THE AMERICAN GOALIE
New York's Miller headlines rare group of US netminders
With the American influence in the NLL higher than ever following the 2008 Entry Draft, US-born players are earning roster spots all over the turf.
Yet out of the 30 goaltenders that saw NLL action in 2008, just one -- New York Titans veteran Erik Miller -- is American-born. Since the retirement of NLL Hall of Famer Sal LoCascio in 2000, Miller is the only notable American goaltender to see any substatial action in the league.
The position is dominated by Canadian stars such as Anthony Cosmo, Matt Vinc and Bob Watson. There's such a lack of depth for American goaltenders that JJ Pearl, who last played professionally in 1997, came out of retirement to serve as Miller's backup for Team USA in the 2007 World Indoor Lacrosse Championship.
"It's a different game," said Miller, who turns 37 next week. "There isn't a goalie that I played with that didn't try to show you the ropes and teach you. It's one of those things that you have to get a chance, and then try to absorb all the different experiences you can."
In the college game, which is dominated predominantly by American players, goaltenders defend a larger net and typically face less shots than an NLL goalie. Former NCAA stars such as Greg Cattrano and Brian Dougherty have tried playing in the NLL with limited success.
Most NLL goalies have grown up playing both box lacrosse and hockey. Miller headlines a list of few goaltenders who have been able to make the transition from outdoor lacrosse to the NLL.
Chris Collins is one of a handful of talented American goalies currently vying for a roster spot. The 26-year-old Delaware native was on New York's opening night roster as their #3 goalie, but was released in January.
"Every day he was there he got better and better," said Miller. "If he sticks with it and someone gives him an opportunity he's going to be good. He's a great team guy, he's dedicated to it, and he'll be great if someone gives him a chance."
Collins will be participating in Saturday's USIL Free Agent Combine in Aston, PA, where he hopes to catch the eye of an NLL scout. Other American goaltenders participating in the combine are Pat Crosby, Ginny Capicchioni and Matt Cannon. The four have plenty of indoor lacrosse experience on the club level, but Capicchioni is the only one to see NLL action, appearing in three games in 2003.
Three other American goaltenders have already been invited directly to training camps.
Pete Jokisch, a graduate of Colorado State University, signed a two-year contract with the Colorado Mammoth on September 26th. Jokisch served as the Mammoth's practice-squad goaltender in 2007 and 2008.
Mickey Hover, a graduate of Southern New Hampshire University, signed a one-year deal with the Philadelphia Wings on September 29th.
"He seems to have the characteristics of a good indoor goalie," said Wings assistant coach Chris Sanderson, who played four NLL seasons in goal before retiring to the bench. "He's a very big kid, quick hands, and moves well for a big guy. He grew up playing ice hockey as a goalie, and he's playing a little bit of indoor this fall. Obviously there's no illusion of him playing for us this year or next year but given some time on the practice roster I think he has the physical makeup to potentially be a goalie in the league."
The Minnesota Swarm spent a late pick in the 2008 Entry Draft on Drexel grad Bruce Bickford.
"I watched him in the North/South game, and was impressed how he waited shots out and had really good reflexes," said Swarm GM Marty O'Neill, who played nine NLL seasons in goal. "[Drexel head coach and former Wings player] Chris Bates was oozing with great things to say about his commitment level."
O'Neill also commended the play of Brian Vona and Andy Piazza, who played a combined 13 seasons in Boston and Philadelphia, respectively.
"An American guy can do pretty well if he really dedicates himself to it," he added.