Maryland grad Phipps settles in as rookie with Bayhawks

Injury has forced first-year netminder to handle a majority of the minutes as he adjusts to pro game

July 01, 2011|By Robbie Levin, The Baltimore Sun

Rookie Brian Phipps turned in an improbable performance between the pipes in the first half of the Chesapeake Bayhawks' game against Boston last Saturday. The Maryland and Severn product stopped 11 shots, holding the Cannons to a lone goal in the first quarter and propelling his team to a 7-6 halftime advantage.

Unfortunately for Phipps, Boston responded with an equally unlikely second-half surge. The Cannons held the Bayhawks to two goals over the game's final 28 minutes, in the meantime reeling off 11 goals.

Phipps finished the day with 16 saves, a new personal best and the most stops by a Chesapeake netminder this year.

"Typically when you have 16 saves, you usually come out victorious," Bayhawks coach Brendan Kelly said. "I couldn't ask any more of Brian Phipps right now."

Saturday the Bayhawks (3-3) look to end their three-game skid when they welcome the Rochester Rattlers (0-6) to Annapolis. While the Rattlers have had struggles of their own — they've lost all six games thus far and fired coach B.J. O'Hara this week — last week's loss to the Cannons exposed several of the Bayhawks' weaknesses. Despite a league-high 10 All-Stars, Chesapeake only managed 10 goals while proving unable to stop Boston's transition offense.

If there's one positive from last week's defeat, it was Phipps' stellar play in net. The rookie's performance helped earn him a spot on the All-Star squad for the 11th MLL All-Star game next weekend in Cambridge. Phipps and Hamilton's Joe Marra are the first rookie goaltenders in league history to be named all stars.

"I was pretty surprised," Phipps said. "It's a great honor and I'm thrilled to be able to say I'm playing with the best lacrosse players in the world."

Phipps, who was selected by the Bayhawks with the 23rd overall pick in last year's draft, spent the 2010 season on the practice squad. He was activated before Chesapeake's season opener against Rochester and played in the second half of the Bayhawks' victory over the Nationals.

Saturday's loss was Phipps' first complete game of the year, and his 150 minutes are the fewest of any All-Star goalie. Still, going into the Boston game Phipps' save percentage was .543, 12 points higher than the mark veteran Chris Garrity maintained in three games before tearing his MCL. Garrity was also named to the All-Star team but will not compete.

Dave Cottle, the president of the Bayhawks and Phipps' coach at Maryland, said Phipps' biggest improvement since his days in College Park has been increased anticipation and "understanding where guys shoot."

"Being able to not move before it happens," Cottle said, "but to have a clear understanding that this guy likes to shoot high and away, picking up tendencies."

Phipps added that the change in the color of the ball, from white in college to orange in the pros, has also helped the transition.

"The orange ball stands out more coming out of the stick," Phipps said. "I can see it quicker than the white ball."

This isn't the first time the color of the ball has changed for Phipps. Growing up, Phipps' mother, Betty, didn't want her children playing with lacrosse balls, so instead she had Brian and his brother Michael use tennis balls. While Michael — who also starred at Maryland — excelled at attack, Phipps cut his chops in the goal.

Phipps' time in net has paid off, and Cottle notes his calm demeanor suits him well as a netminder.

"He talks to guys, he doesn't yell at guys. The defensemen appreciate that," Cottle said. "They're in it together. It isn't 'Hey you guys are playing bad defense,' it's 'We gotta play better defense.' All the intangibles go to Brian. He's got all the things you can work on as a coach and a player."

Former teammate and current Rochester Rattler Grant Catalino — who will not play Saturday because he is the best man in his brother's wedding — remembers Phipps as the ideal goalie, the "director on the field." If Phipps sounds like he would make an excellent coach, it's because that's what he aspires to be. After Phipps graduated from Maryland in 2010, newly hired coach John Tillman asked him if he would return and become the first full-time Director of Lacrosse Operations. Phipps gladly accepted, and in his new post he organizes travel for the team and serves as the alumni liaison. While he is not permitted to help out on the field, Phipps is allowed to sit in on all coaches meetings.

Adjusting to new positions on and off the field has been difficult for Phipps, but his biggest challenge may come next week during all-star weekend. As part of the festivities, Phipps will compete in the Goalie Gauntlet, an obstacle course in which the netminders showcase their skills outside the crease.

"I wouldn't say I'm the most athletic person," Phipps said. "But it'll be fun for the fans and I'm looking forward to it."

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