May 8, 2009

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Paul Gait Handicaps East, West Division Finals

by Theresa Smith | Special to Lacrosse Magazine Online

Rochester head coach Paul Gait, who has not yet been offered a contract for 2009-10, has expressed interest in returning after leading the Knighthawks to a playoff appearance in his rookie campaign behind the bench.

Fresh off his team's heartbreaking loss to New York -- in which Titans' forward Casey Powell scored the final three goals of the game, tying it with the second one and winning it in overtime - Rochester Knighthawks coach Paul Gait agreed to give his view of the National Lacrosse League semifinals.

For the East Division championship, New York hosts defending champion Buffalo on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J.

In the West Division , San Jose travels to Calgary's Saddledome for a 7 p.m. Mountain contest Saturday.

After a Hall of Fame playing career and one season as a head coach in the league, Gait has a keen interest in what it takes to hoist a Champion's Cup. After all, his team will be bolstered next season by the return of star players John Grant Jr. and Scott Evans, both of whom missed the Knighthawks' season due to major knee surgeries.

Gait handicapped the division finals under three criteria: goalie play, go-to-guys and experience.

Goalie Play

When it comes to playoff lacrosse, Gait believes it starts in the net.

"It seems like getting experienced goaltending plays a major role in a playoff victory," he said. "At the same time, the goaltenders match up pretty well in both division finals, so the teams that can take quality shots and put goals in the net have a distinct advantage."

New York's Matt Vinc has been solid. Buffalo's Ken Montour led the league with the lowest goals against average the entire season.

Calgary alternated two talented netminders during the season, but went with Matt King in the playoffs. King stymied Colorado's shooters, making 40 saves in the Roughnecks' 15-8 triumph. San Jose has gone with rookie Tyler Richards down the stretch and in its 20-16 playoff upset of Portland, in which he made 40 saves.

Go-To Guys

The next key: elite scorers. It's an all-too-fresh element for Gait.

"If Casey has a great game, I think New York will win," he said of Powell. "If Mark Steenhuis and John Tavares are great, I think it will be Buffalo."

Steenhuis put up four goals in an 11-8 playoff win over Boston; Tavares had two goals and four assists. In contrast, Boston star Dan Dawson was held without a goal, but had seven assists.

Powell netted four goals and four assists against Rochester.

As a player, Gait witnessed exceptional playoff performances by his twin brother, Gary Gait, and Tavares. He ranks Powell's heroics against Rochester among the best.

"Casey stepping up like that in the playoffs is a sign that he belongs in that company," Gait said.

Experience

Playing in the East Division, Gait admitted he was not as familiar with Calgary and San Jose, but the Knighthawks did play both teams, falling to San Jose, 16-6, and losing to Calgary, 12-9.

"San Jose has great talent and they obviously needed more experience," he said. "Once they got that, they got better because they are a great passing team.

"Calgary has heart. We were up 7-1 on them and they rallied. Plus, they have chemistry and are a proven winner with the best record in the league."


Will he return?

Since his retirement, Gait has funneled his competitive fire into his lacrosse equipment manufacturing business, Gait by de Beer.

"I look at my competitors as if they are other teams," he said.

When Gait was hired at the start of the season to replace the fired Paul Suggate, he gained another competitive outlet. Juggling his business and his new coaching career, Gait guided Rochester from a 0-4 start to an overtime playoff loss to the regular-season East Division champion Titans.

With Grant and Evans back on the floor next season, the future is bright for Rochester, although Gait's future is undecided. He would like to return, but he has not yet been offered a contract.

"I have a pretty good understanding of what it takes to coach, and I think I'm capable," he said. "I would love to do it again."


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