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Rock named Sun’s Sportsmen of the Year

The Toronto Rock were named “Sportsmen of the Year” for 2005 by the Toronto Sun. The award is presented to the entire Rock team in honour of the Rock’s fifth championship in seven years and for their dedication to the sport of lacrosse. The award is for Toronto athletes and represents more than just statistics. Pat Grier, Toronto Sun Sports Editor, wrote: “We wanted our recipient to represent something about the value of sports.”

Sportsman of the Year
January 1, 2006

By MIKE ULMER, Toronto Sun

HAGERSVILLE — It’s 8 o’clock on a practice night at the Iroquois Lacrosse Arena, a splendid facility dropped, as if by God, into a snowswept landscape 30 minutes from Hamilton.

The Toronto Rock, defending champs of the National Lacrosse League, unfold out of their vehicles in packs of twos and threes and begin dragging wheeled equipment bags across the icy parking lot. A 9 o’clock practice gives the players enough time to get home from work, grab a bite and set out on what, for many, is a two-hour drive. But it means a midnight ride home and a bleary early-morning return to the real world.

There are no Lexus SUVs or Cadillac Escalades in the lot. This is a Wal-Mart demographic.

“I don’t know what kind of car Mats Sundin drives,” said Rock captain Jim Veltman, who pulled up in a worn Suzuki Esteem, “but it’s sure nicer than mine.”

When the Rock enter the arena, no one looks twice or asks for an autograph. They look to the world like a beer league team coming together to break up the monotony of winter.
They are, instead, winners of five championships in seven years of operation.

“The Rock,” said NLL commissioner Jim Jennings, “are our New York Yankees.”
Presenting the players of the Toronto Rock, the 2005 Toronto Sun Sportsmen of the Year.

There’s no denying the Rock are an unusual choice for a newspaper that devotes copious coverage to the Leafs, Raptors, Blue Jays and Argonauts. That said, the 2005 year in sports was unlike most any other, a year in which you didn’t have to go very far to find a disaffected athlete or evidence of money corrupting a sport. As the stories about lockouts, steroid scandals and athletic misconduct mounted, fans voiced their longing for the days when sport was simpler.

We think this city’s lacrosse players provide that simplicity. They are, in our judgment, the athletes people say they want to follow.

The players are working people, cops, teachers and printing press operators, advertising designers, carpenters and students. Coach/GM Terry Sanderson runs a sporting goods store in Orangeville.

In a city where the Raptors’ Jalen Rose earns more than $15 million US, mostly to practise and sit on the bench, the Rock work hard and work cheap.

Veltman, long the league’s dominant defenders, earns $23,000 a season. A high-school phys-ed teacher, he uses the extra money to stay home every second day with his kids. The minimum NLL salary is $6,500, 1/24th of the NHL’s $400,000 minimum. The NLL average is $16,500, but if the league manages to climb into shouting distance of the other major sports, those salaries would increase.

“We are where other leagues, the NFL and NBA and NHL, were in the 1950s and 1960s,” Jennings insisted. The players of the Toronto Rock share beers with fans and opposing players after games. Many live in Whitby, one of the most unpretentious places on earth.

“People want to know you work just like they do or you drive the same kind of car that they do,” said Veltman, the club’s 40-year-old captain.

“When I go back to work, I’m treated like most teachers. I’ve got to deal with kids that need discipline. I’ve got to deal with kids that need help and routine. I think that’s the humbling part but it’s also what makes our sport attractive.”

NOTE: For the complete verision to read the portraits of Dan Ladouceur, Blaine Manning, Tim O’Brien and Jim Veltman (as written by Mike Ulmer), please vist

Players of the Toronto Rock

Mike (Pinball) Clemons set a gold standard when we named him our first Toronto Sun Sportsman of the Year in 2004.

He was such an easy choice that we joked we could give it to him every year. Pinball, though, would be the first to say we can’t do that, so we looked around to see who else was worthy. The parameters we established made it simpler to eliminate people than nominate them. This is a Toronto award, so athletes not associated with Toronto — Steve Nash, for example — don’t qualify. They either live here, play here or were born here.

Success is important, but this isn’t an athlete-of-the-year award. We wanted to recognize people for more than statistics. We wanted our recipient to represent something about the value of sports.

We think we found them: Players of the Toronto Rock, the 2005 Toronto Sun Sportsmen of the Year. The players of the Toronto Rock are not millionaires with massive houses and massive egos.

They are teachers, police officers, cable installers. They are the opposite of the overpaid underachievers that fans bemoan. These guys play hard for peanuts and simply win — five NLL championships in seven years, including their latest this past May. They mingle with their fans not because they are corporately obliged to, but because when the games end, they are your neighbours, your work colleagues, your friends.

In a year in which sports seemed to reach its lowest point — lockouts, steroid scandals, whining superstars — these lacrosse players embodied the very traits that made sports worth watching in the first place.

Articles republished with permission

“‘The Rock are our New York Yankees.’ — NLL commissioner Jim Jennings.”

Toronto Rock