Predictions From the Journalists
Tuesday, April 2, 2002
By David Unkle
SJSports Staff Writer
The following is reprinted with permission of the Professional Lacrosse Players' Association. The complete playoff review is available at www.plpa.com
Professional Lacrosse Players Association
Q: Who are the key players for Washington versus Toronto and Rochester versus Albany?
The premiere player and the 2001-02 leading scorer in the National Lacrosse League (NLL), Paul Gait is certainly key for the Washington Power as they continue their pursuit of the Champions Cup in what will likely be their last year in Landover, Maryland. Garry Gait, the NLL's second leading scorer is equally a threat and often has more scoring opportunities as teams key on Paul. Another guy I really like on the Power is Del Halladay (Washington's third leading goal scorer). Del is a triple threat in that he has the ability to beat you five-on-five as well as the power play and in short-handed situations. Toronto has Dan Stroup who scored 12 power play goals in the regular season along with Colin Doyle (7 of his 47 goals came on the power play) and a guy Steve Toll, who hurt teams all season long with 7 short-handed goals. Blaine Manning's 50 assists led Toronto giving the Rock a formidable balanced scoring attack. Bob Watson, the NLL's leading goalie (11.54 GAA) will probably be the biggest factor against Washington.
Albany's Josh Sanderson (the NLL's 4th leading scorer) and his 14 power play goals will face the league's 4th leading penalty killers. Gary Rosyski's 44 goals (11 PPG and 2 SHG) made him a major factor. The game will be won on special teams and look for Dan Teat, Mike Regan and Jim Moss to inflict damage on short-handed situations. Goalie Rob Blasdell will challenge the Rochester scorers throughout the game. Considered as the next elite player in the league, John Grant will be a force for the Rochester Knighthawks. His balanced scoring in the regular season (52G.53A) along with 11 goals on the power play and 3 short-handed goals will prove challenging for the Attack's defense. Shawn Williams led Rochester with 13 power play goals and 4 short-handed goals and must be guarded carefully when on the floor. Curt Malawsky and Cory Bomberry (each with 11 power-play goals) will need to come up big against the leagues top penalty killing unit.
Q: What does each of the teams need to do to win and what should they each fear?
First up is Washington; for the Power to move on to the Championship game and give Paul Gait the opportunity to go out as a champion, they must aggressively attack the Toronto defense. Toronto plays a different game at home than they do on the road but can be beaten at the Air Canada Centre as demonstrated by a determined Philadelphia team last April (Toronto's last playoff game). Washington's fleet-footed runners must dictate the pace of the game. In a match-up between the number one power play (Washington) versus the number two penalty killers, the Power must exploit the Rock. This will be a Herculean feat as Toronto gave up only 40 PPG (second to Philadelphia's 38). Washington must carry a solid second quarter effort into the second half. This was an area of concern during the regular season and it almost cost them the game last week against Philadelphia as the Wings' scored five unanswered goals in the third quarter. A solid, consistent game for sixty minutes can result in a Washington win.
Toronto was undefeated at home in the regular season and the crowd size alone will work to take the Power out of the game early. Toronto's solid defense will work to slow down the Washington offense and a slower, methodical game definitely works to Toronto's advantage. While both teams have the ability to mix it up (Toronto more than Washington), teams are wary of Washington's 76.2% success on the power-play. Philadelphia's reluctance to pound on Washington last Saturday in the same manner proved critical in their 12-11 loss. Toronto must not make the same mistake and must come out and set the tone and the pace of the game early. Toronto consistently had a strong first quarter throughout the regular season and must use this to an advantage. If Toronto can get the early lead, it gives them the opportunity to play a more physical style of lacrosse.
Albany, the NLL's top team in the regular season had a 7-1 at home and on the road which will be imposing as they move onto the finals. Albany has the league's top ranked penalty killing unit (51 of 122) and led the league in most short-handed opportunities (122) and most penalty kills (71). They will need this against a Rochester team that loves to shoot the ball. The two teams are almost equal on the power-play so Albany's penalty killing unit should provide an edge to the Attack. I believe that special teams will be the difference in this contest. Albany has had a strong opening quarter (outscoring their opponents 75-43) which will give them the advantage over Rochester which struggles coming out of the gate (61-64). Rochester makes up for it in the final quarter (outscoring their opponents 72-49) but it may be too late by then. Albany must gain a strong early lead and maintain it; they hit their nadir in the 2nd and 4th quarters so they must have the offense between these low points to compensate.
