Ah, the underdog. Every sport?s playoff competition has one. That lovable group of unknowns that come out of the darkness to reach the pinnacle of competition, but are given little to no shot at defeating the goliaths of the league.
The Vancouver Ravens have assumed this role well ? all except the unknown part. The Kent State Golden Flashes of the NLL will take their shot at Duke (rather the Rochester Knighthawks) in the first round of the league playoffs Saturday night at Rochester?s Blue Cross Arena.
The Ravens draw comparisons to the expansion Buffalo Bandits of 1992, a team that lost their first three games, then won eight in a row en route to a league title. Vancouver started the season 3-6, but has rebounded with
seven straight wins to reach the playoffs.
In the process, the Ravens have quickly become one of the most well known teams in the NLL thanks to a healthy amount of TV and radio coverage. Vancouver has had three games on CNN/SI this season, and several on Rogers
Sportsnet. The team is at the top of the NLL?s Canadian television ratings, and is third in merchandise sales. Along with the TV exposure, all of the Ravens? games are broadcast live on The Team 1040 AM.
Vancouver, however, could not have drawn a tougher playoff opponent than the Knighthawks. Rochester has won their last 14 games at home, dating back to last season. The Ravens meanwhile are 4-4 on the road this year. The game is the first ever meeting between the two clubs.
?I can certainly think of better places to play our first playoff game, given Rochester?s outstanding record at home and the talent they have on that team,? Ravens? Head Coach Paul Dal Monte said. ?But we are very
pleased in our first season to be representing Vancouver in the playoffs.?
For Vancouver, their true test starts now. The Ravens? schedule did not include either Rochester or the Albany Attack this season ? by record, the NLL?s two best teams. All in all, the team only played four games against the other five playoff teams, posting a 1-3 record ? their only win coming at home over the Toronto Rock. Only one of those four games was on the road ? a 16-11 loss at Toronto.
?Everything has to go well for us to win this game, we have to play almost flawless lacrosse,? Dal Monte said. ?Our offense needs to click, we need to have a smothering defense, and goaltending has to be sharp.
?I really don?t think we can afford, against a lineup like theirs, to have any breakdowns. [Rochester] is, player for player, as good as any team in this league. They have a lot of firepower.?
Like their division rivals in Toronto, the Ravens are a strong defensive team with plenty of balance. Vancouver allowed only 191 goals this season, second best behind the Rock.
?We have a veteran lineup on defense and if there is anything going for us in this game it?s that a lot of these players have played with or against each other in the past,? Dal Monte said. ?For the most part, these guys are
veterans and that?s been one of the keys to our defensive success this year.
Good defense starts with a good goaltender, and the Ravens have one of the league?s best in Dwight Maetche. The 43-year-old net minder finished second in goals against average, fourth in saves, and fourth in save percentage in
2002. Maetche won nine games this season, good enough for third in the league.
Chris Gill, formerly of the Rock, is Vancouver?s marquee player. He led the team with 90 points, placing him seventh overall in the NLL. He also posted five shorthanded goals, making him second in the league in that
The acquisition of Peter Morgan has been key for the Ravens. The left-handed Morgan has notched four game-winning goals, tops in the league.
Ryan O?Connor ? another former Rock player ? has a penchant for breaking the ice. The Vancouver forward has scored the first goal of the game on four occasions, and has had a chance to shine with more playing time.
Saturday?s game will be available to Vancouver fans live at 4:30 p.m. pacific time on CNN/SI and The Team 1040 AM. It will be shown on tape delay in the Vancouver area at 8 p.m. on Rogers Sportsnet. Fans should check local listings for start times in other time zones across Canada, they are also available right here at www.NationalLacrosse.com.
Things will not get any easier for the Ravens should they pull off a win in Rochester. The winner of the game will advance to meet top seeded Albany on the road in the semifinals next weekend.