Editor’s Note: It’s time to take a look at the Toronto Rock! Thanks to the help of the innovative team at SISU Guard, the Official Mouthguard of the NLL, we are beefing up our National Lacrosse League coverage for 2016, starting with a preseason preview series! We hope you enjoy our look at the NLL season through a new lens with the aid of our partner SISU!
We kicked off our NLL Season Preview series with the Vancouver Stealth, now it’s time to look at a team on the opposite end of the sprawling Canadian countryside, the Toronto Rock.
2016 NLL Preview: Toronto Rock
The best regular season record of 2015 belonged to the Toronto Rock. Their run for the Champion’s Cup was thwarted by the Rush, but that shouldn’t discount all of their accomplishments from the season.
Toronto has maintained their consistent status as one of the top lacrosse teams in the world. The Rock lead the NLL with 6 Champion’s Cups, and they’ve made it to the finals a total of 9 times. In 2015, another run to the finals was cut short by the Edmonton Rush, 0-2. The first game was nearly a blowout in the Air Canada Centre, which the Rock couldn’t battle back from, losing the next game in Edmonton by only one goal.
If there’s any team in the NLL in 2016 that will look close to identical in 2015, at least regarding appearance, it will be the Rock. 17 of the 20 names on the roster were a part of the Toronto organization in 2015, now just add a couple of rookies and shake! Voila! The 2016 Rock!
At a Glance
- Game 1: 1/9/16 @ Georgia Swarm
- Arena: Air Canada Centre
- 2015 Record: 14-4 (Regular) 2-3 (Playoffs)
- 2015 Attendance: 10,011
- Mascot: Igneous T. Rock a.k.a. Iggy (Larger-than-life human)
- Dance Team: Toronto Rock Cheerleaders
- Website: TorontoRock.com
The Rock made five selections in the offseason draft and now after making moves then wrapping up training camp, three rookies have earned a spot on the game roster, with the other two on the practice squad.
Dan Lintner was taken in the 1st Round by New England, in a deal to get the pick from the Rock, but later was a part of October’s dealings to bring him to Ontario. Lintner is a small and elusive forward that is coming off a illustrious career in the NCAA at Cornell. He finished the 2015 college season 1st in the Ivy League and 7th overall in the NCAA for PPG. His minor career flourished while spending two of his junior years in Whitby where he was the team’s leading scorer. In secondary school, Lintner was a star in The Hill Academy system. Growing up he was an Ontario all-star selection for three years, a four-time Ontario Box champion and three-time Team Ontario Box Gold winner. The Ontario native is going to be relied on heavily to net goals for the righties, after his preseason debut, I think that’s a reasonable expectation!
The two selections cracking the lineup actually made by the Rock are Turner Evans (2nd Rd, 10th overall) and Luc Magnan (2nd Rd, 17th overall). Evans, fresh out of Ohio State and Magnan of RMU are going to be grinding for playing time on opposite ends of the floor. Peterborough-product Evans was a stand-out role player for 4 years in Columbus with the Buckeyes. Staying close to his roots, Evans moved onto the Lakers Sr. A squad this past summer where he easily stood out as one of the top rookies in the MSL.
Both players benefited from the conditioning and structure of NCAA lacrosse, and Evans has a deep bag of box tricks with a knack for finding the open man or burying it himself. It probably didn’t hurt his career growing up a relative of NLL all-stars Shawn and Scott Evans. Magnan, also a product of The Hill Academy, finished 5th all-time on the RMU caused turnovers list playing field lacrosse. The Manitoba monster is going to be another big presence on the floor defensively for the Rock. He’s an athlete, a competitor, and he knows the game well.
With the exception of these three rookies, all of the faces on the Rock bench are going to look quite familiar. Every name on the starting roster dressed at least one game for Toronto in 2015.
18 year veteran (all but 3 seasons with Toronto) Colin Dolye was planted on the sideline for nearly all of last season. After struggling with a shoulder injury Doyle made a return for the final game of the season before the playoff run. With the exception of last season, Doyle has consistently averaged around 10 PPG for the majority of his career. Once a Rookie of the Year, NLL MVP and winner of just about every other title a forward can claim, there’s not much left for Doyle but to win another Champion’s Cup before heading out for greener pastures… but we’re not there yet!
Nearly every name on the top of the points column is returning for Toronto. Although Josh Sanderson, who led the team in points (102), is currently on the Physically Unable to Perform list due to a flurry of injuries. If the pain doesn’t subside and his body doesn’t bounce back to playing speed, 2015 could have been the final run. This shouldn’t worry Rock fans too much, too early! Stephen Leblanc (86 pts), Rob Hellyer (90 pts) and Brett Hickey (81 pts) are inked to the starting lineup for the 2016 kickoff. Hickey had the hot stick last season, burying 50 goals in 18 regular season games. Hellyer is bouncing back from off-season shoulder surgery but is expected to be at full speed by January 9th.
