By Mike Hancock
After a rather one-sided 17-12 loss in the Rock’s final exhibition contest against the Georgia Swarm last Saturday night, the message of ‘work’ was pretty clear from Rock Head Coach John Lovell. And work they did. The pace of Tuesday night’s practice was high and the players brought their hard hats and lunch buckets. You know the clichés, but in this case it is what it is. Lovell wanted to see the boys put in some real work before a full week off for the Christmas break. Practice will resume for the Rock on Tuesday, December 29th at the TRAC in Oakville.
Earlier this week, Rob Hellyer spoke about his rehab from off-season shoulder surgery to repair and safeguard against the possibility of future shoulder problems. The 5-year NLL veteran went through his first full practice on Tuesday night and looked great. He was near the top of some of the endurance tests when Rock strength and conditioning coach Sean Holmes measured the fitness level of the players midway through camp and Hellyer is now showing that the rest of his game is rounding into form, hopefully in time for the season opener in Georgia against the Swarm on Saturday, January 9th. So while there might have been some concern amongst Rock fans about pre-season losses, keep in mind, the team’s top returning scorer has yet to suit up.
There are a couple of other players making their way back in addition to Hellyer. Forward Kevin Ross had wrist surgery and took part in Tuesday’s session but didn’t participate in any contact drills. He’s come a long way in the last two weeks but there’s no reason for him to rush back. The Rock have more assets at the offensive lefty position than any other spot on the roster with three players on the active roster and two more lefties on the practice roster, there are lots of options for the coaching staff. Finding the right combination will be the key.
Rock defender Scott Johnston is also battling back from a torn ACL suffered in practice early last season. Johnston re-invented himself to some degree as a full-time face-off man in 2015 and before his injury was winning 56 percent of his draws. Having a reliable guy at the dot that can win more draws than he loses is something the Rock has struggled to find in recent seasons. Johnston’s return could happen sometime early in the season which would give the Rock a big boost in the intangibles department.
The Dirty Thirty
To say there has been some debate over the NLL’s 30th anniversary team would be an understatement, but that’s kind of the point, right? Here’s the Rock side of the best goalie debate. Bob Watson at number 8 and Dallas Eliuk at number 7. As Rock supporters, of course we think this is an outrage. Whip is the greatest goalie of all time, right!?
So who is number 1? Or in this case, number 7.
We could start and end the debate with the number of rings. Watson needs two hands for his bling with six Champion’s Cup wins, while Eliuk needs but one hand to display his finger trophies as a winner of four NLL titles with the Philadelphia Wings.
In addition to that, there’s some statistical evidence. Watson’s 11.14 goals-against average is over a full goal better than Eliuk’s 12.24 career GAA. Whipper’s save percentage at .769 is also slightly better than Eliuk’s at .762. Oh yeah, and then there’s that win thing again. Watson topped 100 wins with the Rock franchise and won a career total of 105 games. Eliuk wasn’t even close in the W column.
We can’t really go toe to toe on goaltender of the year awards even though Watson won two and Eliuk was shutout. That’s because during Eliuk’s prime through the 1990’s, the league didn’t hand out an annual top stopper award. Both netminders did however each win two Champion’s Cup MVP’s. Watson also holds the record for fewest goals allowed in a playoff game with just two, against you guessed it, Eliuk’s Philadelphia Wings in a 1999 post-season game at Maple Leaf Gardens.
One thing Eliuk did accomplish that Watson never did was to make an appearance on “The Price Is Right”television game show. Eliuk’s appearance netted him some dinnerware, an exercise machine and a world-map lithograph.
The defence rests.
Last Minute Of Musing
Now that “The Chew” has celebrated their 5th annual ugly sweater party, has the ugly sweater party jumped the shark?
That’s all for now, muse amongst yourselves…