January 8, 2014

NLL Notes: Jones Guts it Out in First Mammoth Win

by Neil Stevens | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter

Adam Jones, who has battled injuries in the past, is hoping to stay 100% for the Mammoth this season.(Michael Martin/Colorado Mammoth)

Sean Pollock sparked the rally, Adam Jones capped it with a gutsy scoring barrage, rookie goalie Dillon Ward made a huge save in the dying seconds and Colorado prevailed 13-12 over the visiting Vancouver Stealth in the young NLL season's most thrilling finish last Saturday night.

It was a much-needed home win for the Mammoth, who were 3-5 at home last season and who lost their opener to Edmonton at home Dec. 28. The 15,000-plus Pepsi Center throng certainly craved a win, and captain John Grant Jr. and his teammates delivered.

''We were hungry,'' said transition player Cam Holding. ''It's our barn. We talked about trying to take our barn back and I think that was on everybody's mind.''

On one of his spectacular late goals, Jones shot the ball then rolled on the green carpet past the net rather than put any weight on his right leg. He's had knee problems in the past _ an ACL tear three games into his 2011 NCAA season at Buffalo's Canisius College _ but he doesn't shy away from physical contact.

''It is a physical game and when you are as good as Adam is and command attention from opposing defense as he does he is likely to get his fair share of bumps and bruises,'' says assistant coach Ed Comeau.

The Mammoth trainers go the distance to do whatever they can for the 2012 NLL rookie of the year as fans cross their fingers that his knees hold up.

''It is a long season and every team will do its best to help all of its players to be physically ready to perform come game time,'' says Comeau. ''Adam's game continues to evolve and he has really worked hard to improve his overall game.''

ALEX GAJIC ALL THE WAY BACK

Nice to see Alex Gajic back in uniform after his NLL days seemed over due to an accident that affected his vision.

Gajic was one of Colorado's top forwards in 2009 and 2010. He scored a combined 50 goals those two years. He was limited to two games in 2011, when he lost most of the vision in one eye after being accidentally hit in the eye with a lacrosse ball while coaching some youth players. He didn't play in the NLL at all last season.

The 26-year-old native of the Vancouver burb of Burnaby was an unrestricted free agent when the Stealth signed him last Oct. 31. He made the team, and there was nothing wrong with his eyesight on the long shot he buried in a top corner of the Mammoth net Saturday night for his first goal since 2011. Besides his goal, he picked up seven assists.

''He has worked extremely hard to learn to play with severely impaired vision and is now quite comfortable with all the adjustments he has had to make,'' says coach Chris Hall. ''He has close to 180 degrees peripheral and seems to be getting back to the form that made him a great junior player.

''It is a tribute to his passion for the game and his desire to overcome huge adversity. An eight-point night was a fitting reward for his dedication to getting back to the NLL.''

LOTS OF FIRSTS FOR ROOKIES

Dillon Ward, who relieved starter Tye Belanger in the 19th minute with Vancouver up 4-3, made 30 saves to earn his first NLL victory.

''I got into a bit of a groove,'' he said after the 13-12 cliffhanger. ''I was able to get the first couple of saves under my belt and went from there.''

Ward, 22, from Orangeville, Ontario, via Kentucky's Bellarmine University, we was the third player selected in the 2013 entry draft. He's six-foot-five and 200 pounds so there's not a lot of net to shoot at when he's in his stance wearing bulky goalie pads.

Tyler Digby found a target though. It was his overhand bouncer that gave the Stealth the lead that induced coach Chris Hall to lift Belanger. Digby would score two more against Ward, and pick up three assists besides, in an impressive NLL debut muted by his team's loss.

''I thought his first-game performance was outstanding,'' says coach Chris Hall. ''He played with great confidence. He was full measure for his three-goal and three-assist night and opened up a lot of space for Duch and Alex Gajic on the right side of the offense. He played like a veteran.''

Digby, from the Vancouver burb of New Westminster via Robert Morris University, was the 20th player selected in the 2013 entry draft. The six-foot-three, 230-pounder also was the 36th pick in last year's Canadian Football League draft that stocked Ottawa's expansion franchise.

''He's committed for the season to the Stealth,'' says Hall.

