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Training Camp Breakdown Part 3: The D

Toronto, ON – The major buzz in the summer surrounding the Toronto Rock roster was certainly about the ‘Big Three’ additions on defence.  The Rock traded for future hall of famer Brodie Merrill and rising star Brock Sorensen and signed unrestricted free agent Jeff Gilbert in an effort to address what was identified as the team’s biggest weakness in 2014.

“They have size, can handle their sticks, they can play on the short man,” Lovell cited as just a few of the reasons why he’s excited about the three major off-season additions.   “The penalty kill was a weak area of ours, mainly because we didn’t have left shots.  The bigger bodies are going to give us some options on our penalty kill.  These guys can block shots, get sticks in the lane and we will have really good matchups on the short man with these lefts.  They are all good defenders and good shut down guys.  We can now handle one-on-ones better and switch off and have more of a presence.  It’s also going to make our guys that were pretty good last year even better.”

Last year, the Rock dressed 10 defenders in each game amongst their 16 total runners, which Lovell intends to do once again.  With 18 defenders in camp, doing a little math quickly adds up to some serious battles in training camp for the final few roster spots.

“The three players we acquired in the offseason were acquired for a reason and they are penciled in and will be on our roster,” said Lovell about Sorensen, Gilbert and Merrill.   “I also believe that Damon Edwards made enormous strides last year with added responsibilities on special teams and he’s a key guy.  Rob Marshall, Jesse Gamble and Sandy Chapman are solid pros that know how to play the game.  Sandy is one of our leaders and is one of the top defenders in our league because of his intelligence.  Marshall along with Jesse Gamble are coming off two Mann Cups (Canadian Senior A championships) in the summer with Six Nations, both playing important minutes, which both will do for us.”

So if you’re still doing the math, that’s 7 guys penciled in on Lovell’s defence, meaning there’s only 3 open spots among those who will dress with likely one other active roster spot available on top of that and then a pair of practice roster spots up for grabs.  That scenario drips of competition, as there will be no less than 11 players competing for those jobs in camp.

“The young guys and the veterans know this,” said Lovell of the camp competition.  “There is a fight for the last few positions and that fight is taking place between a lot of talented guys that can all play at this level.  We have to get the right guys that do what we want and that’s to be good defenders.  There’s a good mix of veterans and youth and size and speed.  We have to select the guys that are the best for the Toronto Rock going forward and into the future.”

A couple of young free agent signings come into camp with some experience on their side.  Hayden Smith suited up for 4 games in 2013 with Buffalo and spent the 2014 campaign on their practice roster.  Mark White was a member of the Rochester Knighthawks last season and spent 2014 on their practice roster.

Alongside those youngsters, Nick Diachenko and Mike Lum-Walker have also put in some miles with the Rock organization and will also compete for a regular role this season.

“Hayden Smith and Mark White have worked very hard in the off-season and they’re going to get a chance to get a shot as an everyday player in the NLL,” said Lovell.  “They have paid some dues being on a practice roster and they will have every chance to make the team.  Diachenko showed his versatility last season as a rookie and Lum-Walker is a gritty, hard-nosed defender that has battled some bad luck with injuries early in his career.  All of those guys can contribute at this level.”

Making the battle for jobs even more intense is the presence of some veterans that have been solid contributors to the Rock.  “Patrick Merrill is a steady defender in this league and is among the great leaders in that locker room.  Billy Hostrawser also grew a lot last season, and after acquiring him, we saw progress in his game as the season moved along.  Scott Johnston is an important loose ball guy for us and can provide energy for us when we need it,” Lovell said.

Also in the mix are veterans Bill Greer and Jimmy Purves.  Greer battled through injuries in 2014, but proved to be a valuable piece of the defensive group.  Purves can contribute at both ends of the floor and can be a real pain in the side of the opposition.

Darryl Robertson was the lone defensive player selected by the Rock at the 2014 NLL Draft and he will be looking to make his mark at his first pro training camp.

With all the talk of the additions, there were some subtractions that shouldn’t go unnoticed.  2013 1st round pick Ethan O’Connor went to Minnesota in the deal to acquire Sorensen and Cam Woods and Chris White will not be returning in 2015. 

Defence (19): Sandy Chapman, Nick Diachenko, Damon Edwards, Jesse Gamble, Jeff Gilbert, Bill Greer, Billy Hostrawser, Scott Johnston, Mike Lum-Walker, Rob Marshall, Brodie Merrill, Patrick Merrill, Eric Pitre, Jimmy Purves, Darryl Robertson, Brock Sorensen, Hayden Smith, Mark White

Our training camp preview continues tomorrow with the final installment.  Part 4 will take a look at the battle for time in the crease as we focus on the goaltenders.

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