Toronto – The 2011 NLL Champion Toronto Rock open their official training camp on Saturday afternoon in Six Nations as they begin the chase for a league record seventh Champion’s Cup triumph.
It was seemingly just yesterday when Rock Captain Colin Doyle sent veterans, and first time Cup winners, Kasey Beirnes and Cam Woods to collect the Champion’s Cup from NLL Commissioner George Daniel capping off a thrilling 8-7 win over the previous champs from Washington. The championship game was broadcast nationally in Canada and almost 15,000 fans witnessed the event in person at Air Canada Centre. It was Toronto’s sixth NLL title, a victory that tied the franchise with the Philadelphia Wings for the most league wins.
All of the events that culminated in another Rock championship must now be placed firmly in the rearview mirror as a new challenge awaits – a repeat.
“I think we need to prepare the same way we did last year and the year before,” said Rock Head Coach Troy Cordingley. “We have to do it now, and do it right. We have to be extremely diligent in our preparation throughout the season. Every game, every week, it’s going to be war. The parity in the league is the best it’s ever been, every team in the league is better than the last time we played them.”
The last time a team won back-to-back NLL Championships was in 2002 and 2003 when the Rock themselves won the title in consecutive seasons for the second time in franchise history. They also accomplished the feat in 1999 and 2000. Philadelphia has also accomplished the rare repeat twice. The first coming in 1989 and 1990 followed up by another pair of wins in 1994 and 1995.
Depth positions appear to be where the key camp battles will take place. It doesn’t appear there will be much drama in net with Matt Roik and Pat Campbell guarding the Rock cage as well as the offensive left side boasting four of the most dangerous shooters in the league in Colin Doyle, Josh Sanderson, Stephan Leblanc and Dan Carey.
At the front door, offensive righty’s Garrett Billings, Blaine Manning, Kasey Beirnes and sophomore Rob Hellyer are all back in the fold. If there’s a spot open up front, it’s likely for a depth offensive righty. A spot that could go to a rookie or a specific role player to add some toughness and grit when needed.
“Our philosophy hasn’t changed,” explained Cordingley. “We look for specific character traits in players. We want guys with a high lacrosse IQ that have a compete level that is off the chart. Any player coming into our system must be willing to put the team first and accept any role they are given at any time during the season. Roles change throughout the season and players also need to be able to adapt.”
Despite seeing some key veterans depart via trade over the off-season, the Rock defence could be deeper than a season ago. Competition not only for a roster spot, but also for who will dress each night will be intense. Last season, the Rock traditionally dressed 11 defenders, this year that may change creating even more jockeying for time in a Rock uniform.
“It might be considered cliché, but defense wins championships,” Cordingley stated emphatically. “We want competition in training camp. The guys that make our team will be the best players in camp. Everyone will have earned their spot and if it’s a young kid that steps up and proves himself and takes a spot from a veteran, we have to do our job as a coaching staff and make the tough decisions in the best interests of the Toronto Rock.”
Training camp produced a couple of surprises last year. The first of which was free agent camp survivor Aaron Pascas who burst on to the scene from relative lacrosse obscurity to land a regular role with the Rock and secondly, it was the impact of the then 18-year old Hellyer who ended up appearing in all three Rock playoff games and scored a goal in the NLL final.
Is there another surprise on the horizon at this year’s camp? Time will tell and with just nine training camp sessions in total (including pre-season games), the time is now to make an impression.
The Rock will be on the floor in Six Nations at the Iroquois Lacrosse Arena (ILA) Saturday at 2pm and Sunday at 4pm. The following weekend on Saturday, December 3rd, Toronto hosts a pre-season scrimmage against the Edmonton Rush at 6pm also at the ILA.
Toronto Rock Single Game, Group and Season Tickets are on sale now. Visit www.torontorock.com or call the Toronto Rock head office at 416-596-3075 for more information.
Training Camp Roster (37)
Colin Doyle, Blaine Manning, Garrett Billings, Stephan Leblanc, Josh Sanderson, Kasey Beirnes, Rob Hellyer, Dan Carey, Aaron Pascas, Kyle Davis, John Quarrie, Martin Whittaker, Colin McDowall, Shawn Udema.
Sandy Chapman, Patrick Merrill, Mike Hobbins, Rob Marshall, Phil Sanderson, Bruce Codd, Bill Greer, Cam Woods, Ryan Sharp, Glen Bryan, Stephen Hoar, Drew Petkoff, Nick Inch, Jon Durno, Jesse Gamble, Scott Johnston, Phil Rawn, Eric Bissell, Pete Rennie, Marc Burnett.
Matt Roik, Pat Campbell, Craig Robertson.