In net, Phipps learning the ropes

Forced into duty by injury, Bayhawks rookie and ex-Maryland goaltender earns All-Star berth

July 02, 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. A Maryland and Severn graduate, Phipps 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 reeled off 11 goals in the game's final 28 minutes while holding the Bayhawks to just two.

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."

Tonight, 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, the Bayhawks managed only 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 Major League Lacrosse All-Star Game next Saturday in Cambridge, Mass. 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 the 2010 draft, spent last season on the practice squad. He was activated before Chesapeake's season opener against Rochester and played the second half of the Bayhawks' second game, a 14-10 victory over the Hamilton 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, entering the Boston game, Phipps' save percentage was .543, 12 points higher than the mark that veteran Chris Garrity maintained in three games before suffering a torn medial collateral ligament. 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 earned his chops in goal.

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

"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."

Phipps' former teammate Grant Catalino — who will not play for the Rattlers tonight because he is the best man in his brother's wedding — remembers Phipps as the ideal goalie, the "director on the field."

In the past year, Phipps has also become a director off the field. After Phipps graduated from Maryland in 2010, newly hired coach John Tillman asked him whether he would return and become the Terps' 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 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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