March 7, 2012

NLL Notebook: Grant's Window of Opportunity

by Neil Stevens | LaxMagazine.com

John Grant has adapted as his NLL career with the intent of retiring someday "not only as a great player but one who has also won some championships," Colorado offensive coach Ed Comeau said. "He wants to add to that total.''
© Colorado Mammoth 

John Grant Jr. was typically straight to the point when asked to comment on scoring his 500th National Lacrosse League goal last Saturday night.

''I don't really concentrate on those types of personal [accomplishments[,'' he was quoted as saying in a Colorado Mammoth news release. Getting the win was paramount, he added.

Privately, it had to mean a great deal, and Ed Comeau knows it did.

''Any player, especially a goal-scorer, to reach a plateau like that is a big accomplishment,'' says Colorado's offensive coach. ''Junior would say that it means he's been on some good teams, but it also means he's unquestionably been one of the top players in the game, and still is.

''Players tend to downplay that stuff because that's about individual accolades and we play a team game but it illustrates how good a player he's been for a long time.''

Buffalo's John Tavares has scored 740 goals, Hall of Famer Gary Gait scored 635, and Grant is next with 500. Nobody else is close. Toronto's Colin Doyle is fourth all-time with 438.

Comeau was head coach of the Rochester Knighthawks when they won the Champion's Cup in 2007, when Grant won the scoring title and the regular-season and playoff MVP awards. He was 32 then and he's 37 now.

''When players age physically they have to become mentally a lot smarter,'' says Comeau. ''I think Junior realized that the type of game he was playing five years ago would make it hard to continue.

''So he's adapted. He's adapted to the changes in the rules, to the way he plays his position, and he's playing a lot smarter. We've also done a good job of putting players around him who not only help Junior but who know Junior is going to help them out.''

There is a burning desire in the way Grant is playing this season and it has lifted him to a whopping 17-point lead in the scoring race. More importantly to him, Colorado has won seven of the eight games it has played.

''With a lot of athletes, as time marches on they can see that there is a window of opportunity remaining,'' says Comeau. ''John Tavares kind of proves that the window is not as limited as we think. Junior has one NLL ring and he wants to do everything in his power to add to that before he leaves the game.

''As players get older, it becomes a little bit of a legacy thing, too. You want to go out not only as a great player but one who has also won some championships. He wants to add to that total.''

There was no big celebration in the dressing room after the 16-13 win in Buffalo.

''It was pretty subdued afterwards and I think that's the way Junior wanted it,'' says Comeau. ''There wasn't a lot of fanfare when he got his 1,000th point earlier this season either.''

Here's an example of how Grant is playing this winter.

''On our winning goal the other night, Derek Hopcroft's fourth goal, Junior called the play,'' Comeau reveals. ''He said, 'I'll go set a pick to get Derek a shot to score a goal.'

''That says a lot about where Junior's head is now. He wanted to get the ball to a guy who has played all of maybe 10 games in this league instead of trying to do it himself. That's because he wants more to win than for it to be all about him.''

Accursi As Good As Ever

Another 37-year-old forward having a great season is Grant's former Rochester teammate Mike Accursi. When the Knighthawks desperately needed a win last weekend, Accursi led the way with three goals and four assists. He's as good as ever.

Accursi now has a career regular-season points total of 761. Only eight players have accumulated as many as 800. He's been in 214 regular-season games. John Tavares (259) and Chris Driscoll (234) are the only runners who've suited up for more NLL games.

We asked Accursi how he's kept up the pace.

''The biggest thing is that the last couple of years I've really focused on my fitness, health and nutrition,'' he said. ''When you get older, you have to do the little things to stay competitive.

''I've made an effort to push myself physically to make sure I'm ready to play with these young bucks that are up and coming.''

The Knighthawks are third in the East Division with four wins and five losses after an 11-8 win in Philadelphia last Saturday.

