Sunday, March 1, 2009
3:00am – We’re still in Boston, trying to get a good night’s sleep before we fly to New York. Hockeye’s phone rings waking both of us up in the middle of the night. It’s not great news. Our flight has been cancelled and we need to reschedule for an hour earlier. Now we need to alert the 30 guys on the trip that the bus leaves to the airport at 6am instead of 7am. Ah, life on the road.
6:00am – Everybody got word that the bus was leaving early and 30 tired, battered men make their way to the bus. It’s a quiet ride to the airport; I think a bunch of guys caught a few extra z’s on the bus.
7:30am – We are standing in line at the airport, waiting to check in. I get a chance to chat with some of the guys about dealing with a two-game weekend. I ask Eric Martin how you prepare for it and he simply tells me, “you just gotta get ‘er.” Another nugget of wisdom from the man they call “Meat”. Surprisingly, I think I get what he’s saying. The guys are sore after the battle in Boston the night before. They’ve got cuts and bruises, and very little sleep under their belts. They just need to suck it up and play. Let adrenaline take over. Luckily, once we get into New Jersey (the game is at the Prudential Center in Newark), they will have a few hours to nap and rest their aching muscles.
8:40am – I’m seated in a middle seat between Colin Doyle and Rhys Duch. I continue my research on dealing with a two-day weekend. Doyle is in his 12th year in the NLL, he’s been through a few two-game weekends. He tells me, “sometimes it works out better. You don’t feel great all day, but once you hit the floor you are ready to go.” Mostly though, he’s looking forward to a nap when we get there.
Duch (aka Duchie or Sweet-E-Nuff) tells me about playing a pair on the weekend in Canada. He thinks it actually helps to play two. “You get into little more of a flow after a practice and then a game,” he tells me. I guess that makes sense. These guys get one practice a week together, then they go their separate ways. A little more time on the floor will only help the chemistry and things stay fresh in your mind from the night before. They can take what they did or didn’t do well with them the following night. Let’s hope that’s the case tonight. We need a win over New York.
11:30am - We get to the hotel in Secaucus, NJ and gather for a team meal. Everyone quickly gobbles up some chicken and pasta so they can get to their rooms for some sleep. Coach Dowling plays a lacrosse DVD featuring some of the best fights in the NLL. He wants to fire up the guys. One thing that was mentioned after the game in Boston was a lack of intensity. I think the DVD did the trick, the guys are loving it. Some of the fights on the DVD feature guys sitting in the room. They all start telling stories of past fights and some of the best fights they’ve seen in their careers.
We wrap up lunch and head upstairs. I think every man in the room is ready for the nap that’s about to happen; myself included. The bus leaves for the arena at 5pm. See you then.
5:00pm – The boys are all dressed up in their suits and ready to go. It’s a league rule that players wear suits to and from the arena. The last guys filter on and we hit the road.
5:20pm – Everybody seems refreshed from their naps as we approach the Prudential Center. It’s in downtown Newark, and I must say that Newark, NJ is not the most attractive city we’ve been to. Portland was beautiful. Calgary was too. But Newark? Not so much. I’ll leave it at that.
We get off the bus and walk into the arena. I ask Doyle how he’s feeling and he says he feels great thanks to a five-hour nap. (I added this in after the fact, but when Doyle says he feels great, you gotta believe him. Wait til you read further and hear about the night this guy had…)
Pregame – Everybody appears to be ready to go in the locker room. There was a New Jersey Devils game earlier today and they are still converting the arena for our game. So the guys have to stretch with Dr. Ed in the hallway. They finally hit the floor for warm-ups.
They come in and go over a few things with the coaches. The guys that aren’t dressing for the game hit the showers and get ready to watch from the stands. Alex Turner was asked to provide color commentary for the Internet broadcast. He seems pretty fired up to do it. I take him outside to meet Scott Neiss, who will direct him to where he will be stationed. A couple of the guys razz him a little bit and try to rattle him before he goes on air. It’s all in good fun. The rest of the team goes out for formal warm-ups and the starting line ups. Let’s go fellas, we need this one!
