March 26, 2014

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NLL Notebook: Wealth of Talent Helps Rush Extend Streak

by Neil Stevens | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter

Edmonton now sits at a league-record 11-0 after a 14-5 takedown of Buffalo.

The Edmonton Rush tried some Spaghetti and were licking their lips afterwards.

Adrian Sorichetti, or Spaghetti as his teammates sometimes call him, got to dress for his second NLL game last weekend and scored his first NLL goal. Then he scored his second. Then he scored his third.

The 23-year-old Hofstra grad wasn't shy about dodging stick swingers in traffic. He was falling into the crease when he scored two of his goals and he was running past the crease with an orange and black pursuer on his tail when he got another. He was a dynamic force as Edmonton demolished Buffalo 14-5 to improve to 11-0.

''You don't see that very often,'' GM-coach Derek Keenan said of Sorichetti's instant impact. ''He got three nice goals and really executed our system well.''

Sorichetti only got his rare chance to play because injured fellow-rookie Riley Loewen remained out. Such is the depth of talent that has been assembled by Keenan: one of his extras gets in and looks like an all-star in potting three. So, with Loewen just about ready to return to what has been a savory Rush sauce, what happens to the Spaghetti? Does it go back in the fridge?

Probably. Keenan doesn't like to deprive a player who has recovered from an injury his lineup spot. But Sorichetti was so good perhaps he'll be tempted to alternate the two game to game.

''We're really happy Adrian came in and played so well,'' said Keenan, who used Sorichetti on the back end for one game earlier this season. ''Adrian did a lot of the things Loewen has done so well for us including some of the dirty work near the crease.''

The 2013 entry draft was a windfall of future promise for the Rush. Keenan got Robert Church out of Drexel with the fifth overall pick, Limestone grad Loewen with the 11th and Hofstra's Sorichetti with the 13th. They've all been impressive, and in Sorichetti's case that is saying a lot since he's only played the two games.

Sorichetti's bio on the team's website includes No. 72's words to live by: ''You're only as good as the company you keep.'' He must have reminded himself of that when he laced up his running shoes last Friday night.

The ease with which the Rush defeated the Bandits was shocking. The fourth quarter was like a power-play practise as Buffalo players paraded to the penalty box. What the Rush have done the last two weeks in soundly defeating Calgary and Buffalo is give pause to the usual banter about NLL parity. Edmonton and Rochester (9-3) have shown that they are head and shoulders above most other NLL teams. The Knighthawks will get the next shot at ending the Rush streak when the teams collide in Rochester on Saturday night.

Edmonton has clinched a home playoff date for the first time in team history. One more win and they'd tie the NLL record for longest regular-season winning streak set by the 2007 Knighthawks.

CHRIS WHITE'S SEASON OVER

The loss off veteran defenseman Chris White for the remainder of the season because of a broken foot further diminishes a faltering Toronto back end. White stumbled on the turf during a recent practise. He'd missed the first quarter of the season with another injury and now he won't reappear in an NLL game until 2015, GM Terry Sanderson confirms.

Toronto was first overall with a 10-6 record during the 2013 regular season. Now, with five games left in their expanded 2014 schedule, the Rock are 5-8 and likely to finish below .500 for the first time in five years. Strong defense used to be a franchise trademark but not this year. Toronto ranks eighth among the nine teams in goals allowed.

Toronto is 1-6 on the road and, overall, has lost four of its last five games. Sanderson is juggling bodies trying to improve the D-corps. He's even brought 37-year-old Cam Woods out of retirement.

''He's always in shape but then there's game shape,'' Sanderson replied when asked when we might see Woods in a game. ''We'll get him in when we feel he's ready and when he feels he's ready.''

It won't be this weekend. Jimmy Purves, claimed last week when Rochester released him, could make his Rock debut when Edmonton visits on Sunday afternoon. Also picked up last week was forward Kevin Ross, who was released by Philadelphia. Ross played his first game with Toronto last Saturday and picked up three assists during a 14-13 loss in Philadelphia.

