The Arizona Sting is constructing a winning model for playoff lacrosse. The model is now in its second year as the Sting work toward a second consecutive appearance in the National Lacrosse League title game.
After downing the Portland Lumberjax 14-11 last week in the first round of the playoffs, Arizona meets the Colorado Mammoth this morning in Denver in the Western Conference final. A victory would put the Sting in the league's title game, where they lost last year to Rochester.
The high-scoring Arizona team (second in the league in goals) shocked a Portland team that had won six straight games going into the playoffs.
“It was a total team effort,'' Sting coach Bob Hamley said. “All the guys stepped up to the plate and played well. We played a complete 60 minutes and that's what we've been striving for all season.''
The Sting were expected to be a playoff team this year but struggled during the regular season, barely sneaking into the postseason. Hamley said it took his team's newcomers and veterans time to learn how to play together.
Of course, it was veterans who keyed last week's playoff victory, with forward Dan Dawson collecting eight points and goalkeeper Rob Blasdell getting 41 saves.
The Sting will need that same type of effort against the Mammoth, the team they eliminated from the playoffs last season. Colorado beat Arizona three times during the 2006 regular season.
“We got dominated by Colorado,'' Hamley said. “I think it's the toughest place to play in the NLL. Every team is talented. It comes down to character and desire.''
The Mammoth advanced to the conference final with an 18-17 overtime victory over Calgary.
Even with three victories over the Sting already this season, Colorado coach Gary Gait is very concerned with the Arizona team.
“This league is very unique,'' Gait said. “You show up one day and the guys are hot and it's a close game and then you can't seem to put the ball in the net. Anything can happen. Arizona has already proven that.''
Sting at Mammoth
What: National Lacrosse League Western Conference finals
When: 11 a.m. today
Where: Pepsi Center, Denver
TV: Cox Ch. 7
Records: Arizona 11-6, Colorado 9-8
Outlook: Arizona coach and general manager Bob Hamley received a multiyear contract extension this week. Sting rookie Matt Brown is returning to some of his lacrosse roots. Brown played outdoor lacrosse at the University of Denver.