Sunday, December 19, 2010


The 2011 season is just around the corner for the National Lacrosse League. True to form, the NLL had a turbulent off-season, losing another franchise with the demise of the Orlando Titans. The NLL is now down to 10 teams, but the good news is that these franchises have been around for a few years now, and seem to be on solid footing. The curse of the NLL is having franchises disappear after only a year or two of operation. If you check out the history of the league, there are more defunct teams than teams that are alive and well.

The East Division features three of the oldest franchises in the league, the Buffalo Bandits, the Rochester Knighthawks, and the Philadelphia Wings. The Wings are actually charter members of the league, and the Bandits and K-Hawks are unique in the professional sports world in that they have significant aboriginal involvement in the ownership and management, as well as featuring aboriginal players who make important contributions. The East also is home to one of the most successful teams in recent league history, the Toronto Rock, finalists in the championship game last season, and five-time champs in their 12 year history. Newcomers the Boston Blazers have made an impact in their short history.

The West Division includes fairly new franchises, but also brags several recent league champions. The Calgary Roughnecks and the Washington Stealth are recent winners, and the Colorado Mammoth have been powerhouses in the league for several years. Knocking on the door are the improving Edmonton Rush and the Minnesota Swarm.

The Toronto Rock surprised this writer last season, getting off to a tremendous start. Then, reality set in and the Rock had to hang on for a playoff spot. They got hot again and made it to the championship game before losing to the Stealth. Two players, Colin Doyle and Bob Watson, are keys to the team's success. Doyle was on fire at the start of the season and then seemed to lose interest. The slide began at that point. Watson is now 41 years old, but a phenominal athlete. If he plays well, the Rock have a chance to win every game. If he has lapses, they will struggle. The Rock boast a high powered offence, led by Doyle, Blaine Manning, Stephan Leblanc, and Garrett Billings. Transition, however, is a disaster, and has been for a few years. Prediction: a decent season, with possible playoff success if Doyle, Watson, Manning and Leblanc have career years. Don't count on it, though: age might just be waiting to catch up with these guys.

The Buffalo Bandits are the perrenial thorns in the side of the Rock. It's always a good rivalry, as good as the Argos vs the Ticats or Leafs vs the Habs. True to their aboriginal roots, the Bandits are a mean and physical team: reminiscent of the old Brantford Warriors of the OLA in the early 1970's. Darris Kilgour coaches like he played: tough and relentless. The defence is rock solid, and any offence that features Mark Steinhuis, Brett Bucktooth and John Tavares is dangerous. Goaltending is the only real question mark on this team. Prediction: the Bandits are playoff bound unless Steinhuis falters. If there is no playoffs, there will at least be blood on the floor, mostly the opposition's.

The Boston Blazers are something of an enigma. Tom Ryan is a flamboyant coach: when he played, he had dreds that rivalled Bob Marley's. As a coach, he is unpredictable, which can make him dangerous. The Blazers' best player is goaltender Anthony Cosmo, a former understudy to Bob Watson in Toronto. Cosmo is often brilliant and can literally win games with inspiring saves. He'll need to be brilliant this year. The offence features Dan Dawson, Josh Sanderson and Casey Powell, all fine players. The other key to Boston's success is transition and the featured player here is Brett Queener, who is familiar to Toronto field lax fans as the Nationals' former goaltender. Queener is absolutely fearless and quick to move the ball forward upon turnovers, which is key in the fast paced game of lacrosse. If Cosmo is invincible, and the offence scores, the Blazers are contenders for a championship.

The Rochester Knighthawks are a team in transition. Hall of Famer and one of the truly great players in the history of the game, John Grant Jr., is gone. However, his loss has been tempered somewhat by the acquisition of another legend, Gary Gait. The trouble is that Gait is 43 years old and can't dominate a game the way he used to. The K-Hawks must therefore rely on a solid team approach. There are familiar players on the roster: Mike Accursi, Chris Driscoll, Steve Toll, and Matt Zash are all good players. Pat O'Toole and Matt Vinc are competent goaltenders. Are they good enough? In a word, no. They'll play interesting lacrosse, but they haven't got the horses to compete with the beasts in the East.

Which brings us to the Philadelphia Wings. The Wings are the only founding member of the original pro indoor league, the Eagle Pro League, left. They have had a storied past, but have fallen on hard times recently. But there is a bright future with this team. Athan Ianucci and Matt Danowski are sure-fire stars in the years ahead. The rest of the roster is uncertain. Wings' fans need to be patient with this group, who will struggle this year. They will battle the K-Hawks for a final playoff spot in the east.

