By Megan Robinson for NLL.com
The Toronto Financial district appears to be a daunting area of Canada’s largest city. A daytime home to many business people, the financial district boasts opportunities to those employed within the walls of sky-scraping towers among dozens of floors.
Blaine Manning, from a small town outside of Edmonton, Alberta, went to an almost unknown university in Virginia and it wasn’t until his second of four years that Manning learned of a North American professional lacrosse league, a sport he’d been playing for a great deal of his life. Unlike most businessmen working in the confines of downtown Toronto, Manning plays professional lacrosse on weekends.
Manning was drafted into the National Lacrosse League in 2001 and began playing for the Toronto Rock in 2002. This season marks his ninth in the league, all of which have been spent in a Toronto uniform. You can imagine, especially in recent years, how much change Manning has witnessed within the franchise that went from winning consecutive championships to missing the playoffs for three consecutive seasons.
The playoff drought ended this season, as the Rock clinched a spot in the postseason after a roller coaster ride that began by setting a new club record (6-1) for start to a season. Toronto now has to prepare to take on division rival the Orlando Titans on Saturday in Central Florida.
It is the leadership role which Manning has assumed this season as an assistant captain that has allowed him to succeed while flying under the radar. With the addition of six rookies to the roster and the return of league veteran Colin Doyle, this Rock roster has developed a unique dynamic with the mix of seasoned veterans and talented rookies. Though subdued, his leadership role on the floor speaks clearly to those around him but it’s also a part which he enjoys playing this season.
“I don’t mind being seen as a leader and part of the leadership group,” said the 30-year-old. “You know it’s more of a team sport as opposed to an individual thought process of having to carry the team. So when you’re surrounded by guys that can help, it’s comforting.”
Manning came out fired up this season and had one of his best seasons in his nine-year career, recording 35 goals and 47 assists for 82 points throughout sixteen regular season games. Stats aside, there’s an enjoyment of the game that gives him reason to come back season after season, like many other players around the league who work nine-to-five year round.
“Ideally, I’d like to play for a few more years,” said the veteran. “I mean, I want to continue to play and play effectively. So as long as I can do that and contribute to the team winning, I will.”
Along with player changes and additions this season, the Rock’s front office was revamped pre-season with new owner Jamie Dawick purchasing the team. Dawick, an Oakville businessman, made it very clear from the start what his intentions and goals were for his first season: to win. Not unlike the other professional sports teams in Toronto, the Rock hoped to rebuild their club from the ground up, and it started with signing talented rookies and welcoming back Doyle.
Among the transformation was the addition of head coach Troy Cordingley and assistant coach and general manager Terry Sanderson, a winning duo who won the Champion’s Cup with Calgary in 2009 and looked to do the same in Toronto.
According to Manning, it’s what fans and media don’t see of Cordingley, an elementary school teacher, that makes him a winning coach and someone who players enjoy taking the floor for.
“He’s an ultra competitive guy. You might not see it but the way he talks and acts is why guys love playing for him and he’s so passionate about the game,” said Manning. “I think it definitely motivates us and guys want to succeed not only for themselves and the team but to see him succeed. I think his little moments are kind of endearing as a player and you want to see your coach that passionate.”
Aside from his dual-career path, Manning has recently become a father to a young daughter, which according to him hasn’t changed his daily routine but has made the losses easier to overcome.
“If we lost in the past I would stew over what I did or didn’t do and now, I seem to get over those quicker, just going home and seeing her. She has no idea about lacrosse, but she’s just happy to see us so it makes it easier.”
With Saturday’s Eastern Divisional Final quickly approaching, the Toronto Rock are looking to improve on specific game situations and hoping to challenge the strong defense they’ll be up against. With a championship title in sight, it will be tough not playing at home, according to Manning, but this is what they have continued to work towards all season long.
“It’s one game to get in the final and if we want it badly enough we’re going to all play one of the best games of the year. That’s exciting.”
After nine seasons in the league and a nine-to-five, Manning could be considered one of the luckiest guys on Bay Street. When asked what reminds him why he continues to play in the league, there is one moment that rings loud and clear. It’s that moment that brings him back to days of sold-out arenas and championship titles with league veterans and some of the best lacrosse players to ever take the floor.
The moments that keeps him coming back: “Every time we win.”