• Team starts third season with talent, focus, conditioning
Better players, better attitudes, better conditioning - it's the right formula for the Portland LumberJax, who enter their third National Lacrosse League season with high hopes and humble heads.
The LumberJax won the NLL's West Division in their maiden year. Then, being offensively impotent and 'lazy,' as one player put it, the Jax fell to 4-12 last season.
General Manager-coach Derek Keenan, aided by new assistant GM Daren Fridge, retooled with the likes of established veterans Dan Dawson and Derek Malawsky and talented rookies Tyler Codron and Peter Jacobs, and the Jax players have returned with renewed spirit.
'We're a lot more focused group,' Keenan says. 'We took a lot of things for granted last year. It caught up to us.
'Our practices have been excellent, crisp and focused. Guys are being accountable out there. It's an entirely different attitude.'
The Jax play the New York Titans at 7:30 p.m. Saturday in the Rose Garden.
It'll be a welcome sight for NLL fans because the league almost took the year off. The owners and players agreed on a new collective bargaining agreement only after the league announced it was canceling the season.
Still, Arizona and Boston folded, and teams picked up their talented players. Keenan didn't hesitate with the top dispersal pick, landing the sixth-year star Dawson, and he also added nine-year veteran Malawsky. Dawson had 47 goals and 60 assists and Malawsky 20 and 35 last season.
Dawson will team with Jax returning leading scorer Ryan Powell on the right side of Portland's offense, with Malawsky on the left. Filling out the offensive attack almost always will be Brodie Merrill and Rich Morgan on the back end.
'They're going to be a huge help,' says Powell, who had 23 goals and 31 assists last season. 'Dan is a huge presence on the right side to work with. Derek's great with or without the ball and brings punch to that side.
'They both have a great work ethic and bring instant energy to the team. I can't say enough about how hard they work, and it makes our 5-on-5 (full strength) stuff a lot more settled.'
Dawson and Malawsky can shoot the ball well - a problem for the Jax last season.
'In the indoor game, it's a matter of how well you're shooting it,' Powell says.
With more good players around him, third-year Jax Peter Morgan, the leading scorer two seasons ago (25 goals, 29 assists), 'realizes he doesn't have to be the guy every night,' Keenan says. 'Others will create space for him. I look for him to have a bounce-back year.'
Keenan says he expects Codron, a transition player in the mold of Merrill, and the 18-year-old Jacobs, a forward and the NLL's youngest player, to flourish.
Other top newcomers include forward Spencer Martin and defensemen Mike Kilby and Brad MacDonald.
'It's definitely our most talented team,' says Keenan, who still downplays any title talk.
'We're getting ahead of ourselves to say that (about a championship),' Keenan says. 'Everybody in the league is better. It's going to be competitive and tough.'
Merrill, the NLL's pre-eminent transition player and maybe its best overall player, says that Rochester in the East Division remains the favorite to win the championship.
'The West is stronger than it's ever been,' Merrill says, of Colorado, San Jose, Edmonton and Calgary - with Arizona gone.
Keenan and players say Portland is in much better shape this year, physically.
Powell says the days are gone when players can simply show up and play. 'There are very few jobs to be had,' he says. 'Conditioning is now a huge importance.'
Last year, Powell adds, the Jax players fell into being content, and 'we got a little bit lazy and lost our mind-set. But there are no finger-pointers, and we got each other's back. It's really positive and upbeat; our goal is to win the whole thing.'
2008 Portland LumberJax
The Portland LumberJax begin their third season of National Lacrosse League play with the first of 16 games Saturday against New York in the Rose Garden. Here's a look at the roster, by position, with comments from General Manager/coach Derek Keenan.
Player NLL years Hgt. wgt. Comment
Cory Conway R 6-2, 195 Playing time might be rare
Dan Dawson 6 6-5, 225 Not 'Dangerous Dan' for nothing
Matt Holman 1 5-7, 170 Four hat tricks last season
Peter Jacobs R 6-0, 185 Rookie could be in rotation early
Derek Lowe 1 6-0, 175 'He'll get in down the road'
Derek Malawsky 9 6-0, 175 'Great skills, smart player'
Spencer Martin 6 6-3, 210 'He's a grit guy … gets guys open.'
Peter Morgan 6 6-6, 230 Big man is force up front
Ryan Powell 6 6-1, 205 Last year's leading scorer
Scott Stewart 6 6-1, 225 'He can create a shot any time'
Adam Bysouth 5 6-1, 200 Married to owner Angela Batinovich
Tyler Codron R 6-0, 200 Impact rookie; big, strong, can run
Brodie Merrill 2 6-4, 205 Is he NLL's best player?
Scott Stapleford 5 6-0, 190 Second-year Jax player
Ian Crashley 1 6-5, 185 Aptly named, physical banger
Ray Guze 4 6-2, 190 Enforcer, big hitter
Pat Jones 6 6-2, 195 One of NLL's best faceoff guys
Mike Kilby 3 6-1, 205 'Adds grit and toughness'
Brad MacDonald 4 6-0, 200 'Gritty, smart player, speedy'
Rich Morgan 4 6-8, 265 One of biggest men in the league
Jonathan Munk R 6-2, 205 Practice player
Dallas Eliuk 17 5-10, 200 Still good, sharp at age 43
Matt King 6 6-1, 210 'Confident, feeling good'
Joel Weber R 5-9, 160 Will live, train in Portland