NEW YORK – The Toronto Rock are looking forward to raising their fifth championship banner at their home opener on Jan. 7 against the Arizona Sting, but when the ceremony is over it will be back to business.
“Last year was last year,” said General Manager and Head Coach Terry Sanderson. “We can’t dwell on it.” Looking at the schedule awaiting the Rock, Sanderson is not surprised with how challenging the task of repeating will be.
“As usual, we have a tough schedule, but so does everybody else,” he said. “he parity in this league is unequaled.”
In mapping out a strategy for a title defense, Sanderson looked to fill a few holes via the Entry Draft; however he still feels it is the veterans that will lead the team again in 2006.
“Our guys remember what it took to get there,”he said. The 2006 Rock schedule includes the continuing rivalries with Buffalo, Rochester, Philly and newcomer Minnesota of the rough and tumble East Division. Beyond those annual battles, Sanderson pointed to few key matchups with West Division opponents.
It begins on opening night with a re-match of the 2005 Championship Game against the Arizona Sting and also includes games against Canadian rivals Calgary and Edmonton, who they will play twice each.
“We already have a heated history with Calgary,” he said. “And Edmonton will be out to prove they belong.”
Though the Rock have found success winning five of the last seven NLL Championships, Sanderson continued to fine-tune the club by addressing some specific needs in the 2005 Entry Draft.
“We were hoping to address the issue of gaining some left side offensive depth and we feel that we did address that need,” he said. The Rock drafted Tyler Gibbons (Owen Sound Jr. B) and Cam Monroe (Kitchener-Waterloo Jr. A) in an attempt to fill the void.
“Gibbons and Monroe were on our list,” he said. The club also looked to focus on finding some “character guys” to fill in where needed.
“(Gibbons) is a character kid,” said Sanderson. “He can play some defense and offense. We drafted him for offense and if he makes it he’ll complement our left side, and he can step in if anyone is injured.”
Sanderson is also looking at their second pick, Nathan Gilchrest (Six Nations Jr. A) to help fill in. Making the cut on any professional team is always a challenge, but that challenge may seem even more daunting when trying to crack the lineup of a team that is gunning for its sixth championship in eight seasons. Of the players drafted by the Rock in 2004, only Jeff Summerfield (their first selection, drafted 16th overall) stuck around, and that was as a member of the practice squad.
Sanderson has spoken to his draftees, addressing them on trying to earn a spot on the team:
“We have talked to these kids and we’ve told them that they can’t come in scared,” he said. “We told them that they have to come with mindset that they have a chance or we wouldn’t have drafted them. If they’re coming, they have a shot. It’s up to them.”
While the prospects of stepping onto the floor with a veteran team may seem intimidating, Sanderson explains that the players create a positive environment for the new players. “Our veteran guys are very supportive, and do what they can to help the young players get adjusted,” he said.
Rock Draft Recap
1. (Round 2, 15th overall) – Tyler Gibbons (Owen Sound Jr. B)
2. (Round 3, 23rd overall) – Nathan Gilchrist (Six Nations Jr. A)
3. (Round 3, 32nd overall) – Cam Monroe (Kitchener-Waterloo Jr. A)
4. (Round 3, 33rd overall) – Chet Koneczny (Orangeville Jr. A)
5. (Round 4, 44th overall) – Sean Felstead (Brampton Jr. A)
6. (Round 5, 55th overall) – Nick Inch (Kitchener-Waterloo Jr. A)
7. (Round 6, 61st overall) – Travis Gault (Orangeville Jr. A)
8. (Round 6, 67th overall) – Ben Powless (Six Nations Jr. A)
2006 Rock Schedule
Sat. Jan 7 – Arizona at Toronto – 7:30 PM
Fri. Jan 13 – Buffalo at Toronto – 7:30 PM
Sat. Jan 14 – Toronto at Rochester – 7:35 PM
Sat. Jan 21 – Toronto at Buffalo – 7:30 PM
Fri. Jan 27 – Edmonton at Toronto – 7:30 PM
Sun. Feb 5 – Toronto at Calgary – 3:30 PM
Fri. Feb 10 – Rochester at Toronto – 7:30 PM
Sat. Feb 11 – Toronto at Edmonton – 9:30 PM
Fri. Feb 24 – Philadelphia at Toronto – 7:30 PM
Fri. Mar 3 – Minnesota at Toronto – 7:30 PM
Sat. Mar 4 – Toronto at Philadelphia – 8:00 PM
Sat. Mar 11 – Toronto at Buffalo – 7:30 PM
Sat. Mar 25 – Calgary at Toronto – 2:00 PM
Sat. Mar 1 – Toronto at Minnesota – 8:00 PM
Sat. Mar 8 – Philadelphia at Toronto – 7:30 PM
Sat. Mar 15 – Toronto at Rochester – 7:35 PM