Saturday, February 28, 2009
The morning arrives and the team gathers for some breakfast in the hotel. It is the most important meal of the day after all. They then break for team meetings; Coach Dowling and his offensive coordinator Chris Hall go over the offensive strategies, and then assistants Art Webster and Joe Romano meet with the defense.
After the meetings are over the guys go for lunch on their own. Some break off into groups and go to local eateries; some find a meal to bring back to their hotel room. Pre-game routines differ from player to player. Eric Martin told me one time that he likes to, “get in a nap, get in a Subway or a team meal, then get in a puke, then have Artie [Webster] yell at me a bit to fire me up.” Coming from the guy they call “Meat”, I’m not all that surprised. But then again, I don’t know if he’s just messing with me either.
While Martin huddles over his porcelain throne, and the rest of the players go through their rituals, the coaching staff goes to lunch together and discusses the game plan to make sure they cover everything. Ultimately, all the planning and coaching can only go so far, the boys need to make it work on the floor come game time.
5:00pm – The team gathers in the hotel lobby to head over to the arena. We are staying at the Holiday Inn Express right across the street from the TD Banknorth Garden, so a bus isn’t necessary; we just walk over.
6:00pm - The teams hit the floor for informal warm up. Dr. Ed stretches the Stealth and they shoot on the goalies and play catch with one another. The constant sound of lacrosse balls banging off the glass in the rink rings throughout the arena. The boys are dressed in their black warm up shirts that display the team motto “Kaizen”. It is a Japanese term that means “constant, continual learning” and was decided on preseason to remind the team of what they need to do day in and day out through the season.
6:55pm – Formal warm-ups are winding down. The teams have been in the locker rooms, changed into their jerseys and come back onto the floor. The stands are starting to fill with patrons, all ready to watch the greatest lacrosse players in the world do battle. As the Stealth leave the floor, only Captain Colin Doyle and Goaltender Tyler Richards remain. Doyle completes the final part of his pregame ritual. He is always the last to leave the floor, but before he does, he shoots on Richards four times. He tucks four shots just inside each corner of the goal. They leave the floor and meet the rest of the team in the locker room.
7:10pm – The coaches and players one last time remind themselves of their game plan. The guys seem focused and ready to go. I am now headed up to the press area, where I will observe the action high above the turf.
7:33pm – Starting line ups and anthem to start the game. Doyle meets with Blazers Captain Dan Dawson and Jim Rice for the honorary face-off. The Blazers have invited Red Sox legend Jim Rice to the game. At halftime, they will be having a contest for fans to win a seat next to Rice for the second half. You know the crazies in Red Sox Nation were eating it up. Their attendance reflected that, as a crowd of over 6,000 was announced at the game.
7:40pm – It’s game time. Will “Big Baby” Dalton leans over the face-off circle for the Stealth. Boston wins the draw and immediately goes on the offensive attack. Stealth goalie Matt Roik is forced to make two incredible saves point blank. The second was a kick save while sitting down. One of the best saves I’ve seen all season long. If it’s any indication of the night he will have, the Blazers will be in for a long night.
7:44pm – 12:03, 1Q - Roik gets screened on an outside shot and it goes in. Boston is up 1-0 thanks to Matt Lyons.
7:47pm – 9:56, 1Q – Doyle evens the score with a power play goal on assists from Rhys Duch and Cam Sedgwick. The Stealth Power Play unit is second in the league and they prove why. The goal is the 899th point of Doyle’s illustrious career.
7:48pm – 9:31, 1Q - Stealth take the lead! Tom Johnson scores on one of his patented diving across the crease goals. He’s so good at it. Burns his defender and then dives in front of the goalie and sticks it far post. After the play some pushing and shoving ensues (gotta love the physicality of this game!) and the Blazers take a roughing penalty. Let’s keep sticking it to them.
7:53pm – 8:36, 1Q – Another power play tally for the Stealth to go up 3-1. This time Jeff Zywicki scores on assists from Doyle and Alex Turner. Doyle’s 900th career point; he’s only the third guy in HISTORY to do it. Incredible feat. I’m lucky to get to watch the best player in the game today play every night. He never ceases to amaze me with his vision, decision making and leadership.
