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Stealth Gear Up For the Second Half

03/09/2009, 12:34pm PDT
By Neil Stevens
Colin Doyle is more determined than ever to help the Stealth enjoy better times.

The team’s 3-6 record puts a bad taste in the mouth of San Jose’s captain.

How ticked off is he?

``It’s the highest it’s ever been in my tenure in San Jose, that’s for sure,’’ Doyle replies when asked to gauge his level of frustration. ``We all think we’re underachieving.’’

A favorable schedule in the coming weeks can help turn things around, and it’s clear in talking to Doyle that he’s convinced the tide will turn quickly.

``The confidence isn’t gone,’’ he says. ``It’s been battered and bruised but the great thing is that with the parity in the league we’re still in it. Get into the playoffs and the sky is the limit. That’s the mindset I have, and I’m going to keep it.’’

The wily veteran is having a terrific season. He’s third in National Lacrosse League scoring  with 58 points on 20 goals and 38 assists. Only Buffalo’s Mark Steenhuis (35-35) and Boston’s Dan Dawson (21-48) are ahead of him. Doyle fired in seven goals in San Jose’s 15-14 loss to New York just before the all-star break.

``The last couple of years, he’s made a commitment to get to the gym and work out hard,’’ says coach Jeff Dowling. ``As he’s got older, he knows he has to make sure he’s in peak condition.

``That’s a big plus for us. I played junior with and coached for and against (Buffalo’s all-time NLL leading scorer) John Tavares and everybody applauds him for being the most committed player in practice. Doyle is that type of player, too.’’

Doyle hasn’t been on a team that has missed NLL playoffs since his rookie season in 1998 in Canada with the Ontario Raiders, who moved from Hamilton to Toronto the next year to become the championship-bound Rock.

``It’s been a long time since I’ve been in this position,’’ he says of being outside the top four in division standings.  ``That’s part of the frustration.’’

Doyle loved the chance to play in the all-star game in Denver last Saturday. He was voted in as a starter and scored four goals and assisted on three for a West-high seven points. Teammate Jeff Zywicki was San Jose’s other representative.

``I’ve played in a lot of them,’’ Doyle said of his all-star appearance. ``It’s different every year.

``There are always new faces and as you get older you get to look forward to seeing the young guys perform. I like being in the dressing room and shaking hands with the new people. I cherish the experience and it’s certainly not anything I take for granted.’’

Generating offense has not been a problem for the Stealth. They are third in the NLL in team scoring with 12.1 goals a game.

``For the most part, our offense has played well,’’ says coach Dowling. ``With Colin leading the offence, guys are being held accountable because of how hard he works. When your floor general plays that hard, the other guys try to match his effort.’’

Rookie forward Rhys Duch has scored 17 goals and is neck and neck with Boston star Daryl Veltman for rookie-of-the-year honors.

``Rhys has stepped in and done as much or more than we expected,’’ says Dowling, who also lauds the contributions of Tom Johnson and Cam Sedgwick.

Zywicki has scored 19 times, which is below his 2008 pace.

``Jeff needs to be better, and he knows he needs to be better,’’ says Dowling. ``He had some minor injuries that kept him from doing some exercising he needed to do but he’s got a trainer now who’s going to have him in top shape.’’

San Jose is eighth in goals allowed at 11.9 a game.

``Inconsistent defense has put a lot of pressure on our goalies,’’ says Dowling. ``Games where our defense was aggressive on the ball carrier are games we haven’t allowed many goals and (goaltender) Matt Roik doesn’t have to second-guess where the ball is coming from.’’

With Travis Gillespie sidelined for the next six weeks, the Stealth signed Jim Borrell, who lives in Los Angeles.

``He’s lightning fast and a solid player,’’ says Dowling. ``He might add a spark.’’

The Stealth open a three-game home stand against Colorado in a 12:30 p.m. game this Saturday. They beat the Mammoth 14-9 in San Jose on Feb. 21. Win this one and they are right back into the hunt for a top-four playoff berth in the West Division.

``We match up well with them,’’ says Dowling. ``We’ve been great at home. With two weeks off, it gives us time to prepare well for the game against Colorado. If we can beat Colorado, it would put us at 4-6, and we’d have the tiebreaker over them (should the teams finish in a tie). Beating teams directly ahead of us is huge for us.’’

The Edmonton Rush visit on March 21. The Stealth beat the Rush 16-6 in San Jose on Jan. 31 so another victory is probable.

``We can’t let Edmonton back into the picture,’’ says Dowling.

The Portland Lumberjax trot into the HP Pavilion on March 28 and the Stealth go to Portland for a March 29 game. The Stealth lost 16-13 in Portland on Feb. 7 in the first meeting since the Lumberjax eliminated the Stealth from the 2008 playoffs

``That will be a huge weekend for us,’’ says Dowling. ``If we win two against them, again, the tiebreaker would be in our favor.’’

The bottom line is that, as Doyle says, get into the playoffs and the sky is the limit.

~ Neil Stevens played box lacrosse growing up in St. Catharines, Ontario, where he attended the same high school as did Stealth GM John Mouradian. Years later, as a sports writer for The Canadian Press wire service, Stevens began covering after NLL expansion into Canada in 1998 the home games of the Toronto Rock and the league in general. In 2008, Mouradian and Stevens were inducted into the NLL Hall of Fame _ John in the builders' category and Neil as a media honouree. At the age of 61, Stevens is now retired, but still covering Rock games and writing weekly NLL columns for the wire service for distribution to daily newspapers across Canada. ~


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