Toronto, ON – The Toronto Rock will open training camp on Saturday afternoon at the Toronto Rock Athletic Centre in Oakville, Ontario. One very familiar face will be missing as captain Colin Doyle will miss the entire 2015 season due to a recently repaired torn rotator cuff.
The offensive side of the roster breaks down like this. Typically, the Rock will dress 6 offensive players for each game – 3 left handed shooters and 3 right handed shooters amongst their 16 runners that suit up for each contest. From there, the active roster has usually consisted of one extra offensive player, either a right or left shot, with one more practice roster spot being filled by an offensive player. Thus, giving the Rock access to 8 total offensive players on their combined rosters, active and practice.
Focusing on the lefties, Stephan Leblanc will be the man this year. With Doyle out, there is no debating it. He was the top offensive performer among Rock lefties in 2014, with a team-high 45 goals. That goal total was good for second in the NLL, only Calgary’s Dane Dobbie with 51 scored more times than Toronto’s gifted shooter. Leblanc finished with 88 total points, ranking him 7th overall and second behind Garrett Billings (101 points) with the Rock.
“Stephan Leblanc is the ultimate left power forward in our league,” said Rock Head Coach John Lovell. “I don’t think he gets the respect and recognition he deserves, and I’m glad he’s on our team. There will probably be a little bit of extra pressure on him with Colin out, but I’m confident that he is ready to handle the responsibility.”
Lovell also believes that sticking with dressing 3 lefts will only help Leblanc.
“Stephan Leblanc plays his best lacrosse when we only have 3 lefts going and that’s a fact,” explained Lovell. “After we won the championship in 2011, Steph dropped off because we had four lefts in the lineup a lot. It cuts down his powerplay time and the amount he has the ball in his stick. Steph is a player that logs a lot of minutes and plays hard. In my mind, it clouds the offence when we put extra lefts up there. He needs to make use of his power game and needs to have the ball to do what he needs to do.”
Josh Sanderson (17 GP, 22 G, 48 A, 70 PTS) and Kevin Ross (2 GP, 3 G, 5 A, 8 PTS) are the other two lefty forwards back from 2014.
“In my mind the jobs belong to Josh Sanderson, Stephan Leblanc and Kevin Ross,” said Lovell. “Any other left we have in camp will be fighting it out for the fourth left spot. If anyone steps up during training camp and early in the season, that may change our thinking, but right now the jobs belong to those 3 guys.”
Recently signed as an unrestricted free agent, Shawn Williams brings an impressive resume into camp as a 17-year veteran of the NLL. He’s 6th all-time on the NLL career points list with 1152.
“Shawn is a great leader and fits in well with any group,” Lovell said of the 40-year old veteran. “I hope he can still contribute, but the fact remains and he’s well aware of it, that he’s coming in to battle for a fourth left spot.”
2014 draft choice Jordan Robertson and free agent signing Dylan Webster will push the veterans in camp.
Robertson is a gifted, hard working scorer who spent the bulk of his Junior A career with the Toronto Beaches before being acquired by the Whitby Warriors for a playoff run this past summer. Robertson caught the eye of Rock assistant coach Dan Ladouceur who also serves as an assistant coach with the Warriors in the summer. Ladouceur noted that Robertson was a breath of fresh air into the Warriors after arriving via trade.
Webster went undrafted at the fall NLL selection process making him a free agent. He brings with him an interesting and very important intangible – he’s dynamite at the faceoff dot. Webster also has an uncanny knack of being able to finish in tight on the crease and can do as much effective work without the ball as he does when it’s in his stick.
One other dynamic on the offensive side of things, comes from a defensive perspective. Brodie Merrill can have an impact on offence and gives the Rock some flexibility as Merrill has shown a tendency to ‘stay and play’ after running the ball up the floor. In 2014 with the Philadelphia Wings, he scored 34 points (8 goals, 26 assists). He established a career-high with 54 points in 2010 when he also equaled his career best with 17 goals.
Forwards (Left shots – 6): Stephan Leblanc, Jordan Robertson, Kevin Ross, Josh Sanderson, Dylan Webster, Shawn Williams.
Our training camp preview continues tomorrow with part 2 as focus shifts to the other side of the floor on offence and we examine the righties.
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