''We have a lot of potential,'' he says. ''We've got a young group of guys.

''That's not to make excuses for our record. There were games we were capable of winning but we made mental errors. If the bounces had gone our way, we'd be sitting with a winning record, but we're coming around. Guys are getting comfortable with their roles. It's just a matter of time before we peak.

''We started the second half of the season with a big win over a good Philadelphia team. Our next challenge is putting together two wins in a row. We haven't been able to do that yet this season. If we can do that, it'll definitely help.''

Accursi won consecutive titles in 2007 with Rochester and in 2008 with Buffalo and it is a rare distinction during the last nine years because no team has been able to win consecutive titles since Toronto in 2003. Jeff Moleski won it all in 2009 with Calgary and in 2010 with Washington.

Accursi can see himself playing at least another three years.

''I'll let my body tell me when it's time to hang it up,'' he says. ''I don't want to go out with a whimper.

''I'd rather go out with a roar, but I'd like to play till I'm 40. Three more years isn't that long. If I can reach 40, that would be great. I still have a few more things I'd like to accomplish. I'd like to get another title under my belt before I hang it up. That's something I'd really like to accomplish.''

Accursi has always been a big-game lacrosse player. Take a look at his pro playoff stats: 48 goals and 34 assists in 19 games spread over 14 years, with more to come in season 15, he hopes.

Accursi is a high school teacher in St. Catharines, Ontario, and he's been an athlete ambassador for Right To Play for four years. He'll be a director of its program to take lacrosse into First Nations communities this July and August.

''We're doing Ontario this year and we'll reach out further in following years,'' he says.

His involvement is about giving back to the sport, he says.

''Lacrosse has given me a lot of great opportunities and taught me a lot of things about teamwork and helping other people. I don't want my lacrosse legacy to be about how many games I played or how many points I got. I can do more than that. There's value in giving to people who need help. This allows me to do it through sport. I want to prove to my own kids that it is possible to be a role model. We'll be leaving equipment behind in communities so programs can be continued. That'll be huge. Hopefully, we can make an impact with kids. I've been very fortunate in my lacrosse career to have people who have helped me along the way. This is a great way for me to do the same. It'll be great.''

Manning Hopes To Be Back

Toronto forward Blaine Manning, who broke a collarbone in the season's second game back on Jan. 14, has resumed practising with the Rock. He hasn't participated in any full contact drills yet but that'll come soon.

''I want to play again this season,'' he says. ''I could be ready by the end of the month.''

He's ninth on the all-time points list and needs only two for 800.

Goalie Report

Aaron Bold is first and Matt Roik is last in save percentages of goaltenders who have played most of the minutes for their teams this season: 1 Aaron Bold, Edmonton, .795; 2. Mike Poulin, Calgary, .781; 3. Tyler Richards, Washington, .775; 4. Chris Levis, Colorado, .773; 5. Matt Vinc, Rochester, .758; 6. Brandon Miller, Philadelphia, .757; 7. Mike Thompson, Buffalo, .749; 8. Tyler Carlson, Minnesota, .742; 9. Matt Roik, Toronto, .739.

First NLL Goal on First Shot

Justin Salt has a claim to fame this week that few other lacrosse players can boast: his career shooting efficiency rate is 100 percent.

The 21-year-old defenseman from Coquitlam, British Columbia, was on the Washington Stealth practice squad until finally getting into his first NLL game last Saturday night in Toronto, and he scored his first pro goal on the only shot on goal that he took. The ball whizzed past Rock goalie Pat Campbell at 8:54 of the fourth quarter. It was Washington's 12th goal in a 14-9 road win.

Salt was the 52nd of 53 players selected in the 2011 NLL entry draft last September.

This Weekend's Games

Minnesota, 5-3, has a bye. Next Swarm game is March 18 at Buffalo.

WINGS-ROCK

Philadelphia, 4-4, is at Toronto, 4-4, on Friday night.

