By Tom Borelli
Being a goaltender for an indoor lacrosse team is a rough job but somebody has to do it.
Buffalo Bandits head coach Bob McCready knows that as well, or better, than anybody involved with the MILL. Before taking charge of the MILL’s newest franchise, McCready spent about 27 years in the crease, beginning as a kid and going through stints with five different pro teams in Canada.
He knows—first hand—the sick, gut-wrenching feeling his goalies experience before a game and he knows all about the physical demands of a practice session, when the netminders might take on five or six hundred shots from teammates.
So it’s only natural that McCready may take a little more interest in his team’s goaltending than other MILL coaches do.
“When I played, I wanted to be in there all the time,” said McCready. “But I think the philosophy of goaltending has changed through the years. Coaches are more apt to go with a two goalie system, not just in lacrosse, but in hockey, too. A lot of coaches will generally ride their hot goalie.”
Bill Gerrie and Ross Cowie are the Bandits who benefit most from McCready’s many experiences in goal, which includes once passing for 14 assists in a single game and being blinded for a week from a blood clot behind his eye—caused when he was struck through the mask by a 120 mph shot.
Both Gerrie and Cowie bring a bevy of Canadian box lacrosse experience to the young Bandits and both have seen significant playing time so far this young season.
At Nassau Coliseum on Saturday night (January 18), Cowie started and made 49 saves in the Bandits’ 19-16 loss to the New York Saints. Gerrie, who saw action in both the third and fourth quarters, added eight saves as New York unleashed 76 shots in dropping Buffalo’s record to 0-2.
Cowie’s efforts in the nets allowed the Bandits to rally from a 15-11 deficit into a 16-16 tie before the Saints iced the game with a trio of goals in the game’s final 1:41.
When the Bandits opened their regular season with a 21-17 home loss to the Saints on January 4, Gerrie started and was replaced by Cowie midway through the first quarter. Cowie made 30 saves, several in spectacular fashion, to keep the Bandits close. Gerrie came back during the second half and finished with 14 saves.
In the team’s lone exhibition, Gerrie and Cowie split time in a 24-14 loss to the Detroit Turbos at Rochester when Cowie was forced to leave with a shoulder injury.
Gerrie and Cowie know each other well, though they’ve never been teammates prior to this season. Both played in the National Lacrosse League of Canada last season, Gerrie for the Brantford Warriors and Cowie for the Buffalo Renegades, who disbanded after just one season.
“Ross and I get along and that’s important to me,” said Gerrie, a 34 year-old Mississauga, Ont. resident. “That makes it a lot easier for us both. I’ve played on teams before where I really didn’t get along with the other goalie because we had such different personalities. Some guys will take it personally if they’re not playing all the time or the coach will take them out of the game, but I’m pretty easy going about it.”
“I just like to play and to win,” said Cowie, a 27 year-old resident of Hamilton, Ont. “In my entire career, which started when I was about 4, traditionally I’ve gotten at least half or a majority of the playing time. But I’m fine with the situation here. Right now, Billy and I both play and we’re comfortable with it. Buff [McCready] has confidence in both of us and we have confidence in ourselves. Ideally, it’s best to have two good goalies anyway.”
Despite their seven year age difference, Gerrie and Cowie boast many similarities. Both took up field lacrosse later in their careers—Cowie as a player with Brock University and Gerrie to help his sons develop as field players. Both come from athletic families and are excellent hockey players.
Gerrie as two sons who are lacrosse prospects at American colleges. According to Gerrie, his son Chris, 18, is a goalie for the Canadian National Junior Team and schools like Cornell, Brown, Johns Hopkins, Michigan State and Penn State have recruited him.
His younger son, Ryan, 17, is a midfielder that Syracuse is already showing interest in.
Cowie’s brothers, Brad and Gerard, played hockey at Northeastern University and Gerard was good enough to get a tryout with the Boston Bruins about 10 years ago.
Another similarity is that the transition from Canadian box lacrosse hasn’t gone without a hitch for either. Playing before 9,052 at Memorial Auditorium in the opener and 11,297 at Nassau Coliseum on Saturday was something that neither man was used to, but McCready understood what was going on in their heads.
“I think a lot of it was nerves on Billy’s part,” McCready said of the opener. “The hardest thing is to tell a guy to relax. For a goalie, there’s no moving around laterally; so if you’re nervous, you just kind of freeze. But once you get that first shot, you’re OK.”
Said Gerrie, “The crowd takes a lot of getting used to. You don’t really notice it once the game starts and you get into what you’re doing, but it makes communicating (with teammates) impossible. You just can’t do it.”
Cowie said he’s used to playing before 1,500 or so spectators in Canada, so he was forced to adjust his style of play. “I’m the only one who’s always looking at the ball because my teammates are backpedaling a bit at times. I find they can’t hear me and I can’t really hear myself. The only thing you can do is give a physical sign, lift an arm or a leg, or point at the ball.”
Aside from the crowd noise, the rules of the MILL game are an adjustment for both goalies as well.
“The nets are bigger (six inches wider) than what I’m used to in Canada,” said Cowie. “Plus you probably take a few more shots in the MILL game. The crease area isn’t as respected as much in the MILL as I’m used to either. I can’t assume anything, I have to be more aggressive because if I don’t have full control in the crease, somebody can poke it into the net for a goal.”
“Guys will pretty much shoot from anywhere in the MILL game,” said Gerrie. “In Canada, it’s much more of a setup game, like basketball, running picks and so forth. Here, you face a lot more outside shots. Preparing for it can be difficult but I think we’re getting better at it.”
Kevin Alexander’s long awaited debut with the Bandits proved well worth the wait. Alexander had a pair of goals among his eight shots and won 12 of 20 faceoffs…Darris Kilgour, who had five goals and two assists against the Saints, was 5 for 5 on his shots on goal…Jim Veitman scooped up 13 loose balls to take game high honors against the Saints…When the Bandits host MILL champion Detroit in their next game—Saturday, January 25, at Memorial Auditorium—they can expect to see veteran Ted Sawicki in goal for the Turbos. But Cowie may know some of the Sawicki family goaltending secrets. When Brock University started its field lacrosse program, Cowie was the goaltender for coach Tim Sawicki, Ted’s brother…The Bandits got their first taste of Buffalo’s infamous winter weather which—along with chicken wings and the AFC champion Bills are the city’s trademark—when a snowstorm forced postponement of practice before the Saints game.
(The Indoor Lacrosse Newsletter, Vol. 1, No. 4, January 24, 1992)
(Special thanks to Bob Heyes for providing a copy of the paper)