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By: Megan Robinson for NLL.com

Six months ago when the Toronto Rock ownership was named to Oakville businessman, Jamie Dawick, the expectations grew for the team to face quite a few changes immediately. Within the last few months, the rebuild of the Toronto Rock has begun. They have wasted no time at all reworking the staff and the culture of the organization as they are ready to leave the past behind.

After Terry Sanderson was brought back as the new General Manager of the team, he made rapid changes to the roster, most of which came to no surprise. Troy Cordingley, formerly of the Calgary Roughnecks, the 2009 NLL Champions, was soon hired as head coach. With his grit and intensity for the game, it is clear that if Cordingley brings his winning attitude to Toronto, he can help turn things around for the Rock.

“He is a very passionate individual, a very team oriented coach and he always puts the team first,” said Sanderson of Cordingley. “He’s a great guy to play for and he’s all about the players.”

The dynamic of Cordingley and Sanderson have made it clear that they are here to change the way the Toronto Rock is operated, with the support from Dawick and the rest of the staff, as they bring in new defensive systems and a new attitude to the team.

“I feel very fortunate to have those two here,” said Dawick of his coaching staff. “Those are the two guys that are going to fix this team. I’m confident in that and I couldn’t be happier to have them.”

The Toronto Rock missed the playoffs for the second consecutive year last season and went a disappointing 6-10. Despite the talent on the floor that was expected to perform, the Rock played lackluster games and showed little sense of teamwork and passion for the season.

It’s clear to see why such positive attitudes and motivation has the team looking the opposite of what it did last year at this time. Sanderson knew that the organization needed to be re-built in order to get the product and the results he wanted from the team.

“We had to change the culture and attitude of the Toronto Rock. We’re happy with what it looks like on paper but that’s all it is right now. We’re going to be a work in progress throughout the whole year but we’re pleased at where the team is right now.”

A noticeable difference already this season is the communication between players and the presence of teamwork as they work towards improvement as a team and not only as individuals. During practice on Sunday, December 6 in Six Nations, ON the phrase “Hey, here’s your help,” was used by almost every player as they practiced defensive drills, reminding each other that they are there for one another and not to merely shine alone.

“We want to win as a team and play as a team but play hard for the name on the front of the shirt instead of the one on the back,” said Cordingley about the attitude he is trying to instill. “We’re trying to change the product. The team hasn’t been very successful the last few years and we’ve got to get back to the winning ways and the tradition in the jersey.”

As the coaching staff continues to introduce their defensive systems, players at training camp have been working hard to prove themselves and secure their spot on the team. By December 23 the team must be submitted to the league and within the next few weeks, they will continue to practice in Six Nations before the final roster is announced.

Defenseman, Rob Marshall, beginning his 4th season with the Toronto Rock, continues to work on his transitions and works hard to stay in shape as the new coaches expect more from every player.

“They bring in a totally different coaching style,” he says of Cordingley and Sanderson. “We come out for a camp and it’s the most intense camp I’ve ever been through. Guys are scared about their positions on the team and not all of our jobs are safe right now. We’ve got to go out and work hard at camp and show them what we’ve got.”

The confidence that the Rock need to be successful this season will fall in to place if Cordingley and Sanderson can make their winning philosophies clear to every member of the team.

“It just breeds confidence itself throughout the offensive guys,” said Sanderson of Cordingley’s defensive plans. “It will be a work in progress but confidence comes as we’re together a little more learning the system.”

With these new structures, players will need to work hard to adjust to the coaching style of Cordingley. They need to grow as a team to become aware of each other on the floor.

“We’re going to have to get everybody to buy into the system that they’re putting in,” said Bob Watson, now 12 seasons with the franchise. “It’s just a matter of getting everyone on the same page and if they do that it’s proven to be successful. They’ve done it out in Calgary, so the system is effective as long as the players buy into it.”

Lewis Ratcliff, approaching his 2nd full season with the Rock, has experienced the coaching of Cordingley and Sanderson for half a season in Calgary, before being traded to Toronto. “They’re big on accountability and nobody is above the team,” he said. “You play for each other and you win together and that’s something that needed to be said. They win, so whatever we have to do turn this around, I think everyone is willing to do it.”

With long-time Rock player and captain, Chris Driscoll, out of the mix, players are working hard to secure their roles with the team. As so many new faces join training camp and the roster and captains not yet finalized, the veterans are being pushed to be in the best shape possible to validate their positions. With strong skill and leadership from players like Lewis Ratcliff, Blaine Manning, and Bob Watson, the decision for the next captain will not be an easy choice.

Cordingley notes, “We’ve taken the A’s and C’s away from everybody and we’re looking to see who the leaders are. We want to make sure we make the right decisions on who’s going to lead the team and we’ll go from there.”

The Rock look to the support and talent of two of their draft picks this season, which have stood out since the first day of training camp. Garrett Billings (6th Overall) and Joel Dalgarno (7th Overall), both British Columbia natives, have caught the eye of Cordingley.

“You just know that they know the game and they have an eye for it,” said Cordingley of the rookies. “The thing I like about both of them is they’re both very receptive and they ask questions to improve, not just to be heard and hopefully they can continue to impress.”

Billings, 23, from Langley, B.C. is eager to play for the Rock. “It’s the team I watched growing up so I’m happy to play for them and it’s only positive expectations, so it’s a good place to be.”

Dalgarno, 23, from Port Coquitlam, B.C., who’s been playing lacrosse since the age of 2, shone in Ohio State where he captained the team before being drafted in the NLL. He looks to Rock veteran, Blaine Manning as a mentor to teach him about the NLL, lacrosse itself and the Rock organization.

“We have high expectations,” said Dalgarno. “The owner and the coaching staff always talk about winning as the number one priority so going into the season I have high expectations to win, which I think the whole team does.”

With the expectations to win set in place, the fan base of the Rock grow eager to see what the new team will look like. Dawick remains hopeful that the TSN2 partnership with the Rock will only produce larger crowds.

 “The biggest thing I’ve found is that a lot of people don’t really know what lacrosse is,” said Dawick. “This is our national sport, I know a lot of people don’t believe that, but this is our game. I really believe that if someone who hasn’t seen the game were to turn it on this year, they’ll want to come see it and hopefully we’ll have a winning team in Toronto.”

As the confidence increases amongst the team and the coaching staff, with just over one month before the 2010 Season begins, the players must prove to Cordingley and Sanderson that they can play a caliber of lacrosse that will help them improve together and ultimately win games.

“Everyone is very positive and we will stay positive because there are long term goals here, so it’s very exciting,” said Dawick.

The Toronto Rock open their season in Boston on January 9 and return to the Air Canada Centre for the Home Opener against the Blazers on the 15.  

Toronto Rock