Alum Zywicki Shoots For Second Straight NLL Title Today - UMass Athletics

Alum Zywicki Shoots For Second Straight NLL Title Today

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UMass alum and All-American lacrosse player Jeff Zywicki will be playing for his second straight National Lacrosse League title this afternoon. Watch Zywicki (No. 67) and his Washington Stealth as they play at the Toronto Rock in the NLL Title game, televised on VERSUS at 2 p.m.

Here are some stories on the game that include Zywicki.

Washington Stealth's Jeff Zywicki provides postseason spark

So just how did the defending National Lacrosse League champion Washington Stealth follow up a mediocre 8-8 regular season with back-to-back playoff wins to earn another berth in the title game?

Special to The Seattle Times

Sunday

NLL championship game: Stealth @ Toronto Rock,

11 a.m., Versus

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So just how did the defending National Lacrosse League champion Washington Stealth follow up a mediocre 8-8 regular season with back-to-back playoff wins to earn another berth in the title game?

The answer is complicated, but it starts with forward Jeff Zywicki.

Zywicki missed most of the regular season after suffering a knee injury in the season opener. After trying to come back too early, he got completely healthy just in time for the playoffs.

In two playoff wins -- 14-8 over Minnesota, and 10-8 over Calgary -- Zywicki has five goals and five assists.

"In the playoffs, I was healthy and didn't have to think about the knee and it all just came right back," said Zywicki, whose Stealth squad will face the Toronto Rock in the NLL championship match at 11 a.m. Sunday. "I'm not hesitant to do anything I would have before."

Zywicki, who lives in Nepean, Ontario, and commutes to Everett for home games, puts his intelligence to work when scoring. And that didn't change as he recuperated.

"At 5-foot-9, I'm not the biggest and I'm not the fastest, so I have to use my other skills to my advantage," Zywicki said. "People say I score the greasy, tricky, sneaky goals. I don't care as long as it gets the job done."

Stealth coach Chris Hall said Zywicki, 30, provided his team just what it needed when it needed it most.

"He's a marvel," Hall said. "He's been a huge boost to our offense and to our leadership on the floor. He gives us just that little bit extra on offense and on our bench. That's often the difference between winning and losing in the playoffs."

Two other factors have pushed the Stealth on its run: the goaltending of Tyler Richards, who has allowed a league-best 7.56 goals per game in the playoffs after giving up 11.61 in the regular season; and a healthy Kyle Sorensen on defense.

"We've had a quantum leap in goal," Hall said. "Tyler has really been on fire and shut the door at key times. He's more focused, and the defense has played better in front of him. Collectively, our goaltending and defense, with Sorensen back, decided late in the season that they need to step up. And they have."

Last season the Stealth won three straight playoff games at home, taking the title with a 15-11 victory over the Rock at Comcast Arena.

For a title this year, Washington will have to win all its playoff games on the road and win a rematch with Toronto at the Air Canada Centre.

During their lone regular-season matchup, the Rock took a 13-12 decision in overtime in Toronto.

"Winning is winning, especially in the playoffs, but it's definitely a different feeling this year," Zywicki said. "The Rock have a good team. During the regular season we were a little banged up, and now maybe they are. We've just hit our stride. We're the defending champions, and they have to beat us to get it. I like our chances."

Hall, who has coached three NLL title teams, also thinks the opportunity is there to make it a fourth.

"I think we've got a great shot," Hall said. "We're pretty well matched and just fine on the road. We're playing well and have a team full of winners. We expect to go there, play well and have a great chance to win."

Lewis Ratcliff leads the league in playoff scoring with six goals and 13 points. Toronto's Garrett Billings is second with six goals and 12 points.

Toronto finished the regular season at 10-6 and advanced to the title game by beating Rochester 10-8 and Buffalo 12-11.

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