In the Wild West, the dominant team are the Washington Stealth, last year's league champions. The offence is solid, with Lewis Ratcliff, Rhys Duch, Jeff Ziwicky and Luke Wiles leading the way. But, by far, their best player is transition man Paul Rabil, who is one of the most entertaining players in the league. Runnin' Rabil is tireless, fearless, creative and has one of the deadliest shots in the game. If he's healthy, the Stealth will contend for another league championship. They will certainly dominate the West.

The Edmonton Rush are a team on the rise. They have been patiently building
a good team ever since they entered the league a few years ago, and are now poised to reap some success. The offence is balanced, with several players contributing goals: Gavin Prout and Ryan Powell lead the way. By far the best transition man in the game is Brodie Merrill, a huge man with a wingspan of a pterodactyll: few loose balls get by him, and he contributes mightily to the offence. Derek Keenan is a veteran coach and will get the most out of this team. Prediction: they will give Washington all they can handle in the West and do well in the playoffs, perhaps a dark horse for a championship.

The Calgary Roughnecks can never be counted out of contention.
Dave Pym is an underrated coach, and the offence features veterans Kaleb Toth and Tracey Kelusky. The defense is mean and physical. Craig Gelsvik leads the way here. If you want to beat the Riggers, you have to crack the defence, but you will pay a heavy price for it. The problem with Calgary is that they depend on veterans who are now getting a little long in the tooth. The prediction here is that they will begin to slide, but still be a sold playoff team.

The Minnesota Swarm: just who are these guys anyway?
Every year, they play tough, interesting lacrosse, but go unnoticed.
Aaron Wilson emerged as a true sniper last year, and will be supported by young shooters Zack Greer, a superb field player, Ryan Benesch and Sean Pollock. After that, it's a bit of a crap shoot, but the smart money won't count them out. They'll challenge Calgary for a playoff spot and may push the front runners if the offence can shoot the lights out.

Last, but not least, are the Colorado Mammoth. This team is a perrenial powerhouse, but slipped from its pedestal last season.
The addition of John Grant Jr., however, might be enough to put them back on top. Ned Crotty will be a super star of the future if he learns the indoor game: he was a star in NCAA field lax. There are three well-known goalies in camp, so that position should be solid. The rest of the team should be good. If Grant can recover his past glory one more time and Crotty emerge as an immediate star, this team will suprise everyone. If not, Mammoth fans will have to wait. The only problem with waiting is that Grant is not getting any younger. But he is a superb athlete, and his recovery from life-threatening infections in his knee is inspiring. Prediction: wait until next year.
In the playoffs, it figures to be the Rock against the Bandits for the East, with the Blazers threatening to muscle in. For the west, look to the Stealth and Rush to battle it out, with Calgary or Minnesota lurking. Prediction for the league championship: I'm going with my gut and say that Boston will break through and play the Stealth, with Washington repeating as league champs. Now you know !!

Monday, December 6, 2010


I love to go walking on Newmarket's many trails. To have these paths in the middle of our suburban chaos is a wonderful treasure that is worth preserving. When I walk, I am able to put aside the day-to-day issues of modern life, and to be peaceful, calm and observant. So many things are there, waiting to be seen and sensed.
The trails are great in all seasons and even all kinds of weather, bad or good. But, without a doubt, the best times to walk are when the year is getting older: in autumn and winter.

Autumn walks are golden. The heat and humidity of the intense southern Ontario summer are things of the past. The walker is not burdened by oppressive sun, temperatures and humidexes. Instead, clear skies and clear light marks the path. The heavy air is gone, and with it, the torments of summer walks: bugs, thirst, sunburn, and crowds. The walker can stride easily, thinking of all the things that have gone before, musing at the cares and worries that plagued him in younger months. The path opens up to reveal views of sheer beauty: the greatest rewards are there for the eyes, ears, and other senses. The walker now has time to stop and savour them, and to understand them for all their worth. With peace comes knowledge, and with this type of knowledge comes wisdom.

But, by far, the best walks are in winter. The silence is endless and calming. No other walkers on the trail: pristine paths with no other footprints, except for an ambitious squirrel making last forays for food. If the weather is cold, no matter: bundle up and walk briskly. Keep your eyes open for the birds, whose colours take on greater drama against the white-grey canvass. The walker must stop often and breathe deeply: the air is purer in winter, with the quiet and calm.

The ultimate walk is there to be savoured and enjoyed.

Eventually, the walk must stop. But what a trail it has been. Colours followed by purity: it doesn't get any better than that. Enjoy the trail, everyone.