Colin Doyle’s teams always make the playoffs.
Hey, it looked dicey at midseason for the Stealth, but they came through in the end to make it 11 consecutive years that Doyle’s teams have made it into the National Lacrosse League playoffs.
There have been many personal highs along the way but the playoff streak going back to 1999 is paramount in the thinking of San Jose’s captain.
``That’s one of the accomplishments I’m most proud of,’’ he says. ``When we were 3-7, that streak crossed my mind.
``I didn’t want it to end. Now we’re in and I’m really proud of that accomplishment, glad I’m getting the chance with this team to continue that streak.’’
The thrilling 11-10 overtime win over the Colorado Mammoth in Denver last Saturday night lifted the Stealth into third place in the West Division, clinching them a playoff berth. It was a goal by Doyle with 22 seconds remaining in regulation time that forced sudden death. Rhys Duch fed him the ball.
``Their goaltender had been playing well,’’ says Doyle. ``We couldn’t buy one off him.
``It was kind of a broken play that we scored on. Duchie got the ball over to me and I knew I wanted to shoot that ball and where I wanted to put it. We got the goalie moving and I got a bit of a screen. It was a giant load off of us to tie it up and have a chance to win it in overtime. It’s hard to rate goals in a career but it’s one of the biggest I’ve scored this year, that’s for sure. It felt good.’’
Duch would net the winner 7:42 into OT.
``It was a bit of a fluke,’’ says Doyle. ``We were supposed to go two men on the right side.
``I ran out of gas and asked Duchie to take that side for me. Their goalie made a great save and Duchie picked up the rebound and put it in the net. I said to him afterwards that it was a great thing he was there because I wouldn’t have been able to bend over and pick it up.
We seemed to overcome so much to win that game on the road.’’
The players were too tired to celebrate much afterwards.
``There was elation but it was mostly exhaustion,’’ says Doyle. ``That game seemed to take a lot out of the boys, but the feeling of having our playoff spot secured set the tone. As much as we were happy the boys were pretty tired. It sunk in Sunday when the guys got home.’’
The Stealth, in winning four of their last five games, have turned a corner and will be hard to stop from here on out.
``A lot of things,’’ Doyle responds when asked what’s boosted the team’s fortunes. ``First and foremost, we brought in some veteran defensemen in Andrew Biers and Shaydon Santos who have made a big difference. And we’ve been feeding off Tyler Richards’ energy. Those things, combined, have given our back end a lot of confidence and, offensively, we’re playing with a lot of confidence because of that.’’
It looks as if the Stealth will be in a playoff game in Portland, Ore., against the Lumberjax the first weekend of May. First, they finish up their 16-game schedule in Toronto against the Rock.
Doyle, who helped Toronto win NLL titles in 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003 and 2005, when he won the league scoring title and was named MVP, can’t wait to step on the Air Canada Centre carpet. It’ll be his first game in the arena since the spring of 2006, when he was still a member of the Rock and before his trade to San Jose later that year.
``I wouldn’t miss that game for the world,’’ he says. ``I’ve been looking forward to that game for three years.
``I’m looking forward to seeing what it’s like on the other side there and to visit with family, friends and some of the Rock fans. I haven’t seen much of the Rock since joining the Stealth. I’m really looking forward to it.’’
It’ll be a family get-together. Stacey Doyle and their 18-month-old daughter Brooklyn, who attends most Stealth games, will lead the Doyle cheering section.
``She sits on mom’s knee and follows the ball back and forth and thinks everybody is dada,’’ says her proud father.
Colin’s parents, Pat and Francine Doyle, will drive 90 minutes from their Kitchener home to park near the ACC, and Stacey’s folks will drive four hours from the Lake Huron community of Wiarton for the game. There’ll also be friends Colin grew up with in Kitchener at the game.
``It’ll be nice to have the family all together and share a drink and dinner afterwards,’’ he says.
Doyle leads the NLL with 106 points. That’s nine more than Buffalo’s Mark Steenhuis and Boston’s Dan Dawson so a few points against the Rock should earn him another scoring title. A big night and he could make history since he’s nine shy of the all-time NLL record of 115 by Buffalo’s John Tavares in 2001.
While the Stealth have been a constant playoff entry with Doyle leading the way, Toronto has fallen on hard times since trading him away. The Rock lost in the first playoff round in 2007 and missed the playoffs in 2008 and again this spring.
``It’s shocking more than anything,’’ he says. ``It’s hard for me to comment on it because I don’t know much about that team anymore, but it’s tough. For the league’s sake, they need to do well. They’ve always been a marquee franchise. But I’ve been so concerned with the Stealth making the playoffs that I haven’t paid a lot of attention to what’s been up with them.’’
Winning the scoring title again would make him a serious candidate for another MVP award.
``It would be neat,’’ he says of the prospect of winding up atop the points list. ``It would be a nice tribute to my teammates.
``I don’t really dwell on things like this. This one has snuck up on me. My concern has been trying to get our team into the playoffs so I haven’t thought much about it. I’m excited to know that’s an opportunity that I have. I know that in 2005 when it happened before it was pretty exciting.’’
Doyle takes lots of punishment from opposition checkers to score goals.
``Colorado did a good job beating us up last weekend,’’ he says. ``It was a tough wakeup call at 5:30 the next morning when we had to get up. But I feel great. The season has been good on a lot of counts.’’
It’s all good now.
``I’m certainly more optimistic than I was a month and a half ago,’’ says Doyle. ``So much can change in one weekend in this league.
``We’ve got to keep playing as if we’re building towards something here.’’
The job isn’t done yet, and Doyle and his teammates know it.
~ 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. ~