That loss left the Rock vulnerable to be overtaken by the 4-9 Wings for the third and final playoff spot in the NLL East. After playing the Rush, the Rock have an April 5 date in Vancouver against the desperate Stealth, home games April 12 against the Wings and April 18 against Buffalo, and the schedule closer April 26 in Minnesota.

The Rock and the Wings have split 1-1 in head-to-head meetings so far so the winner of the April 12 game will own the tiebreaker should they finish with identical records. If Toronto wants to save its season, it is imperative that it win the April 12 showdown with the Wings.

WINGS RISE TO OCCASION

Philadelphia's win over Toronto ended a six-game losing streak, and Kevin Crowley's career-best six goals helped make it happen.

''It came at a great time for us in a must-win game,'' says coach Blane Harrison. ''We knew it would eventually happen.''

It was a long-awaited spree by the former first overall draft pick. Harrison summed up Crowley's season to date with one word: ''Frustrating.''

So what was different for Crowley last Saturday?

''He was a little more relaxed while shooting so he wasn't over-shooting the ball thereby hitting the net more often,'' says Harrison. ''Secondly, he was able to change the plane of his shot, which opened up different shooting lanes.''

Wings captain Brodie Merrill called the win ''a big relief.''

''When you hit an extended losing streak, you start to doubt yourself and negativity can creep into your mindset,'' he said. ''(The win) gives us the reassurance that we are a capable team.''

Philadelphia is at Colorado on Saturday.

''We just want to take it one game at a time and try to play to our potential every night,'' says Merrill. ''It does give you hope and energy to know that, despite our record, we still have a legitimate chance to get into the playoffs. The momentum swings in this league tend to be pretty drastic. We hope that we can be a team that peaks at the right time.''

CROWLEY MOVES INTO TOP 10

Calgary's Dane Dobbie leads the league in goals with 35.

Crowley's scoring explosion moved him into a tie for eighth place in goal scoring. The leaders:

1. Dane Dobbie, Calgary, 35; 2. Stephan Leblanc, Toronto, 30; 3. Garrett Billings, Toronto, and Curtis Dickson, Calgary, 29; 5. Cody Jamieson, Rochester, and John Grant Jr., Colorado, 28; 7. Rhys Duch, Vancouver, 26; 8. Colin Doyle, Toronto, Adam Jones, Colorado, and Kevin Crowley, Philadelphia, 25.

CROSWELL REAPPEARS

The Wings brought back Kevin Croswell to be the backup to starting goalie Evan Kirk when they traded Brandon Miller to Toronto last week, and Croswell played an important role in the 14-13 win even though he only got two minutes 43 seconds of playing time.

Coach Blane Harrison pulled Kirk when Toronto went up 6-5 at 2:04 of the second quarter. Croswell faced four shots, giving up a goal to Scott Johnston on the fourth at 4:47, which led Harrison to send Kirk back out. The Wings upped their effort and scored the next three goals and six of the next seven. The brief goaltending switch paid off.

Also back with the Wings is forward Luke Wiles, who has been placed on the practise roster. Wiles hasn't played since his 2013 season with Buffalo.

RECORD QUARTER

Tyler Carlson's huge save on a point-blank Ryan Benesch scoring chance for Buffalo in the seventh minute of overtime kept the score knotted at 9-9, allowing Callum Crawford the opportunity to win it for the Swarm in overtime Sunday. Crawford spun around Billy Dee Smith and fired in a low shot to give Minnesota its first home win in five tries this season.

Going back to Carlson in the nets was the right move by coach Joe Sullivan. Carlson had some shaky starts earlier this season but deserved another chance to regain the No. 1 goaltending job in St. Paul, and he made the most of it. Carlson and Anthony Cosmo were so good in the first quarter that neither team could score a goal. It was the first time in NLL history that no goals were recorded in the first quarter. The longest scoreless stretch to start a game in NLL history ended at 18 minutes 21 seconds.

