With seven weeks remaining in the 2019-20 NLL regular season schedule, the COVID-19 pandemic caused a stoppage in all sports and public gatherings. Arenas are closed, gymnasiums, all non-essential business are closed, and in Philadelphia a “Stay at Home” order has been extended to April 30th.
As lacrosse fans, we have been brought closer together with fans rallying around classic MILL/NLL games on YouTube, posting pictures and making lists of their favourite players of all time. The NLL has linked YouTube on their website to all classic games over the 34 years of the league.
Philadelphia Wings’ beat reporter and senior In Lacrosse We Trust columnist Rocco Granato had a chance to speak to Wings’ head coach Paul Day earlier this week, before the NLL announced the cancellation of the rest of the regular season. Our thanks to Paul for speaking to ILWT.
RG–First let me ask, how is the family doing during this crisis?
PD-First let me say, my thoughts and prayers are with all the families, health care workers and first responders dealing with the COVID-19 outbreak. I also want to thank all the people working at grocery stores, truckers and all the service industry keeping all of us stocked with the essentials for our self-isolation.
My family is doing well, my wife is a Sergeant with the Niagara Regional Police Service and she is busy working a lot of shifts as this has affected every region of the world.
It has been great spending time with the family; between shift works, travel each weekend and my son’s sports schedule we don’t get to spend that much time together. I am trying to cherish this time as much as I can during this crisis.
RG-With COVID -19 spreading the way it is, what precautions are you taking when traveling to essential stores, and what changes have you made around your house?
PD-Well, our house is clean inside and out, lots of time for chores and spring cleaning. My son and I are staying around our house and yard every day except for walks around the neighborhood. We are not seeing family members, grandparents or friends during this time. Ontario has been on self-isolation for several weeks and we are only going to get groceries once a week.
RG-How is the home schooling coming along?
PD-The school board has online courses for all students, and make new ones available each day. It isn’t easy that is for sure, but like everything it’s a learning experience each day for me as well as my son.
RG-With the temporary shutdown of the league, and the shutdown of training facilities, what are the players doing so they can stay loose and in shape?
PD-This is a great question; we always speak of control what we can control. The pause on the season stared Thursday, March 12th, and that day myself and our captain Kiel Matisz contacted PJ Ragone, our team fitness trainer thru Inspira Health. Inspira has been a great partner for the Philadelphia Wings. Between our fitness, health care and Dr. Tom Dwyer we have the best care possible. PJ came up with a plan that was in our players’ hands by Saturday, March 14th.
Each week or every two weeks, players compete against each other, the next two weeks they are working on a running competition involving negative splits where they have to beat each day’s run the next day and improve each day.
Our fitness plan through PJ has been fantastic all year, and this year our fourth quarter statistically was our best. We were the only team with three back-to-backs already and we won the second game of every back-to-back going 4 and 2. The players have bought in to our fitness goals and speaking to them weekly, they are all pushing hard.
RG-Should we be lucky enough to have a post-season, will there be a short mini-camp? Will there be an adjusted/shorter playoff schedule?
PD-I don’t have any answers in regards to the future of the season; like you I hope and wait, but we have weekly calls with the NLL discussing every opportunity and scenario.
RG-The Wings were 4-14 last season, and this year (before the regular season was cancelled) they sit at 8-6 and were looking at a 10-win season at least (my prediction). It’s obvious a big part of the turnaround is Zach Higgins and a healthy Brett Hickey. Who has really stepped up this season and who has been your biggest surprise this season?
PD-As a group, we have not discussed last season, and really focused on getting better each week.
We have progressed well, our defense this season has really developed great chemistry and I cannot say enough about Zach Higgins; well prepared, positive and our backbone this season. Between Higgy, Brandon Miller mentoring and leading our D; and Chris Collins scouting, our goaltending has been the biggest improvement we have seen. The defense has really come a long way; on average we have the youngest D in the NLL at an average age of around 25; next closest is 27 years of age. Coach Ian Rubel has done a great job and I have never been around a group that does more studying and take more responsibility for preparing for the offence we face each week. It is a testament to the character of our players.
Brett Hickey leads the NLL with five game-winning goals. That is a great statistic, a career for most guys. He has added size, a compete level that’s infectious and not only inside presence but an outside shot that has really helped our offence. Between Hix and Cory Vitarelli we are a tougher, more physical offense this year. Our offensive numbers are down; but we have also made it a focus to play a much more disciplined team game, and get off the floor and make sure our team defense gets on the floor. Last year we ended the season -28, and at this point we are +17 goals scored versus goals allowed. We have a lot of room for improvement at both ends of the floor and the coaches and staff are working on ways to get better during this time off.
RG-Thank You Coach Day for taking the time during this crisis. Please stay safe and healthy. All the best to you and your family as well as the Philadelphia Wings.
PD-My pleasure, I just want to tell everyone stay home, stay away from everyone as much as you can; learn something new every day. We miss all the great fans of the Wings and hope to see you soon.