7:47pm – 12:09 1Q – Paul Rabil puts the Stealth on the board first. He rockets a beauty from outside while getting hit hard. The ball goes in and he gets up with his arms raised. Eric Martin takes exception to the hit placed on his teammate and goes in for some pushing and shoving. Looks like a little more intensity!
Matt Roik is already making some great saves. They look sharp early on. Gotta keep it going for 60 minutes though.
7:51pm – 10:19 1Q – Titans tie it with a Power Play goal.
9:13 1Q – Titans score again to take the lead. We need to win this face-off and answer.
Dowling said it in the locker room before the game: face-offs and loose balls decide games. The team that wins those battles gets more possessions and more scoring opportunities. They force the other team to take more penalties on defense. That was the difference in Boston last night.
7:55pm – 8:39 1Q – Duchie scores to tie it at two.
8:08pm – End of 1st quarter – The Titans get one more midway through the quarter. The scoring slows for the remainder of the opening frame. The Stealth get a couple huge penalty kills. According to the scoreboard, we are being outshot 16-6 at this point. Roik is standing on his head.
8:15pm – 12:24 2Q – In his third game in a Stealth jersey, rookie Steve McKinlay takes a long outlet pass from Roik and scores on the breakaway. The first goal of his career ties the score at three. They practice those outlet passes every practice. Roik delivered it right on the money and McKinlay made no mistake about the finish. Practice makes perfect!
8:19pm – 9:09 2Q – New York scores back-to-back goals to take a 5-3 lead, but Doyle ends the run with his first of the night. But the Titans take the ensuing face-off and go down and score again. 6-4 Titans. WE NEED TO WIN A FACE-OFF!!!
8:29pm – 4:59 2Q – Doyle again for the black and red. The score is now 6-5. (I swear I wrote this on my notepad during the game) “He might take over.”
8:31pm – 4:42 2Q – After the TV timeout, the Titans win another face-off, go down and score. I think we’ve won a single face-off so far. They decide to pull Roik. I’m not sure why, he’s been peppered with 33 shots to this point already. And I think he’s been playing well. But what do I know, maybe there’s something else going on that I can’t tell from up here.
8:40pm - :03 2Q – Jarrett Park is fast. In transition, he dusts everyone and scores on a breakaway to make the score 9-5 right before the half. Not a great way to end the first half. Three straight by the Titans.
At halftime in the locker room, Assistant Coach Chris Hall goes off. I could probably write three words he said on this without getting in trouble. But everything he says is exactly right. He challenged every guy on the team to start playing tougher. “Get dirty, get bloody and go out there and play lacrosse,” to sum it up. It was exactly what needed to be said, and I don’t think saying it any other way would have got the point across. They heard him screaming at the guys in Manhattan. Let’s hope it fires them up.
8:54pm 14:20 3Q – Duchie scores on the power play. 9-6 NY. Hopefully that coupled with CH’s speech will get them going.
9:04pm – 8:45 3Q – Crap! Back-to-back tallies from the Titans makes it 11-6. Every road game we get down by five goals and have to make a comeback. This needs to be the first one we come all the way back. Doylie stops the run with a sick move and a goal. 11-7.
- 8:32 3Q – Face-off win and score for the Titans. This is a running theme of the game. If I have to hear the stupid PA guy for the Titans say “Peyser….Clean” after another face-off, I may lose my mind. I don’t even understand what he’s trying to say there.
9:08pm – 7:15 3Q – we finally get a face-off win (McKinlay….Clean), and draw a penalty against the Titans. But twenty seconds in we get back-to-back penalties against us and go down a man. Just shot ourselves in the foot trying to make a comeback.
9:13pm – 1:51 3Q – Doyle with a pair of goals to make it 12-9. He’s got five already and doesn’t show signs of stopping. He’s single handedly keeping us in it.
9:19pm – End of 3rd quarter – it’s still 12-9 in favor of the Titans. Thanks to Doylie we’re still alive. Aaron Bold has gotten comfortable between the pipes and is playing solid. Still need the defense to pick up the intensity. I would love to see Martin get into a scrap.
