Toronto’s NLL Squad Has A Brand New Look
Oakville, ON – The Toronto Rock are on the eve of beginning a new season on Thursday in Rochester against the Knighthawks with a new head coach in Matt Sawyer and a slew of new players. The Rock are looking to rebound from a 5-13 season that saw the team miss the playoffs for the first time since 2009 and only the third time in Rock history. Three pre-season wins certainly have the team trending in the right direction as the Rock begins to put the building blocks in place for a successful future.
The new era for the Rock begins in a building that over the years has been none too kind to the visiting squad from Toronto. The Rock have won just five times in twenty-five regular season visits to the Blue Cross Arena, but Sawyer doesn’t believe the past will haunt his young group.
“What’s in the past is in the past,” said Sawyer. “It’s a tough arena to go into and win, not just for Toronto. It’s a challenge that’s ahead of us and we’re anxious to get on the floor to compete against someone after a successful pre-sesaon and the Knighthawks are first up.”
Two faces of the franchise have retired in all-time everything Colin Doyle and Josh Sanderson who was inducted into the NLL Hall of Fame in September. With Doyle announcing his retirement in November, he will be eligible to join Sanderson in the hall of fame in the fall of 2017.
The new faces on the floor are led by highly touted rookie Challen Rogers who was selected by the Rock in the 2016 NLL Draft with the second overall pick. Accompanying Rogers in the rookie class are fellow ’16 NLL Draft picks Latrell Harris (2nd round, 12th overall) and Jordan Magnuson (3rd round, 23rd overall). All three are part of a revamped Rock defence that allowed the third most goals-against in 2016.
The newcomers don’t end there. Running out the front door on offence will be American field lacrosse stars Kieran McArdle and Tom Schreiber. Schreiber is the reigning MVP of the professional field lacrosse league, the MLL. McArdle is one of the outdoor league’s top scorers and was the circuit’s rookie of the year in 2014. Both, however, have a total of three pre-season games each worth of experience under their belts. Early indications through a month of training camp and exhibition scrimmages have shown that these two can play and are learning the nuances of the indoor game at a rapid rate. Accompanying McArdle and Schreiber as American players making the transition to box lacrosse is defender Connor Buczek. The big and skilled defender was released from the active roster and placed on the practice roster, swapping roster spots with fellow rookie Magnuson.
Also new to the squad is offensive lefty Mikey MacDonald from Georgetown, ON. After being drafted by the New England Black Wolves in the 3rd round of the 2015 NLL Draft, the Princeton University star played in just two games in 2016 and was signed as an unrestricted free agent by the Rock in August. MacDonald certainly turned some heads by scoring seven goals in three pre-season games. He spent his entire junior lacrosse career with his hometown Halton Hills Jr. B Bulldogs, winning the Founder’s Cup national championship in 2010. In 2013, when his Bulldogs were eliminated from the playoffs, MacDonald spent the rest of that summer with the Whitby Warriors and starred at the Minto Cup Canadian Jr. A lacrosse championships, winning the title over the New Westminster Salmonbellies.
“The turnover has injected life into everybody, you can see that within our team and it’s created some excitement,” explained Sawyer. “However, it’s one thing to be good in camp and it’s another thing to be good in the early months of the season. Everyone needs to carry their strong showing in camp into the regular season and continue to get better as we move along.”
There are several key Rock veterans back in the fold. While 2016 leading scorer Rob Hellyer will miss the 2017 regular season after an ACL tear in the summer, veterans Stephan Leblanc, Brett Hickey and Kasey Beirnes will be looked upon to carry the bulk of the offensive load. Second-year forwards Dan Lintner and Turner Evans will be thrust into a larger offensive role and both showed well in pre-season with new responsibilities.
Captain Brodie Merrill and veterans Sandy Chapman, Jeff Gilbert, Jesse Gamble, Bill Hostrawser, Bradley Kri and Damon Edwards will anchor the back end. Edwards missed all of 2016 recovering from a torn ACL suffered in the summer of 2015, his athleticism will provide a big boost to the Rock’s transition game.
In goal, the Rock have the steadying influence between the pipes in 2016 goalie of the year finalist Nick Rose. The 28-year old from the goalie factory of Orangeville, ON was third in goals-against average at 11.10 and his .783 save percentage also ranked him third in the league last season. Rose was the goaltender of record in all five of the Rock’s wins in 2016. Steve Fryer will begin the season on the active roster as Rose’s backup. Veteran Brandon Miller had off-season hip surgery and there is no timetable in place for his return.
“We feel that there is a good mix, we are very comfortable with our group of veteran players,” said Sawyer. “We can’t set the bar too high with expectations on the new faces. It’s going to be our veterans who are going to be our leaders in the way we play and the way we prepare. We are building this team from the goaltending and defence out. Strong goaltending and good defence go hand in hand. We feel that’s the backbone of our team and they will set the tone every game. The return of Damon Edwards is big. He brings so much to the table. He’s a good defender, great athlete and when it comes to clearing the ball, he’s one of the best in the league. We will lean heavily on Kasey, Steph and Brett up front, they know the expectations and they need to be good every night. ”
Fans can watch Thursday’s season opener against the Rochester Knighthawks live on NLLTV.com. The league’s new digital platform is rich with on-demand content and fans can watch the first two weeks of the 2017 NLL season for free. Following week two of the season, fans will require a subscription to watch live games.
Toronto Rock Single Game and Season Tickets are on sale now. For more information about Toronto Rock tickets, please call 416-596-3075 or visit www.torontorock.com.