Pressure-packed

TY PILSON -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 1:39 PM ET

Hey, it's just an all-star game. No pressure at all, right? Wrong.

The National Lacrosse League's showcase tilt today at the Saddledome is being beamed live into 160 million homes by NBC, making it the most important game in the history of the sport when it comes to exposure.

The 36 players taking part in the contest have the opportunity to sell the league to a whole new group of people in Canada, the U.S., Europe and Asia, making the tilt a pivotal moment in time for the NLL as it strives to grow and become a major professional league.

While some are trying to downplay the game's importance, Calgary Roughnecks assistant captain Kaleb Toth was frank when asked if there's more pressure this year.

"It is a lot of added pressure," said Toth. "A lot of guys won't admit it, they'll just say it's an all-star game. But we have a chance to make or break the sport. We have to sell it to the American audience and we want to put on the best show we can."

Toth said he doesn't expect a lot of talk between players about the game's significance in the dressing room but he's sure it will be addressed.

"I think the coaches will put a lot of emphasis on it," said Toth. "It's not just your typical all-star game. I'm sure we'll probably get an e-mail from the league the night before, as well, reminding us we have to play intense."

Roughnecks captain Tracey Kelusky, a starter for the West Division, said selling the game has ultimately been the goal of almost every player in the league and this is their greatest chance to close a big deal.

"We're playing this game because we love this game and we want to take it to the next level," said Kelusky. "Ninety-nine percent of the guys playing in the National Lacrosse League right now are playing just for the love of the game, the passion they have for it, and wanting to take it to the next level.

"This is an unbelievable opportunity."

One-time Roughneck and current Toronto Rock standout Blaine Manning, a starter for the East, reiterated what many players have said leading up to today's game: Expect a hard-hitting, all-out battle on the carpet.

"I think you're going to see a very intense and a very physical game," said Manning, a Sherwood Park product. "Because we want to show people who haven't seen the game what lacrosse is all about. It's best seen when it's played hard and physical.

"And who better would you have to sell it? With guys like Gary Gait, John Tavares, John Grant -- who better to see than those guys. These are the best players in the world."

Gait has been the public face of the sport for more than a decade, since he and twin brother Paul made headlines playing NCAA field lacrosse at Syracuse before being drafted.

Gary, a Victoria, B.C., native, plans to retire at the end of this season and is happy the sport is finally getting the national recognition in the U.S. he's always dreamed of.

"I remember in the beginning, when I first started playing in the league, we used to be on ESPN," said Gait. "But this is a major network. It's unbelievable. It is exciting to happen in my final year."

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ALL-STAR FILES

GARY GAIT -- COLORADO

As the National Lacrosse League's all-time leading scorer, Colorado Mammoth forward Gary Gait has more records to his credit than most people can remember.

Gary, 37, is playing his 15th NLL season. He plans to retire at the end of this year, making him a consensus pick as a West Division starter.

The first pick in 1990, then the Major Indoor Lacrosse League, Gary and brother Paul became synonymous with the sport.

A member of both Team Canada's national indoor and field lacrosse teams, Gary was named the NLL's league MVP six times.

"Gary is an individual that has carried this sport on his shoulders for many, many years," said NLL commissioner Jim Jennings. "If anybody knows anything about lacrosse, they know Gary Gait."


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