Brandon Miller will make a familiar flight this weekend. Once he lands, though, much will be different. Miller will take a different turn when he arrives at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, heading to the visitor’s dressing room instead of the home team’s, since he was traded from the Philadelphia Wings to the Toronto Rock in the only deal at the National Lacrosse League’s trade deadline Tuesday afternoon. It’ll be a strange sensation for him, playing for his new team against his old team just four days after the trade.
“It’s been quite a whirlwind of a day,” Miller told IL Indoor Tuesday night, a few hours after hearing about the deal from Wings coach Blane Harrison. “When you’ve been with a team as long as I’ve been with Philly, a move like this will take a bit of an adjustment, I’m sure.” Miller will start making that adjustment Wednesday night, when he joins the Rock for his first mid-week practice since he played for the Chicago Shamrox half a dozen years ago.
The veteran joins a team that has been struggling, as has starting goalie Nick Rose. The team sits at 5-7, an unaccustomed milieu for a club that hasn’t finished below .500 since 2009, the year before they went to the first of back-to-back Champions Cup finals.
It’s not clear whether Miller will step right in as the Rock’s starter, but it is clear that he gives them more depth at the position. “It’s just an area that we’ve been after for a while to upgrade, because as everybody knows we’ve only had two goalies on our roster and if one did go down, we’re stuck with one,” said Rock General Manager Terry Sanderson. “So it fills two needs, really. A third goalie, not that [Brandon's] a third. He’ll automatically go in there and be battling for playing time with Nick.”
Miller has a 44-66 career record, with a 12.23 goals against average and .759 save percentage. His average statistics are somewhat misleading, though, since he’s played with a Philadelphia team that hasn’t had a winning record since the 2008 season during which he was acquired from Chicago. Miller is considered by many to be an elite goalie, a status he showed off in spades during last fall’s Mann Cup Canadian senior lacrosse championship series.
He stepped in for starter Evan Kirk, who had been arguably the best goalie in the league all summer, during the series and posted phenomenal numbers to help lead the Six Nations Chiefs (with whom he played with new Rock teammates Colin Doyle, Rob Marshall, Kasey Beirnes and Jesse Gamble) to the title. He had a 4.45 goals against average and .904 save percentage. Chances are he would have been named the MVP of the series were it not for an ethereal performance by forward Cody Jamieson.
Now he’ll hope to help lead the Rock to a title, as well. After all, “at this stage in our careers, that’s what it’s all about,” Miller says. “It’s not about money it’s about winning championships. Neither of us has [a Champions Cup], so at the end of the day it won’t matter whether it’s Nick or me in the net, as long as we win.”
Rock fans have been clamouring for some help in goal, and they’ll certainly be hoping that Miller can help settle down a Toronto defence that has allowed 12.75 goals per game this season and which Sanderson describes as a work in progress. “It’s no secret when you have that many young kids playing and not having all the veteran guys out on the floor to run them through some of the situations, it hasn’t been to what we expect or to our standards. It will get better. It’s a work in progress. Are we happy with them? Some of the time, sure. Other times, we’re not. Just getting healthy I think that helps us out,” Sanderson says.
Sanderson says there’s no question that Miller is still a quality goalie at the NLL level and thinks he could improve now that he’s playing close to home. “If anything, I would expect him to play better because he doesn’t have to hop on a plane every week and travel and go through all that to play. It’ll be an easier commute for him. He’s coming into a familiar scene with playing with some of the guys he played with in the summer time and old junior teammates. If anything, I expect his game to elevate.”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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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