Ex-Lumberjax believe in destiny

DEREK VAN DIEST, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:03 AM ET

Brodie Merrill remembers the playoff run vividly.

As a member of the Portland LumberJax, Merrill was on a team that just snuck into the National Lacrosse League playoffs, then went on a run to the championship game.

Such is the nature of the NLL post-season. In a one-game elimination, anything can happen.

"That's what's exciting about the playoffs, if you can get hot, really come together, and build momentum, you can really go far," Merrill said. "If you can build off those little successes in a game, then I think you can really carry that through throughout the playoffs.

"In 2008, we struggled during the regular season, but we felt we had a good team.

"We thought if we could get in, then we could make some noise. I have a similar type of feeling this year. We're certainly going in there as the underdog, but we certainly believe we can win and work our way towards the championship game."

That year, the LumberJax knocked off the San Jose Stealth in the first round before getting past the Calgary Roughnecks in the semifinal. The clock eventually struck midnight with a 14-13 loss in the final to Buffalo.

Now with the Edmonton Rush, Merrill will take part in the franchise's first playoff game Saturday afternoon in Calgary against the Roughnecks. The winner of that game moves on to the NLL semifinal.

"I think we all played pretty loose and pretty confident that year with Portland," Merrill said. "Our first playoff game was against San Jose, who were the favourite and the top team in the conference. We were down pretty big in the game and we ended up coming back and winning a shootout, 18-16. I remember it pretty clearly. That sparked it. In every case during that playoff we were the underdog. And being on the road, there weren't a lot of distractions that sometimes come with a home game, which helped. In that case we really came together and it's really only two games that you need to win in order to get into the championship. I think this is a pretty exciting opportunity for our team now."

Edmonton Rush head coach and general manager Derek Keenan was in charge of the LumberJax that season. At one point in the year Portland was 3-7 and looked as though they had little hope of even making the playoffs.

"It was a little bit odd, because we didn't have a great season, we finish 6-10, although I felt the whole season we had a really good team," Keenan said. "We had a lot of good players that year, it was the year Arizona dispersed and we added Dan Dawson and we had a lot of new players. A key component was a late trade I made to get (goaltender) Matt Disher. That was big. Towards the end of the season, we started to play well, and that was the key."

Disher, now with the Rush, Keenan and Merrill are hoping to lead their new team on a similar run.

Despite the Rush having never played in a playoff game, they do have players with playoff experience. Jimmy Quinlan and Gavin Prout have actually won league titles.

Quinlan did it in his rookie season with the Toronto Rock in 2005, while Prout won the title a year later with the Colorado Mammoth.

"I remember that year it was a different playoff format, we finished first in the league and we had a bye the first week," Quinlan said. "We only played two games, we played Rochester in the first game and then played Arizona for the championship.

"Playing in the playoffs, it was one of those things where you really have to come out and execute. Everyone has to be on their A-game. Any lapses and you can find yourself going home pretty quick. We were fortunate in 2005, that we were solid right from our goaltending out.

"In a one-game winner-take-all, it's going to be the team that comes out and executes their game plan that wins."


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