Rochester vs. New York
Rochester started the season 0-4 and just looked really bad, but they fought hard to recover and beat Philadelphia in a must-win game to make the playoffs, which is a testament to rookie coach Paul Gait. They have survived the loss of John Grant and Scott Evans, plus Pat O’Toole for a few games. On the negative side, we all knew Gary Gait wouldn’t be the multiple-MVP-winning Gary Gait from years gone by, but I think he was even less impactful than expected. Gait didn’t even make the top 50 in scoring. He missed five games, but even if you extrapolate out to 16 games, he’d only be tied for 35th. After Williams (#6) and Evans (T12), the third top scorer on the Knighthawks was Jason Henhawk, tied for 57th. The Titans have six scorers in the top 37.
New York was in second place all year, but ended up tied with both Buffalo and Boston and won the East on tie-breakers. Matt Vinc is one of the best goaltenders in the league, and Casey Powell ended up 8th in the league in scoring despite only playing 13 games. Extrapolating his point total to 16 games you end up with 104, which would have tied him with Dan Dawson for second. The Titans took two of three from the Knighthawks during the regular season, but the first win was early in the season when a struggling Hawks team only allowed them 8 goals, so you could almost call the season series even.
Prediction: New York in a close one
Boston vs. Buffalo
Another toughie. Two strong offensive teams, two outstanding goalies. Boston has nothing to prove – nobody though they’d make it this far – but Buffalo lost their last two games (their last to these same Blazers) and with that, their lock on first place. The days of Buffalo losing games because they took too many stupid penalties are long gone, and I think the Bandits will be back with a vengeance.
Colorado vs. Calgary
Calgary only lost four games all season, but one of them was to the Mammoth. (Another one, inexplicably, was to the lowly Toronto Rock.) King and Campbell have been the best one-two goalie combo in the league this year, and Josh Sanderson has made Calgary fans forget Lewis Ratcliff. Colorado, on the other hand, finished the season with a win over Edmonton but lost seven of nine before that and as any Star Trek fan will tell you, losing Seven of Nine is a very bad thing indeed. Leyshon and Palidwor played admirably, but the loss of Gee Nash was just too much. Calgary shouldn’t have a problem getting to the west final again.
San Jose vs. Portland
I find it difficult to go against Colin Doyle’s team in the playoffs. I’ve seen him step his game up a notch (or more) when the games matter the most too many times to think he might fold under pressure. His unprecendented three Championship game MVP awards are a testament to that. San Jose didn’t have a great season, but they won four of five near the end of the season, at the same time that Colorado was losing five of six. I think San Jose will take it, but having said all that, they’ll have trouble getting by Calgary.
Prediction: San Jose
If I was forced to make predictions on round two, I’d have to take Buffalo over New York and Calgary over San Jose, resulting in a rematch of the 2004 Championship – Buffalo in Calgary. I’ll have to give Calgary the edge in another close one. Ladies and gentlemen, your 2009 NLL Champions, the Calgary Roughnecks.