor was working the front stroke to perfection Saturday, including once when he drove to the net after a swim over a defender to score as pretty an individual effort as you’ll see from any offensive star in the league … Mark Matthews was held to just one point — an assist — in the win over Philly.

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 ty.pilson@nllinsider.com or go to CalgarySun.com.

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