by Curt Smith of the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle
ROCHESTER—A mixed bag, with the pluses clearly outnumbering the minuses. That portrait neatly sums up the Rochester Griffins’ fortunes so far this season. With seven weeks elapsed, the Griffins remain where’ they have been situated since their season began near the top.
A potent, balanced scoring attack, superb goaltending by Merv Marshall, an aggressive fast break offence have all been major factors. “Obviously I’ve been pleased with our position and the way our club has handled itself this year,” Griffin coach and general manager Morley Kells says. “We’ve scored well, our goalie has played superbly at times. “And as far as our defence goes, there are a couple of reasons why it’s been erratic. Most of our players have never played a floating defencé before, at least the kind we’ve used this year. They’re accustomed to the man for man defence. That’s taken some adjusting. “Then too, of course,” Kells continues, “our injuries have hurt our defensive continuity. We’ve had to keep shuttling players in and out of the lineup. It’s hard to develop a cohesive lineup that way. “
Despite defensive lapses, the Griffins have not been near the top thanks mostly to Marshall and one of the NLL’s most productive offences. The Griffins rank second in goals scored, despite •a series of injuries which juggled the lineup and weakened the team’s depth. At various times this season, regulars who have been sidelined include Dave Wilfong (the Griffins’ second- leading scorer), A1 Gordaneer, Paul Warden, Glen Neuman, Jan Magee, Rick Dudley, Billy Foote, Tom Phair and Charlie Henderson.
During the injury blitz, Rochester’s balance has proven to be its saving grace. Six players have scored more than 40 points, with Dudley’s 85 and Kevin Parsons’ 65 leading the way. And then there was Marshall. Through 16 games, the Griffin goalie had allowed only 229 goals, second-lowest figure in the NLL. In many Rochester games, especially in recent weeks, Marshall has personally kept the Griffins in contention until their offence broke loose. In addition, Marshall’s long passes have helped to trigger the Rochester fast break. An excellent long lead passer, Marshall has totalled 29 assists in 19 games, easily the NLL’s high for a goalie. “Right now Merv’s the most consistent goalie in the league,” Kells says. “The great thing about him is his lateral mobility, the way he moves around in front of the net. He’s awfully quick. “And besides that, Merv has to anticipate as well as any goalie around. You don’t find too many goals being scored against him from the angles. He really knows how to cut ‘down the percentage shot. “
Rochester’s season has been a study of streaks. The Griffins began with four consecutive victories, including a pair over then outclassed Montreal. Then came a two- week slump, during which time Rochester won only two of six games and almost relinquished its lead. After splitting a home and away series with Maryland, the Griffins followed with their second lengthy winning streak of the season, a five-game skein which boosted their record to 12-4-1 and put some distance between themselves and their challengers. “After we got off to that fast start,” Kells recalls, “we really started to stumble when Gordaneer and Warden got hurt about at the same time. That didn’t help our offensive punch any, that’s for sure. “And now, even though they’ve been hurt off and on, we’re playing better because Parsons (Rochester’s No. 1 draft choice) has come around to play the brand of lacrosse he’s capable of playing. That’s made a big difference. “Then too, Phair and Larry McCormick are steadying down. They’re playing much better. Neuman has come along and when he’s healthy, Warden has played twice as well this year as I’ve seen him play before.
Perhaps the most prominent feature of the Griffins’ performance so far has been their contrasting home and away record. Rochester has been almost invincible at the Community War Memorial. On the road, though, the mosaic is markedly different. The Griffins are 3-4-1, winning just one of their first six away games. The Griffins potency at home, along with their road problems, has been most strikingly illustrated against Maryland. Rochester has been soundly beaten by the Arrows, 22-13 and 21-13, at the Capital Centre, but romped to a 21-10 victory over Maryland at the War Memorial. “Well, first of all, I think we’re going to be all right on the road from here on,” says Kells. “After all, we won our last two away games. “We never were that bad on the road, to begin with, in my estimation. When we had all those early away con- tests, we had a really rough schedule—nine games in 15 days. That’s enough to wear down any team. “We have done better at home, that’s obvious. I think one reason may be that when you’re at home, you have more time -to prepare for each game,” Kells continues. “You don’t have to worry about flying into another city. And the Rochester fans have been vocally great.”
The Griffins have held their own against every rival NLL club, with the most tightly contested series coming against the Philadelphia Wings. Rochester has won three of the four games against Philly so far, but no game has been decided by more than two goals and each contest has been in doubt until the final séconds. Kells, who expects his club’s play to pick up on the road against Maryland, is more cautious when the Wings come up. “Philly is a fine team,” Kells says. “Our game couldn’t have been closer with them than they’ve been so far. Maryland is the most physical club we’ve hit this year but Philadelphia may well be the best. “
With the NLL. season past, its half-way mark, and the next league meeting to centre upon the September playoffs, the Griffins already are looking to deepen their playing roster. In recent weeks, Kells has signed free agents Bruce Wanless, 34, and Dave Porky Russell, 39, a defender and goalie, respectively. He also shipped Ken Wright to Syracuse for Joe Timpson. “We certainly expect to be in the playoffs,” Kells says, “and it’s not too early to start getting ready now. Russell is a fine defensive goalie; he’ll be available in case anything should happen to Merv, Heaven forbid. “Wanless and Timpson will give us more depth. You never can have enough of that, especially if injuries keep hitting us.”