May 13, 2009

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NLL: Calgary's King Plays It Cool in the Cage

by Theresa Smith | Special to Lacrosse Magazine Online

Calgary goaltender Matt King has been on fire in these NLL playoffs, including 42 saves, a goal and two assists in the Roughnecks' 17-5 throttling of San Jose to seize the West Division championship.

© Calgary

Consensus says that goaltending determines National Lacrosse League playoff outcomes, yet one of the goaltenders in Friday's Champion's Cup final claims his stress level is not rising.

Calgary's Matt King calmly explained why he's not putting added pressure on himself as he prepares to face the East Division champion New York Titans at Calgary's Pengrowth Saddledome.

"I just know the strength of our team,'' he said. "Our offense is very strong, and our defense is too.

"The majority of the season and throughout playoffs, our offense has the ball more than half the time, which makes the opponent have it less than half the time, and that makes my job easy.

"There's not really that much pressure. We've averaged 16 goals in the playoffs. Really, I could have had average or below-average nights and we still probably would have won, though it has been nice to play well. I'm glad I played well.''

King, who alternated during the regular season with Pat Campbell, was chosen to start the first playoff game, a 15-8 victory over Colorado.

Troy Cordingley, newly minted NLL Coach of the Year, stayed with King against San Jose and his decision paid off in a 17-5 victory. Along with making 42 saves, King scored a goal and made two assists.

"Matt King has been given an opportunity and has taken it,'' Cordingley said. "He has been phenomenal.''

Lighting up the lamp for the first time in his career, King was the beneficiary of a San Jose miscue when the ball popped into his stick late in the first quarter. Smoothly, he fired a shot the length of the floor at the empty net, abandoned by the Stealth, scoring with one second remaining. It was only the second time a goalie has scored an NLL playoff goal. Pat O'Toole did it in 2003.

In holding San Jose to five goals, King and the Roughnecks stopped a juggernaut.  A week earlier, NLL points leader Colin Doyle, Rookie of the Year Rhys Duch and veteran Jeff Zywicki helped the Stealth put 20 goals past Portland in their first-round playoff rout.

King and the Calgary defense held Doyle to one assist.

"I think the key was our pressure-style defense,'' King said. "He's so talented; you have to take him out of his comfort zone. We pressured him to stop him from taking shots and also made him as uncomfortable as we could and stopped him from shopping and making passes. He's a great talent, an incredible player. With a guy like that, we had more success than we thought we could. He might have had an off night.''

Indeed, Doyle was playing despite an illness. Incredibly, he only mustered four shots.

"He just didn't have the time to shoot,'' King said. "If a guy like that gets one-on-one with me, he's scoring. We really did limit him. I remember him open just once and it was from the outside. It was good that I did not to have to deal with him one-on-one.''
Next up for King is a familiar figure NLL Most Valuable Player candidate Casey Powell.

King and Powell were teammates with the now-defunct Anaheim Storm in 2005. They played against each other in 2007 when King was playing for Portland and Powell was with New York, following a one-year hiatus.

They did not face each other on Feb. 28 when Calgary defeated New York, 12-10, due to Powell's injury absence.

"I'm pretty familiar with the type of player he is and he's as good as they come.'' King said. "He can pass, he can shoot, he's fast -- he's unbelievably skilled all-around. With a guy like that, we try to limit him as best as we can. He's going to do some damage. Casey's going to get three or four goals, I'm sure. And then our plan is to shut down the threats around him.''

King, who turns 28 on May 25, started playing the game as a 6-year-old and moved into the net two years later.

"I decided goalie was for me,'' he said. "What possessed me to do that, I have no idea.''

After throwing his 6-foot-1, 210-pound frame in front of high-powered lacrosse balls on weekends in Calgary and other NLL cities, King returns to Vancouver Island to teach middle school math, English and physical education in Duncan, a town 45 minutes north of Victoria.

"It's God's country out here,'' he said.

On the other side of North America, King's counterpart, New York goaltender Matt Vinc, is also in a classroom, teaching food and nutrition at Denis Morris High School in his native St. Catharine's, Ontario.

Vinc also offered high praise for King and added: "Both of us have a challenge ahead of us. I think it’ll be tough to hold them to six goals like we have."

Calgary poses the largest number of offensive threats in the league and is quarterbacked by passing magicians from each side of the floor in Josh Sanderson and Tracey Kelusky.

"Anybody on their offense can score at any minute," Vinc said. “There’s no one guy to worry about the most. You can’t come out as far, and you have to respect all the shooters because any of them can score."

Vinc, 26, is a 6-1, 225-pounder known for his athleticism, speed and agility. He played long-pole defense at Canisius College in Buffalo.

Vinc was a box lacrosse goalie growing up, but his college coach had a greater need for his skills on the field, where he used his aggression and agility as a long pole defenseman. He maintained his reaction time in net by playing goalie in box lacrosse during the summers.

"If I was going to make in the league [NLL], it would be in goal," Vinc said.

With the championship game a little more than 48 hours away, Vinc’s mind is racing.
 
“It is a huge accomplishment just to be in the championship game itself, knowing you are one win away it kind of seems surreal. When we beat Buffalo, I was like 'Wow, we’re actually going to the finals and we have a chance to win!' It is an exciting feeling," he said, "but also one of apprehension, because you don’t know what Friday night holds. You’re either celebrating or looking back on what ifs. I have mixed emotions; I’m excited, but I have some apprehension as well."

Vinc leads playoff goaltenders with a 6.38 goals against average. King is right behind at 6.50 and a league-leading .863 save percentage, just ahead of Vinc's .847 mark.

While King and his defensemen stopped Doyle, albeit an ailing Doyle, Vinc and his defense put the clamps on the NLL's goal-scoring leaders, John Tavares and Mark Steenhuis.

In a 9-3 victory over Buffalo, the Titans held Tavares and Steenhuis to just two assists apiece.

Tavares, who led NLL regular-season shooters with a .357 shooting percentage, was 0-for-11 against Vinc. Steenhuis was 0-for-21.

"He's a heckuva goalie,'' King said. "He's really athletic and big. He's more athletic than me, bigger than me, and much more technical than me.''

Chuckling, King added: "I don't know how much of a matchup it is. I can't say anything but positive things about the way he plays. I'm sure he's going to play well, so I think we'll have an extra challenge.''

Even so, Matt King won't sweat it.


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