The vets are joined by draft picks Dan Lintner and Turner Evans. These two rookies are expected to find some quality floor time early on. Lintner is a goal scoring machine and will be looked upon to grind out goals in a position fans are used to seeing Garrett Billings dominate for years.
The offense hasn’t changed all that much, but with Sanderson attempting to get back to playing shape and Doyle getting up in years, the rookies desperately need to come into 2016 up to full-speed.
The preseason ended 1-2 for the Rock, so clearly there are some things that need work. Spending time as a team working out in the TRAC is going to pay huge dividends if they can get healthy and stay there.
Toronto is rolling into the season with one of the older teams in the league, especially on defense. With only one rookie making the cut, and only two players born in the 90s, this Rock D is going to be just as big as last season with that much more experience. The defense is heavily bolstered by the transition team.
Sandy Chapman is coming off one of the highest-performing seasons of his career, with 21 CTOs and 86 Loose Balls. Rob Marshall stayed consistent in 2015 and will bring the same sense of security this season that he did in all 18 games last year. Along with Jeff Gilbert, Bill Greer and Billy Hostrawser, the defense is over-sized and consistent.
Glen Bryan and Billy Hostrawser are going to need to put up some quality numbers in the minutes they’re given. Rookie Luc Magnan is going to be rotating around Hostrawser for minutes while righties Chapman, Marshall and Merrill have their roles seemingly already ironed out. Bryan, Gilbert and Greer are the three lefties on rotation.
One of the core defensive leaders, Damon Edwards is out after unergoing offseason knee surgery for a torn ACL. He could be back in March at the earliest, but as most know, it’s not an easy rehab. Big man Patrick Merrill is going to have to step up even bigger after one of his most complete seasons of his 13 in the league. The Rock is lucky that this team is full of experiences and leadership to bring the rest of the depth chart up to game speed.
As I covered earlier, Luc Magnan is the only rookie to find his name amongst the final cut. With little change made to the team, Magnan has an excellent upper-class to learn from and he’s been given the keys to his future, let’s see if the 2nd rounder will sink or swim!
Last year the power play team scored a league high 15 goals while man-down and finished 2nd in the NLL with a 64% penalty kill. They also were also able to hold opponents to only 4 shorthanded goals all season long. It would be hard to expect much better for 2016!
Two of the best transition guys in the league call Toronto home. The legendary Brodie Merrill led the team with 151 Loosies and with 32 Caused Turn Overs! The 34 year old defensive mind collected an insane 32 points in all 18 games. Now in his second year with the Rock, Merrill is again backed up by the speedy Jesse Gamble. Gym rat Gamble had 117 loose balls in just 14 games during his 3rd season and only seems to getting bigger, faster, and stronger as each year passes
6’6″, 220 lb Brock Sorenson is the younger mirror to Merrill. These three defense minded transition guys slow things down a bit for the Rock, but add a safety blanket in front of Rose and Miller that is nearly unmatched. With teams transitioning away from dedicated face off athletes, the Rock are making up for it by having guys that can do it all. The biggest bodies on Toronto are collecting the loose balls and when the giants have possession the team doesn’t need to worry about moving the ball as quickly. There’s only 3 Ts listed for the Rock, resulting in a lock-down defense capped off by long team possessions in the other end.
If they have a shot of returning to the NLL finals, goaltending is going to lead them there. The new Rock might have some problems but the goalies aren’t one. Toronto easily has not one, but two starting keepers on the roster. On top of their summer ball seasons, both tendies competed in the WILC 2015.
Brandon Miller helped Canada win yet another gold medal while Nick Rose faced a peppering while in net for England. Likely the most amount of shots he’s ever faced in one week’s time, Rose earned all-WILC honors for the amount of minutes he played and shot he saved during the event.
Miller locked up the starting job in 2015, but Rose still got his 432 minutes to Miller’s 654. In the playoffs, Miller claimed an extra two-hundred through the Finals. Regardless of who’s on the floor, these guys have each other’s full support in the quest for the Cup. Both finished the run at right around a 80% save percentage, a stat to hang the collective hats on.
Calling it Early
There’s a combined 30 years of NLL and experience tied up on the Physically Unable to Perform list. Josh Sanderson, Damon Edwards, and Kyle Ross are all watching from the stands when the Rock get started on the 9th. Ross played 17 games in 2015 while the other two played the complete season. Edwards led the defense in points while Sanderson led the team.
The missing leadership early on in the season could led the Rock into quicksand but if there’s anything the past has proven, these veteran heavy squads typically have no problem waking up after the first 4-6 games. Want a real prediction? The Rock had their chance in 2015, now the wheels are starting to shake on the tracks just a little. My guess is that the Rock will need to stay healthy to crack .500 and make the playoffs, but I can’t rule out the chance of another Cup run. I just have a feeling age and fatigue could catch up to them this season. Of course I’d be happy to be proved wrong here! Who doesn’t love parity?
What do you think? Can the Toronto Rock make a run for the Cup in 2016 or will age catch up to them? The East is young and ready to run, can the Rock hang?
Up Next: Saskatchewan Rush