BIG THREE

Edmonton, Buffalo and Rochester continue to get the best goaltending. Save percentages (minimum 300 minutes): 1. Aaron Bold, Edmonton, .814; 2. Anthony Cosmo, Buffalo, .812; 3. Matt Vinc, Rochester, .804; 4. Tyler Richards, Vancouver, .765; 5. Mike Poulin, Calgary, and Evan Kirk, Philadelphia, .764; 7. Dillon Ward, Colorado, and Nick Rose, Toronto, .761; 9. Zach Higgins, Minnesota, .751; 10. Tyler Carlson, Minnesota, .732.

TAVARES IN VANCOUVER

Vancouver lacrosse fans might get to see John Tavares score his 800th pro indoor goal. Buffalo's captain goes with the Bandits to the West Coast for a Saturday game against the Stealth just two goals shy of his next record milestone. Tavares helped a Vancouver team win the Canadian amateur championship in summer play 11 years ago.

Tavares surpassed 1,700 points last Friday during a loss in Edmonton. He then was held without a point in a game for the first time in more than 12 years during an OT loss in Minnesota last Sunday. He'd had a 185-game streak going since Jan. 25, 2002.

ALL IN THE FAMILY

Buffalo Bandits defenseman Rory Smith, 27, has two younger brothers playing in the NHL _ Brendan Smith, 25, is a Detroit Red Wings defenseman and Reilly Smith, 22, is a Boston Bruins forward.

CHECKING IN WITH MERRICK THOMSON

Merrick Thomson scored 39 goals in 15 games in his second NLL season in 2009 with the Philadelphia Wings. He was a superstar in the making. Then, while playing that summer for Toronto in field lacrosse's MLL, he suffered a concussion in the title game. The Nationals won, Thomson earned the MVP award, and he never played another game of professional lacrosse due to post-concussion symptoms.

''It was the best decision for me,'' he says in looking back. ''The only regret I have is that I wasn't able to play for Team Canada, but I had an injury that could do a lot of damage and nothing is worth your health in the long run.

''I thought things out . . . and I did just about everything I could want to do as a lacrosse player. I went to the University of Albany and got my education paid for, I was all-America, was drafted to play in both pro leagues and won a championship.''

It took him more than a year to feel as if he'd regained total health. Today, Thomson, 30, is a guidance counselor and head coach of the under-18 men's lacrosse team at The Hill Academy in Toronto's northern burbs. Working with student-athletes is a rewarding experience, he says.

''I'm working with kids in the area I grew up in in southern Ontario helping them get to U.S. schools so they can experience what I did.''

He's in good health. He participates in light workouts and is enjoying life.

''I don't have any symptoms.''

He's head coach of the Toronto Beaches Jr. A team and he keeps in touch with what is happening in the NLL, which is easy to do since he works alongside brothers Pat Merrill (Toronto Rock) and Brodie Merrill (Philadelphia Wings) guiding teen athletes towards maturity at The Hill, a private school founded by their father, Peter Merrill. Jordan MacIntosh (Minnesota Swarm) is also on staff.

''Looking at it now, there are some strong teams like Edmonton, Rochester and Calgary — the upper echelon,'' Thomson says of the 2014 campaign. ''There'll be a tight race for the last couple of playoff spots but once you get into the playoffs anything can happen. It's how you finish that counts. It just depends on which team gets hot at the right time.''

TIME LINE

April 8, 1995: Gary Gait scored his sixth goal of the game 51 seconds into sudden death to give the Philadelphia Wings a 15-14 victory over the Rochester Knighthawks in the Major Indoor Lacrosse League's championship game in front of a Spectrum crowd of 14,825. It was the second straight title for the Wings and the fourth in their nine-year history. It was a fabulous year for Gait, who was the regular-season scoring champion and MVP.

''Last goal wins,'' said losing goalie Steve Dietrich. ''They got it and we didn't.''


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