Kaminski Returns to the Cortland Cage
|Six games into the 2011 season
and Cortland goalie Mike Kaminski had lost his job. A year later,
the junior is back in better shape and with an improved attitude,
leading the Red Dragons to a 21-0 record and a shot at the national
championship on Sunday.
© Darl Zehr Photography
What a difference a year can make.
That's what Mike Kaminski was thinking as he sat on the bench after getting the hook in the sixth game of the season against RIT last spring when he allowed nine second-half goals. Just a year before in 2010, the Cortland goalie was the toast of Central New York after starting all 20 games as a rookie, posting a 17-3 record and a 5.94 goals against average. His performance helped the Red Dragons get to the cusp of playing for a national championship game.
A year later and Cortland was riding a two-game losing streak. And Kaminski had lost his job to rookie netminder Scott Tota, who started the remaining 13 games of the season, finishing with a 12-1 mark.
Kaminski's shoulder was a little banged up, but he was ready to go in the contest against Oneonta that followed the RIT setback. Cortland head coach Steve Beville wasn't ready to go with Kaminski, however.
"It's a story that we've all seen before," said Beville. "A guy comes in as a freshman and he's a starter the whole season and has a tough game in his last game. He doesn't do much in the offseason to make himself better, and has a few poor games early in the year. He gets replaced by someone who is outplaying him, and is never able to get back in there."
"It wasn't because of my injury that I lost my spot," admitted Kaminski. "It was more of my play and my attitude. It was a frustrating year."
He was frustrated, but he didn't become a cancer.
"Through it all, he was a good teammate," said Beville. "When Tota took over, there was never a time when he wasn't supportive of Scott. That said a lot about Mike during that period. He wasn't happy about it, and he was competitive and wanted to get back in there, but he wasn't putting himself above the team."
Like many players before him in the same situation, Kaminski was given the choice of either pouting his way into a perpetual second-string situation, or he could embrace the challenge.
"Coach informed me what I needed to do in terms of getting into the weight room and having the attitude of being a leader on defense," Kaminski said. "I came into this year willing to work a lot harder and I wanted to be a part of the team and be the starting goalie."
Kaminski's biggest asset as a goalie is his size. At 6-foot-4 and 205 pounds, he is an intimidating presence in the cage for shooters. While he does have good hands, Beville needed him to be be more active in the weight room if he was going to see the field.
Last summer consisted of almost daily trips to the gym, as well as countless hours taking shots and improving his overall demeanor.
"I was really excited to change my ways over the summer and get involved as far as getting stronger physically and mentally," Kaminski said. "My coaches have been telling me to use my size as an advantage and staying big in the net. The coaches told me over and over again: you have to stay tall. Don't drop your stick. That really helped me. Once I understood that, it really helped me to use my size."
"We tell every player on the team, 'When you step back on campus after the summer, nobody has a position and no one has a spot on the team,'" Beville said. "He knew that there was going to be an opportunity to prove himself again, and he did that. I attribute that to the hard work and time he put in during the offseason."
This season, Kaminski has started all 21 games, winning every one of them and posting ridiculous stats along with it – 5.13 GAA and a 66.3 save percentage. Now, a year after finishing the most frustrating season in his lacrosse career, Kaminski will have a chance to win a national championship.
He'll enter Sunday's game with supreme confidence after defeating Tufts in the semifinals – the team that started the spiral culminating in last year's hook.
In the 2010 semifinals, Cortland held a 7-3 over the Jumbos with nine minutes left in the third quarter. Kaminski allowed seven of the next nine goals while making only four saves, allowing Tufts to take the 10-9 victory that it eventually parlayed into an NCAA title.
Last Sunday, Kaminski struggled in the first half, allowing the Jumbos to build a 9-4 lead, but then turned into a wall in the second half, when he made nine of his career-high 16 saves, helping the Red Dragons rally for a 12-10 triumph.
"Mike has shown his mettle and the Tufts game was a microcosm of his career," Beville said. "He started out with a couple of good saves, and then our defense broke down a little bit in the second quarter and he let a couple in that he has been getting this year. Tufts got on a run, but that second half came and he shook off that tough second quarter and shut the door on them. I think that going through some of the tough times has prepared him for the tough times he may see on the field right now."
The game against Salisbury will likely present a sizeable challenge for Kaminski, as well, but he's right where he wanted to be at the end of this season.
"It's the greatest feeling in the world," said Kaminski of playing for all the marbles. "I've gone to this game as a kid and I saw all these teams play. It's weird that I'm finally going to be playing in this game."
What a difference a year can make.