Injury emphasized insults

With pulled hamstring, Brodie Merrill couldn't lift team out of slide
by: JIM CLARK, Brodie Merrill’s pulled hamstring put another down note in the Jax’s season.

Many nights during his team's 10-game losing streak, Brodie Merrill would sit and think about what happened with the Portland LumberJax.

'It affects different areas of your life,' says Merrill, the team's franchise player. 'A 10-game losing streak wears on you. It brings you down.'

The Jax ended the slide last weekend with a home win over Calgary, and then lost 21-11 at Calgary the next night. Merrill and the Jax (3-11) play San Jose at 7 tonight in the Rose Garden. A year after making the NLL playoffs as an expansion team, the Jax will end the season next weekend against Edmonton.

'Adding an injury into the mix, along with not playing well, makes for a tough season,' Merrill says.

Merrill hasn't been himself for nearly two months since pulling his hamstring Feb. 17 at Rochester. The best athlete on the Jax and right there with Pat Jones as the fittest, Merrill literally had his game taken away. Trying to play at full speed, he tweaked the hamstring in the next two games, at Edmonton and Colorado.

The long layoff for the NLL All-Star Game helped, but the Jax essentially shut down Merrill for the rest of the season, asking him to play only defense and refrain from running in the transition game.

Last year, Merrill and the Jax made their reputation in transition, with Merrill establishing himself as the most dangerous player in the league on the run. With Merrill injured, Matt Dwane not playing, and Ryan Sharp and Luke Forget traded away, the transition attack hasn't been nearly as effective this season.

Portland averages an NLL-worst 9.4 goals per game. Merrill has only four goals and 13 assists, after notching 17 goals and 34 assists last season. The 25-year-old Ontario, Canada, native still leads the NLL in loose balls (165), but he is far off his pace of last year, when he led the league with 214.

Merrill says a busy 2006 contributed to his injury and subpar season.

He played about 70 percent of the time for the LumberJax. He then played for the Canadian team in the outdoor world championships, for Rochester outdoors in Major League Lacrosse and for the Brampton (Ontario) Excelsiors indoor club.

'Even early in the year, when he was healthy, he didn't have the same jump as last year,' Portland coach Derek Keenan says.

Merrill says: 'I pride myself on being in good condition. Playing so much, I didn't have time to keep up my strength and conditioning.'

He plans to play for Rochester again during the outdoor season and vows to be ready to help the LumberJax redeem themselves next year.

Keenan says few players are untouchable as he looks to get the Jax back on track -except for Merrill: 'He's the foundation of the team. He's not going anywhere.'

Merrill says the Jax will be back.

'I want to make sure we're learning from this year, but I don't want to dwell on the negative,' he says. 'We've remained close. Nobody's pointing fingers.'

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