8:07pm – End of the first quarter, the score is 4-2. Paul Rabil scored with three minutes to go, but the Blazers answered with a power play goal with just over a minute left in the opening frame. The boys came out strong and are playing hard. Meat Martin is playing like a man possessed and leading the defense and transition. Roik made some huge saves. But we gotta keep the foot on the throttle heading into the second. There have been some times where the Stealth have let up for extended periods and it’s come back to bite us. Can’t do that tonight, Boston is too good.
8:12pm – 13:25, 2Q – Power play goal for the Blazers. Lyons again. We have to stay out of the box!
8:15pm – 10:46, 2Q – Crap! Blazers get an extra attacker on a delayed Stealth penalty to score their third straight. It’s tied at four and momentum has shifted severely. We need to stop this run now.
8:24pm – 6:09, 2Q – The Blazers are on a 5-0 run. Johnson ends it with another diving goal; it’s 6-5 Boston.
8:37pm – End of 2nd quarter – the teams traded power play goals and the Blazers got another to close out the half. 8-6 Boston as teams head into the locker room. Dan Dawson is starting to groove for the Blazers. He has a goal and five assists in the first half alone. This guy is good. Much like Doyle on our side, he sees the floor incredibly well and has deadly accuracy with his outside shot. He’s the quarterback of that offense. If we are going to stay in this, we need to keep him quiet in the second half.
The locker room energy is down, but the guys stay positive. Coach Dowling comes in after chatting with his staff about the six-goal second quarter for the Blazers. He wants the boys to come out in the second half like they did in the first. Move the ball on offense; in the second quarter too many guys were trying to do it themselves. There are so many talented individual players on the offensive side of the ball for this Stealth team. But, as Dowling pointed out, all of our first half goals came when we passed the ball effectively. Hopefully they get back to it in the second half.
8:58pm – 9:19, 3Q – A little over five minutes in and we take a stupid slashing penalty. Of course it hurts the Stealth, Dawson buries an extra-man goal to make it 9-6.
9:12pm - :53, 3Q – We got within one on a goal from Sedgwick, but two goals unanswered from the Blazers extend their lead to 11-7. Dowling pulls Roik for Tyler Richards. So tough to watch. I can feel the game starting to slip away. Hopefully, T-Rich can provide a spark like he did in Calgary a few weeks ago.
9:15pm - :01, 3Q – Wick got one with 20 seconds left to get within three, 11-8. I thought maybe it would get Uncle Mo on our side going into the fourth. But Dawson bounced one in from Worcester with .7 left on the clock. 12-8 Boston, time for a serious comeback. They show New England Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichek on the Jumbotron enjoying the game from a suite. Jim Rice and Bill Belichek? That’s pretty cool if you’re a Boston fan.
9:28pm – 8:54, 4Q – After the teams trade goals, Boston scored shorthanded to gain a five-goal advantage. That seals the deal in my eyes. Even with the potential of the Stealth offense to go off for a bunch of goals, we just aren’t getting the stops. We can’t string any goals together and Dawson and the Blazers are scoring almost at will.
9:41pm – 1:59, 4Q – The final nail in the coffin. We pull T-Rich for the extra attacker, the Blazers get a rebound on a shot and break out. Richards can’t get back in time as they bury the virtual empty netter. 16-10 Boston. Game over, drive home safely.
As expected, the atmosphere in the locker room is down after the game. A lot of chatter about what went wrong. A lot of frustration in the air. I run into Art Webster outside the locker room and he makes a good point: at least we don’t have to dwell on the loss all week. We get right back on the horse tomorrow against New York. There will be time to talk about what went wrong tonight. But the boys have to leave this one in Boston and gear up for the trip to New York in the morning.
It’s after 10:30pm when we finally file out of the Garden. The bus leaves the hotel for the airport at 7am, so sleep is in order. We make the walk back to the hotel and the guys retire to their rooms for the night.
Everyone knew going into the weekend this was going to be a tough trip: it won’t get any easier tomorrow.