9:23pm – 13:30 4Q – Cam Sedgwick sticks one to cut the lead to two. We are picking up some momentum thanks to some veteran guys stepping up.
- 13:04 4Q – I spoke too soon. The momentum goes back to NY with two face-off wins and two goals in less than thirty seconds. It is now a four-goal game, 14-10.
9:27pm – 11:52 4Q – Doyle showing the NLL he’s the best player in the league with two more goals to make it 14-12. That’s SEVEN goals on the night. Are you kidding me?
9:29pm – 11:11 4Q – Don’t call it a comeback! Sedgie top shelf to make it 14-13. Let’s go boys, keep fighting!
9:37pm – 7:21 4Q – Don’t get back quickly enough on transition and the Titans score number 15. Down two with plenty of time, we can’t panic.
9:38pm – 6:33 4Q – Duchie gets Titans goalie Matt Vinc, and me, with the hidden ball trick. He faked a pass by tossing the ball in the air as a teammate ran by (I can’t remember for the life of me who it was). The teammate sells it like he’s cradling the ball, but Duchie kept it. All of the sudden I see Duchie wind up and shoot while Vinc was facing the other way. I lose it at this point in the stands. They’ve tried it every game this year. This time it worked.
I am in full on fan mode for the rest of this one. Not gonna hold back anymore. I yell words of encouragement to the boys on the field. They had to have heard me. I can be loud and there are all of 15 people in the stands so the crowd noise isn’t drowning me out.
9:48pm - :28 4Q – We’ve had a couple chances, so have they. We couldn’t tie it, they couldn’t pull away. I am on the edge of my seat. Then the Titans get a penalty! Down one with an extra man for thirty seconds. Pull Boldy and we have another one. LET’S DO THIS!!!
Tyler Richards is sitting next to me in the stands. He says, “Is anyone else’s heart racing?” Yup.
- :28 to :00 4Q – Work the ball around, get a shot. It goes wide and Cam Sedgwick grabs a huge loose ball on the rebound. Duchie looks cross crease to Doyle who can’t make a really tough catch with a Titan draped all over him. Another big loose ball. Duchie winds up for one more… blocked and Park scoops it up for the Titans. Time out with five seconds left. They come back and run out the clock. Ball game.
T-Rich and I are stunned, staring out at the floor. Tom Johnson stares blankly at the stands. The two teams line up and shake hands. Hugs are traded between these warriors; they put on a great show tonight. Unfortunately, the Stealth was on the losing end of yet another close road game.
Back in the locker room, the boys are taking this one hard. I hang outside while they talk it out. The coaching staff finally goes in to give their thoughts. Obviously, no one is happy right now. Losing sucks.
While right now it feels like it couldn’t get any worse, this season isn’t over. Seven games left on the schedule including six against West Division opponents. The margin for error is slimmer than ever, but all is not lost.
11:30pm – We get back to the hotel in Secaucus. Typically, the two teams gather for a few drinks at a local establishment after the game. Catch up with friends, chat about the battle that just took place. But tonight, no one on the Stealth is really feeling a trek into the city. The team gathers at the hotel bar downstairs for a few drinks and some team bonding. It has been a long weekend, and they deserve to unwind a bit. Steve McKinlay, who “majored in jukebox in college”, plays a few tunes for everybody. “Don’t Stop Believing” by Journey was among his selections, and he goes around the bar singing it to his teammates. It lifts everyone’s spirits and generates some laughs.
We close down the bar with spirits a bit higher. There’s two weeks until they hit the floor together again. Doyle and Jeff Zywicki will head to Denver for the All-Star game next weekend. When we come back it needs to be all business against Colorado at the HP Pavilion March 14.
From where I stand, I still see one of the top teams in the league in this locker room. There is a ton of talent on this Stealth squad. As long as they come together down the stretch and play as a team, I don’t think 6-1 is out of the realm of possibility in the second half. But it is gut-check time for these guys, and time to do some serious soul searching. It will all come together as long as they “Don’t Stop Believing”.