9-Year Career Included NLL Championship With Toronto In 2011
Oakville, ON – Toronto Rock defender Jeff Gilbert has announced his retirement from the NLL after nine seasons in the league. Six of those seasons were spent with the Rock including 2011 when the steady defender won the Champion’s Cup.
“As you get older, life presents you with a lot of hard decisions and some things just have to give,” said Gilbert. “I have a wonderful family with my wife Annie and our two girls Britton and Camryn. I have a full-time career in real estate that I’m very passionate about and lacrosse had become a secondary focus for me. I didn’t have the overall drive, I wasn’t in the gym and I wasn’t going to continue playing in the NLL if I wasn’t at the top of my game.”
Quiet, unassuming, reliable and a great teammate. Those are just some of the adjectives that come to mind when describing the 34-year old from Barrie, ON. It was in his hometown where his lacrosse career got started, highlighted by winning the Founders Cup Canadian Junior B Championship in 2003 with the Barrie Tornado.
The end of his Junior B lacrosse career also coincided with the end of his Junior A hockey career with the Aurora Tigers of the Ontario Junior A Hockey League. From there, Gilbert embarked on a four-year NCAA hockey stint at Robert Morris University where he starred on the blue line for the Colonials.
The Toronto Rock came calling when they drafted Gilbert in the 2nd round, 19th overall in the 2006 NLL Draft. Of course, with his hockey commitments the chances of him playing pro lacrosse at the time were slim. After the hockey career was over, his focus shifted to the NLL beginning with the 2009 season.
“Honestly, if it wasn’t for Mike Kloepfer I would not have pursued lacrosse,” said Gilbert of the Rock’s former Director of Lacrosse Operations and also the GM of his former Junior B lacrosse club in Barrie. “He was the one guy that kept me coming back and saw something in me. He was the one that drafted me and lacrosse wasn’t even on my radar. After the collegiate hockey career was over, I gave pro hockey a chance and then thought maybe lacrosse was for me and perhaps a better fit. It all worked out, I made the 2009 team and the rest is history.”
Gilbert achieved success early in his career, getting to the Champion’s Cup Final in 2010 and then winning the title in 2011 with the Rock.
“I lucked out at the beginning of my career,” said Gilbert. “I feel like if some of the success was spaced out later in my career, I feel like I would appreciate it more now. I realized later on just how hard it is to win. It was a very special time in my career especially with the veterans that I learned the game from and the coaching staff with Troy Cordingley and Terry Sanderson. I was just a guy that grew up in Barrie with no lacrosse background. Playing for the Rock with those veterans and those coaches was like going to college for lacrosse.”
Gilbert was traded to the Minnesota Swarm following the Rock’s win in 2011. He spent three seasons with the Swarm and Gilbert says that experience made him a better player in the long run, assuming a veteran leadership role with a young group. He signed with the Rock as an unrestricted free agent following the 2014 season, returning to where it all began.
While the championship season of 2011 ranks among Gilbert’s most cherished memories, it was his first season in his second stint with the Rock in 2015 that ranks as his most memorable. The team came close to winning their seventh Champion’s Cup, losing in the finals to the Edmonton Rush.
“2015 was the season after ‘T’ passed away,” said Gilbert speaking of the late Rock GM, Terry Sanderson. “Even though we went to the final and had a great regular season before that, I always felt like we were the underdogs. There was something more behind us that season that pushed us through the close games and any adversity. There was a true mission and we all bonded together. We probably overachieved in a way that season. I still have my jersey, it was special one and I will never give that one away.”
After playing in the league for nine seasons, much like any other player, Gilbert has a number of people that positively influenced him and made it possible for him to have a successful career.
“I’d like to thank Jamie Dawick. He is a guy that came in and completely devoted himself to the game of lacrosse in Ontario and beyond with building the facility in Oakville. He is doing great things and these will be people that will go down years from now as hall of famers, for doing great things for the sport. Playing for the Rock is the best thing for a player. We were always treated far and away better than anyone in the league and I know others would say the same thing. I want to thank all of my teammates. There are so many that I learned from and had so much fun with. I’m going to miss the guys the most. It was an honour to go to battle with such a great group of guys that all had the same goal of winning a championship. You can’t replicate that,” said Gilbert. “I really want to thank my family. My wife, my two girls and my mom and dad gave me all the support in the world. Also, everyone with the Rock behind the scenes have treated me better than I ever could have hoped.”
Gilbert walks away from the NLL after 150 regular season games, 12 goals, 45 assists, 57 points, 207 penalty minutes and 656 loose balls.
“He was a pro’s pro,” said Dawick. “He conducted his business with class both on and off the floor. After trading him away, it was great to bring him back and he has been a big part of this franchise. We will miss Jeff and I appreciate everything he did for the Toronto Rock.”
The young Rock defence, without the likes of veterans Gilbert and Rob Marshall who have both stepped away from the game this off-season, will be back in action in their final pre-season game this Saturday night at the Toronto Rock Athletic Centre at 7:00 p.m. against the New England Black Wolves.
Season and single game tickets are now on sale. Please visit torontorock.com/tickets or call 416-596-3075 for more information.