Rochester was only 5-3 on the road during the regular season and must find a way to score on special teams. Rochester also gave up 15 short-handed goals against (third most in the league and most of any of the six playoff teams). Controlling the clock and good shot selection is critical for a team that loves to shoot the ball. In a battle of goalies with the most wins (Albany's Rob Blasdell and Rochester's Pat O'Toole), O'Toole must have a career game. Rochester must come out strong in the first quarter (a weakness throughout the season) and keep the score close. If they are within two goals going into the final quarter and have their typical strong fourth quarter, the Knighthawks have the ability to win the game.
Q: What style of games will be played in the Washington/Toronto and Albany/Rochester games?
As mentioned above, the Washington/Toronto game will be a methodical, defense-oriented game unless Washington sets the tone early and demonstrates the ability to play four quarters of a fast-paced, offensive shootout. Paul and Garry Gait, along with Del Halladay must be allowed to score while Brian Reese mucks it up with the Rock. Rochester took the season series 2-0 but I like Albany's ability to kill penalties which will allow them to play physical and beat you with big guns Josh Sanderson, Gary Rosyski, Dan Teat, and Nick Trudeau. Rochester also had their hands full with the Vancouver Ravens last weekend and they will find their contest against Albany to be more difficult.
Q: Will coaching play an important factor and who holds the edge in each of these games?
The time always comes in battle when the decisions of statesmen and of generals can no longer affect the issue and when it is not within the power... to change the balance decisively. Victory is never achieved prior to that point; it can be won only after the battle has been delivered into the hands of men who move in imminent danger of death.
- S.L.A. Marshall
I used this quote last week in an article on the Philadelphia Wings which is used in teaching United States Marines the value of leadership. At this time of the year, coaching establishes the level of play but the game is won (or lost) on the floor. In this year's NFL Super Bowl, the St. Louis Rams had the better coaching staff but the New England Patriots delivered the Championship because of their stronger desire to win as a team. The same will hold true for the NLL Champion's Cup. Last year, that team was Philadelphia who went into the Air Canada Centre as underdogs but emerged as champion. Washington, Toronto, Albany, and Rochester each have outstanding coaches who prepared their respective teams for post-season play. It is now up to the players as a collective whole to deliver... and remember the Patriots.
Q: Possible unsung heroes from all of the teams?
Starting with the Washington Power, Paul Cantabene, Fred Jenner (9 PPG) and Bobby Horsey are guys who fit the criteria. Toronto's Anthony Cosmo has been solid in a back-up role to Bob Watson, Jim Veltman, and Mike Murray's 6 PPG and 1 SHG deserve mention. Albany's Nick Trudeau and Jamie Grimoldby accounted for a combined 11PPG, 3 SHG, and 2 game-winning goals). Rochester's Pat O'Toole was one of the league's top goalies, Duane Jacobs (20G, 25A with 3 PPG) and Tim Soudan (19G, 25G with 3 game-winning goals) round out my unsung heroes.
Q: What is your prediction of the score for these games and the game MVP's?
My prediction is Toronto 11-10 over Washington with the Paul Gait as the MVP. I see the Albany Attack over the Rochester Knighthawks 16-12 with Shawn Williams selected as the Game MVP.
David W. Unkle is the host of The Topcat & Taggart Sports Show aired on WNJC 1360-AM...Philadelphia's Renaissance Radio Station every Sunday from 4:30-5:30 PM (Eastern Time). The Topcat & Taggart Sports Show brings local and national sports figures of yesterday and today to the airwaves highlighting both the professional and personal dimensions.
David also is a Staff Writer for South Jersey Sports On-Line (www.SJSports.com) covering the Philadelphia Wings. A former semi-professional football player and ice-hockey enthusiast, David also covers the Philadelphia Eagles (NFL), Philadelphia Flyers (NHL), Philadelphia Phantoms (AHL), Trenton Titans (ECHL) and Atlantic City Boardwalk Bullies (ECHL). You can write to David at: firstname.lastname@example.org