The winner not only moves alone into first place in the East but also gets the tiebreaker should the teams finish the schedule with identical records. The Rock won 15-6 in Philadelphia back on Feb. 4 and the Wings won 14-8 in Toronto on Feb. 18.

Matt Roik is last in save percentage among goalies with at least three starts but GM Terry Sanderson says he's got no complaint about his goaltending.

''Matt's been giving us goaltending that should have resulted in a couple more wins than shows in our wins column,'' says Sanderson.

Wings coach Johnny Mouradian is dissatisfied with his forwards' shooting percentages. He'd like to see it at 19 or 20 per cent. It's a tough over 16 now. But there's nothing to gripe about when it comes to the faceoff proficiency of Jeff Reynolds.

''He's getting the ball out to areas where we can get it,'' Mouradian said during the NLL's weekly coaches' conference call Wednesday. ''This is the third year in the league and we're really proud of him because he's playing some really good defense.''

BANDITS-KNIGHTHAWKS

Rochester, 4-5, can move into second place in the East with a win, while Buffalo, 2-5, is in desperate need of a win in this Saturday afternoon clash to break a five-game losing streak and avoid being buried in the basement and scrambling just to make the playoffs.

The Knighthawks are coming off an 11-8 win in Philadelphia.

''We're happy with the results from the Philly game but this game will be a tougher test,'' says coach Mike Hasen. ''We know Buffalo is going to try and push us around to get back on the right side (of the win-loss columns).''

Rookie Steve Keogh has been impressive.

''Stephen brings grit to the inside game for us,'' says Hasen.

Buffalo's last win, 12-9, was in Rochester on Jan. 21. The 16-13 home loss to Colorado last weekend was another downer. So what's wrong?

''It comes down to simple mental mistakes,'' said associate general manager Derek Graham. ''We need to learn from our mistakes and put a complete game together.''

Billy Dee Smith will be back in the lineup, says Graham.

STEALTH-MAMMOTH

Washington, 2-6, is at Colorado, 7-1, on Saturday night and the teams go at it again in the Seattle burbs Sunday evening.

Washington is coming off a 14-9 win in Toronto.

''We had to get on track somewhere,'' said coach Chris Hall. ''It's tough to win in Toronto after travelling across country. Hopefully it'll help us get out of the hole we dug for ourselves.''

Rhys Duch ''is getting close'' to returning after missing the last two games, says head coach Chris Hall.

Colorado won 16-13 in Buffalo last Saturday.

Washington has won the last eight meetings with Colorado.

''The Stealth has had a great run the last few years against us,'' said coach Bob Hamley.

If Colorado wins both games, it'll be the first team to clinch a playoff berth. The Mammoth have escaped for the most part the injury woes that have plagued the Stealth and the Rock.

Mammoth defenseman Rory Smith leads the league in forced turnovers.

''He's been outstanding,'' says Hamley. ''He's a very coachable kid who understands what the coaches are trying to get through to him about staying on the floor.''

ROUGHNECKS-RUSH

Calgary, 5-3, and Edmonton, 2-4, play Friday in Edmonton and Saturday in Calgary.

Edmonton is coming off a bye weekend, which gave defenseman Chris Corbeil time to recover from a minor injury that kept him out of the previous game.

''This is a big weekend for us,'' Rush coach Derek Keenan said during the conference call. ''It'll be a telltale weekend in terms of where we're at.''

In one previous meeting this season, the 'Necks won 12-8 at home on Feb. 18.

Calgary is coming off a 15-11 home loss to Minnesota.

''It was the first game of our season where we played like crap,'' said Calgary coach Dave Pym. ''We're going to see what we're all about this weekend.

''We're an angry group and hopefully we can channel that anger into a positive outcome.''

Calgary has lost three home games, which doesn't sit well with Pym.

''This is probably the best prepared I'm going to be for a game this year, guaranteed,'' Pym promises.


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