Matt Roik is in the right place at the right time.
That’s how he sees it.
The new San Jose Stealth goaltender is thrilled to be part of a well-run National Lacrosse League franchise with the talent to go all the way and he’s confident as he begins his eighth pro season that he can do his share to help the team challenge for the Champion’s Cup.
``This is a great situation for me at this stage of my career,’’ he says.
The 29-year-old goalie leaves shooters little net to see after he straps pads onto his six-foot-three, 210-pound, musclebound frame.
With Roik, Aaron Bold, 23, and Tyler Richards, 22, the Stealth have goaltending depth other NLL clubs can only envy. The three stoppers will continue vying for playing time till the regular-season opener against the Calgary Roughnecks in the HP Pavilion on Jan. 9.
Roik loves what he’s seen of the Stealth so far.
``I’m thoroughly impressed, and I’m talking about ownership on down,’’ he says. ``This is probably the best organization I’ve been a part of in my career.’’
Pre-season workouts and exhibitions are forging team cohesiveness.
``It’s really nice to see the guys gell,’’ says Roik. ``Everyone is pretty well on the same page. We want nothing less than a championship. This team has been knocking on the door and has a great core of players such as Colin Doyle and Jeff Zywicki. The guys are anxious to get going and to prove to people this can be our year.’’
Roik spent his first two NLL seasons with an expansion team in New Jersey and when it transferred to Anaheim he went, too, and played there for two years.
``Those were great learning experiences,’’ says Roik.
He was the first-string goalie of the Philadelphia Wings in 2006 and 2007, and he played last season for the Chicago Shamrox. Most observers considered Roik to have been the NLL’s hottest goalie during the second half of the schedule, which was one of the reasons Stealth GM John Mouradian was happy to get him when via a trade he granted goalie Anthony Cosmo his wish to move to a team further east.
Roik is in his prime. What he craves is a chance to show his stuff when it counts the most: in the playoffs. He’s played 89 regular-season NLL games over seven years without a playoff appearance.
``It’s been a slow learning curve to become a better goaltender,’’ he says.
``I’m pretty hungry now.’’
His experience and in-game maturity should enable him to fill his plate.
``I feel confident in my ability and in the team in front of me,’’ he says.
Seeing Doyle in front of him is a relief. His teams twice lost to Doyle’s teams in Canadian senior finals in summer amateur play.
``I’ve been to war against Colin and it’s nice to be on the same side for a change,’’ he says.
Roik has been reunited with Curtis Hodgson, who was a teammate in 2000 when the Burnaby Lakers won the British Columbia and Canadian junior championships. Roik and Zywicki were teammates in Ontario the previous year. Last summer, Roik and Richards were teammates with the New Westminster Salmonbellies when they lost to Doyle’s Brampton Excelsiors in the Canadian senior final.
Roik will commute to Stealth games from Vancouver, where he’s a regional sales rep for an office seating company. Bold, Hodgson and Cam Sedgwick were regulars on the Vancouver-San Jose flight paths last winter.
``You learn how to be flexible and how to manage time,’’ he says of his demanding schedule. ``It’s challenging but I look forward to it. It should be a fun season.’’
Roik began playing lacrosse at age 12 growing up in Dunnville in southern Ontario not far from Niagara Falls. His first impression of lacrosse goalies was that they were nuts to take so much punishment.
``The first practice I went to and watched and thought it was the most idiotic position to play,’’ he recalls. ``But for some reason I decided I wanted to try it. I guess I’m attracted to rubber.’’
In truth, his decision was a selfish one. He quickly realized that by volunteering to be the goalie he could stay on the floor for the entire game. He grew to put up with 50 to 60 shots a game. Besides, standing in the crease, he didn’t get the carpet burns on his knees that the runners in front of him absorbed, and he didn’t get whacked over the head with sticks by checkers. Yes, goaltending was the thing for him.
``It can be easier than some of the battles that go on in front of us,’’ he reasons.
He’s had six or seven knee injuries, including two dislocations of a kneecap, and a couple of years ago he cracked a clavicle during a training camp practice. By lacrosse standards, no big deal.
``It’s a combination of things,’’ he responds when asked to describe his goaltending strategies. ``I’m a positional goalie and I have to be reactive as well. Because of my hockey background, I had a tendency to go down a lot early in my career. Now, I like to get my body in front of the ball and make sure there aren’t a lot of holes. I’ll go down occasionally now but I’ve learned to be more patient.
``I’m trying to be more consistent, trying to put together a solid 60 minutes every game. You have to recognize when a team is getting hot and come up with the big save for your team when it really needs it.’’
Roik has racked up 27 assists in his pro career, and he scored a goal four years ago.
``The game was in Anaheim against Philly. I was trying to make an outlet pass to Chris Sellers. I led him a little too far with the ball and got a good bounce. It took one hop and went in (with the Wings net empty). That’s my claim to fame on ESPN.’’
Playing for a California-based team again puts a smile on Roik’s face, especially when he thinks of the sleet and snow he’ll dodge during weekend trips south. There’s more than that though to Roik’s eagerness to get the season going.
``I’m really grateful for the chance to play for a great organization and a great team,’’ he says. ``Ownership is really dedicated to making things work. They’re committed to being in San Jose and they have a direction they want to go. They’re looking long term. They’re really looking to build the game of lacrosse, which is a great sport. This is a team committed to winning and management is bringing in a lot of pieces to the puzzle some other teams wouldn’t find feasible. They’ve really bolstered our lineup and brought us closer to being a championship team.
``Ownership has given the green light to do anything it takes to win and Johnny has done a great job. When I see Doyle out there (on the floor) . . . when you have a cornerstone like that to build around, you’ve got a great chance. His attitude spreads. Everyone feeds off that. It makes for a competitive edge in the dressing room and a winning edge on the floor.’’
He’s an elite and colorful goaltender, who will give Stealth fans plenty to cheer about.