Also scoring his first NLL goal for the Stealth was Cody Bremner, who managed to get a ball behind Ward despite being hammered by two checkers. He was the eighth overall draft pick last September after being rookie of the year with the Nanaimo, British Columbia, team in the summertime Western Lacrosse Association. Bremner is squeezing in classes at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., to complete a degree.

Meanwhile, in Toronto, transition player Ethan O'Connor scored his first pro goal with two minutes 20 seconds remaining. Calgary had pulled goalie Mike Poulin for an extra attacker so O'Connor had an open net to shoot at.

''We were winning and there were just a few minutes left in the game,'' he explained. ''Usually, you're trying to kill the clock to preserve the win. But you look up and you actually have a free lane to the goal and you figure you might as well try for it.''

Jesse Gamble grabbed retrieved the ball for him.

''I'll save it and, hopefully, fill a case up with other balls,'' said O'Connor.

O'Connor, from Milton, Ontario, via upstate New York's Hobart College, went all out last summer to prepare for his chance at cracking the Rock lineup. He was rookie of the year in Major Series Lacrosse with the Brampton (Ontario) Excelsiors. He's a smart player. He wants to be another Steve Toll, the now-retired transition player after whom he's tried to model his game. O'Connor was Toronto's first pick, ninth overall, in the 2013 entry draft.

(Rochester Knighthawks)

ANOTHER MULTI-YEAR CONTRACT IN ROCHESTER

The Knighthawks just announced that defenseman Scott Self has agreed to a new three-year contract as owner-GM Curt Styres extends his policy of ensuring lineup stability of years to come. Brad Self, Scott's younger brother, recently re-signed for four years as did fellow-defensemen Paul Dawson and Mike Kirk, while goaltender Matt Vinc got a new five-year contract.

It was announced in November that forwards Dan Dawson and Craig Point agreed to seven-year deals. Captain Sid Smith was already on a seven-year renewal, and scoring star Cody Jamieson was given a NLL-record 10-year pact after he was the No.1 overall draft pick in 2010.

Planning ahead: Jamieson, Smith, Point and Dan Dawson are under contract until 2020.

ROB HELLYER THRIVES IN EXPANDED ROLE

The Toronto Rock chose Rob Hellyer to fill the vacancy on the right side of the offense after Blaine Manning retired last year, and Hellyer came through with a three-goal effort that helped his team beat Calgary 16-11 last Friday night.

''I felt pretty comfortable out there,'' he said as he and his teammates wound down from the big home win.

Manning is the assistant coach in charge of the offense now and is working closely with Hellyer, who is in his fourth year with the Rock. He's only 21. He was able to turn pro in his teens because he did not play university lacrosse. He's had to wait his turn. He's been a healthy scratch. He's been hurt. He appeared in nine games last year and scored seven goals.

''We're giving him that spot this year and we released some other people,'' said head coach John Lovell. ''We decided it was his time. Time will tell.''

The five-foot-eight, 165-pound forward aims to prove the coaching staff right by having his most impactful NLL season.

''That'd be nice,'' he said. ''That's what I'm hoping. With only six offensive guys out of 16 runners, you're going to be out there all the time. You've got to capitalize on your chances because every team in this league is good so they're going to put the ball in the net, too. I've had a good three years here. I've learned a lot. But I think now it'd be nice to get going and have a nice season.''

TAKING A LOOK AT THE LUXURY TAX

The new CBA contains a luxury tax on team payrolls exceeding $400,000. Here's how it works: $400,001 to $425,000 and a tax of 25 per cent is applied on the excess; the tax goes to 50 per cent on anything between $425,001 to $450,000; it escalates to 75 per cent for anything between $450,001 to $475,000; and it goes to 100 per cent on anything over $475,000.

For example, if a club payroll is $440,000 the club would pay 25 per cent on $25,000 and 50 per cent on $15,000 for a luxury tax of $6,250 plus $7,500 for a total luxury tax of $13,750 for the 2014 season.

The hard cap, which no club is expected to get to approach because of the luxury tax provisions, is $557,128 for player compensation when maximum salary levels contained in the CBA are taken into account: 18 players at a veteran maximum of $27,177 plus as many as two franchise players at $33,971 each.

The league has not released any team payroll numbers


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