Kyle Sorensen still believes the Stealth can win the National Lacrosse League championship.
The team is in fifth place in the West Division with a 5-8 record, yet, it still has a shot at going all the way, says the big defenseman, and the huge 13-8 win at Portland last weekend could be the launching pad.
``Obviously, I’m a little disappointed with the way the season has gone,’’ says Sorensen. ``We expected to have a little bit better record than we do now, but we have a chance to go on a run and make the playoffs and push towards a championship. You can’t dwell on the past. You’ve got to look to the future.’’
The immediate future is 7 p.m. Friday when the fourth-place Minnesota Swarm, 5-7, roll into the HP Pavilion. A San Jose win would lift the Stealth past the Swarm and into the final playoff qualifying position in the division.
``We’ve got to stick to our game plan,’’ says Sorensen. ``We’ve got to be mentally focused and disciplined.
``We’ve got to work harder than them and want it more. If we do all those little things right, I think it is there for us to take. We’ve got to shut down their running game. We can’t have mental lapses. They’ve got a few injuries right now so they’ve got other guys coming in trying to make names for themselves. We’ve really got to bear down and not take them lightly. We’ve got to work hard and play a full 60 minutes.’’
Every game is the biggest game of the season for the Stealth now. They finish their 16-game schedule with games in Denver on April 11 and in Toronto on April 18.
To a man, they believe that if they get into the playoffs they can do some major damage.
Rather remarkably, because he’s only had seven shots on goal this season, Sorensen has the best shooting percentage, .364, on his team. He’s scored four goals.
``I like to get down there and put the ball in the net and I get really down on myself when I don’t score when I get a chance,’’ says Sorensen. ``When I get a shot, I bear down and really try to put the ball in the net not just for me but for the team.’’
Given his accuracy, there’s an obvious conclusion to be drawn from his shooting stats.
``I’ve got to shoot the ball a bit more often,’’ he says.
This is Sorensen’s third season in the NLL and San Jose. He was the second player selected in the 2006 entry draft and he’s fulfilled management’s expectations with his rock-solid play on the back end. The six-foot-two, 220-pounder doesn’t miss many checks.
Sorensen shares living space during the NLL season with fellow-defenseman Mike Grimes _ both are from Peterborough, which is a 90-minute drive northeast of Toronto _ on the second floor of an apartment building and across the hall from captain Colin Doyle and his family. There are nine Stealth players living in the building and vicinity and they share a swimming pool, hot tub and gym.
``It’s almost like we’re a little family,’’ says Sorensen.
During his summers, Sorensen plays for the Peterborough Lakers. He also hopes to play for the new pro field lacrosse team in Toronto. He’s helped the Lakers win Canadian amateur championships. Nothing would make him happier than sharing in something similar with his Stealth teammates. The defensemen have gone through a lot together this season as they’ve pushed each other to be better each week.
``We were getting down on each other too much,’’ says Sorensen. ``We were singling each other out and not really playing as a team.
``We’re trying to stay out of the penalty box more now. Given the inconsistency with the refereeing, it’s tough to do. One game they’re laying off and another game every time you touch somebody you get a penalty. You’ve got to adjust from game to game. We’re trying to focus on team discipline and we’re also trying to be aggressive and keep opposition shots to the outside and limit their transition game. If we stay disciplined, we’ll be successful.’’
Sorensen began playing lacrosse when he was a tot. Just about every male child in Peterborough does the same. It’s one of the sport’s hotbeds. Sorensen has always loved the camaraderie.
``To be a part of a squad of 16 guys for four or five months at a time is a lot of fun,’’ he says. ``Lacrosse is highly competitive and being around guys that think the same as you, who like to do the same things . . . that makes it easy to play lacrosse.’’
Doyle had a league-best 86 points going into the big game Friday and Sorensen has watched the captain’s brilliance unfold, and it’s not just the stats that impress.
``Each and every game he tries to put us on his back and run with it,’’ says Sorensen. ``It’s almost like you want to play the game for him because you can see how hard he works.
``Each and every year, you see him working so hard, and he’s consistent every game.’’
Rhys Duch has 70 points and will probably set an NLL record for most points by a rookie.
``Everybody keeps calling him a rookie but it’s almost like he’s been in the league three or four years,’’ says Sorensen. ``He picked it up really fast.
``It’s a different game from the summer league _ players are bigger and the pace is faster _ and he’s taken it and run with it. If you leave him open for even a split second, he’ll put it in the net nine out of 10 times. He’s shooting the ball well. It’s great for him. He’s a guy who comes to the rink and works hard every week.’’
So, as the schedule approaches the end, the players are staying positive and looking ahead. It’s the only way to look, says Sorensen. Think about it: any team that makes the playoffs needs to win only three more games to hoist the Champion’s Cup.
``Lacrosse is one of those sports that are exciting to watch,’’ Sorensen says. ``Each and every night, especially in this league, any team can beat any other team. If you play well and stick to your game plan, you win. If you make little mistakes, you lose.’’
Lifelong bonds are established in a sport where there are no millionaires on the floor.
``It starts with the camaraderie and kind of branches out from there into the whole family thing we experience here,’’ says Sorensen. ``Going to the rink, scoring goals, having fans cheer for you . . .
``I’m 22 years old and 10 years ago, for me to think I’d be where I am today, I couldn’t have imagined this would be happening.’’
It’s all good. Winning would make it even better.
~ 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. ~