Rock defenders facing Mammoth task

MIKE KOREEN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:21 AM ET

In terms of originality, the main theme of today\'s National Lacrosse League semi-final at the Air Canada Centre is a dud.

However, the Gary Gait versus Pat Coyle and Glenn Clark matchup has stood the test of time.

To the surprise of no one, the Toronto Rock defensive duo of Coyle and Clark has been assigned to cover the NLL\'s career leading scorer today when the third-seeded Colorado Mammoth (10-7) faces the No. 2 Rock (11-5) in the first of two NLL semi-finals. The other semi-final tonight sees the No. 4 Buffalo Bandits in Rochester to battle the No. 1 Knighthawks.

The question to ask yourself about the game within a game at the ACC is can two of the sport\'s premier defenders limit the production of a man who set an NLL record with 61 goals this season?

\"The challenge doesn\'t get any bigger,\" Clark said.

\"The secret (against Gait) is to have two guys who work really well together and to help each other out.\"

This season, Gait and the Mammoth have stopped the Rock. Gait had a combined six goals and seven assists as the Mammoth won both its games against the defending champs.

But it has been a different story in the past. Before moving to Colorado this season, Gait\'s Washington Power lost two semi-finals in a row against the Rock, each by one goal.

FINE LINE

Covering the 6-foot-2, 210-pound Gait isn\'t simple. Being overaggressive against Gait isn\'t the answer, but, on the other hand, giving him room to pass or shoot can be deadly.

\"It\'s a fine line,\" Clark said. \"The key word is contain because you\'re not going to stop him. You want to try to direct him where the help his ... But you can\'t focus all your attention on him because they\'ve got too good a support staff (Colorado ranked second in the 12-team league in offence this season).\"

Though the Rock has played just one game in the past 36 days thanks to the brutal NLL schedule, the team comes in with plenty of confidence after a unique pre-practice session Tuesday.

A few weeks ago, Rock general manager/coach Les Bartley told his players to write down the positive traits of their teammates. Those assets were revealed this week. That was followed by what Bartley called a \"powerful\" talk about what the playoffs mean to the team.

\"What a lot of guys said is we\'ve got to eat (lacrosse), breathe it and sleep it,\" Bartley said. \"I think we walked away feeling pretty good about where we\'re at.\"

Meanwhile, Rock president Brad Watters said the SARS scare will hurt attendance for the league\'s top drawing team today. A season-low crowd of 14,000-15,000 is expected.

\"Some people are staying at home to watch this game,\" he said. \"We\'ve had a good run here for attendance and I can\'t complain at all ... but we\'ve got an issue affecting Toronto.\"


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